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OWL’S HOOTS NO. 10

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 10 – June 20th, 2009

The new Acropolis Museum opens in Athens, the British Museum should change its name and appoint a board representing the nations whose ancestors created the collections it holds; the education system is anaethsitizing children and stifling creativity, according to Sir Ken Robinson, educator and expert on creativity. And in New South Wales, more pointless reorganisation of the public service.

The tenth “Hoot” gives me the opportunity to talk about two issues of the greatest interest to me, cultural property and its contribution to our past and our view of ourselves, and education and learning and creativity.

Parthenon sculptures and the new Acropolis Museum in Athens: The new Acropolis Museum, designed by Bernard Tschumi, looking out on the Acropolis and the Parthenon, opened 20 June. The third floor features a reconstruction of the entire Parthenon frieze, the plaster casts of the sculptures (removed by Lord Elgin) held in the British Museum’s Duveen Gallery differentiated from the genuine sculptures by their white colour.

In “Majestic in Exile” in the New York Times of June 18, 2009 Nikos Konstandaras (managing editor of the Greek daily Kathimerini and editor of the English-language weekly Athens Plus) writes, “I have no doubt that one day all the Parthenon Marbles will be reunited in the New Acropolis Museum….

“Meanwhile, if the British Museum wants to be true to its self-appointed task of serving as curator of the world’s civilizations, and if it really does not recognize the geographic, national or ethnic origins of its masterpieces, then it should have the grace to acknowledge this in practice. It should drop the possessive adjective from its name and call itself simply “The Museum.” And its board of government-appointed trustees should be replaced by representatives of the nations whose ancestors created the works that it displays.

“This would mark the end of colonial and imperial provenance of acquisitions and open a new era of exchange and cooperation between the world’s museums. Questions of ownership would be secondary in this new dialogue of free and equal nations. The Parthenon’s sculptures have the power to transform those who gaze on them.”

In a report on the opening on ABC Radio’s Correspondents Report on 21 June Helena Smith reported on the opening. Introducing the report Elizabeht Jackson observed, “Activists, including David Hill, the former managing director of the ABC who heads the Sydney-based Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, hope the new museum will reinvigorate the campaign to bring back the Elgin marbles – the artworks that have been displayed in the British Museum since Lord Elgin removed them from the Acropolis over 200 years ago.”

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Creativity and Education: Sir Ken Robinson, former professor at Warwick University and speaker on creativity and education, has just published a book (authored with Lou Aronica and published by Allen Lane) entitled “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything”, stories of people who found passion in areas of life that were not the focus in traditional schools. In 1998 Robinson chaired a Committee which produced the report, “All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education (the Robinson Report)”. The Times said: ‘This report raises some of the most important issues facing business in the 21st century. It should have every CEO and human resources director thumping the table and demanding action’.

Robinson argues that current education practices stifle creativity and are a “turn off” for thousands of young people very much because they don’t give enough attention to subjects in the arts. Education is founded on two premises, the enlightenment idea of (rational) economic man and the need for cultural identity. It’s value is seen in how well it prepares people for work.

Robinson was in Australia in the last couple of weeks and was interviewed extensively on the ABC (730 Report on TV1 on 16 June and 17 June , Margaret Throsby’s Interview on ABC Classic FM  and “Life Matters” on Radio National) ; several other interesting people with innovative approaches to education were also interviewed on “Life Matters” in the week starting 15 June.

In one of Robinson’s celebrated lectures, available on the web at TED, he makes a number of points common to all his talks.

“What’s it for, public education? I think you’d have to conclude — if you look at the output, who really succeeds by this … who are the winners — I think you’d have to conclude the whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors. Isn’t it?”

“Children starting school this year will be retiring in 2065. Nobody has a clue .. what the world will look like in five years’ time. And yet we’re meant to be educating them for it.

“Every person’s intelligence is distinct.”

Referring to Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” and the environmental crisis, Robinson talks of an education crisis. “Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children. There was a wonderful quote by Jonas Salk, who said, ‘If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.’”

In a more recent talk (at the Royal Society of Arts) Robinson quoted anthropologist Robert Ardrey, “But we were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles, and our irreconcilable regiments? Or our treaties whatever they may be worth; our symphonies however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams however rarely they may be accomplished. The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses.”

In the second part of the interview with ABC TV1′s presenter Kery O’Brien, Robinson said the following: “What I find is that head teachers are critical in schools, like college presidents are essential in universities and in political systems. Leadership is really important from every point of view. I mean, look what’s happening in America at the moment: that shift from the last presidency to the current one. There’s been a total change of mood because people take their cue from the tone of the leadership. And it’s true in every system I know. If you find a school where a head teacher gets it, anything is possible, and I mean that literally.”

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In New South Wales, Premier Nathan Rees has announced that the departments of government will be amalgamated into eight “super departments” with the aim of delivering better services for the people of NSW. dollars.

“I am determined to have the best structure to deliver better services for the people of NSW,” Mr Rees said. “These changes are designed to ensure a greater focus on our clients, better integration of public services and to cut internal Government red tape.”

The reforms will, according to Premier Rees, “Improve service delivery, better align a sprawling bureaucracy; and ensure the best value for taxpayers”.

All this ignores the evidence that restructuring achieves little benefit unless a lot of effort is put into explaining t he benefits and justifying them and providing resources to see thought the adjustments which will have to be made. It remains true that what makes the difference is how decisions get made and how leadership is practised. Coordination and ‘alignment’ require oversighting which carries with it al the problems of restricting innovation and suppressing dissent.

In 30 years governments almost everywhere have failed to understand best practice as seen in the most successful organisations and have merely created an unsustainable level of inaction and confusion.

Numerous articles on this site deal with this.

Remember this quotation, usually (but wrongly) attributed to Petronius: “We trained hard … but every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganised.  I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising … and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing inefficiency and demoralisation.” (1)

More quotations are to be found here.

(1) According to Wikipedia, the actual author of this piece of wisdom was the American writer Charlton Ogburn Jr. (1911-1998), in an article published in Harper’s Magazine in 1957 which recounted his experiences as a junior officer in the famous WW2 US Army unit known as ‘Merrill’s Marauders’, and the quoted passage referred to his somewhat chaotic early training.

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 9

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 9 – June 15th, 2009

Exhibitions at museums around the world cancelled or postponed, a review of developments in schools and education and conferences and reports on global climate change highlight urgency of meaningful and immediate response but conference in Bonn makes little progress. And specific initiatives mentioned by President Obama concerning relations between the USA and the Arab World.

Museum exhibitions casualties of recession: In “Eight museum exhibitions you won’t be seeing in L.A. anytime soon“ David Ng reports in the Los Angeles Times June 8 2009 that scores of museum exhibitions around the world have been cancelled or postponed. “As the recession continues to inflict damage in the well-appointed halls of the museum world, one of the most noteworthy side effects — on top of layoffs, ticket hikes and reduced hours of operation — is the cancellation and postponement of major exhibitions.”

They include “Subversion of the Images: Surrealism and Photography,” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston scheduled for spring 2010, “Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia” at the Field Museum in Chicago scheduled for 2009-10, “Imperial Mughal Albums From the Chester Beatty Library” scheduled for July 2009 at the Denver Art Museum and “Indian Contemporary Art” at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, postponed from 2010.

Yet more on education and schools: By now it must be obvious to the reader that I think the research on education and all of the related issues in the US is really outstanding. One of the most excellent summaries of the issues was given in the address by Stephen W. Raudenbush, Lewis-Sebring Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Sociology and chair of the Committee on Education at the University of Chicago, at the American Education Research Association (AERA) conference last year 2008. This address “The Brown Legacy and the O’Connor Challenge: Transforming Schools in the Images of Children’s Potential” is truly stunning! It is available as a pdf  and webcast .

It is clear to me that there is more than sufficient information available from peer reviewed research to make the right decisions on education and schooling from early childhood to university. The problem is that most people in positions of influence are wedded more to idealogy and belief in the rightness of their own experience rather than to finding genuine solutions.

Best practice does not involve league tables, private schools (or charter schools as in the US ““ though they are less hidebound by bureaucracy – or academies as in the UK) rather than public schools, performance pay, high stakes testing, closing schools that don’t perform, sacking principals, control by large central bureaucracies or any of the other often mentioned “˜solutions’. In the case of schooling they involve the best possible support for teachers and attention to best teaching practice and the aspirations of students, continually encouraging belief that the students can succeed, peer review of teaching practice and ongoing professional development for teachers as well as respect for the work of teachers within the community. It also involves a focus on schools which are “in need” for reasons such as low socio-economic status.

Global Climate Change: In the last couple of weeks, there were three major events concerning climate change. One conference and a report emhasized the urgency of signficant action but a conference  preparing for the meetings of governments in Copenhagen to chart a post Kyoto future made little progress. These events, concerning one of the one or two most important issues facing humanity, received scant attention. Instead, news broadcasts reported the upgrading to pandemic status of swine flu, an illness which presently poses virtually no threat at all!

Global Humanitarian Forum:  Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s think-tank, the Global Humanitarian Forum, reported “change is already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and is affecting 300m people, according to the first comprehensive study of the human impact of global warming. By 2030, climate change could cost $600bn a year. By 2030 there will likely be increasingly severe heatwaves, floods, storms and forest fires responsible for as many as 500,000 deaths. Economic losses due to climate change today amount to more than $125bn a year “” more than all the present world aid. You can read more in John Vidal’s article in The Guardian.

UN Climate Conference: The UN Climate Conference in Bonn closed Friday (June 12th) after a “12 day marahon”. As reported by D-W World , “with no deal on CO2 emission targets the delegations failed to achieve any major step towards a successor to the Kyoto Protocol… The goal was to work towards a draft of a new treaty to combat global warming – but many analysts say they’re disappointed with the meagre results. At the end of the negotiating sessions, the rift between industrial and emerging nations seemed bigger than before. And even within those two blocs, there was little agreement except on the fundamental fact that action is needed.”

St James’s Palace Memorandum: Prince Charles recently hosted a meeting of 20 of the World’s Nobel Prize Winners including the heroic Kenyan Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. The St James’s Palace Memorandum calls for a global deal on climate change that matches the scale and urgency of the human, ecological and economic crises facing the world today. It urges governments at all levels, as well as the scientific community, to join with business and civil society to seize hold of this historic opportunity to transform our carbon-intensive economies into sustainable and equitable systems. “We must recognize the fierce urgency of now.”

The statement also says this: “The robust scientific process, by which this evidence has been gathered, should be used as a clear mandate to accelerate the actions that need to be taken. Political leaders cannot possibly ask for a more robust, evidence-based call for action.”

And this: “Decarbonising our economy offers a multitude of benefits, from addressing energy security to stimulating unprecedented technological innovation. A zero carbon economy is an ultimate necessity and must be seriously explored now.” You can read more in another article by John Vidal in The Guardian.

President Obama in Cairo ““ the future of relations between the West and the Arab World: In the reportage of President  Obama’s address from Cairo University much has been made of the six issues he raised – violent extremism,  relations between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world, nuclear weapons, democracy, religious freedom, women’s rights and economic development and opportunity.

In pursuit of these he specifically said, “On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. And today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.”

I didn’t hear any mention of these promises in any of the commentary. David Frost on Al Jazeera (“Frost over the World”) features interviews on reactions to Obama’s speech. There is a huge amount of superficial clap trap on various blogs and websites in response to this speech!

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 8

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 8 – June 3rd, 2009

In general the process of evaluation of teachers’ performance has been completely unsatisfactory; it is no wonder many teachers object to performance pay! There are parallels with many other organisations. Are museums irrelevant? Sea levels have risen! Two books on science and a wonderful review of books on Darwin and evolution by Richard Lewontin who asks, “What if Charles’ nose had been larger?”

 

Teacher evaluation and ‘loose coupling’: Elizabeth Kleinhenz & Lawrence Ingvarson of the Australian Council for Educational Research, Australia (Research Papers in Education Vol. 19, No. 1, March 2004) investigated the processes for teacher assessment in “Teacher Accountability in Australia: current policies and practices and their relation to improvement of teaching and learning”. It seems that like most of the research on schooling and teaching, little notice has been taken of it. There are parallels with what happens in performance assessment in most organisations.

Kleinhenz and Ingvarson begin with the following statement. “If teaching well is something most teachers can learn to do over time, not just a bundle of personality traits, insightful formative assessment and coaching systems are vital. If experienced and effective teachers are to be kept close to the classroom and provide leadership to other teachers, professionally credible summative assessments systems will be needed that can provide them with the recognition they deserve for evidence of high levels of professional development.”

They observe, “In most cases, assessment is related to promotion to position of additional responsibility where the tasks have little to do with teaching. “There are wide gaps between managerially designed and implemented procedures and the realities of what teachers actually know and do-the “technical core’ of teaching. … In most Australian schools and systems, we suspect, teachers’ real work remains well and truly buffered from the kind of professional scrutiny that could contribute to its improvement and provide the public with genuine guarantees of its effectiveness and quality.”

While in some cases applicants for promotion can submit details of their work, in many cases they are simply asked to address criteria that relate to the position. It is not that which is of concern but that promotion – higher pay – is only possible by taking responsibility for administrative and organisational tasks such as dealing with complaints, timetabling, student grouping and events. Further, the panel reviewing the applications spend little time on the process despite the consequences of appointment. Principals generally manage the process but may delegate it. In particular, genuine leadership which is essential to successful school is absent. Think of many other organisations employing large numbers of technical professional people. (Think also of successful orchestra conductors!)

The management expert Karl Weick (“Educational organizations as loosely coupled systems”, Administrative Science Quarterly, 21, 1976) developed ‘loose coupling theory’ to describe this gap between the technical core, rewards and ‘actors’.

Some education systems including New South Wales and some parts of the American (US) system have developed better arrangements which in particular provide for promotion based on technical competence and involve careful review of performance through peer review.

Some economists, politicians and parents are fond of advocating paying teachers on the basis of their performance. If the evaluation process is no good what would be gained by such a system. And what about formative evaluation?

Are museums irrelevant?: Bob Janes has recently had published a book with this title; he has summarised his views at the Palazzo Strossi Foundation site. I have commented on issues relevant to this at an earlier post on my site – and an associated essay and more recently and at “Managerialism buried (I wish)” My comments on this book and the responses are on Museum 3.0 and also at the Palazzo Strossi Foundation site. Etc etc

 

Sea Level Rise! In “Refugees Join List of Climate-Change Issues” (New York Times May 28, 2009) Neil MacFarquar reports that Huene, an island in the Carteret chain in the South Pacfic, has been bisected by the sea. “With their boundless vistas of turquoise water framed by swaying coconut palms, the Carteret Islands northeast of the Papua New Guinea mainland might seem the idyllic spot to be a castaway.But sea levels have risen so much that during the annual king tide season, November to March, the roiling ocean blocks the view from one island to the next, and residents stash their possessions in fishing nets strung between the palm trees.”

 

Wonderful books on science! On the Science Show on ABC Radio National on 30 May Marcus Chown discussed some of the ideas explored in his latest book, “Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You” and Michael Brooks discussed some of the ideas in his latest book, “Thirteen Things that Don’t Make Sense”: the anomalies in science, such as dark matter, dark energy and varrying physical constants, are in a way, the only things that matter.

Richard C. Lewontin, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Professor of Biology at Harvard University and author of “The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change” and “Biology as Ideology” and other books reviews, in the New York Review of Books for May 28, a number of books about Charles Darwin – there are a huge number published this year, the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and 150th of the publication of “The Origin of Species”.

Lewontin begins, “When I was a student I was enjoined to reject the “Cleopatra’s Nose” theory of history, so called after Pascal’s remark in the Pensées : “Cleopatra’s nose: if it had been shorter, everything in the world would have changed.”[1] The intent was not to dismiss biography as a way into the structuring of a historical narrative, but to reject the idea that the properties, ideas, or actions of some particular person were the necessary conditions for the unfolding of events in the world. If Josef Djugashvili had never been born, someone else could have been Stalin.”

Lewontin concludes, “It seems that Cleopatra’s is not the only nose in question. In his brief Autobiography Darwin writes of his successful visit to Captain FitzRoy to arrange for his trip on the Beagle:

“Afterwards, on becoming very intimate with Fitz-Roy, I heard that I had run a very narrow risk of being rejected on account of the shape of my nose! He was an ardent disciple of Lavater, and was convinced that he could judge of a man’s character by the outline of his features; and he doubted that anyone with my nose should possess sufficient energy and determination for the voyage. But I think he was afterwards well satisfied that my nose had spoken falsely.

“But what if it had been bigger?”

Lewontin’s article, as always, is terrific and full of very interesting ideas.