The liberal/ironist leader: A Rortyan perspective on school leadership

Robert Charles Siebert, Fordham University


This study is an attempt to offer narratives that can be woven into the web of stories, ideas, attitudes, and beliefs that leaders use to describe themselves, their communities, and their leadership. It is also an attempt to demonstrate that an educational community is a compilation of narratives whose peculiar and idiosyncratic composition comprises its "final vocabulary"--a vocabulary the community owns, shapes, makes, and remakes in a perpetually reweaving and recontextualizing dynamic of dialogic and hermeneutic inquiry. It is inquiry not on behalf of the final truth or the one right way but on behalf of something better. The narratives developed in this study focus on three broad themes gleaned from the work of Richard Rorty. While these themes comprise an integrated and inseparable whole in the life experience of an individual leader and her community, they have been separated for the hermeneutic purposes of reflection, description, discussion, and persuasion. The themes are: (a) the self and community as ironic, contingent, and historical artifacts, (b) our western, Enlightenment-based institutions as heirs to a hopeful liberal legacy of democratic progress, and (c) edification and hermeneutics as a pragmatic description of learning in a post-essentialist educational community. The philosopher, social and literary critic Richard Rorty, through his writings and his unique method in inquiry, provides fascinating possibilities for consideration by the educational leader interested in these themes. Rorty's narratives serve as footings on which a leader dares to build some appropriate philosophical support for everyday practice. Of course, Rorty's footings, like those built to absorb seismic activity, accommodate a sliding and shifting foundation of meaning and practice. And it is precisely this characteristic of Rorty's work, a characteristic derived from his strange eclecticism of thought, that offers philosophical support for educational leaders in the post-essentialist epoch.

Subject Area

Educational theory|School administration

Recommended Citation

Siebert, Robert Charles, "The liberal/ironist leader: A Rortyan perspective on school leadership" (1994). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9511250.