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School Leadership and School Autonomy

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

One of the several propositions advanced by the advocates of market (or neoclassical) economic solutions to education ‘problems’ is that independent schools achieve superior outcomes. Charter schools in the US and Academies in the UK continue to be supported despite compelling evidence that they do not address the principal drivers of student achievement. The reforms introduced by the Howard Government provided substantial additional support to independent schools. The latest international tests showed Australian student performance declining and inequity increasing!

The goal is to have individual schools take responsibility for staffing and budgets. Simultaneously this is linked to the proposition that community involvement be achieved by setting up school councils. There is a parallel in the health area with arguments that local hospitals be run by hospital boards comprising community representatives. There seems to be no recognition that governing boards are a very fraught area indeed and that school boards and hospital boards are not features of successful schools or hospitals in the countries where educational achievement and hospital outcomes are high!

More.

Go to ‘School Leadership’ and ‘The South Side of Chicago’. The essays are edited versions of chapters in the forthcoming book Education Reform: the Unwinding of Intelligence and Creativity to be published by Springer.

OWL’S HOOTS No 15: RETURNING ACCOUNTABILITY TO THE EMPLOYEES BY BEING PREPARED TO ACT

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Richard Branson and Vinit Nayer have vitally important lessons for us. Both emphasise trust and openness and take risks, both focus on employees whom they recognise as being the source of a successful future.

First I have to apologise to the reader. This is the first post since February. I promised that the next post would deal with climate change: I drafted a note but was diverted by numerous other things. However, I expect a number of posts to appear in the next two weeks; one of them will deal with climate change.

Meanwhile back to another of my favourite subjects or more.

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I have written on numerous occasions that organisations depend for their future on the way people work together. I do not hold to the notion that the world has changed so fast that what we have learned about human behaviour is outdated. Equally I reject the vision of humankind forced on everyone by the market economists and their utility maximisation-self interest mantra. (Another post will report concluding comments by Professor Tim Jackson of Surrey University in his Deakin Lecture based on studies in social psychology and behavioural economics.)

At this time here is a quote from Professor Amartya Sen, Noble prizewinner in economics, at a recent seminar about Adam Smith published in the Erasmus Journal:

“While some men are born small and some achieve smallness, it is clear that Adam Smith has had much smallness thrust upon him.”

It is fair to say that the 21st century, or at least the first couple of decades, are years of the brain. The emerging understanding about the flexibility of the brain, brain plasticity, and how different parts of the brain work are truly amazing. There are implications not least for education and learning. (For more on this go to the ABC Radio National’s website for the program “All in the Mind” presented by Natasha Mitchell.)

What has been happening in most organisations is decreasing attention to employees, an ever increasing retreat to routinisation. Even in the medical field – mixed practices – doctors are being told how long they can spend with patients and being sued if they don’t accept the instructions. To an extent this is a further development of the ongoing application of neoclassical economics.

So to encounter examples of this all being put aside, of attention being paid to an employee focused organisation is refreshing. I have previously mentioned one outstanding example of this in the firm Semco and also pointed up a couple of aspects of Southwest Airlines.

Another organisation well known for concern for employees is the Virgin group of companies. The founder, Richard Branson, was in Australia a couple of months ago and was extensively interviewed. At the end of the interview on ABC TVs ‘Talking Heads‘  presenter Peter Thompson asked him about stress.

Here is his response:

PETER THOMPSON: You always seem quite fresh and not very stressed, which is remarkable considering the circumstances of your life.

RICHARD BRANSON: I should be fairly stress-free, in that I have the most incredible life. I’ve got the most incredible group of people around me. And I love learning. Every day I’m learning something new. And I love people. So I love life. So I certainly have no difficulty keeping going and challenging myself.

Earlier in the interview:

PETER THOMPSON: One of your trademarks is a special relationship with the Virgin staff.

RICHARD BRANSON: Yeah, I think a good leader is a good listener. And last night I was at the Holiday Inn in Potts Point, where I’ll stay any time that I come to Sydney, because all our staff stay there. And drinking with them, but most importantly listening, and having pocketfuls of notes by the end of the evening, which I’ve already gone on and dealt with today. So…

PETER THOMPSON: Yes, you’re famous for having an exercise book in which you write things down.

RICHARD BRANSON: Yeah. It’s very important. If you don’t write things down, you don’t remember. And I think an exceptional company is a company where you get all those little details right.

Continue to essay: “Leadership: Vinit Nayer and Employees First, Customers Second

OWL’S HOOTS No. 14: ADVOCACY: GRASP THE POLITICAL

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Hoots No. 14 – 18 February 2010: Advocacy: Grasp the Political

Downsizing: another silly idea promoted by advocates for small government and “New Public Management” and should be resisted.

(The next hoot will deal with global climate change and the fact that evidence for change includes evidence for increasing instability, not only warming: museum scientists should be actively promoting the evidence and not leave it to others.)

Twenty years ago Daniel Thomas, then Director of the Art Gallery of South Australia and President of the Art Museums Association of Australia, wrote an article entitled “Grasp the Political” (Adelaide Review March 1990)

He wrote, “What art museums most need in the 1990s is to become politically and economically conscious.  They must not only equip themselves with arguments as to why they should exist, but also with hard statistical data about their costs and their benefits.

“At the same time they must be very cautious about positioning themselves within the entertainment industry.  There the user-pay principal reigns; the showbiz needs of popular exhibitions can displace special-interest exhibitions, such as scholarly art-history exhibitions or difficult, adventurous contemporary art exhibitions.”

I just wonder how many people took any notice of these important statements.

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This hoot comes from sunny San Francisco – well it was when I started to write this –  with its many museums including the wonderfully redeveloped green California Academy of Sciences and De Young Museum of Art, currently showing the truly astounding exhibition of Tutankhamun (see recent articles on the ABC Science site on this Egyptian Pharaoh who died mysteriously when 19 – younger even than John Keats and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi who both died aged 25) and the always marvellous San Francisco Museum of Contemporary Art.

It is also time to again recommend the Global Museum site managed by Roger Smith, now Director – Online Operations (East Asia) at the British Council. Like the Arts Journal Global Museum gathers together interesting articles focusing on museums all over the world; the site also has sections on travel, jobs, resources and links to various documents as well as links to podcasts, which can be downloaded, from many museums.

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I have argued for years if not decades that museum people need to do a number of things to advance the goals of their museum:

There are a few museums where staff have taken the argument up to the frontlines and tried to convince those in government and the community that a certain approach to a situation is appropriate and that some others are not.

Layoff the Layoffs” is the title of an article in Newsweek for Februrary 5, 2010

Pfeffer’s recent article is a good summary of why the downsizing of organisations, which has been quite a fad for some decades and has been popular in the last couple of years as a device for coping with the GFC, is anything but economically positive quite apart from its often devastating effects on the people involved. Museum executives faced with the demands of downsizing, especially when it is part of “encouraging organisations to be more entrepreneurial” have a responsibility to their museum and their staff to make it clear to those who are promoting the “solution” that they do not agree with it. Unless there are the most convincing and carefully thought through justifications!

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Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University where he has taught since 1979. He is the author or co-author of thirteen books including The Human Equation: Building Profits by Putting People First, Managing with Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations, and Unconventional Wisdom About Management, a collection of 27 essays about management topics, as well as more than 120 articles and book chapters. Pfeffer’s latest book, tentatively entitled Power: An Organizational Survival Guide is to be published early 2010 by HarperCollins.

These quotes give a sense of where Pfeffer is coming from:

Power centres around scarce and critical resources and in times of uncertainty those with established credibility tend to be favoured as the enlightened. Those in power tend to define problems in ways which institutionalise their power. The more institutionalised the power is the more likely it is that the organization will be out of phase with its environment (from a 1977 paper with Gerald R. Salancik)

Organizational success comes more from managing people effectively than from attaining large size, operating in a high-growth industry, or becoming lean and mean through downsizing – which, after all, puts many of your most important assets on the street for the competition to employ.

Pfeffer opens his Newsweek article by pointing out that when the tragedy of September 12 2001 struck there was vast uncertainty about the future of airline flights. Almost all US airlines, and many other corporations, immediately laid off staff. Southwest Airlines did not. (I have written about this company before in “Lessons from Southwest Airlines” and “A chat with Herb Kelleher“) Southwest, which in fact has never laid off staff in its entire history, is now the biggest domestic carrier with a market capitalisation bigger than all other domestic carriers combined. Southwest’s former head of human resources once told Pfeffer: “If people are your most important assets, why would you get rid of them?”

Layoffs, Pfeffer observes, have become an increasingly common part of corporate life, some firms seemingly in permanent downsizing mode. If an industry is declining downsizing would seem inevitable. But in industries where demand is fluctuating? When a company lays off staff in a downturn, staff  have to be when the upturn comes and demand increases. In the process considerable costs have been incurred!

Here is a quote that will surprise some and anger others even more: “A recent study of 20 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development economies over a 20-year period by two Dutch economists found that labor-productivity growth was higher in economies having more highly regulated industrial-relations systems – meaning they had more formal prohibitions against the letting go of workers.” So much for the notion of employment flexibility leading to economic growth!

Here are myths dispelled by studies of the effects of downsizing:

The negative consequences of downsizing are particularly evident in R&D-intensive industries and in companies that experienced growth in sales.

Layoffs lead to lower morale leading to employees looking for another job at the first sign of better times, greater distrust of management and greater likelihood of stealing from the firm.

Layoffs also have a significant negative effect on the economy since laid off workers spend less, may demand social services payments from government, their houses may end up having to sold because of mortgage default and so on. The consequences to employees themselves can be devastating! Pfeffer says, “Layoffs literally kill people”.

(In the US those who lose their jobs also often lose their medical insurance which, as well as expected outcomes, can also lead to violent behaviour. Reviewing Michael Moore’s latest film “Capitalism: A Love Story ” Chris McGreal  (The Guardian, 30 January 2010) writes, “Early on, Moore sets out the meaning of “Dead Peasants” insurance. It turns out that Wal-Mart, a company with revenue larger than any other in the world, bets on its workers dying, taking out life insurance policies on its 350,000 shop-floor workers without their knowledge or approval. When one of them dies, Wal-Mart claims on the policy. Not a cent of the payout, which sometimes runs to a $1m (£620,000) or more, goes to the family of the dead worker, often struggling with expensive funeral bills. Wal-Mart keeps the lot. If a worker dies, the company profits.)

Governments around the world have adopted the strategy of downsizing claiming this will lead to working smarter. The consequences of such downsizing have often led, as in business, to poorer service. At the same time as downsizing, outsourcing has also been promoted as allowing the organisation to fous on its core business. But as with downsizing it is now realised this seldom works to benefit the organisation as tasks and skills critical to the enterprise are realised as having to be in-house where they can be influenced appropriately by the culture and the staff involved interact with staff in the “business core”. One of the problems is that the downsized organisation seldom has the skills to develop an appropriate brief and project management regime for the outsourced contractor.

Most importantly, a downsizing operation seldom is accompanied by a clearly explained strategy for the future which will lead to a better company which is clearly explained to employees, those affected and those who are to remain. One of the critical jobs of leadership is not done!

These outcomes have been evident for some time and the failures in museums are the failures in business.

For instance, Right Associates (“Lessons Learned: Dispelling the Myth of Downsizing”, Philadelphia, 1992) found that in 66% to 75% of companies which had downsized neither profitability or [productivity] had increased. They argued that companies must investigate alternatives, define the new organisation, plan the downsizing, develop a communication plan and nurture the survivors. Observing that outplacement assistance fosters positive career growth they emphasised that change has to be embraced: no person or organisation can escape the consequences of downsizing.

In the study of museums around the world it was found that the museum organisations that were perceived by staff to have achieved successful change outcomes, were also perceived to have managed the change process through a strategically linked vision of the future state and communicated in ways which enabled participants to know what would happen and how they would be affected by the change, provided appropriate financial, human resource and training in support of the change the change; executives were prepared to devote the time to meeting with people and created the energy to get the change initiated and sustained by leadership action which emphasised patience and support and leading by example through modelling the appropriate change behaviours. (See Morris Abraham, Des Griffin & John Crawford, “Organisation change and management decision in museums”, Management Decision 37/10, 736-751, 1999.)

Museum executives faced with the demands of downsizing, especially when it is part of “encouraging organisations to be more entrepreneurial” have a responsibility to their museum and their staff to make it clear to those who are promoting the “solution” that they do not agree with it. Unless there are the most convincing and carefully thought through justifications! (Note that the responsibility of boards and executives is in the first place to the future of the organisation.)

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 11

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Hoots No. 11 – 23 September 2009: The Future of Museums: an interview with Thomas Campbell of the Metropolitan Museum in New York; Darwin Centre opens at The Natural History Museum in London.

The Art Newspaper recently published a long interview with Thomas Campbell, recently appointed director of the Metropolitan Museum succeeding Philippe de Montebello. The interview gives interesting insights into the future of one of the most prestigious museums in the World. The Met has had to cut back some of its staff after it lost 25% of its endowment in the GFC.

Campbell intends to form a programmatic committee including representatives from departments beyond the curatorial to advise him on exhibitions, replacing the former Council of Advisors comprsing heads of curatorial departments.

Campbell also responds to some comments by Tate Director Serota and British Museum director MacGregor to the effect that British Museums respond more directly to the public than do American museums.

Campbell’s plans offer an interesting counterpoint to the comments made recently in the two part “Future of Museums” program on ABC Radio National’s program ‘Future Tense’ on September 3 and 10.

I have previously commented on Thomas Campbell whose appointment as director of the Met I consider to be one of the most signficant of senior appointments at any museum in the last decade. Remember that Campbell is a specialist in tapestries, not notable for fundraising or managerial ‘wizardry’ and had been a curator at the Met for several years and that when asked why he was appointed, the Chair of the Board referred to Dr Campbell’s “great passion for art”.

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The Art Newspaper: How do you think your leadership of the Met may differ from Philippe de Montebello’s?

Thomas Campbell: I came to the museum because it was an incredibly exciting place to work as a scholar in my field. Philippe was a major contributor to the environment that made it such an exciting place and I have every intention of sustaining and developing the strengths of this institution: maintaining a dynamic exhibition programme, the award-winning publication programme, continuing to acquire masterpieces, but also to expand study collections where it”s appropriate, and continuing to place the emphasis on the encounter of our visitors with the objects, trying to really create the environment for that direct experience without bells and whistles. Will I be introducing change? I guess it”s evolution rather than revolution.

TAN: Will your leadership style be the same as his?

TC: “I am who I am. I’m certainly not going to try and adopt a grand-style persona…

In terms of actual leadership style, this institution is quite feudal. We have 17 curatorial departments, many of which are equivalent to medium-size museums. One reason we are a place bursting with ideas and initiatives is that Philippe allowed and encouraged ideas to bubble up through the departments and he was very supportive of initiatives brought to him from his curatorial staff. Having experienced the benefits of that myself, I very much intend to maintain it.

One of the steps I will be taking this autumn is formulating a programmatic committee that will act as a forum … Up until this point the way exhibitions have been approved is that curators or department heads would bring a proposal to Philippe and he would say yes or no. I will still be the person who makes that decision, but at a time when we have got to make less go further, and I can’t green light everything, this is a forum in which the curatorial body itself – it will also have representatives from editorial, operations, education – will have to take a bit more responsibility for what is brought forward. But I see it as a constructive dialogue that I trust will make sure that projects that might be considered as cross-departmental have their possibility fully aired…

TAN: You want to maintain the direct encounter with a work of art, but people demand information. Is there enough information in the galleries?

TC: We need to find the right balance between creating a direct and meaningful encounter with a work of art without there being the impediment of an overly didactic contextualisation. At the same time, much of our audience is very sophisticated and wants a lot of information. .. We are at an exciting time because new technology does give us the opportunity to deliver all sorts of different levels of information to different audiences in a very discreet way. I think handheld devices and audio tours have huge potential beyond where they are now .. I don’t want to be overly typecast as being wonkish on technology, but I think it is one of the major frontiers at the moment because it has the potential to so enrich and transform the visitor experience.

The Met has put a lot of effort into the audio guides it supplies to exhibitions, and we have a certain amount of audio guide information for our permanent collections, but that is an area that needs to be hugely expanded. Then we need to enrich the different levels that people can get to. We also have to think of different languages so that our large international audience is properly catered to. The National Gallery in London, the Tate, the Louvre are all experimenting with devices that besides delivering an audio tour will deliver visuals on a handheld device. The danger is that there’s something so compelling about a digital image that all too quickly the object in front of you becomes an illustration to the narrative you’re holding in your hand.

TAN: British Museum director Neil MacGregor and his counterpart at the Tate, Nicholas Serota, recently differentiated US museums, deemed in thrall to their moneyed boards, from European and particularly British museums, which they maintain serve the public more directly.

TC:  … At the end of the day, the Met has bought more objects, has organised more exhibitions, has undertaken more scholarly publications than any other museum in the world as a result, simply because of the enthusiastic support of the donors and our trustees. There’s this caricaturish notion that people fall back on … but my experience of our board is that it is comprised of individuals who take their role extremely seriously in terms of both advice or financial support.

… This is a great institution because of the farsighted support over so many years by individuals who are consciously contributing to build it and make it better.

The impression they were giving was that there was some sort of constraint. We are not constrained. On the contrary we have got the ability to go out and fundraise and find support for different initiatives that allow us to do things that very few European institutions are able to.

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The Art Newspaper also published on its Museums page on 16 September a short article on the new Darwin Centre at The Natural History Museum in London.

In The Guardian for 17 July Maev Kennedy wrote, “One of the most startling additions to any British museum, the new £78m “cocoon” at the Natural History Museum in London – an enigmatic white blobby form eight storeys high and 65m long inside a giant glass box – will open to the public on 15 September, it was announced yesterday. Michael Dixon, the director of the museum, said he hopes the new building – properly known as the Darwin Centre, but dubbed the cocoon even by staff – will leave visitors “with a real sense of awe and wonder at nature”.

Further information is available at the Museum’s own website.

Those with a long memory might recall the bitterly critical comments which greeted the appointment and announced corporate plan of former primatologist and Open University Professor Dr Neil Chalmers, appointed director of the Museum in 1989. The Darwin Centre – this is Stage 2 – was a major project of (now) Sir Neil Chalmers who retired a couple of years ago to become Warden of Wadham College at Oxford University .

Here are some extracts from the commentary from that time. We can wonder how reliable the opinions and forecasts of doom were.

(I have put an article from 1990 about this issue in the essay section.)

In the 3 May 1990 issue of Nature, Henry Gee (“Taxonomy pays for bad image”), wrote, “Researchers at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London went on a one-day strike on 24th April to protest against the museum’s controversial 1990-95 corporate plan, which proposes the loss of 51 out of 300 research and curatorial posts during the next two years. Many of the tenured posts are to be replaced with short-term fellowships (see Nature 344: 805, 26 April 1990) a move that will improve the NHM’s financial health but may threaten its standing as a taxonomic research centre. On 26 April, the researchers resolved to strike again tomorrow (Friday, 4 May) if the museum’s director, Neil Chalmers refused to withdraw the plan.

“Scientists at other UK museums are concerned at the damage that might be done by the new plan.  Taxonomic research, in which the NHM is pre-eminent, is “deeply unsexy”, according to Simon Conway Morris of the University of Cambridge, but is the “bedrock” of all biological research, and in the light of concern over decreasing global diversity the cuts come at “just the wrong time”.  Andrew Knoll, of the Botanical Museum of Harvard University, finds it “a little sad” that the study of biodiversity in the United Kingdom is thought so marginal that the NHM will close departments “in which they have been major contributors”.  Ken Joysey, curator of the Museum of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, condemned the cuts as “ludicrous”.

The issue was raised in the British Parliament: In the adjournment debate in the House of Commons on 21 June, Tam Dalyell MP pointed out that the real threat to Britain is not “the armies of Mr Gorbachev”, but global warming, the destruction of the ozone layer, acid rain and other environmental problems.  He told the House how the Museum provides “crucial raw material for the battle against that threat”.

During the half hour allowed for the debate, Shadow Arts spokesman Mark Fisher MP joined Dalyell in pressing Richard Luce on funding for the Museum. Whilst supporting the approach set out in the Corporate Plan, Luce revealed that the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government is in discussion with the Director and the Chairman of Trustees about its wider implications.

An editorial in Nature on 2 August 1990 said, among other things, “The British Natural History Museum has taken too short and too jaundiced a view of it’s own future as a research institution. It should mend its ways, and quickly… What emerges most clearly from the long controversy is that the corporate plan .. was a serious error of judgment. Faced with the prospect of a nasty financial squeeze … the museum plumped for the wrong solution, that of cutting back on an already inadequate intramural research programme…. It would have been possible to cut back instead on the museum’s second function of mounting attractive public exhibitions…”

The editorial went on to repeat some of the claims about “unfortunate” language of the corporate plan, expresses doubts about whether the emphasis on ‘front of house’ activities would save the museum “from the troubles that lie ahead” and observed that entrance charges would not pay the extra cost of the exhibitions envisaged as bringing more visitors and therefore earnings. It asked, “should not the museum be making the case for relief from [further financial] squeezes [two or three years from now]?… It should also do more than has yet been done to show that there is substance in its hope that support for research at the museum will indeed be provided by the research councils..”

Two months later, 4 October 1990, a letter in Nature from Dr Colin Patterson and many distinguished scientists representing the “science defence committee” (of which Patterson was chairman) said, “The crisis at London’s Natural History Museum … has now lasted more than four months and shows no sign of ending.  The essence of this crisis is that the plan will result… in narrowing the span of taxonomic and systematic research in this museum. .. About a thousand letters of protest have been sent to the relevant minister by our colleagues from all over the world who recognise that this museum is the world centre for taxonomic expertise… There have been two days of strikes; and there has been a storm of press comment, nearly all of it critical of the plan.

“A new management structure, with imposed separation of curation from research for some 150 people, has been forced down our throats, as has also a brutal system of short-term contracts for researchers.  And our prizewinning design team is still threatened with extinction.  Moreover, the director’s main response to the letters of protest is blandly to point out their usefulness in the search for funding, since they demonstrate that the taxonomic community of the whole world is interested in the fate of the Natural History Museum ..”

Some of these issues remain with us in various museums 20 years later. The Natural History Museum recovered to be one of the strongest museums in the World; the list of scientific publications by Museum staff for 2008-09 runs to 73 pages. Some other museums faced with reductions in funding and a lack of recognition by governments of the importance of taxonomy and evolutonary studies to the understanding and sustainability of biodiversity have not recovered!

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.