Karen Finn, labeled below as a “PhD. candidate, University of Auckland,” is also identified in this short article as “a geography teacher and a teacher editor” who’s “researching decolonizing school geography in Aotearoa New Zealand for a Ph.D. in Education.” The short piece appears on Ipū Kirerū, the blog of the New Zealand Association for Research in Education. And its message is a harbinger of things to come because Finn, who’s not Maori, advocates for Mātauranga Māori (MM), the “way of knowing”of New Zealand’s indigenous people, to be given “equal status” in the geography classroom. The NZ government, educators, and educational authorities apparently plan for MM to be given equal status in everything, including science, though Māori comprise about 16.5% of the population and Asians 15.1% (Europeans are 70.2%).
Recall that MM comprises far more than just empirical stuff—practical knowledge like growing plants and catching eels—but is also an elaborate system incorporating legend, fantasy, religion, a preoccupation with connection and ancestry, and morality. I’m not sure how much MM geography there really is (and author Finn doesn’t tell us), but she wants it to have equal status (presumably with “European geography”) in the classroom. Click to read, and then read the comment at the bottom from a Kiwi friend who discusses the drive to turn NZ education into half “Western stuff” and half MM:
A few quotes from Finn:
Current changes to The New Zealand Curriculum and NCEA call for equal status for mātauranga Māori – mana ōrite o mātauranga Māori. I’m both excited and challenged by this prospect. As a Pākehā geography teacher, giving equal status to mātauranga Māori differs from my expertise and requires me to acquire new knowledge. In this blog post I offer some reflections on my learning so I can support mana ōrite o mātauranga Māori.
Equal status for mātauranga Māori – mana ōrite o mātauranga Māori – is one of several key changes being made to NCEA and curricula. Mātauranga Māori is defined in Te Aka Māori Dictionary as “Māori knowledge – The body of knowledge originating from Māori ancestors, including the Māori world view and perspectives, Māori creativity and cultural practices”. Sir Hirini Moko Mead argues that mātauranga Māori is knowledge of the past, present and future, and it continues to develop and emerge. Mead further explains the importance of mātauranga Māori in this way:
Put simply, the term refers to Māori knowledge. However, once efforts are made to understand what the term means in a wider context, it soon becomes evident that mātauranga Māori is a lot more complex.
It is a part of Māori culture, and, over time, much of the knowledge was lost. The reasons for the loss are well known. Several minds have worked to recover much of what was lost — to reconstruct it, to unravel it from other knowledge systems, to revive parts of the general kete or basket of knowledge, and to make use of it in the education of students of the land. Especially Māori students for whom this is a precious taonga, a treasure, a part of the legacy that is theirs to enjoy.”
Finn then makes the argument that I want to emphasize: that MM and other indigenous stuff are essential as coequal in the curriculum, for without that educational equity, students of Māori ancestry will be left cold—uninterested in “modern science” or modern anything. I’m not sure how this is supposed to work, but I suppose via luring students in with MM and then hooking them with a dose of modernity.
Finn raises Te Teriti o Waitangi as an importation rationale. This is the treaty used to undergird all of this: the Treaty of Waitangi, first signed in 1840 as an agreement between European colonists and Māori, though not all Maori groups signed on. The third part of the treaty “gives Māori people full rights and protections as British subjects,” and that’s been interpreted as a requirement to give MM equal time in the classroom. There is very little debate about this in NZ, and most of those who take issue with this interpretation dare not voice their concerns lest they be demonized or even fired. Finn cites the treaty below but also asserts, importantly, that Māori students will not be successful unless half of their education deals with the indigenous “way of knowing”:
Bolding is mine:
Mead’s statement goes a step further than simply defining mātauranga Māori to explaining the urgency of mana orite o mātauranga Māori, particularly for schools. Giving mātauranga Māori equal status in education is important for honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi and supporting ākonga Māori (Māori students) to achieve success as Māori. Mason Durie says that supporting ākonga Māori to achieve success as Māori requires schools to engage with te ao Māori, and this includes mātauranga Māori. Giving equal status for mātauranga Māori expects the education system to change to fit Māori students rather than the students change to fit the system. It shows ākonga, whānau and communities that their knowledges are valued in schools.
Mead suggests that teachers have an important role in making use of mātauranga Māori. To perform this role well we have to become learners, and even do some unlearning. In my PhD, I am aiming to learn about mātauranga Māori for geography, which is my subject speciality. However, mātauranga Māori isn’t organised into (Western) academic disciplines, such as geography. Mātauranga Māori is integrated and holistic, with relationships between living and non-living parts of the environment and people, and connections between the past, present and future. My process of learning about mātauranga Māori for geography needs to be broader and more holistic than just my discipline.
. . . I’m not alone in this learning journey. Most teachers are learning, planning, and beginning to teach mātauranga Māori, according to NZCER’s National Survey of Secondary Schools. Despite most teachers having begun this journey, non-Māori lag behind Māori in working towards giving equal status to mātauranga Māori. Māori teachers also take more of the burden in supporting colleagues and schools to implement equal status for mātauranga Māori. The survey findings remind us that Māori teachers have varying levels of expertise in te reo Māori and mātauranga Māori and need support too. I need to approach my learning with humility and kindness, without making assumptions or demands of my Māori colleagues.
. . . Mead suggests that teachers have an important role in making use of mātauranga Māori. To perform this role well we have to become learners, and even do some unlearning. In my PhD, I am aiming to learn about mātauranga Māori for geography, which is my subject speciality. However, mātauranga Māori isn’t organised into (Western) academic disciplines, such as geography. Mātauranga Māori is integrated and holistic, with relationships between living and non-living parts of the environment and people, and connections between the past, present and future. My process of learning about mātauranga Māori for geography needs to be broader and more holistic than just my discipline. These are some of the ways that I have begun learning:
Good luck teaching geography in that “holistic” way!
Finn then gives a list of six ways she’s “learning” how to integrate MM into geography, with a virtue-laden statement that sounds familiar to Americans:
3). I am continuing to reflect on my worldview, my privilege, and my ignorance. I am learning and practising humility. One day I hope to be what Georgina Stewart calls a White Ally to my Māori colleagues and ākonga.
As many of us agree, MM certainly deserves a place in the curriculum of NZ schools: it’s an important part of the nation’s history and culture. That place should be in anthropology and sociology classes. But half of all the curriculum? I don’t think that’s wise, especially in science, in which students will be confused between MM (even just the empirical bits) and modern science, which are certainly not coequals in helping us understand the world and Universe.
The idea that curricula must be tailored to the ethnicity of the student is pervasive, not just in New Zealand, but also in the U.S. It has some merit in that students’ backgrounds have to be taken into account to teach them. But to teach everything through an identitarian lens, especially one that calls for coequal representation in the curriculum, is a recipe for not just divisiveness, but educational decline.
One take on this was provided by a Kiwi who’s sent me articles like the above calling for curricular “equity”. He/she wrote me the following (quoted with permission):
. . . it seems pretty clear to me that the whole [identitarian curriculuar] project is based around a self-reinforcing culturalist ideology whereby students are encouraged to believe that their “safety” depends on accessing curriculum through the lens of their own culture. I have no idea what proportion of Māori students think like this, but this proportion will only grow as they are trained to think that way. I think it’s both patronising and infantilising to think that Māori can only relate to science if it’s linked to cultural myths. Even if people accept that this approach is required, what does this then mean for all of the Kiwi students from other cultures? Clearly this is impossible.There’s a recent piece by John McWhorter in the NYT that bears on this: McWhorter says:“[T]oday’s left cherishes a form of tokenism.Our theoretically enlightened idea these days is that using skin color as a major, and often decisive, factor in job hiring and school admissions is to be on the side of the angels. We euphemize this as being about the value of diverseness and people’s life experiences. This happened when we — by which I mean specifically but not exclusively Black people — shifted from demanding that we be allowed to show our best to demanding that the standards be changed for us.”
I think this is much closer to what’s actually going on in New Zealand.
20 thoughts on “A New Zealand geography teacher calls for giving Mātauranga Māori “equal status” in the classroom”
Well yes, she ought to teach that MM geography is equally valid because otherwise she is clearly a racist colonizer. What don’t you get about that?
The world’s gone mad.
It is almost as if “equal” means “unequal” – that is, held to “other” standards of explaining observation, as would be required not just for alternate solutions, but for an “other” way of knowing – what is already known as special pleading.
Sometimes things need to crash and burn before they are finally discarded. When New Zealand finds that it cannot meet its fundamental needs: for water, for energy, for medical care, etc., it will come back to science. The country needs a Sputnik moment for things to turn around.
> Sometimes things need to crash and burn before they are finally discarded.
The trouble is that I don’t see it being a drastic crash. Look at all of the local traditions worldwide that keep regional economies as second-tier powers, from the siesta in Spain to superstition and corruption in much of Southern Europe and Western Asia. If people dropped a lot of those cultural artifacts, Southern Europe and Western Asia could obtain a quality of life much like Northern Europe. However, there has not been a clear crash and restructuring, so people are content to coast.
Now look at the idiom ‘a rising tide lifts all ships’, and consider the corollary. NZ’s quality of life will probably diminish gradually – but at the same time, the same will be true in much of the rest of the West. There won’t be a clear crash, just a lot of old folks saying “Things were better in my day”.
If anything, the world is flattening; the quality of life in formerly non-superstitious parts of the world will sink, while the quality of life in much of the superstitious world is rising.
Sadly, yes. Most likely, there will simply be a slow degradation that people in the developed world won’t notice or will learn to live with. The crash needs to be existential to effect a change of policy—a Sputnik moment. No one wants that but it’s hard to imagine a way out. Maybe there is, but I lack the imagination to see a solution.
One of the interesting points it whether the West is already there. I’ve heard the argument that we’re spoiled and lazy, which is holding us back. Imagine taking two-day weekends or a few weeks of annual leave, when we could actually be productive.
I don’t like the argument, but it holds water. I am glad that the UK, Ireland, and other countries are now experimenting with three-day weekends, but I have lived in countries with 1.5-day weekends where people work until noon Thursday, go home, take Friday off, and go back to work again Saturday through Thursday. I have friends who have lived in countries where people have 10-to-12-hour workdays, where they actually take naps at their desk, confusing ‘hours in office’ with ‘hours of productivity’.
More shades of gray, I guess. No one truly lives up to their full potential.
I’d like to underscore and comment on Jerry’s paragraph beginning “The idea that curricula must be tailored to the ethnicity of the student is pervasive, not just in New Zealand, but also in the U.S.” I, a resident of a peaceful, lovely solidly-middle-class suburb of Chicago, am intimately familiar with three Asian subcultures here in the USA, viz., the Chinese, Korean, and Indian. By “intimately” I mean through family relations. None of those subcultures is concerned about minority representation or inclusion. They are each and all eminently practical, valuing knowledge that is reliable, demonstrable, and actionable. They have no truck with “alternative ways of knowing” and are, if I may be so bold as to say, secretly pleased with those who are satisfied with lower educational standards, because that means there’s less competition for them as they pursue excellence. I offer this observation as a counter to those who believe all minorities in the USA share the same concerns about inclusion.
“They have no truck with “alternative ways of knowing” and are, if I may be so bold as to say, secretly pleased with those who are satisfied with lower educational standards, because that means there’s less competition for them as they pursue excellence.”
I agree with this. My wife immigrated from China as a teenager, and let’s just say that we have pretty high educational standards in our household for our kids.
Through her extended family, I’ve seen firsthand how highly they value rigorous education. One of the biggest indicators is the huge drive in Asian families to live in a good school district…they will often sacrifice greatly to move to a neighborhood with excellent schools. It is largely a silent trend…if for example the school they are at is deemed too mushy academically, they won’t make a fuss and try to take over the school board and change the school. They’ll just pack up and move to a better school district.
It’s basically a non-negotiable deal with the kids…the parents will move heaven and earth to get you into the best school system, and the kids will work very hard at academics. From my anecdotal vantage point, success in certain Asian groups in academics is due 100% to 1) cultural expectations of excellence and 2) sheer hard work.
In fact, because of this non-random movement into school districts, in our area you can basically use a high concentration of Asian kids in a public school as an indicator that the school is likely very academically rigorous. Ditto for high concentrations of Jewish families.
An unfortunate corollary is that there is generally an inverse relationship between the concentration of black and brown kids and academic rigor. A high concentration of white kids could indicate either way…an affluent area probably has very high standards…a more working class area probably does not.
These are the things that no self-respecting liberal would dare say out loud, but nonetheless knows to be true where I live.
Thanks, Joe. My wife is also Chinese. I can relate to and confirm everything you wrote above.
Yes, it is astounding isn’t it when you see it up close…the positive effects of the sheer grind. A lot of it too is the immigrant effect…they tend to work harder than the natives regardless of their cultural background.
Perhaps they’ll teach this in NYC geography class: (Sorry, I’m too technically inept to put the image in directly).
Karen Finn is an absolute shoo-in for that PH.D. But if her car doesn’t start some morning, will she call an MM mechanic?
No, she won’t call in an MM mechanic. Instead, she will first consult a journal of educational theory, and then the Treaty of Waitangi. Instructed by that guidance, she will then voice an incantation to Ruaumoko, the god of earthquakes and volcanoes, which are the closest approach in MM to the internal combustion engine.
Unfortunately, Linguist (above) is probably correct about the future: gradual decline in
the efficacy of every activity in modern life. For a glimpse of how this will feel, read about life in Romania during (and after) the ideologically focused Ceausescu regime.
So what happens when students who aren’t Māori decide that this lovely holistic, less rigorous belief system isn’t just “for the Māori “ but actually true-for-them, too. Instead of holding back in wonder and respect for the thing that’s co-equal to their thing, they adopt — no, culturally appropriate— what belongs to another culture?
It’s awfully hard for children (or adults) to hold on to the idea that two different explanations for facts are both equally respectable choices, as if they’re picking food at a smorgasbord. The authoritative concept of Objective Truth has a nasty habit of sneaking in.
There’s a lot of ways this project is a train wreck waiting to happen. Keeping mātauranga Māori pristinely for the Māori is another car veering off the track.
As a retired New Zealand biology teacher, it’s clear to me that, after years of circling the drain, NZ education, and indeed all our institutions, are now well and truly down the plughole.
A prerequisite for professional advancement in New Zealand is a willingness to state publicly and enthusiastically that the Emperor has beautiful clothes.
Only international ridicule can rescue New Zealand. A new Scopes ‘monkey trial’ perhaps, for which we would need a brave science teacher to state that Matamaura Maori is not science; in fact it is “bollocks”, as Richard Dawkins colourfully described it.
Some years ago I wrote a polemical piece on the state of New Zealand biology education:
It pulls no punches. The response from educationists?
What do the NZ Skeptics have to say on this?
Attempts to interest the Australian Skeptics got replies to the effect that they were scared of being called ‘racist at the drop of a hat’.
No doubt a smilar process is operating in NZ.
I fear it may end in a Scopes Trial as you say. I can only hope the movie based off it is as good as the 1960 one was of the original!
Regardless of anything 2-300 years ago they had a rough idea of the shape of the main islands and knew their way around on land fairly well, then we have plenty of great landmarks.
“Holistic”, heck in the end everything is of a “whole” but in order to understand it one must break it up and look at all the little bits first.
Yes Te Ika a Maui, the fish of Maui, ie, North Island, does look vaguely like a fish with the mouth in Wellington and the tail in the north, but I suspect sailors have long found Cook’s map more helpful and today prefer GPS and modern maps – obviously colonialism and racism.
You would think that a geographer might notice these things, or notice that NZ is an insignificant country a long way from anywhere – its land area is only 0.17% of the world’s land area, the current Maori population, much augmented by intermarriage, is only 0.01% of the world’s population and just one of many indigenous ethnicities around the world – and so be a little hesitant in claiming, equality between MM and scientific knowledge from around the world.
But. in the previous prime minister’s words about NZ and its Covid response, we are a “smug hermit kingdom” and in 30 years NZers, having downplayed modern scientific knowledge, will wonder why we are another unproductive, impoverished Pacific backwater.
Yeah, I agree. Just thought it worth cynically mentioning.
And we’re becoming no better acting the way we are and no different than those pushing this stuff out.