Article critical of teaching indigenous “ways of knowing” as science in New Zealand gets published in Australia because Kiwis wouldn’t print it

May 26, 2022 • 10:30 am

UPDATE: Dr. Rata tells me that she was invited by The Australian to write that article. She notes that “The good news is that there is an increasingly number of excellent virtual media outlets in this country that are taking on the mainstream media by publishing in-depth investigative articles. Several have published my pieces in the past and I’m confident that they will continue to do so.”

That is probably true, but I didn’t know it and I stand by my claim that both people who sent me the article said it couldn’t be published in NZ. However, they (and I) seem to be wrong.

I’m not an Aussie, but I’m told that The Australian is that continent’s most widely read newspaper, and is the only daily-pan-Australian paper. Yesterday it featured an article by Elizabeth Rata, professor of education at the University of Auckland and signer of “The Listener Letter” opposing the teaching of indigenous “ways of knowing” (Mātauranga Māori, or “MM”) as equivalent to modern science in New Zealand classrooms . She’s thus one of the “Satanic Seven” Auckland professors who signed the letter.

Rata’s article excoriates the efforts of the New Zealand government to insert MM into the school science curriculum and to “decolonize” the entire school curriculum.  Unfortunately, the article is paywalled, but judicious inquiry will yield you a copy. Click if you have access to The Australian:

Quotes from the short piece:

Led by radical intellectuals of the corporate tribes and enabled by social justice warriors armed with an unassailable moral righteousness, New Zealand’s entire education system is rapidly being revolutionised.

Proposals in a recent government Green Paper for a Treaty of Waitangi-led science and research system include recognising mātauranga Māori (traditional knowledge) as equivalent to science.

. . .Proposals to transform the university curriculum and teaching by inserting mātauranga Māori and kinship-based teaching and learning practices are now in the consultation phase.

The revolution does not stop there. The entire school sector is to be “decolonised”. The Ministry of Education’s ‘Te Hurihanganui A Blueprint for Transformative Systems Shift’ will include recognising “white privilege” and understanding racism in schools while the Ministry’s Curriculum Refresh will place ‘knowledge derived from Te Ao Māori (the Māori world)’ in the curriculum.

These initiatives, targeted at all levels of the education system will provide opportunities for an expansion of the cadre of decolonisers as ‘Māori exercise authority and agency over their mātauranga, tikanga (customs) and taonga (treasures)’.

Four strategies will ensure the revolution succeeds:

First, the opposition is being positioned as racist and reactionary, effectively silencing debate and creating self-censorship.

Second, government servants are required to accept the revisionist notion that the Treaty of Waitangi is a ‘partnership’ between two co-governing entities. Reprogramming services by government-paid consultants are on hand to encourage appropriate attitudes — signalled most obviously by insisting on using the correct language.

Third, the abandonment of universalism by the well-educated liberal-left who inhabit elevated positions in government and the caring professions will remove democracy’s very foundation. This is the principle of a shared universal humanity with the individual as the political category. It is the final point in the four decades convergence of postmodern relativism and identity politics.

The fourth strategy will be the clincher. It is the use of intellectual relativism to destroy the separation of science and culture that characterises the modern world.

Traditional cultural knowledge, including mātauranga Māori, employs supernatural explanations for natural and social phenomena. It also includes practical knowledge (proto-science or prescientific), acquired from observation, experience, and trial and error.

Such traditional knowledge has provided ways for humans to live successfully in their environment. Sometimes this has occurred in highly sophisticated ways, such as ocean navigation by the stars and currents, while efficacious medicines from plants may have helped to advance scientific or technological knowledge. Consequently, the role of traditional knowledge in humanity’s history justifies a place somewhere in the educational curriculum. But it is not science. It does not explain why such phenomena occur — just that they do.

Science provides naturalistic explanations for physical and social phenomena in the discovery of empirical, universal truths. It proceeds by conjecture and refutation. It requires doubt, challenge and critique, forever truth-seeking but with truth never fully settled.

Science’s naturalism and its self-criticism are anathema to the science-culture equivalence claim. A fundamental principle of science is that no knowledge is protected from criticism yet the Green Paper refers to protecting mātauranga Māori. Knowledge that requires protection is belief, not science. Knowledge authorised by culture is ideology, not science.

Furthermore, mātauranga Māori’s inclusion in science throughout New Zealand’s education system will place research under cultural authority. Alarmingly, that authority is to be wielded by evangelical commissars who cannot be questioned.

As far as I know—and I’ve read the tedious and tendentious Green Paper (see below)—what Rata says is pretty much true, though perhaps she goes a wee bit far when she says that the plan will remove the “foundations of democracy in New Zealand”. The country, one of my favorites, will endure, but its science is going down the drain. And they like it that way!

Yet speaking these truths in New Zealand is now verboten: no reputable venue, much less a national newspaper, would publish Rata’s column.  It’s too incendiary: both of the Kiwis who sent me this column emphasized that the op-ed could be published only outside New Zealand.

Let’s hope that the reach of The Australian will at least let Kiwis know how far the rot of relativism has spread in their land, and in its science. And let’s hope that at least some influential Kiwis care about this. So much for free speech in New Zealand!

Below: the “Green Paper”. Click to read:

22 thoughts on “Article critical of teaching indigenous “ways of knowing” as science in New Zealand gets published in Australia because Kiwis wouldn’t print it

    1. This all started when Maori restored the heart of Te Fiti. It’s probably the Goddess doing it. That, or it’s karmic revenge on western society for letting Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson sing show tunes.

      1. “You’re welcome!”
        -not Maui

        … ‘sa good tune! Ain’t Maui though – written by Lin Manuel-Miranda.

        The myth of Maui is a great story.

    2. Yes, the Maoris, whether or not informed by mātauranga Māori, extinguished all 9 species of Moa, and Haart’s Eagle in the process. And we don’t even mention what they did to the Moriories: plain genocide. I’m not sure if that is part of the mātauranga Māori though.

      However, the old verse is very true:
      “No moa no moa in old Aotearoa.
      Can’t get ’em,
      they’ve et ’em,
      they’ve gone and there ain’t no Moa.”

  1. government servants are required to accept the revisionist notion that the Treaty of Waitangi is a ‘partnership’ between two co-governing entities.

    If they were doing this, it might be okay. They are not in fact doing this. A partnership between two co-governing entities would look like this:
    1. NZ has a university. As a partnership, each co-governor gets funds to establish and run the departments they see as valuable for NZ higher education. We will work together to develop things like general requirements.

    What they are doing is more like this:
    2. NZ has a university. You must put MM in the classes we tell you to put it in. You, the co-governing partner, do not get a say in this decision; if we say MM is science, it is. If we say MM is math or history or geology or English lit or anything else, it is.

    what Rata says is pretty much true, though perhaps she goes a wee bit far when she says that the plan will remove the “foundations of democracy in New Zealand”.

    Yeah, I think she does herself and us no favors by making statements like the first paragraph you quote, or like the excerpt I quote above. We are supposed to be representing academic objectivity and reason against what is, essentially, a popular emotional plea to support a downtrodden minority. If we respond with emotional hyperbole, we look at best like the science tribe defending its territory, and at worst like racists. We have to role model the sort of objective academic behavior that we are arguing must be maintained in the curriculum. If we, ourselves, drop that academic distance at the first sign of intellectual threat, then we won’t convince anyone that that academic objectivity and distance is critical to solving problems.

    1. Actually I’m not sure this *is* an overstatement. If the fundamental changes to education being made do not, in the most general terms, enjoy the support, or at least consent, of the majority of the population, then that undermines the democratic accountability of the entire education process. That is a very dangerous situation for any country to get into.

    1. Yes, a good heuristic, a good rule of the thumb. This is about the second or third time I can fully agree with you.

  2. The comment about “foundations of democracy in New Zealand” might be related to recent plans to gerrymander elections by removing requirements for the size of electoral districts to be related to the number of people in those districts:

    A local government body, the Rotorua local council, wanted to reform its own governing council election rules. In their plan, voters would be split by electoral role. Maori voters (who can choose whether to be on the Maori or general electoral role) on the Maori electoral roll would select 3 Councillors, non-Maori voters would select another 3, and the remaining councillor would be selected at-large. This was (obviously!) discriminatory because despite getting to select half out of the 6 segregated seats, Maori role voters only make up about 1/4 to 1/3 of the voters in the district.

    Members of the governing party were outspoken in support of this plan until the Attorney General, as required by law, reviewed it for compatibility with New Zealand’s Bill of Rights legislation, and found it to be discriminatory. Some MPs still support it in spite of its blatantly undemocratic nature.

    (For readers outside of New Zealand, split Maori and general rolls have existed in NZ for over a hundred years. They have widespread support and most people accept they are consistent with democratic principles, because the proportion of electoral districts assigned to each roll is consistent with the proportion of voters on each roll. The Rotorua local council bill is the first to apply a 50/50 rule, ignoring proportions of voters)

    What might have been particularly concerning about this is that a government document proposed such a 50/50 design for a new upper house of New Zealand’s Parliament at a national level:

    > Various further options could be explored through a Declaration plan, including the creation of a senate or upper house in Parliament that could scrutinise legislation for compliance with te Tiriti and/or the Declaration. Various models for the composition of such a body could include a partnership model (with 50/50 rangatiratanga and kāwanatanga representation).

    To be clear, “rangatiratanga” refers to Maori leaders–it may be reinterpreted as Maori as a whole–while kāwanatanga refers to the Crown (or the existing governing structure). So Maori, or Maori leaders–at most 15% of the population of NZ–would get an effective veto on any and all legislation in NZ if they found it to be non-compliant with te Tiriti or the declaration of the rights of indigenous people.

    While this was put together by civil servants and not necessarily representative of the governing party’s policy, the Rotorua local council’s proposed law and the government’s initial support of it suggested to many of people that perhaps the governing party and a large number of civil servants with positions of power in government are supportive of anti-democratic, gerrymandered election frameworks.

    1. Interesting, thanks for the comment.

      A long time ago I heard some wag point out: if the US system is so great, why does every single new democracy choose to the parliamentary model? Literally no new democracy has ever chosen to follow the US model. Well whomever that was, they may now have to eat their words: NZ seems bound and determined to extract the most undemocratic feature of our Senate and apply it to their own system.

      1. I have been critical of some sentiments in the public service and government, but overall I am very pleased with New Zealand’s current electoral system. And in spite of those sentiments, I wouldn’t say “NZ seems bound” to move to the overhaul I described. It would be extremely unpopular, and though it seems to have some support, absolutely would not be tolerated by the electorate overall. I think it requires eternal vigilance on the part of NZers to ensure it stays that way, however.

        Having said that, if such a system were introduced, I think it would be much, much less democratic than the US Senate. While the senate is undemocratic in principle because of the way states are represented without reference to their populations, in practice, it seems like there is very roughly the same level of support for each of the two parties in the Senate and the House, though I am aware they do go different ways from time to time, as it seems they might do in the US elections this November.

        In contrast, the existing New Zealand Maori roll has very different party preferences to the general roll. The Maori roll votes strongly for the Labour Party, currently in power, and for specialist Maori parties. So giving over 50% of the seats of the upper house to voters in the Maori roll (or worse still, unelected Maori rangatira/leaders!) would make for a radical shift away from the power of the voting majority.

      2. In Australia we have a parliamentary system that incorporates elements of the US system; usually termed the Washminster system. Our constitution draws on the separation of powers, freedom of religion, and a state based electoral system for the Upper House (Senate). This system in the Senate is modelled on the US Senate. However where we differentiate is the is that our Head of State is the Governor General appointed by the Queen (unelected but appointed on the advice of the government). It has, with one exception, been an apolitical office. Most Australian support the move to a republic to rid ourselves of our last tie with the monarchy. The government is formed in the lower house, where by convention, the Prime Minister sits With only a few exceptions we have nearly always had a government majority in the House of Representatives. The Senate on the other hand has rarely had a government majority and neither has the major opposition party since about the mid sixties. Any government is usually forced to negotiate bills through the Senate. We have a mix of Westminster in the Lower House and Washington in the Upper House. Our federal juidical system has judges appointed by the government with no parliamentary review, but it remains on the whole fiercely independent too. Most attempts to stack the court system have failed miserably and the government has been bitten on the arse

        All members of parliament are elected through proportional representation and the strong independent and minor party history is a result of that system. It works well. There is no filibuster.
        The Senate as a house of review does just that, and generally with good outcomes. It isn’t perfect, no democracy will be. But what makes it work is the presence of third parties and strong unaligned independents. There is food for thought in this for the turmoil in Washington, however i don’t see the rise of strong independents ever occurring in the US. The great American experiment defined so well by De Tocqueville has failed

  3. If the so-concerned whites in New Zealand really wanted decolonisation, then their most practical action would be to return to the countries of their ancestors.

  4. This plan is bound to backfire in the long term. There will be students who see through the absurdity of teaching tribal lore as science, and will deride the whole enterprise, and the absurdity of it all is bound to eventually become too obvious to paint over.

    If they had stuck to including cultural study of Maori in the core curriculum, as its own class, I doubt anyone would have objected to that. But they went too far in forcing it into science.

    It takes a totalitarian state to demand obedience to transparently false doctrine. I don’t see NZ turning into such.

  5. The Australian is a Murdoch owned rag. It is a very biased right wing media outlet and it rarely publishes any progressive views. I am writing this to try to describe the context behind why this article has been published by The Australian

    In our recent Federal election it campaigned and pushed the reelection of the conservative government. This government was anti climate change, openly corrupt, had tried to cover up sexual abuse inside Parliament House. It was strongly supportive of the PM who was openly religious (that isn’t a bad thing personally for him, everyone has a right to a belief) but who refused to protect the rights of LGBTQI and especially trans kids for being discriminated against in education. The paper also strongly advocated for a religious discrimination bill which prioritised the rights of the religious over the rights of the non religious. That government was booted out with a significant loss of seats in both Houses of Parliament to the Australian Labour Party, the Greens, and large number of independents. The paper is a version of Fox News in print

    Simplistically the reason this article will have been published is to support the conservative agenda within Australia. The Australian has the right to do so of course as we have a free press (although 80% of all news is owned by Murdoch). As I stated above the context behind why the Australian has published this article is important.

    I strongly oppose the way NZ has approached this issue. I think it is muddle headed at best

    1. Thanks Grant. Just what I was about to write. The Australian has descended from its heights as the main paper of record to just another right-wing rag in my lifetime due to the nefarious influence of Murdoch. Even if they have a point on one particular issue I’d say it’s only the old stopped clock effect.

  6. Jerry, the image of the headline in the Australian links to a Microsoft Office Outlook Inbox, not the news article.

  7. I’m an academic geologist in New Zealand. I’m not a big fan of Mātauranga Māori, but I encourage folks to have a look at the linked Green Paper before accepting the “end of science as we know it” assessment. You will see almost immediately that the vast majority of what it deals with are generalized aspirations for future central government spending on science. Tedious? Certainly. Tendentious? Not really. The bureaucracy rolls these out every several years or so. Nothing changes because the funded entities – publicly owned Crown Research Institutes, various government Ministries, and universities at the bottom of the heap – have too much invested in the status quo. Never underestimate the power of bureaucratic inertia when it comes to preventing change.

    And Grant is absolutely correct that The Australian is a Murdoch owned and controlled right-wing rag.

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