Book Review - The Fourth Way Is The Way

May 21, 2010 David Flower

The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change
Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley
Pages: 168
Corwin Press, 2009

Readers who remember the Alberta government’s unsuccessful attempt to introduce a Third Way to healthcare in 2005 should not be turned off by the title of a new book on education reform, The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change.

The Third Way that emerged in the 1990s sought the middle ground between state control (from the 1940s to mid-1970s) and privatization and free-market competition (from the mid-1970s to early 1990s). The Third Way’s main elements, developed under the leadership of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, reflected a belief in the value of community, a commitment to equal opportunity, an emphasis on responsibility and a belief in accountability. It is the failure of some of these elements that inspired Hargreaves and Shirley to propose a Fourth Way, which enhances the best ideas of the Third Way to provide a new vision for education in the 21st century.

The authors argue that the elements of the Third Way “were ultimately only about deliverology.” And although the Third Way experienced some successes, it got sidetracked by interference from external sources—technocrats and an autocratic, top-down management approach. Even though Ontario, under a Liberal government since 2003, “is arguably the most sophisticated Third Way system of educational reform in existence,” the overall failure of the Third Way led Hargreaves and Shirley to develop a Fourth Way model that appears sensible, if somewhat idealistic.

The authors contest that the Fourth Way is a source “of inspiration and innovation, of responsibility and sustainability.” Ideas are drawn from various sources to build the next step in education. They find promising directions and “glimpses . . . in the nation of Finland, in the network that is RATL [Raising Achievement, Transforming Learning, in England] and in the community organizing and development work in Tower Hamlets [London, England] and many American cities.” The aim of the Fourth Way is “to forge an equal and interactive partnership among the people, the profession and their government.” To achieve this end, Hargreaves and Shirley set out pillars of purpose, principles of professionalism and catalysts of coherence. The Fourth Way “promotes educational change through deepened and demanding learning, professional quality and engagement, and invigorated community development and public democracy.”

There’s no doubt that proponents of public education will support the ideas behind the Fourth Way and will agree that we need to regenerate the education system, give it a new direction and free it from the controls of the past. The Fourth Way supports all that I believe about education and where it should be heading, but it’s built on the fragile premise that “the age of unregulated markets and wanton greed is disappearing.” Only time will tell if that premise is true.

Teachers, students and parents have been let down many times by education reform movements, and I’m cynical enough to believe that it will happen again. We do not live in a perfect world, and I question whether politicians, education decision makers and business leaders will be prepared to allow the Fourth Way to work. In the end, I hope that for the benefit of society, Hargreaves and Shirley’s proposal is the way to the future and that finally, after all the turmoil of the late 20th century, education will be given its rightful place and that “our children will be the deposits of learning, generosity and humanity through which we invest in the future.”

Dr. David Flower served as the ATA’s coordinator of communications from 1983 to 2001.


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