“The role of the intellectual is to expose new ways of thinking: to make people see the world around them in a different light, to disturb their mental habits and to invite them to demand and instigate change.” Johanna Oksala, How to Read FoucaultI want to propose a radical idea: School leaders need to be “intellectual leaders.” If you look at any one of the hundreds of books about educational leadership, you see the words, “instructional leader,” “micropolitical leader,” or “managerial leader,” but what’s missing is the idea of “intellectual leadership.” Educational leaders, as I see it, should also be “intellectual leaders."
If there ever was a time “intellectual leaders” are needed it is now. Intellectual leaders who “expose new and old ways of thinking about education and its practices” are needed in the face of an onslaught of privatization and corporatization. Educational leaders have often blindly accepted the “corporate agenda” for schools often without question. They have bought the idea that “If it works in business, then it will work in education” mantra. They have come to accept without question an audit culture that places results in the form of test scores above anything else. They have blindly followed politicians into this by accepting massive amounts of federal money with chains attached to drag public education in places of destruction. In a word, educational leaders are complicit in the destruction of public education and the destruction of the teaching profession with their unquestioning acceptance of the latest brand of educational reform to travel downward from on high.
What is needed to counter this downward spiral? Intellectual leaders willing to expose these mandates, these policies to the scrutiny of critical examination. Intellectual leaders who don’t just accept as gospel that tests are the equivalent of learning and that test scores are the only worthwhile measure of learning. It is intellectual leaders in the schools who would scrutinize and resist policies bad for kids, and bad for public education.
One other thing about intellectual leadership: it also involves “distubing the mental habits” of others within the school organization. These others also need to question the reasons "why we have always done things this way” or “why we are going to do them this way now.” With the questions, spaces for resistance open up for true leadership. Change begins with seeing outside the boundaries; not with accepting the boundaries as given.
"The intellectual is not the moral conscience of society, his or her role is not to pass political judgments, but to liberate us by making alternative ways of thinking possible."Johanna Oksala, How to Read Foucault