Archive for the 'Policy' Category
Thursday, January 17th, 2013
The ideas developed about the education debate and the enumeration of the issues which I think are important, were summarised in an informal talk at the Ourimbah campus of the University of Newcastle in August 2012 arranged by the NSW Chapter of the Independent Scholars Association of Australia (ISAA).
Much of the problem arises from the focus on schools, which is where in fact students spend a relatively small amount of time, and ignores the time when greatest changes in brain architecture and cognition take place which is early childhood, and the principal influences which determine the quality of that development most of which relate to relative socioeconomic status. It is for these reasons that the principal indicator of student educational achievement is the socioeconomic status of the parents.
Continue to the Ourimbah talk.
Two essays which have appeared in recent months deserve special attention. One is by Carmen Lawrence, former Premier of Western Australia, Minister in the Australian Government and a member of the panel on Education reform chaired by David Gonski.
‘Mind the Gap: Why the rising inequality of our schools is dangerous’ by Carmen Lawrence appeared in The Monthly for July 2012
The other is by the distinguished American educational researcher Professor David Berliner; this essay really brings together some of the most important issues concerning the relationship between educational achievement and inequality in the United States, a topic on which Berliner has written over the last couple of decades. The essay is ‘Effects of Inequality and Poverty vs. Teachers and Schooling on America’s Youth’ and appears in Schools Matter for October 17 2012.
The introduction to Berliner’s essay says,
“The real education experts, academics who study and research education, teach at universities and colleges and are teachers themselves, produce volumes of peer reviewed articles, write books and give lectures to share their findings, ideas and solutions to improve education. The problem is those who control the purse strings in state education departments, government and at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, are held hostage by corporate interests who have hijacked our children’s pedagogy. With the new Common Core Standards adopted in more than 46 states, testing every kid, in every subject, and mining the data will only exacerbate the dysfunction and lead to the inevitable revolt we are already seeing across the country. Most parents, students and teachers living through this economic depression see scarce resources further dried up and spent on more testing and more data. Austerity in the poorest and neediest schools districts has exposed the harsh reality of three decades of failed education policy that ignores inequality and poverty.”
It is appropriate to mention another event. That is because of the influence of the media: yet again Australian media failed to take advantage of the visit to Australia by distinguished researchers, as it did a couple of years ago when the University of Melbourne hosted a major conference on Curriculum.
The website of the American Association for Educational Research, perhaps the leading education research organisation in the world, featured the following report.
“The World Education Research Association (WERA) held its annual Focal Meeting in conjunction with the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) and the Asia-Pacific Education Research Association (APERA) in Sydney, Australia. AERA leaders, including President William Tierney; Past Presidents Arnetha Ball, David Berliner, Eva Baker, and Carol Lee; and Executive Director Felice Levine, were participants at the AARE/APERA/WERA conference, held on December 2–6 at the University of Sydney.
“The AARE/APERA/WERA international conference included more than 1,200 paper presentations and symposia, with keynote addresses by AERA Past Presidents Berliner and Ball. In addition, there were twelve outstanding symposia designated as “invited symposia,” including an AERA guest symposium at which President Tierney spoke passionately about academic freedom. There were also two WERA invited symposia; one of them, entitled “Culture, Poverty, and Opportunity to Learn: International Cases of the Complexities of Addressing Race, Ethnicity, and Class in Education,” featured AERA Past President Lee as one of three presenters.”
The above info is from AERA Highlights 10 January 2013. Further information is at http://aare-apera2012.com.au/files/AARE-APERA-2012-handbook.pdf and numerous other sites.
So far as I can determine no Australian media featured any mention of this conference or any interview with the distinguished delegates. So much for media reporting of education, media which is often quite prepared to seize on the latest international tests to criticise Australian education without paying any attention to the dynamics or principal reasons for achievement, quite apart from misrepresenting the performance of Australian students by selective and inappropriate use of statistics, as Professor Alan Reid pointed out in ‘A dumbed down debate, but those tests still hold some lessons’ (Sydney Morning Herald, December 19, 2012).
Monday, December 21st, 2009
Hoots No. 13 – 21 December 2009: “Co-producing” the Museum using social media; Education and “Radical Hope”: Noel Pearson’s essay on education and Indigenous Australians; an observation on the misdirection of attention on learning and teaching.
Co-producing the Museum – Social Media and Interaction with your Museum
On the Museum Marketing website Jim Richardson has written a very interesting article about the communications revolution “coproducing the museum”. It is the text of a keynote address he gave to the Museum Association’s Social Media Day.
Amongst the things he has to say are these:
“Change in the internet has been clear for anyone to see, with the shift from static web pages to dynamic and sharable content and social networking. The internet is no longer just a place to find information; it is now a forum for collaboration, a place to create, curate and share content online. This has changed the way we work, influenced the way we think and adjusted our individual place in society forever.
The explosion in social media has created a socio-cultural shift; the way that people act is changing and audience expectations are snowballing both online and offline, and museums need to think beyond simply building a fan page on Facebook, writing a blog or starting to use Twitter to keep up with the change.â€
He points out that people who use Facebook, iPhones, iTunes and Wikipedia, with its hyperlinks allowing users to “drill down” through information, find many of their interactions with museums, including their websites, to be unsatisfactory: static and difficult to engage with.
He quotes The Centre for the Future of Museums, “For Americans under 30, there’s an emerging structural shift in which consumers increasingly drive narrative. Technology is fundamentally enabling and wiring expectations differently, particularly among younger audiences, this time when it comes to the concept of narrative.
“Over time, museum audiences are likely to expect to be part of the narrative experience at museums. While the overall story might not change, how it is presented may change to allow visitors to take on a role as a protagonist themselves.”
He gives some really interesting examples of museums which have grasped change in the way they use social media to allow active interaction by virtual and physical visitors. Some of them are:
Tate Modern released songs, initially exclusively inside the museum, to which visitors could listen through listening posts and later on the Tate Tracks microsite, then invited the public to participate in searching for an additional track. The invitation potentially reached up to two million people. Young musicians were invited to compose a piece of music inspired by an artwork in the museum and the public were invited to vote for their favourite submitted composition.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art launched a project – “It’s time we MET” – asking people visiting the permanent collection to photograph their experience and using Flickr enter it in a competition to star in a new advertising campaign. Almost a thousand pictures were posted; a panel of judges selected two winners and five runners up.
N8 Audiotours asked members of the public to create their own audiotours about items found in venues around Amsterdam.
Brooklyn Museum launched 1stfans. “1stfan membership is an interactive relationship with the museum that takes place online and in the museum. Part of this relationship is through websites like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr where private members’ areas contain content for 1stfan members. The content in these areas includes artists composing tweets, members sharing pictures, exclusive videos and access to an active online community.”
The V&A in London used a skillfully designed web page to lead people through webpages containing clues to which interested bloggers responded. “The bloggers received further cryptic messages over the next few weeks and 7thsyndikate also entered their real lives with graffiti planted near their homes and adverts placed in newspapers. This all ended with an instruction to dress in a hat and sunglasses, and with a newspaper under the left arm, these spies were to meet a man wearing a tan mac, bowler hat and dark shoes at the Albert Memorial in London. From here he marched them single file to the entrance of the V&A and the exhibition “Cold War Modern”. In total, 35 bloggers made it to the special preview of the exhibition.”
Education: Noel Pearson
Those who read this blog will know of my interest in learning. I wrote a response recently to the Quarterly Essay, “Radical Hope” by Noel Pearson, director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership. The response was kindly posted on the “Save our Schools” site by Trevor Cobbold.
“Radical Hopeâ” traverses very important issues in respect of the education “gap” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, maintaining cultural identity on the margin, the nature of learning and indigenous rights including responsibilities of governments on the one hand and individuals on the other.
As Mr Pearson shows there are extremely significant findings from educational research relevant to the education of Indigenous students. Education in the western tradition of the dominant society in Australia does not by any means require suppression of Indigenous identity: in fact quite the contrary. Maintenance and strengthening of identity is fundamental to survival for almost everyone, a fact suppressed by advocates of assimilation. Diversity of identity strengthens society!â€
Quarterly Essay 36, “Australian Story” by Mungo MacCallum includes a series of responses to Pearson’s essay by people such as Fred Chaney (a director of Reconciliation Australia), Peter Shergold (Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet 2003 to 2008) and Peter Sutton (University of Adelaide and South Australian Museum and author of “The Politics of Suffering…”).
While the world is crying out for creativity and innovation the attention, at least of the media and business and politicians, is focused on league tables, judging teacher effectiveness by student test scores and performance pay. All these are significantly flawed and little evidence of positve contribution of them is available. The studies of learning and education show that early childhood is the critical time for intervention and that well qualified and highly regarded teachers are what make, in the long run, the greatest difference to educational achievement and a life lived, along with encouragement at home and a strong sense of self worth.
It’s rather like the major issue of now being the personal behaviour of golfer Tiger Woods, as economist Paul Krugman observed in respect of global climate change and the COP15 meetings in Copenhagen in his debate with Bjorn Lomborg.
A recent contribution to On Line Opinion by Peter Vintila observed that “Most of us believe that climate policy aims to protect an endangered planet from a badly-ordered human economy. Now listen to just about any politician or industry spokesperson and you soon hear something different: the point, all of a sudden, is not to protect the planet but to protect the human economy from the planet.”
Sunday, June 14th, 2009
OWLâ€™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 â€œEight museum exhibitions you won’t be seeing in L.A. anytime soonâ€ David Ng reports in the Los Angeles Times June 8 2009 that scores of museum exhibitions around the world have been cancelled or postponed. â€œAs 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.â€
They include â€œSubversion of the Images: Surrealism and Photography,” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston scheduled for spring 2010, “Lucyâ€™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 â€œThe Brown Legacy and the Oâ€™Connor Challenge: Transforming Schools in the Images of Childrenâ€™s Potentialâ€ is truly stunning! It is available as a pdfÂ 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 â€“ 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 donâ€™t perform, sacking principals, control by large central bureaucracies or any of the other often mentioned â€˜solutionsâ€™. 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 conferenceÂ 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:Â Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s think-tank, the Global Humanitarian Forum, reported â€œchange 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 â€” more than all the present world aid. You can read more in John Vidalâ€™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 Jamesâ€™s Palace Memorandum: Prince Charles recently hosted a meeting of 20 of the Worldâ€™s Nobel Prize Winners including the heroic Kenyan Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. The St Jamesâ€™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. â€œWe must recognize the fierce urgency of now.â€
The statement also says this: â€œThe 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.â€
And this: â€œDecarbonising 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.â€ You can read more in another article by John Vidal in The Guardian.
President Obama in Cairo â€“ the future of relations between the West and the Arab World: In the reportage of PresidentÂ Obamaâ€™s address from Cairo University much has been made of the six issues he raised – violent extremism,Â 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, â€œOn 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.â€
I didn’t hear any mention of these promises in any of the commentary. David Frost on Al Jazeera (â€œFrost over the Worldâ€) features interviews on reactions to Obamaâ€™s speech. There is a huge amount of superficial clap trap on various blogs and websites in response to this speech!
Thursday, May 7th, 2009
Owl’s Hoots No. 5, 6 May 2009: The “Universal Museum” again, global climate change and the utility of the Nation State. And do financial markets still have credibility?
Who owns Antiquity?: In previous articles I have commented on the proposition that so-called “universal museums” which hold cultural material representative of many nations are of great value because the visitor can thereby compare the development of many peoples. James Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, has gained publicity by claiming, amongst other things, that countries such as Greece, Italy, Turkey and China advance claims for return of cultural property in order to bolster notions of national identity. Author, art expert and student of the Renaissance Ingrid Rowland wrote a significant criticism of Cuno’s claims.
In the Guardian of 27 March newspaper columnist and former editor of The Times Simon Jenkins (“This hoarding of treasures is a scandal. They belong to the world”) surfaces the usual arguments that countries claiming return of cultural property are now populated by citizens who can with difficulty claim relationship with those peoples who created the items in question. The Scottish (Lewis) chessmen are Scandinavian, “the so-called Priam’s treasure, looted from Troy by the German archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, has met with successive claims from Turkey, Greece, Germany and Russia, where it now resides”.
Referring to the “Declaration of the Universal Museum” proposition that collections are for the “public as a whole” he then proceeds to assert that this has become “code for curatorial belief that that anything hidden in a curator’s store was better off there than when shared with the public”.
What of the huge number of travelling exhibitions circulating around the world’s museums which have brought treasures to millions of people? Museums can’t win in the eyes of some: “blockbuster” exhibitions are criticised for diverting attention from the museum’s own collections.
In “Who Should Own the World’s Antiquities?” (New York Review of Books Volume 56, Number 8 May 14, 2009), Hugh Eakin of the New York Review‘s editorial staff reviews Cuno’s “Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage” and the related volume edited by Cuno, “Whose Culture? The Promise of Museums and the Debate Over Antiquities” (Princeton University Press). He also recounts the astonishing story of the false bid for the Chinese Bronze Heads offered at Christie’s auction of the Yves Saint Laurent collection in Paris in February. (Dr Kwame Opoku has posted an extensive response to the note on Cuno and includes material concerning the Report of the American Association of Art Museum Directors’ Task Force on the aquisition of Archaeological materials and ancient art which is referred to below. Opoku, “a retired legal advisor”, has commented on Cuno’s views and reviews of his book on several other sites.)
Eakin writes, “Last June, the directors of the leading art museums of the United States agreed to limit their acquisitions of antiquities to works that have left their “country of probable modern discovery” before 1970, or that were exported legally after that date. On the face of it, the decision, issued by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), did no more than update guidelines for ancient art-one of a number of such policy refinements by the association in recent years. In fact, however, it announced a tectonic shift in museum thinking about collecting art and artifacts of the distant past, a change that was unimaginable even five years ago.”
Eakin concludes, “In contrast, lending can work both ways: the rich diversity of American, British, French, and German museums can be seen in countries that do not have international art of their own, even as loans from archaeological countries, like those in the Babylon show, provide Western museums with what can no longer be acquired outright. Rather than a threat to the cosmopolitan ideal, then, the new dÃ©tente between foreign governments and American museums should be seen as an essential step in confronting the urgent problem of the destruction of archaeological sites. For the most crucial challenge is not the aggressive nationalism of some countries or the voracious appetites of some museums: it is the disappearance of the ancient past so coveted by both.”
Global Climate Change and the Nation State: In the view of many, many people around the world, the changes to the World’s climate linked to the increasing emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases since the industrial revolution is the major problem facing everyone. More extreme weather conditions, rising sea levels, declining river levels, acidification of the oceans leading to decline of coral reefs, extinctions of more animals and plants threaten humans in near innumerable ways.
For decades a number of people have advocated measures to reduce emissions including greater efficiency, reduction in energy demand, increasing public transport, investment in renewable energy generation. Much of the focus is on reduction in “carbon pollution” emissions through taxation measures or trading in carbon emission permits, co-ordinated at least at a national level. Whilst many experts and commentators have drawn attention to such measures being a source of increased employment and even a way of reversing the present financial turmoil, others continue to claim that huge numbers of jobs will be lost, especially in industries emitting substantial emissions.
After a disastrous refusal by the US under the Bush administration to take any action that country, led by President Barack Obama, is now taking a major role. In an outstanding article in The Monthly for May (No. 45, p12-15), Tim Flannery and Nick Rowley (a director of climate-change firm Kinesis and former advisor to Tony Blair) write, “confusion over the CPRS reveals that tackling the climate problem requires an absolute clarity of political purpose and leadership. We were at the second meeting of the Copenhagen Climate Council, at the Royal Institution in London, with Steven Chu, now the American secretary for energy. He spoke compellingly of how he and President Obama have the job of helping to stimulate and shape the political momentum to cut carbon emissions. There is no constituency to be satisfied in the US, but rather a constituency to be established by explaining the urgency of the problem and the environmental, economic, moral and societal wisdom of developing policies to tackle it. [My emphasis]
“As Chu made clear, this requires a more engaged, positive and intelligent political leadership, for small-minded politics magnifies failure – both real and imagined – and the media primes the public to be highly intolerant of it.”
All of this – leadership in difficult times, the establishment of a constituency – seems beyond the Rudd Government. I do not have words for the position adopted by the Liberal-National Coalition and spokespersons like Andrew Robb. Distinguished commentators such as Ross Gittins (“It’s gamesmanship, and we all lose“, Sydney Morning Herald May 6) and Marianne Wilkinson (“Climate deal will depend on others, so why not call Rudd and Wong’s bluff?“, Sydney Morning Herald May 7) have clearly stated the utter folly of the situation!
In “Quarry Vision: Coal, Climate Change and the End of the Resources Boom” (Quarterly Essay 33-Black Inc; March 2009) climate policy analyst Guy Pearse writes, “No matter what happens in 2009, Australians will still be conscripts on the wrong side of a “coal war” with climate change, a costly and disastrous proxy war on behalf of our coal industry. The industry may prevail, but we will lose, as will the planet – it is merely the extent of the loss that is uncertain”.
The Australian Museum has just opened a new exhibition: “Climate Change Our Future Our Choice”.
The veracity of economists: In one of the essays in The Monthly for May responding to the essay by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on the global financial turmoil, which along with Monthly editorial board chair Professor Robert Manne has been the subject of extraordinary debate, Charles R. Morris (lawyer, banker and author of “The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown”) observes, “The Wall Street Journal recently published a ranking of the leading American economic forecasters on the accuracy of their 2008 economic predictions. The two key data points were the 2007-08 fourth quarter to fourth quarter real growth in GDP and the 2008 end-of-year unemployment rate. There were 51 economists in the sample, form all the major financial institutions and forecasting firms. Of the 102 forecasts, all were wrong in the same direction. Only one economist had the correct sign of the quarter to quarter change in GDP. Almost all the others thought that, while 2008 would see some disruption, it would be on the whole a rather decent year.”
The one economist who was correct in his forecasts was Goldman Sachs economist Jan Hatzius (see “Bears Top List of Economic Forecasters”, WSJ 13 February). “The bulk of prognosticators were pessimistic going into 2008, but they weren’t pessimistic enough. The economy would slow, they thought, but only Mr. Hatzius thought it would contract. He also foresaw a steep increase in the unemployment rate, moderate inflation and a Federal Reserve that would be busy cutting rates.”
Can we see any acknowledgement of these serious errors in the current comments by financial commentators? One senior economist in Australia recently – in commenting on the forthcoming Federal budget – suggested that “financial markets” would have to be satisfied about the Government’s policies. I had thought that financial markets had lost most of their credibility! I have drawn attention to this already, specifically referring to Nassim Taleb’s “Black Swan” and the discussion with “the World’s leading psychologist” (and Nobel prizewinner in economics) Daniel Kahneman.
Next week: Education and schooling, teaching and assessment
Monday, March 9th, 2009
â€œI think we live in difficult and dangerous times. We’re faced with problems that are both unprecedented and serious caused by human numbers and associated impacts exceeding the globe’s sustainable limits. The problems are not yet insuperable. But to solve them we require a paradoxical mixture; not only the questioning fact-based spirit of the Enlightenment to acknowledge the problems and seek solutions to them, but also people and institutions showing high levels of cooperative behaviour, the evolutionary origins of which may well be associated with inflexible and authoritarian beliefs and structures which are antithetic to such a questioning spirit.â€
(Lord Robert May speaking at the Lowy Institute, 19 November 2007; excerpt from transcript, ABC Science Show, 1 December 2007)
Asked what he thought was the biggest challenge museums faced these days, Thomas P. Campbell, 46, appointed September 9 to be Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to succeed Philippe de Montebello at the beginning of 2009, said without hesitation, â€œA crisis of confidence.â€ In his view museums are often cowed by an audience that they donâ€™t fully understand.
â€œThere is a fear that the collections themselves are not sufficient, that one has to somehow gussy them up with presentations and dumb them down to two-syllable labels that can be read by a 6-year-old,â€ he said. â€œAnd of course you should never underestimate your audience.
â€œIn this age of communication and the Internet our local and international audiences are actually very sophisticated. So the big challenge is how to deliver different levels of information to different audiences.â€
Carol Vogel, â€œFrom Tapestries to Top Job, Ready for Metâ€™s Challengesâ€ New York Times September 11, 2008
There is no inherent reason why we should always trust those in positions of authority.
There are five main points to make about museums in Australia in mid-2008, and the future, where they should be and how they might get there. Five because, as I learned many years ago, most people manage to keep seven, plus or minus two, things in their head at any one time. And if we want to move together it is a good idea if we can do so without having to look up the book all the time to find the right lines to speak.
1, Get the social processes right
2, Be engaged
3, Believe in our own goals
4, Celebrate achievement
5, Form alliances.
And we need to laugh more!
None of these justify the existence of museums or distinguish them as special. Rather they recognise that museums are social organisations, groups of people. That is reflected especially in the first point. Professionalism will flourish in an environment conducive to that flourishing!
â€œMuseums are coalitions of like-minded people in search of a constituency, one that will value the product more than they pay to gain access to it. Like clever politicians, the successful museum person knows the utility of the common agenda, vocabulary and shared values. But they know also that the logic of the market is imperfect and that trusted allies are essential. The real experience will give a competitive advantage but the collections and associated scholarship will secure the future only when influential constituencies value the past and its lessons.â€
Museums are caught up in the financial meltdown like everyone else. However, letâ€™s not forget that over the last several decades a lot of things have gotten in the way of clearly seeing a viable future. I am not talking about museums having lost their way and don’t know whether they are Disneyland or academies.
In times like these â€“ the present financial crisis â€“ the tendency is to see that the main game is ensuring the health of the budget. Unfortunately, that has often been the focus over the last several decades as neoliberal and market-driven philosophies have held sway. Accountability and transparency have been demanded but seldom exercised by those making the most strident demands for it. A fundamental of this philosophy is its inherent short run focus. But most organisations, particularly museums, have to have a long term vision.
The principal contributions of board and executive, indeed of everyone in the organisation, are those which provide an environment conducive to the ongoing goal to acquire, conserve and research material evidence of people and their environment so as to make a difference to public understanding. Excitement and understanding!
The whole point of all this is not to pursue management as an end in itself but to get things working so that the really important stuff, doing what the show is set up to achieve, can be done and done well!
Continue to essay