Ostrich plumes in Jilly's crown

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
Jilly Cooper's days as queen of the bonkbuster may be numbered. She might well read this and quake in her riding boots:

"With black hair touched by wisps of grey throughout, in lightly-starched cotton pants of caramel and blouse of blazon white, Marla jumped from her white double-cab Chevy pick-up truck seemingly surrounded by an aura of kinetic energy I could almost hear as well as see. Her multiple gold bracelets jangled and were overcome in brilliance only by the precious gems that rested on her fingers. This was the principal of Elm Grove School."

These words were not uttered at a Mills and Boon writers' convention but at the American Educational Research Association.

At the annual meeting held in Chicago last week the paper offered by Dr Kristy B Hebert, a researcher at Southern Connecticut State University, stood out from the traditional lashings of impenetrable jargon.

Her paper, "Women who lead high schools: a missing presence in leadership theory", began conventionally enough. She explained that "inquiry paradigms define what the inquirer is about in relationship to the knowledge".

Then things perked up in the third chapter. The subject of a case study called Sandy was identified as having "tousled short golden hair" and then:

"In a gush of her vivaciousness, I began the adventure.".

Dr Hebert tops that by introducing "beautiful" Marla, currently living with her partner on an ostrich farm. "She did not intend to remain in the principalship she held indefinitely. She had indicated she intended one day to work full time on her ostrich farm, telling me that she believed in change and its vibrancy... There was a serenity I experienced there that was much like I had on long, lazy summer afternoons; it was almost pastoral."

Jilly Cooper - writing her schools blockbuster when we contacted her this week - said: "She deserves an A for effort. Most of what these educational researchers write is such absolute garbage that anything different is a good thing."

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