Ranting, raving, and complaining

My dear colleague Professor Fenwick W. English often reminds me that you make more friends with honey than vinegar. I would like to say that he has only needed to remind of this on one occasion, but that would be a lie. In my latest paper I continue my work on a social epistemology for educational administration and leadership (see here) and the cult of the guru (see here) by discussing the nature of dialogue and debate in educational leadership journals.

Originally presented at the 2017 Australian Association for Research in Education conference in Canberra, this paper reflects on my 2017 paper School leadership and the cult of the guru: the neo-Taylorism of Hattie , the published response by John Hattie and the rejection of my offer to response to Hattie in the journal.

I argue that educational administration and leadership, and arguably education research at large, is not well equipped for dealing with dialogue and debate. Instead, what we are more likely to experience, both as consumers and generators of research is ‘parallel monologues’. Even when debating one another, as many potentially seek in journals and at conferences, there is often little if any serious attempt to engage with the ideas of others as this becomes secondary to enforcing one’s opinion on the other.

While I am aware of Tony Bush’s (2017) rebuttal (not refutation) of my claim of parallel monologues, I am more persuaded by the insights of Robert Donmoyer (2001) Martin Thrupp and Richard Willmott, (2003) and Jill Blackmore (2010), that in educational administration and leadership we treat those with whom we disagree with benign neglect and apathy more than intellectual engagement. For the most part, one finds their community or network of like-minded scholars with accompanying journals, conferences and the like and carves out a career – often blissfully unaware of scholarly dialogue and debate taking place within and beyond their chosen fields/sub-fields. There are salutatory acknowledgments to the need for multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary approaches but arguably the traces of the paradigm wars have meant even some of the most senior professors in the field struggle to meaningfully engage with those writing from different positions.

Central to my argument is what I (and many others) see as the logic of academic work – argument and refutation. The parallel monologues of educational administration and leadership mean that even when engaging with one another, there is a major struggle to step outside our comfort zone and seriously engage with knowledge claims that do not confirm that which we hold dear. It is not about simply producing a counter argument, but engaging with the ideas of another and where necessary refuting them. Not imposing one’s view of the world on another, but engage on their terms – testing out claims for robustness and internal coherence and not alignment with one’s own normative position. This removes subjectivity in the dismissal of ideas and instead provides the basis for a more rigorous and robust exchange of ideas.

This is why I have chosen to have others engage with my work in special issues and my recent book. It is why I actively seek out dialogue and debate in what I read. All of this is my normative position on how scholarship ought to be conducted. Through more robust dialogue and debate I argue that educational administration and leadership would benefit not in building the careers of the next guru, but in advancing knowledge claims. To that end, while the article (at least the title) may give the impression that it was others doing the ranting, raving and complaining it is really me building a case for how I believe we ought to conduct ourselves as scholars.

My aspiration is that in the coming years in journals, at conferences, in seminars, at any scholarly event, and even on Twitter, I hope to see less ranting, raving, and complaining (myself included) and more serious engagement with the knowledge claims of those presenting.

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