Shouldn’t Real Leaders Invite Criticism of Their Ideas for Improvement Rather Than Jump to Buy-In?

John Ralston Saul’s book, Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, captures so well a “postmodern-postructural” idea about Ed Leadership as a field of “expertise” that I’ve been entertaining lately. That idea is how much of the time educational leadership, and even business leadership, silences critics, critique or criticism. In other words, all these guru models of reform talk more about “getting stake-holder buy-in” and “marketing the ideas or reforms” rather than actually inviting Criticism. I think Saul captures the real reason why this is so very well when he writes:

“Nothing frightens those in authority so much as criticism. Whether democrats or dictators, they are unable to accept that criticism is the most constructive tool available to any society because it is the best way to prevent error” (Saul, 1992, p. 8).

Education leaders like business leaders often run from and suppress criticism and the critic of their ideas for reform and improvement. They too easily dismiss objections and criticism as simply resistance. Could it not be that such resistance is valid?  

Instead they engage in “stakeholder-buy-in” as if their idea, programs, reforms, projects, etc. are inherently the best approach to solving the problem at hand. Because of this fear of the critic, critique, and criticism, most often evidenced by the silencing of critics, these leaders make the same errors and perpetuate the well-known pendulum swings in education due to the failure to allow critique and criticism of their agendas. As Saul points out, “criticism is the most constructive tool available” because it is the best way to “prevent error.” 

To prevent the massive waste of time and resources that often comes with these faddish waves of reform that hit education, there needs to much more space to allow for criticism. That’s why a critical educational leadership studies needs to be activated.
Before implementing any new programs, ideas, reforms…why not open a large space for criticism first? Real leaders don’t fear criticism, they invite it.
Saul’s arguments and prose against an unquestioned faith in Western rationality and reason are important for having intellectual leadership in education.

Saul, J. R. (1992). Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West. Simon and Schuster: New York, NY.