Book Review                                      Online Exclusive


Leadership for Social Justice

and Democracy in Our


edited by Alan Blankstein and Paul D. Houston, Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, Calif., 2011, 187 pp. with index, $30 softcover 


How often do we wish for a community of engaged and caring citizens, for a place where civil discourse is embraced and demonization is decried, for a school and community where social justice and democracy are alive and well? In these particularly difficult economic and social times, I found a book that offers both comfort and hope that such a place may be embraced and that that place may in fact be our schools.

In Leadership for Social Justice and Democracy in our Schools, Alan Blankstein and Paul D. Houston invite an impressive group of writers to share their perspectives on matters such as gender and race equity, social responsibility, diversity and inclusion, character and social justice. These commentaries are at once compelling and grounded and as such the power of their messages is palatable.

This ninth and final book in The Soul of Educational Leadership series gives special consideration to notions of personal reflection as a way to examine assumptions we make about learning, leading and community. In fact, the power of reflection is woven throughout the chapters as the authors challenge us to consider our role in supporting and modeling appropriate social behavior.

Sheldon Berman’s chapter, “Leading for Social Responsibility,” is particularly compelling as he insists that a leader must care “enough to make social justice and social responsibility a priority” and to do so is “a powerful statement to staff” and to the students. Berman, now superintendent in Eugene, Ore., notes it is in part a function of a leader’s capacity to care for all and to be intolerant of a world void of mutual respect that we can assess one’s leadership skills for social justice. Later he also affirms that as teachers and leaders model that practice, then students will more easily begin to understand “the way the world works and their role in it.” The outcome will be a school in which mutual respect is the order of the day.

This book is strangely or maybe just surprisingly uplifting in its outlook and its articulation of concrete action plans. I appreciate the perspectives and can imagine this book being important as a catalyst for team building or professional development. The authors remind us that even amidst withering assaults on notions of fairness and care in our communities, hope exists for what might be and little patience for those who become resigned to what is.

I found myself using the chapters as prompts for beginning conversations with the school leaders in my classes as we grappled with ideas of justice, equity, poverty, discrimination and anti-social behaviors in their schools. Maybe herein lies one of the real treasures of this book. The authors make a claim for leadership, social justice and democracy in our schools. They also compel us to pause amidst our hurried lives and to reflect on our own practice and listen to others. In poetic fashion they encourage us do as we often invite our children to do when crossing dangerous intersections in their lives ─ stop, look and listen. These authors collectively invite us to do similarly.

Reviewed by Zach Kelehear, professor of educational leadership and policies, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. 


Give your feedback

Share this article

Order this issue