Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot and The Good High School
As noted in the heading, this book, already 25 years old, is an important inspiration for this project (important enough to have its name appropriated!).
Lawrence-Lightfoot is an inspiration to many-- and rightfully so. I especially am enamored of her book entitled Respect.
The Good High School, published 1983, offers "portraits" (her artful term) of six schools: two suburban public, two urban public, two independent. For each, she spent several days on site, observing and interviewing-- and then composed these lovely renditions. As she takes pains to point out, this is a personal perspective-- objectivity is a goal, but not an obsession, and she is quick to acknowledge she brings her own concerns and her own experiences to the work of observing and reporting.
Here I want to take note of the goals and the approach of her book: I do so to take better guidance from her for my own work. (In later entries, I will write on her ideas of "goodness in schools.")
Lawrence-Lightfoot set out to correct three flaws she said plagued other studies of schools: the tendencies toward theoretical abstraction, toward autobiography, and toward negativism (p.11). Instead, her purpose was to "do life drawings of real schools in action." "The Inquiry begins by examining what works, identifying good schools, asking what is right, here, and whether it is replicable, transportable, to other environs." "First, we searched for goodness--exemplary schools that might tell us something about the myriad definitions of educational success and how it is achieved."
The author emphasizes the qualitative and open-ended nature of her approach. There was no "rigid research agenda " and no effort to prepare "classical, systematic research," but instead an effort to collect "descriptive data on the schools...[which] captured their lives, rhythms and rituals." She intended her "portraits" be "critical and generous--allowing subject to reveal their many dimensions and strengths." Very much akin to my own way of thinking, Lawrence-Lightfoot emphasizes that there is no one "dominant or objective truth" for her to see, but instead truth lies in "the integration of various perspectives" and can only be approached via "holistic, complex, contextual descriptions of reality."