Implementing Postmodernism in Changing the Role of School Administrators in America's Schools

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Arthur L. Petterway, PhD
June 11, 2010


Arthur L. Petterway, PhD
Principal, 12th Grade Academy
Stephen F. Austin High School
Houston Independent School District
Houston, Texas

Adjunct Professor, Educational Leadership & Counseling
Prairie View A & M University
Prairie View, Texas

This article examines the impact of post-modernism on school transformation. Moving away from rigid paradigms of structural reform, the postmodern approach suggests a fluid acceptance of discordant voices and diversity, as necessary ingredients in the construction of meaningful change. Transformation implies interconnectedness, which by itself is inconsistent with the notion that the process of change can be truncated to convenient and easily identifiable compartments. The article suggests that a vision for reform that is inspired, or at least influenced by a postmodernist approach will consider learning and instruction as part of an undivided process. However, success will be measured not on the basis of how efficiently instruction was delivered, but by how much learning occurred.


School administrators’ role has changed dramatically in the past decade as public schooling systems have endured increased political scrutiny and policy intervention. Gone are the days when school administrators merely functioned as principals or head teachers who are revered and feared at the same time by their subordinates. Today, the work of administrators has moved away from leadership and towards management and has continually posed problems so challenging and daunting enough to erode the very core administrative values that they were trained to embrace in the first place.

The purpose of this article is to discuss implementing postmodernism in changing the role of school administrators in America’s schools. Several major points will emerge concerning postmodernism and their effect on educational change, school, and administration.

For an initial characterization of its basic premises, consider anthropological critic Melford Spiro’s excellent synopsis of the basic tenets of postmodernism:

“The postmodernist critique of science consists of two interrelated arguments, epistemological and ideological. Both are based on subjectivity. First, because of the subjectivity of the human object, anthropology, according to the epistemological argument cannot be science; and in any event the subjectivity of the human subject precludes the possibility of science discovering objective truth. Second, since objectivity is an illusion, science according to the ideological argument, subverts oppressed groups, females, ethnics, third-world peoples” (Spiro, 1996).

Logically postmodernism literally means “after modernity. It refers to the incipient or actual dissolution of those social forms associated with modernity” (Sarup, 1993).

There is a sense in which if one sees modernism as the culture of modernity, postmodernism is the culture of post modernity” (Sarup, 1993).

“Modern, overloaded individuals, desperately trying to maintain rootedness and integrity…ultimately are pushed to the point where there is little reason not to believe that all value-orientations are equally well-founded. Therefore, increasingly, choice becomes meaningless. According to Baudrillard (1984:38-9), we must now come to terms with the second revolution, “that of the Twentieth Century, of post modernity, which is the immense process of the destruction of meaning equal to the earlier destruction of appearances. Whoever lives by meaning dies by meaning” (Ashley, 1990).

One response to this postmodern position would be to surrender, concluding that no effort is worth the...
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