Holding Sacred Ground

LaVern Burmeister
February 1, 2004

Carl Glickman?s work has informed educational research in substantial ways for more than a quarter of a century. In Holding Sacred Ground: Essays on Leadership, Courage, and Endurance in Our Schools, Glickman presents a collection of recent essays that respond to the question, ?What must school leaders think about and practice if all students are to have a truly democratic education; an education that equips each student with the knowledge, skills, and applications to become a wise, caring, and participatory citizen of an improving democratic society?? (p. xvii). He describes research findings and personal beliefs about the roles and responsibilities of school leaders, democratic educational opportunities for students, and progressive teaching/learning formats in which students can develop personal responsibility and compassion as citizens of a democracy. The essays support a much needed human caring perspective in the current sterile climate of high stakes testing and prescribed curriculum.

The collection is organized into six parts, each addressing an essential aspect of the question. In Part One, ?Great Schools,? Glickman situates education within the context of democracy: ?Democracy is simply the belief that citizens have the capacity to educate and govern themselves through participatory problem solving, doing profoundly better than a king, oligarchy, or tyrant could do it for them. It is the belief that in a democracy the unfettered pursuit of truth is the best way to educate and to live. With an education guided by such public purpose, citizens would use their education to advance the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all? (p. 4). In the second of three essays in this part, Glickman describes attributes of leadership necessary to achieve ?Great American Schools.? Notably, he focuses on the significant amounts of time great leaders such as Meriwether Lewis, Martin Luther King, and Mother Teresa devoted to preparation and planning in order to lay stable foundations including beliefs, structures for decision-making, and processes for continuous internal study. The third essay extols the unifying power of establishing meaningful symbols, stories, and ceremonies that illuminate significant, shared--perhaps eternal--truths discovered by school communities.

The four essays in Part Two, ?School Renewal: Ironies and Challenges,? describe an operational framework that schools must consider in times ahead. The first essay piques the reader?s thinking on ?good? vs. ?effective? schools. Glickman suggests that determining what is ?good? in education is based on values, but ?effectiveness? simply tells educators how to accomplish goals in a value-neutral manner. Hence, educators must first determine what is good in education and then consider how the good can effectively be accomplished. His example here of researchers hesitating to send their own children to an ?effective? school because it did not exhibit ?goodness? provokes consideration. The second essay, lists 11 key points from research on teaching and learning, teachers and work conditions, and school improvement to consider when restructuring schools. As each is defined, the reader becomes increasingly aware that these key points are consistently being ignored in current practice. For example, he cites research that indicates tracking and retaining students are ineffective (pp. 48-49), yet many schools continue these practices. The third essay supports school empowerment as an essential and logical part of a democratic society but recognizes the difficulties schools face as they become empowered. Glickman lists ?Seven Ironies of School Empowerment,? including the increased need for continued improvement as improvement progresses. In the fourth essay, Glickman acknowledges the centrality of uncertainty in the school reform process.

Part Three, ?Instructional Leadership,? focuses on supporting teachers? thinking and practice. The first two essays describe the importance of schools becoming learning communities in which the professionals actively think about their teaching and the learning it engenders and play a central role in planning and decision making about learning. The last two essays identify specific approaches to extending teachers? thinking, such as clinical supervision, peer coaching, critical friends, and action research, and challenge administrators to change the working environment in order to stimulate changes in teachers? thinking and practice. Unfortunately, the most current references in the second and third essays are from 1985; hence, the powerful points Glickman makes in these essays may be devalued by those seeking more current affirmation of his claims.

Part Four, ?Teaching, Learning, and Service,? provides examples of democratizing teaching and teaching students to be contributing citizens. In the first two essays, Glickman describes his own teaching experience, contrasting teaching at a large public university with teaching in a small, private learning community. He emphasizes the importance of listening to students. In the third essay he makes the case for public schools and teacher education programs to work together to achieve long lasting change. Here, as in previous essays, he raises the issue of uncertainty and ?messiness? in achieving a common goal of educating students for lives in a democratic society.

In Part Five, ?Standards, Policies, and Authority,? Glickman discusses the possibilities for successful school reform if the two apparently polarized reform movements?one based on legislation and the other on empowerment?were examined for their strengths and weaknesses and combined to create a balanced reform movement. In the first essay, he describes a model that develops balance between the polarized pillars of equal access to knowledge (empowerment) and public demonstration of results (legislation). Here Glickman discusses the abuses of the movement to standardize education and proposes some direct options for preserving schools that protect diverse ideas and perspectives. The third essay addresses the debilitating debate over ideological absolutes, polarizing ideas and creating an either/or climate of reform rather than providing multiple concepts of education. In the final essay, Glickman describes the conditions necessary for successful schools, again emphasizing a need for ?respect for freedom and authority balanced by comprehensive and public assessment? (p. 261). He maintains that successful schools have always existed and that ?Rules and procedures from the local board or state board cannot improve a school whose employees are knowledgeable, caring, and intelligent? (p. 247).

Part Six ?The Crux of Education, Democracy, and the Future of Our Place,? begins with Glickman?s comment, ?For educators not to embrace democracy as the core practice of teaching and learning is to ignore our primary mission. Rather than being the stewards of the democratic dream, we would contribute to the apathy, cynicism, and stratification of citizens today who dwell in the same land but have no common journey? (p. 266). In the second essay, he provides several definitions of ?democracy? and concludes with his own definition of ?participatory, community-oriented democracy achieved through school and classroom structures and activities? (p. 277), adding a caution that democracy not be used as a screen for racial exploitation. The third essay focuses on the imperative of public education, ?public? in the sense of purpose, or as education for public life and participation in an increasingly democratic society. In the final essay, ?The Long Haul: Progressive Education and Keeping the Faith,? Glickman notes that the average American does not engage in public citizenry. The challenge to all is to educate all subgroups for active participation in a democratic society developing ?greater understanding about democracy, reciprocal obligation, and linking academics with public purpose? (p. 317). The essay title provides a thumbnail summary of this powerful collection of essays?Glickman?s belief that well orchestrated progressive education is mandatory for a democracy to survive.


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