Biesta, Educational Leadership for What?

1586 hits till Sept. 2019

Recently Wiley published 'The Wiley International Handbook of Educational Leadership’.(

The first chapter is written by Gert Biesta 'Educational Leadership for What? An Educational Examination’ and it is one of the downloadable excerpts (the other being the Contents and the Index).

I consider this as a important recognition of the work of Biesta.

In order to raise your interest and for your judgment whether this recognition is justified I present some elements of the chapter by Biesta.

For Biesta the purpose of the chapter 'is … to raise a number of more fundamental questions about education, including questions of its discourse, its purposes, its theories, and its improvement’.

Biesta sets as headings for the main paragraphs (and for each paragraph I add one quote that appealed to me):

- The Learnification of Education

What is the problem with the rise of the new language of learning in education? Perhaps the quickest way to express this is to say that the point of education is not that students learn—and it is remarkable how often this is what is being claimed in policy texts or research about what education is for, what teachers should do, and what research should investigate—but always that students learn something, that they learn it for particular reasons, and that they learn it from someone. Education, to put it differently, always raises questions about content, purpose, and relationships.

- The Question of Purpose in Education: A Threefold Issue

….if we see qualification, socialization, and subjectification as three legitimate domains of educational purpose, then we have a starting point for criticizing and countering trends that seek to reduce education to only one of these domains.

- The Need for Judgment and Pragmatism

A final observation I wish to make here concerns the fact that judgments about the purposes, the forms, and the trade‐offs in education have to be understood as fundamentally pragmatic in nature. Pragmatic here means that the question as to what to do in education and how to do it can only be answered in relation to what it is that we seek to achieve. It can only be answered, in other words, with reference to our views on the purposes of education. This is an important warning against a trend in education to make principled claims about what should be done—a trend that is particularly fueled by research and particularly enacted by education policy.

- How Does Education Work, and How Can It Work Better?

These same approaches can also help to understand where, as a result of the ongoing reduction of complexity, education systems reach a point where they are no longer educational, no longer orientated towards the subject-ness of students, but become systems of indoctrination and control, where the links to the environment are shut off, where only one interpretation is considered to be right, and where we try to limit people’s own thinking, sense making, and acting.

- The Duty to Resist

The school’s duty to resist, on the ground of its responsibility for the possibility for students to exist as subjects rather than objects, also extends to the desires that students (and their parents) bring to the school. Again, if those in schools take their educational responsibilities seriously, they cannot treat students (and their parents) as mere customers whose wishes have to be obeyed.

- Conclusion: Educational Leadership for What?

This educational interest in the possibility for children and young people to exist as responsible subjects of their own actions may be something that educational leaders need to take into consideration when they seek to formulate their own answers to the question of what it is they should lead for.

Talking about the ‘Learnification of Education’ the way Biesta does is new to me. But his focus on subjectification feels as coming home.

Almost 50 years ago I attended Teacher Training College to become a teacher in primary education.

Our main pedagogical study book was ‘Beknopte theoretische pedagogiek’ van M. J. Langeveld (Concise theoretical pedagogy). Central in his work was: 'Education for self-responsible self-determination’ (Opvoeding tot zelfverantwoordelijke zelfbepaling).

Yes, indeed: subjectification.

To broaden your judgment of the relevance of Biesta's work and the Handbook, please download the ‘Contents’ from the link above and look who the other authors are.

Among these are: Anderson, Gronn, Gairín, Gunter, Hargreaves, Harris, Lakomski, Oplatka, Seashore Louis and Walker, all much respected in the field.

To me this adds to the recognition of the work of Biesta.


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