Book Reviews

Book by Jack Lumby & Fenwick English
Review By: Lydia Cross
Director, Graduate Academic Services Center
College of Education
Georgia Southern University

We have all heard the old adage that knowledge is power, but something we may not always think about is that the basis of knowledge is language. Our development of language forms the basis of knowledge.  How language, metaphors and educational leadership are connected and at times, inseparable, are the focuses of Leadership as Lunacy: And Other Metaphors for Educational Leadership.  Authors Jack Lumby and Fenwick English look at educational leadership through the lens of language and how metaphors have sometimes limited and stymied the true meaning of education and what educational leaders can and should be working to achieve.  They argue that metaphors can be positive and have “productive potential” (p.3), but that some metaphors have become so commonplace in educational vernacular, that they have lost their effect or have had damaging effects.  For example, leadership as accounting (and accountability) “must be deconstructed so that leaders once again see that they have a responsibility to those with whom they work” (p.40), instead of demanding unrealistic expectations. 

The structure of the book is well organized and the authors do a good job of presenting their argument.  They provide many examples from past and current educational policies to demonstrate the metaphors; for example the current ‘Race to Top’ funding initiative in the United States.  One author is from the United States and the other is from Great Britain, so they draw on experiences in both American and British educational settings.  Both authors are established in their fields and draw on many citations to support their arguments.

The first chapter sets the guidelines for the remainder of the book and explores the definitions and meanings of metaphors and the relationship of language to power.  The subsequent chapters look at common metaphors related to educational leadership, with each metaphor having its own chapter to explore development, context and implications of the metaphor.  The metaphors examined are: leadership as machine, accounting, war, sport, theater, religion and lunacy.  The final chapter summarizes the uses of metaphors in leadership and how to move forward.   The overall theme of the book is that language is powerful, metaphors are useful, but educational leadership’s dependence on them has sometimes limited what it means to be an educator.  The authors urge policy makers and those in leadership positions to be careful not to pigeonhole student learning outcomes in terms of established metaphors and to not think of our students as outputs, but as learners.     

This book, while interesting, is geared more toward educators and policy makers in the K-12 educational environment.  As higher education professionals, we can extrapolate from the general themes, but the contexts and examples shared are predominantly for K-12 professionals.  I would not necessarily recommend this book as common reading for academic advisors, but would recommend it for those who have an interest in educational leadership.  I believe this book would be useful for advising administrators, as we hear many of the same themes as K-12 administrators when it comes to assessing students’ knowledge and outputs, and often times advising assessment is couched in metaphors.  As higher education begins to require more assessment and accountability from state agencies and university administration, we probably will see a greater use of educational leadership metaphors.


Leadership as Lunacy: And Other Metaphors for Educational Leadership. (2010). Book by Jack Lumby, Fenwick English. Review by Lydia Cross. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. 176 pp., $31.95, (paperback), ISBN #978-1-412-97427-1

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