Reimagining Educational Leadership in the Caribbean
- Published: May 2019
Drawing on his original theory of Proposition MRM (modelling, respect, motivation), Thompson explores issues that face educational and other leaders in the Caribbean in a manner that has not yet been undertaken so extensively. The author examines the relationship between Proposition MRM and various elements of educational policy and practice, including critical thinking, ethics, pedagogy, sustainable development, and technical and vocational education and training.Reimagining Educational Leadership in the Caribbean is practitioner-sensitive and is written in a non-technical style to be accessible to educators at all levels and others interested in social change.
List of Abbreviations
Introduction by Errol Miller
Chapter 1: Contextualizing the Task of Reimagining Educational Leadership in the Caribbean
Chapter 2: The Phenomenon of Postmodernism
Chapter 3: Leadership Approaches and Theories in Historical Perspective
Chapter 4: Proposition MRM
Chapter 5: Proposition MRM and Educational Leadership in the Caribbean
Chapter 6: Educational Leadership and the Future of the Caribbean
Chapter 7: A Concluding Word: Claiming a New Paradigm for Educational Leadership in the Caribbean
Afterword by Paula Shaw
Appendix: Students’ Questionnaire: Students’ Perceptions and Expectations of Leadership in a Postmodern Era
- Principal's Award - Best Publication 2020 (Faculty of Humanities and Education), The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus
Dr Canute Thompson was one of those doctoral students that supervisors delight to have. Self-motivated with a voracious appetite for surveying and reviewing literature, there was never the need to urge him to get on with the work. The opposite was true. It was always challenging to keep up with his pace, given one’s other commitments. Possessed of strong analytical skills, there was never any hold-up with research design, data collection, analysis of data, reporting findings and drawing inferences. Moreover, Dr Thompson was never one to follow the beaten path but was always probing and testing the unknown and untried with independence of mind. It is therefore not at all surprising that he is now advancing in the academy as a leader engaged in thinking through Caribbean realities.
Central to the book is the fact that Dr Thompson shares the main findings of his doctoral research with a wider audience and in a broader context than the requirements of a postgraduate credential. While the original findings from this research focused on the perceptions of Jamaican high school students of their principals, he has expanded upon his analysis of the findings of this work extensively and in a systematic form around his novel contribution: proposition modelling, respect, motivation (MRM). His treatment of this issue in chapter 4 is exciting and inviting. The claim is that Proposition MRM is a new interpretation for transformational leadership which he has refocused to inform a new approach to educational leadership in the Caribbean. Dr Thompson has the knack of rescuing, restoring and refreshing concepts, which, over time and because of common usage, have departed from their essential meaning.
The most controversial element of the book is the discourse on postmodern- ism. Indeed, anyone interested in a quick overview of postmodernism, point and counterpoint, will find the discourse in chapter 2 informative. While there is no doubt that Dr Thompson is an advocate, or at least an apologist, of postmodern- ism, he has come to this position fully cognizant of its tenets as well as criticisms of those tenets.
Reimagining Educational Leadership in the Caribbean is well written in a style of gushing prose, which rushes across wide expanses of thought. For example, in discussing the dogmatism that is said to characterize a fundamentalist world view, the text states: “One implication of this new dynamic and its relevance to pedagogy is that students enter a world that is crafted on diversity, characterized by ambiguity, propelled by plurality and steeped in complexity with an orientation to reject prefabricated postulations which are deemed to be out of sync with the realities around them” (p. 62).
Accordingly, the book has to be read with constant reflection on what is being stated if one is not to be swept away and mesmerized by its eloquence. Fundamental axioms of the book are that current Caribbean realities are best depicted as a postmodern era, as is the case of western Europe and North America, and that postmodernism ought to be the guiding construct in pondering leadership in education and management. By fully asserting these axioms, setting them out in such clear terms and proposing approaches in their application, Dr Thompson has thrown down the gauntlet challenges his readers and colleagues to be equally clear and decisive about the constructs employed in thinking, writing and work as these are focused on the Caribbean.
There are numerous conceptual schemes that have been used to depict and interpret the history of civilization and social thought. From a technological perspective, human civilization and society can be traced from the primordial hunter-gather stage through the agricultural revolution, to the revolution in agricultural productivity, to the industrial revolution and now the information revolution. From a political perspective, human civilization could be said to have moved from ethnocentric villages based on subsistence agriculture, to the era of ancient city states premised on citizenship, to the era of imperial city-state empires, to the era of religious empires of believers and to the current era of nation-states of nationals and aliens. In a sense the conceptual scheme of pre- modern, modern and postmodern condenses elements of both technological and political schemata.
If one accepts the conceptual scheme of premodern, modern and postmodern, it is extremely difficult to conceive of Caribbean societies as anything other than modern. There are different markers that have been used in dating the modern era. The earliest is the scientific revolution of the first half of the seventeenth century as Europe emerged from the period, labelled medieval, which was dominated by religion. The latest dating is from the latter half of the nineteenth century when nation-states of the West confronted the challenges of industrialization, urbanization and representative democracy. Sandwiched between these early and late dates is the “Age of Enlightenment”, beginning in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Whatever marker is chosen, Caribbean societies fit the timeframe of modern. Colonialism ensured that. In the seventeenth century, rising imperial nations of western Europe brought their newly established Caribbean colonies into the same status as themselves.
Common criteria that have been used to define modernity include representative democracy, public education, capitalist market economy, civil service bureaucracy and notions of freedom, individualism and equality. Representative democracy in the Commonwealth Caribbean evolved in sync with Britain itself. Barbados has had an elected assembly that has operated continuously since 1639 with the holding of general elections as prescribed by its constitution. Similarly, Jamaica has held general elections, with the exception of eighteen years, since 1661. The creation of the sugar plantation economy ensured that Caribbean colonies were part of capitalist market economies since the latter half of the seventeenth century. As Higman (2008) pointed out, plantations were privately owned agro-industrial operations which not only grew sugar cane and timber, but generated their energy by wind, or animals or water, and manufactured sugar, rum and molasses mainly for export from ports, many of which they owned and controlled. Further, the entire operation required effective and integrated management, and, as Higman observed, Caribbean managers were on par or ahead of their peers in Britain.
Public education in the Caribbean dates back to the latter part of the seventeenth century and became more general following emancipation in 1838. The civil service in Jamaica was established about fifteen years after that in Britain and on the same basis of civil service examinations. Issues of freedom, equality and individualism have been part of Caribbean culture from at least the beginning of the nineteenth century. Whether by timeframe or common criteria defining modernity, Caribbean societies have been modern societies, although of lesser means.
Historically, by virtue of their colonial past, Caribbean countries were brought into the modern era. Now in the era of political independence, starting in the second half of the twentieth century, the facts of geographical proximity of the Caribbean to the United States and Canada, the great extent of two-way travel of peoples between North America and the Caribbean, the shared English language, the ubiquity and ease of telecommunication, and growing social media have ensured continuous connection of modernity, however it is conceived and defined.
Having considered the pros and the cons, Dr Thompson seems to have concluded that history, geography and information and communication technology have combined to tie the destiny of the Caribbean to be conceptualized by the same schema as the West, whether modern or postmodern. In a nutshell, postmodernism is a conceptualization that the Caribbean dare not ignore. The crucial question becomes whether Caribbean engagement with postmodernism should be one of embrace and application or one of deep critical assessment and alter- native formulation. Either way, Reimagining Educational Leadership in the Caribbean is an important contribution to this conversation.
The concept of modernity implies superiority to what went before. Embedded is the notion that Western civilization, characterized by modernity, is not only superior to civilizations of the past but also to all other civilizations that exists in the contemporary world. Yet, postmodernism embraces the notions of decline, decadence and transition. It declares modernity to be obsolete. As Jurgen Habermas asserts, while there is still the unfinished business of modernity, there is transition to something new. Lyotard agrees but for a different reason. He maintains that modernity perpetuates the myth of human progress and entertains grand or metanarratives that have been found wanting and must be abandoned. Regardless of perspective, the term postmodernism is similar to terms of yesteryear such as post-primary and post-secondary. Postmodernity is a stage beyond modernity but cannot yet be defined in terms of itself because, as an emerging stage, it is too embryonic to be endowed with settled form and unambiguous definition.
If postmodernism is subjected to the tool of deconstruction, at least three critical issues immediately rise to the fore. First, postmodernism is a resisting form of affirmation of the superiority of Europe and of the West. Even in decline and decadence, postmodernism implicitly asserts that Europe and the West are ahead of the rest of the world, some parts of which are still to struggling to become modern. The destiny of the world is to follow Europe and the West. The stage into which modernity is transitioning will arise from within Europe and the West and not from elsewhere. Europe and the West are leaders forever. Applied to the Caribbean, this means that having transitioned from being colonies to being politically sovereign countries, there is no change in the relation- ship with the West.
The destiny of the region is to continue to imitate and follow the powers that have dominated the region historically and subordinated its peoples, even in their decline and decadence. Second, the failure of the grand and metanarratives of Europe and the West is not their failure alone. It represents the failure of all human kind. If they have failed to formulate theories that can explain the full range of human social complexities, then no others can. There is no originality of mind, creativity of spirit or authenticity of experience that can produce grand or metanarratives superior to the West, or that will advance understanding of human society beyond of the theorizing of the West. Third, Europe and the West bear no responsibility, and cannot be held accountable, for their stewardship of the power they exercised over the last three to four hundred years when they dominated the rest of the world. Further, since every society, culture and people are entitled to their own truth and facts, it is only the lived experience of the present that matters. There are no lessons to be learned from our colonial history and no inferences that can guide our present and future choices, save and except the dynamic forces at work in specific places in the contemporary world. We are all cornered, even in our thinking, in our small spaces on the globe.
Some of the issues outlined above manifest themselves as Dr Thompson applies postmodern constructions to education in chapter 5. In referring to diverse communities existing side by side, it is asserted that based on the tenets of postmodernism, there is no way to adjudicate the truth claims between com- munities in postmodern plural society. Truth is a social construct for the sake of maintaining power. “Claims for truth must be deconstructed to expose under- lying agendas and grabs for power” (p. 81). Many questions immediately shout for answers. First, why should there not be multiplicity of truth claims within communities as exist among communities in plural society? Should not every- one, regardless of community, have same right to her or his own truth? Hence, every truth claim is a grab for power whether by an individual or by a collective of individuals, a community. Second, does not truth as a social construct favour the status quo, that is, current holders of power and whose truth claims prevail by whatever means: ballot, bullet or market forces? Third, in the absence of any objective basis to adjudicate truth claims, is everything not spin, including post- modernism? Fourth, based on this construction of truth, are plural societies not inherently anarchical? Is the mission of postmodern education, and its leader- ship, to foster anarchy?
This is just one example of the provocative substance of the book as it invokes the tenets of postmodernism. It is not possible to read this section and not furiously grapple with the issues posed almost on every page. By being so explicit in the assertion of postmodernism, Dr Thompson has done a great service by causing reflection on implicit adoption of several aspects of postmodernism that virtually go unnoticed and without debate. For example, in many research studies currently done in education and the social sciences, the major methodology of postmodernism is employed qualitative methods. This is often done without connection to their postmodern source. Rich insights gained by these methodologies are not limited and restricted to the particular case and circumstance but are then used to attempt to construct grand and metanarrative, which is in direct violation of one of the basic tenets of postmodernism and of qualitative methodology itself.
The reader is taken on a journey which includes the ideas of leadership of Sir Shridath Ramphal, Rex Nettleford and Michael Manley as these relate to the author’s Proposition MRM. The author takes the reader on a tour of the main theories of leadership since the beginning of the twentieth century: scientific management, human relations, behavioural science and post-behavioural science seen as by-products of postmodernism.
One of the findings of Miller (1984), who tracked research findings that were translated into educational policy, programmes and practices, was that it was the movement of university researchers or their graduate students into policy or leadership positions that accounted for this outcome. With firm faith in their findings, these researchers turned policy advisors or policymakers, or principals or heads of departments took the real risks involved in translating research findings into policies, programmes and practices. Fear of failing students, clients and customers, or of losing their jobs, make those not intimately involved in the particular research much less sanguine about the efficacy and practicality of research results and therefore more averse to taking the risks related to implementation. The translation of research findings into policy, programme and practices is not an impersonal matter. It requires personal knowledge that often transcends what is written in research reports.