NZ Science Dean wants schools to teach Māori “spirituality” and “non-secularism” in science

February 15, 2022 • 10:45 am

Shoot me now!  New Zealand’s system of science education continues to go down the toilet (along with Donald Trump’s papers, I guess) as everyone from government officials to secondary school teachers to university professors pushes to make Mātauranga Māori (“MM”) or Māori “ways of knowing” coequal with science, to be taught as science in science classes. All of them intend for this mixture of legend, superstition, theology, morality, philosophy and, yes, some “practical knowledge” to be given equal billing with science, and presumably not to be denigrated as “inferior” to real science. (That, after all, would be racism.) It’s one thing to teach the indigenous ways of knowing as sociology or anthropology (and but of course “ways of knowing” differ all over the world); it’s another entirely to say that they’re coincident with modern science.

The equation of “ways of knowing” like MM with modern science is, of course, part of the Woke Program to “decolonize science”. The problem, of course, is we have a big conflict—one between a “way of knowing that really works“, which is science, and on the other side a reverence for the oppressed and their culture, embodied in MM.  The result is, of course, that the oppressed win, and all over the Anglophonic world science is being watered down, downgraded, pushed aside, or tarred with adjectives like “white supremacist” and “colonialist.”

And so here we have a professor and a college administrator, Dr. Julie Rowland of Auckland University, pushing to get spiritualism and MM taught either alongside science or as science. She’s not really clear about that, but I sense a camel’s nose approaching the science tent.

Rowland is not only a structural geologist, but the deputy dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Auckland, considered (for the time being) New Zealand’s best university.

And so, in an article in Newsroom, we see the Deputy Dean of Science telling us that science is not enough; we need more spirutuality—presumably Māori spirituality—taught in schools and Universities. Click to see another batch of bricks crumble in the foundation of New Zealand’s science

Note that Rowland not only refers to New Zealand by its Māori name, “Aotearoa”, but hastens to mention the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi (called “Te Teriti” in Māori), as the basis for the injection of spirituality into school. That ancient treaty, which says nothing about science, and wasn’t even signed by many Māori chiefs, is held up not only as the founding document of New Zealand, but is used as an excuse for Woke behavior like the stuff under consideration.

Rowland begins by giving to science with one hand and taking with the other:

Science is a rational pursuit of knowledge, but it does not exist in splendid isolation. If this is painted as the ‘ideal’ science, then it is incomplete. People do science, and people and their culture/s are inseparable.

In Aotearoa/New Zealand our nation’s origins lie with the Treaty of Waitangi. The Treaty is a formal agreement with the third article guaranteeing Māori equal rights and privileges. That means access to education within a system that seeks to fulfil the potential of every individual.

I suspect the heart of the issue is the notion that education should be secular and devoid of any form of spirituality. Proponents of this view would say a karakia (sometimes interpreted as a prayer) to open or close an event, or before guests eat afternoon tea, has no place in education. But in the context of Māori practices and values, and bringing Treaty articles to life, this makes perfect sense. And is absolutely integral.

No it’s not; not in modern education. Keep prayers and MM out of science!

Further, those equal rights and privileges do not include the right to have your legends and mythology taught as science. It’s as if the Constitution gave every Native American the right to have their “way of knowing” taught in schools, and as science. The thing is, we can amend the Constitution, but the Treaty is both nebulous and subject to conflicting interpretations. There is no final authority to rule on what it says, though certainly the Māori should and do have legal and moral equality with everyone else. But that doesn’t include equal rights to have your myths taught in science class—any more than the equality of Americans guarantees that every religious version of “creation” be taught alongside evolution. As Daniel Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Rowland continues by adding that NZ’s Education Act of 1877 established compulsory secular education for “colonial” kids, and extended it in 1894 to all residents of New Zealand. Back then the country had a separation of church and state, though there were religious schools.

But Rowland thinks that 1894 was a big mistake:

Over the past three decades, Māori values, which are inextricably linked to spirituality, have been taken more seriously by the education sector resulting in a shift in the meaning of a secular education. For example, by 1999, all primary and some specialist (physical education) secondary teachers were required to factor spiritual well-being into their teaching programmes. If you’d been trained to think that spirituality has no part in education, as I did then, this was challenging.

But consider the alternative. If Māori values are parked outside state education, who is education for, and on what terms? Clearly, this scenario disregards every aspect of  Te Tiriti o Waitangi and wider indigenous rights.

This is arrant nonsense. Why should there be a guarantee that everyone’s “values” be taught to them in school?  If this were America, and a Christian said that her antiabortion and creationist values should be taught in public schools, she’d immediately be slapped down by the First Amendment. For every group—nay, every person—has different values. Even the constitution and meaning of MM differs among Māori scholars!  If a Māori child needs her values buttressed, there is an entire and tightly knit community, the iwii, to accomplish that.

The purpose of education, at least as I see it, is to impart generally accepted knowledge to students, and to teach them how to think and how to defend and analyze their views. This is precisely the opposite of MM, which is a kind of theology that cannot be questioned or falsified. Under my construal, education is indeed for everyone, but for those groups who have spiritual/religious/moral values that differ from those of other groups, they have to get those things reinforced on their own time.

Finally, we see below that a dean at Auckland University’s faculty of science starts plowing the ground to make way for the teaching of MM as science. This is a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut that’s flattening both science and the educational system of Aotearoa:

In my view, efforts to acknowledge and understand mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) enrich the capacity of students and staff to connect across different world views, which is critical if we are to address the inequities in Aotearoa, let alone global crises like climate change. Acknowledgement and understanding of beliefs leads to richer engagement and the building of a relationship of equals.

Universities are the last in the education line to grapple with the duality that comes with meeting Treaty obligations. There is widespread support for this among academics who see the relevance in multiple ways. Our universities are not at a crossroads choosing the path of the universality of science or a race-based ideology. We are on a dual carriageway and the momentum is building.

You see what she’s doing here? The last two sentences give away the goal. I’ll repeat them:

Our universities are not at a crossroads choosing the path of the universality of science or a race-based ideology. We are on a dual carriageway and the momentum is building.

She argues that there’s no need to give precedence to science over whatever she construes as a “race-based ideology”, which to me suggests she’s referring sarcastically to how some characterize MM. The last sentence, at least, implies that both MM and science are speeding along that “dual carriageway” into the science class. And yes, the momentum is building as the Valorization of the Oppressed has dictates that MM is coequal to science. According to the good Dean, you can have your science and your mythology too. Did you know that, according to MM, the Polynesians discovered Antarctica in 700 AD (the real finders were the Russians in 1820), centuries before the MM came to New Zealand? This is all oral legend, and it is wrong. And it’s just as wrong as the “theology” of MM, with its panoply of gods and legends that can’t be supported by evidence.

It’s unbelievable that a science dean at New Zealand’s best university can put out this kind of palaver.  The nation’s scientists, who by and large seem adamantly opposed to this stuff, have no say in the matter, and if they object, they could be fired. It’s politics, Jake!

People of Aotearoa: rise up against this nonsense! Do you want your science education to become the laughingstock of the world? For that is what will happen if the benighted keep barrelling along that dual carriageway of science and nescience.

41 thoughts on “NZ Science Dean wants schools to teach Māori “spirituality” and “non-secularism” in science

  1. When I did my chemistry degree many moons ago, I was unencumbered by any ancillary social studies type stuff. It was wonderful, just chemistry with a little bit of math and physics thrown in. Wednesday afternoons were free, so we could go round ourselves as human beings. Sports, clubs pastimes etc.

    I must admit the metals in biochemistry course felt a little bit extra curricular.

    Good times at UEA.

    1. I went to W&M like our estimable PCC. When I went there they had pretty strong out-of-major requirements for the first year or two. For physical science majors, at least 3 courses in two different humanities plus at least 3 courses in two different social sciences. Whether you wanted it or not, you had to get a broad liberal arts education.

      I griped at the time but came around during my second year and enjoyed being able (well…forced) to broaden my education. For the same reason, I have little problem with a NZ Uni telling its students they need to take courses in native NZ culture and practices. Yeah, it’s provincial. And yeah, some students would not choose to do that voluntarily or see the relevance in it, but that doesn’t make it necessarily a bad thing. Science does indeed not exist ‘in splendid isolation.’ Making students take classes that broaden their mind and get them outside their specialty is okay.

      However, that’s a very far cry from MM being portrayed as science, which it shouldn’t be.

      I suspect Prof. Rowland is vague on the details of her idea for two related reasons. First, for political appeal: she’s trying to please both the hard core woke ‘MM is science’ crowd, and the more moderate ‘MM is socially important but not science’ crowd. You can’t give details if you’re going to keep both happy in the same big tent. Second, because it’s a bit of a ‘bell the cat’ problem: the moment someone creates a clear, defined curriculum or set of courses, all the faults and problems with the notion are going to be laid bare.

      1. Yes, but her last paragraph where she explicitly compares science and MM gives the game away. I had a fantastic education at W&M, and I hope people didn’t think I was saying that MM shouldn’t be taught anywhere (in fact, I said it should)/ But there’s a lot more to non-science than MM!

      2. I had very few “humanities” courses in my course of engineering study in the late 1970s, early 1980s at a large Midwest teaching and research university.

        I enjoyed them very much. I aced them all. (I’ve always had an art background, inherited from my parents. Visual arts, books, writing. In personality tests, I test out all over the place.) I will never forget my prof. in an art history course do a double take on his class list when we were interacting in class (class of about 100 students; large lecture hall) as he noted that I was an engineering major. I was as active in class as any other student; far more than most of them.

        I would be in favor of more requirements in humanities for technical degrees — though most of the students would hate it while doing them. I think, like you, they would appreciate it later.

        1. I worry that you and Eric are confusing requirements to take humanities courses in STEM degrees, a great idea, with sneaking mumbo-jumbo (which would not pass muster in any humanities course I ever took, btw) into science courses themselves, which is a terrible idea. Not merely as an illustration of how science has progressed and replaced those pre-scientific beliefs but how those beliefs are still valid in the modern practice of science today.

          Recalling Evita, If New Zealand can do without science, then science can do without New Zealand.

          Edit: sorry, I think I misunderstood Eric. Didn’t catch the shift where his argument agrees with mine.

          1. Correct on your edit. I’m not confusing the two. I’m pointing out that while the woke and postmodernists may be determined to get MM into the curriculum in a ‘wrong way,’ there yet remains a ‘right way’ for moderates and saner voices to offer as a counterpoint.

            And I think that ‘right way’ is really important to emphasize, because if this devolves into an include-it-or-don’t fight, we could easily lose. The woke may try and phrase it as a false dichotomy, and we have to be ready to be the voice of reason and say no it’s not; there are other better, more in-depth methods of honoring and teaching Maori understanding beyond sticking it in a Bio 101 or Chem 101 class.

  2. In Canada, we have our own embarrassing, outdated scrap of paper to justify wokeness: the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Interestingly, that same Proclamation is ignored when it comes time to getting rent seekers off the taxpayer trough.

    1. The concept of land ownership and ownership in general is an interesting concept when viewed through the eyes of a physicalist or free will skeptic.

      1. That’s why we have guns: To make sure the concept does not get too “interesting” to those who covet. Either we wield them or we delegate their wielding to the state. Social constructs take you only so far. Bullets and fences have a certain attractive physicality to them.

  3. To make it simple for a U o Auckland academic to comprehend, since Auckland’s tax base sits on approx 35% payment by those of Asian ethnicities such as me, and perhaps around 12% by Pacific peoples, why should the allegedly spiritual teachings of Auckland’s 11% Maori population be elevated into prime position?

    Rowland’s “In my view, efforts to acknowledge and understand MM enrich the capacity of students and staff to connect across different world views” is disingenuous metatwaddle, because it does not reason in a coherent and scientific way. Dr Rowland, you give no reason at all to state why MM is the BEST method to ‘enrich’ or ‘connect across different world views’. In fact, you conspicuously fail to even claim that it is the best method! If under a controlled study situation, if Matauranga Maori came, for instance in 98th position behind 97 other systems to connect across the 35+% Asian student base of Auckland university pre-covid, with the MELAA and White NZ, White Anglo-European, Maori and PI students and staff, would you sideline MM because it failed the ‘best fit’ heuristic?

    Besides, Dr Rowland, if you claim MM should be a guiding light for political reasons, this is the exact situation in China. The Communist Party is the ideological leader of China, and Xi Jinping is its boss, which is why Comrade Xi Jinping thought is a compulsory module across all university departments in China. Your reasoning for MM is IDENTICAL in structure to the reasons Comrade Xi Jinping thought is compulsory for all students in all Chinese universities.

  4. I don’t see any of this demonstrated in her webpage’s list of publications. Hoping it is nothing to do with “Such fluids may be heated groundwater pregnant with precious metals”.

  5. Let me play the Devil’s advocate here. We should breathe a karakia of thanks that Dr. Rowland and her fellow travelers are not calling for the elimination of Science and of Enlightenment thinking altogether from the curricula. Demands of this sort are certainly turning up, as in a 2018 issue of the
    Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education. This polemic starts as follows:

    “It has been argued many times over the course of decades and across diverse paradigms that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education practices-as-usual (re)produce systems of dominance: be it patriarchy, heteronormativity, white supremacy, Eurocentrism, (neo-)colonialism, able-ism, classism, labor inequity, anthropocentrism, and/or others. Thankfully, there are many who are doing the critical and creative work of (re)opening STEM education to the possibility of eco-social justice to-come through a plurality of productive approaches, orientations, and stances: anti-oppressive, anti-racist and critical race-based, decolonizing and de/colonizing, queer, Indigenous, gender-equitable, post-colonial, community-based and participatory, critical place-based, inter-species, and many more.”

    This introduces an anthology of papers on approaches “to enact research in STEM education for social and ecological justice”, written in exemplary post-modern educrat jargon such as: “…attempt to dislodge the majoritarian concept of “nature” through a minor inquiry which traces the contours of Nature, honoring its inherent and ever-emerging local, differentiating, and queer potential”. See:

    1. Opaque post modern jargon (love that term: educrat) really gets up my nose. It is nearly as bad as the virtue signaling scattering of Maori vocab throughout written publications in NZ. I’d like to see a google word search big data number/s measuring the increase of this over the past two decades.
      I bet it goes straight up.
      NYC (formerly of Auckland)

  6. I hear a nasty gurgling sound – is it Tangaroa taking a leak? No! It’s the sound of the value of a University of Auckland degree going down the drain. Well, that’s probably the most appropriate place for it, given the admixture of superstition and myth that dilutes their science.

  7. “This is precisely the opposite of MM, which is a kind of theology that cannot be questioned or falsified.”

    Ah, excellent point. Mark Sturtevant said something similar (don’t ask how I remeber these things) that MM ideas would have to be subject to the same rigors as, say, what we know about DNA.

    How can we miss something like that – question & not being inhibited to falsify a thing – when it is so obvious?

    I think Orwell write about that… losing track of what is under one’s own nose.

    1. I’m quite sure that we are not so naive as to think that MM, taught in a science class, will be subjected to the rigors of experimental testing. It is the epistemological equivalent of dogma: assumed to be correct and not to be questioned. Capable science students will recognise what is going on and just regard it as one more hindrance, like the weed on the hull of a ship.

    2. Yep. Be careful about which of your precious ideas you stick in the ‘science’ bucket, for we test the things you stick in there.

      As to how they miss that problem – I suspect they don’t, or at least don’t think that far ahead. Like American creationists, they are focused on the ‘step 1 – get it in front of students’ stage. I guess their hope is that the number of students who accept it semi-blindly based on the authority of the school will be greater than the number of students who reject it due to the critical thinking the school is supposed to teach on it. Which, cynically, may not be a bad bet.

  8. Dr. Rowland asserts that science is embedded in culture. Here’s a quotation from her essay:

    “Science is a rational pursuit of knowledge, but it does not exist in splendid isolation. If this is painted as the ‘ideal’ science, then it is incomplete. People do science, and people and their culture/s are inseparable.‘

    I agree that science is embedded in culture, but I do not agree with the implication that science and culture *should* be inseparable. Scientists, philosophers of science, and historians of science are very aware of the interpenetration of science and culture. But these practitioners are also aware of (and often study explicitly in their research) how the interpenetration of the two *confounds* the pursuit and acceptance of knowledge. That is, they are aware of and study how cultural biases can get in the way of truth and how, over time, science overcomes (or seeks to) the biases imposed by culture in the pursuit of truths that are culturally neutral and universal.

    As a professional scientist, Dr. Rowland should know that purposely embedding cultural bias into the pursuit of knowledge only sullies the effort to elucidate universal truths. Entangling the two as a matter of policy leads to the very antithesis of what science seeks to achieve.

    1. “I agree that science is embedded in culture, but I do not agree with the implication that science and culture *should* be inseparable.”

      Indeed – if science cannot be separated from culture, then it is not science; it is belief.

  9. I know that NZ is famous for wool but woolly thinking is a step too far.
    How would Rowland or the iwii react if the position were reversed and they were obliged in the name of the treaty to teach science alongside their teaching of traditional MM?

  10. People of Aotearoa: rise up against this nonsense! Do you want your science education to become the laughingstock of the world?

    Maybe. Could be that one day scientists becoming laughingstocks — marginalized, victimized, oppressed, repressed laughingstocks — may be what’s needed to gain back respect, support, and a little deference.

  11. “Do you want your science education to become the laughingstock of the world?”

    No fear, science education will go down the drain in so many other countries that it won’t stand out so much anyway.

    1. I babysat the (New Zealand) granchildren the other night (all under 12) and got into a discussion of what an animal is. “Don’t they cover that in science?” I naively asked. “We don’t learn science ” one responded “you have to go to private school for that.”
      The drain is already clogged.

  12. In Aotearoa/New Zealand our nation’s origins lie with the Treaty of Waitangi.

    I’m not sure what this sentence means – I would have thought our nation has all sorts of components in its origins. Even if we restrict these components to various constitutional documents, then NZ has a number of such documents of which the treaty is but one.

    And if we limit ourselves ourselves to the treaty, then we have a document, English version considered here, with fewer than 500 words, (IIRC) of which the three articles constitute less than half, and part of the second article (the pre-emption clause) was abandoned more than 150 years ago.

    Yet somehow, otherwise intelligent and sceptical people imagine that this brief, 1840 document is an infallible piece of constitutional and social wisdom from which precise policies in any public matter can be derived and treated as some sort of sacred writ, which amazingly coincides with their own preferences in the 21st century.

    I think the Treaty, as written is quite a reasonable and defensible document, but quite apart from the scientific dubiety of MM, am sceptical of the treatyolatry which underlies Dr Rowlands’ argument.

    1. If all claims to knowledge are equal, then people who claim Donald Trump won the 2020 election are not wrong, they just have a different point of view. Same thing for Holocaust deniers. If you said that slavery was a myth, it should be accepted as true as well.

  13. If indigenous knowledge should be taught as equal to science, should medical schools in some South American countries teach partible paternity, which is the indigenous belief that sperm from several men can contribute to make a singe child? Should we also teach that hydroxychloroquine cures COVID-19 because some people believe it? Where do we draw the line?
    Of course, every religious group will want to take over science class, including fundamentalist Muslims and Christians. The moral consequences could be severe.
    As for her claim that climate change science would benefit from indigenous knowledge, I highly doubt it. It was not indigenous people that detected increases in CO2 levels, and we will need real science to solve that problem, not religion.

    1. At least at this late date, reducing CO2 emissions is more of a religious problem broadly construed than a scientific one. The science is, after all, settled, right? Reducing economic output through the environmental stewardship supposedly integral to MM may well be more important than building better batteries. Hence the valourizing of MM by the woke.

      I think this is what the Dean of Science is getting at.

  14. As this thing roles forward, I wonder if some brave souls down there could write a scientific paper for one of their local journals that is Sokal-esque. A paper on something that has real science, but also larded with the necessary amounts of MM language. But the MM part, when translated and compared to actual MM beliefs and knowledge, is shown to be completely made up nonsense.

  15. Practical knowledge isn’t science either; it may be applied science but the scientific method isn’t being employed. I know how to lay down a nice bead of metal when I’m welding but what I’m doing isn’t science.

    Which is to say, even if you’re being generous 0% of MM is actually science.

  16. This is a lost cause now. And this is about indoctrination (making others accept a set of beliefs uncritically through deliberate repeated instructions) and it is best done at school and unis – they know this well. Once you realize this is indoctrination in the service of political motives you basically have to stop and start counting votes because the majority is always the winner.

  17. What fascinates me about that article is that the arguements she uses are effectively the same ones used by creationists to justify teaching the bible in science classes.

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