Power and Leadership

We welcome David Loewen as an author of the Voices blog. David is the superintendent of Surrey (British Columbia) Christian School.

The focus of my blog posts over the next few months will be power and the Christian school leader. As we seek to ensure that every area of our Christian schools falls under the lordship of Christ, it is vital for us to examine our leadership practices in the light of that context. At a very basic level, we need to ensure our leadership practices are not doing harm to those we serve; however, our calling is much higher than that as we strive to understand what practices, language, and attitudes we can foster that will facilitate the flourishing of our staff and students.

Because this topic is absolutely huge, I’d like to start by putting some parameters around what we’ll look at and how we’ll look at it. We’ll start with a working definition of the word power and develop some clarity regarding the dynamics of power in our schools and in our roles as leadership. With those as our background, we’ll look at the major factors that are at play in the arena of power (gender, theology, ethnicity, social, charisma, etc.). To bring further clarity to these factors, we’ll delve into the idea of hegemony and power. Finally, we’ll spend some time looking at alternate ways of “doing” power.

My vocational life has been exclusively as a Christian educator (with the exception of college summers spent farming, lifeguarding, and pumping gas) and primarily in formal leadership positions within that setting. My learning life has been focused on the area of critical theory, and it is with that combined lens we will explore this topic.

That said, I do not identify as a critical theorist. My chosen identity is as a follower of Jesus! However, as I have read, written, thought about, and served in leadership positions, I have found critical theory an effective tool in helping me move toward a more faithful way of “vocationing.”

So what is critical theory?

It is not synonymous with critical thinking, nor is it an academic outlet for the “Eeyores” of our world who are just plain critical or grumpy. Critical theory has its roots in the Frankfurt School, a school of thought that arose out of the German philosophical tradition of Neo-Marxism. Some of the key names of this movement include Adorno, Marcuse, Horkheimer, and Fromm, and more recently Jurgen Habermas. The goal of critical theory is to use rationality to expose the norms, values, and practices—explicit or implicit—that shape an organization or society in such a way as to emancipate those within that organization or society.

Habermas in particular articulates a dream of critical theory that avoids the postmodern temptation of completely giving up on the rationality of the Enlightenment. Instead, he hopes to turn that rationality inward to create an ever self-critiquing process that will free people from the limitations modernity imposes on us. We’ll focus on the area of discourse ethics specifically.

Confession: I’m pretty excited about this stuff and I really hope I’ve grabbed your attention. Together we’re going to use a critical theory approach focused on discourse ethics to look at the various factors at play in how power works itself out in our Christian schools. The desired outcome is for us to come away with new tools to reflect on our leadership practices, and then to refine our leadership to more fully facilitate the flourishing of those we serve.

– David Loewen

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