New Zealand is, as I’ve mentioned before, engaged in reforming its curriculum for secondary schools. Right now the government’s Ministry of Education has begun rolling out “proposals,” documents that outline the curriculum area by area. The Ministry is soliciting comments from the public on these areas, with the intention of implementing a final curriculum by 2026. The first document, 61 pages long, deals solely with mathematics (including statistics) and English, and has apparently already been subject to comments. It’s below; click on it if you want to read it. Be aware that it’s heavily larded with untranslated Māori words and phrases, but the only ones you need to know now are these:
ākonga: those who learn; students
whakapapa: Māori genealogy, but construed widely (read the link)
Te Tiriti: The treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840 by British colonists and some (but not all) of the groups of Māori. Its legal status is contested, but it’s been broadly interpreted as meaning that Māori will retain the same rights as the British colonists (called “The Crown”). It is this interpretation that has driven much of the curriculum reform, in which Māori “ways of knowing” (see below) are to be given coequal educational status as other “ways of knowing”. The latter includes science, which I’ve written about quite a bit here.
Mātauranga Māori: The traditional body of knowledge, or “way of knowing”, of the Māori people as handed down among generations. This includes practical knowledge acquired through trial and error, myths, legends, morality, and religion.
The objections to this document, and to the one below it, are detailed in a letter from four New Zealand academics to the Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who replaced Jacinda Ardern as PM this month.
The objections include the heavy infusion of the curriculum by Mātauranga Māori, the divisiveness of the curriculum—effectively dividing students into Māori and non-Māori and creating a “racialized curriculum” (this was not the case in the previous curriculum,—the reliance on Te Tiriti as a rationale for this division, and, most distressing to me, the total equating of indigenous knowledge with “modern” knowledge, including science and math. One sees more emphasis in this document on identity than on what students are to learn, as well as a call for broadening the definition of “success”—clearly to ensure that there is no ranking of achievement. It is putting into practice what many authoritarian and identitarian Leftists want to see in the U.S. It is as much an ideological document as an educational one. And it’s full of buzzwords and messages of hope, but fairly short on substance. It will be a disaster for New Zealand education, New Zealand students, and New Zealand itself, sworn to propagandize the next generation with identitarianism and dilute rationality with superstition.
Te Mātaiaho is designed to give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and to be inclusive of all ākonga. The curriculum is framed within a whakapapa that connects all its components. This whakapapa and its karakia were gifted by Dr Wayne Ngata with the support of eminent experts in mātauranga Māori. The whakapapa flows from Mātairangi (‘To focus on looking beyond the horizon’) to Mātainuku (‘To focus on creating a foundation’) and on to the other curriculum components. Whakataukī bring to life and strengthen each component – from overarching statements through to each learning area and the big ideas within them.
Each learning area draws on the components of the whakapapa and uses the same structure, so that the curriculum is coherent as a whole and easy for teachers to use. Learning that cannot be left to chance is described in five phases. The elements of Understand, Know, and Do for each learning area clearly lay out the big ideas, contexts, and practices for the area and enable increasingly rigorous and complex learning. (p. 4)
. . . . Te Tiriti o Waitangi the Treaty of Waitangi1 is a central pillar of Te Mātaiaho, the refreshed New Zealand Curriculum. Te Tiriti is recognised as a founding document of government in New Zealand and a fundamental component of our constitution. Important principles for realising the vision and aspirations of Te Mātaiaho derive from the preambles and texts of Te Tiriti. Te Tiriti sets out mutual obligations for the Crown and Māori that guide how tangata Tiriti and tangata whenua can live together with mutual respect. It provides for the active protection of taonga, including te reo Māori, tikanga Māori, and mātauranga Māori, and enables fair and equitable educational processes and outcomes for Māori and for all ākonga. (p. 5)
. . . (all bolding is mine) Values are deeply held beliefs about what is important or desirable. They are expressed through the ways in which people think and act. Every decision relating to curriculum and every interaction that takes place in a school reflects the values of the individuals involved and the collective values of the institution.
The content of the New Zealand Curriculum learning areas is value-rich and demonstrates what the values look like in each discipline. The incorporation of mātauranga Māori in all learning areas supports the development of values that are Te Tiriti-honouring and inclusive. (p. 20).
. . . . Being numerate in Aotearoa New Zealand today relies upon understanding diverse cultural perspectives and privileging te ao Māori and Pacific world-views. Like mathematics and statistics, mātauranga Māori is a body of knowledge with a history and a future. When we afford mana ōrite to mātauranga mathematics and statistics and mātauranga Māori while retaining their distinctiveness, ākonga can draw from both in ways that are beneficial to both spheres of knowledge. For example, they will understand how ethical questions posed by measurement, quantification, and stories told about data take unique forms in Aotearoa New Zealand.
. . .Mātauranga Māori and mathematics and statistics help make sense of the world.
. . . Mātauranga Māori and mātauranga mathematics and statistics consist of different systems for viewing, understanding, and organising the world and how we operate in it. The interfaces between them offer opportunities for meaningful inquiry and for mathematical and statistical insights that uphold the integrity of each.
p. 60 (summary). The educationspeak is heavy here:
. . . Mātaioho brings the national curriculum to life and supports every akonga to flourish and grow. It guides each school to design and implement a unique curriculum that reflects their vision for the ākonga for whom they are responsible.
This curriculum draws from:
- Mātaiahikā: mana whenua guardianship of learning, wellbeing, and success, and knowledge of ākonga, whānau, place, and community
- Mātaiaho: learning, wellbeing, and success expectations expressed in the learning areas of the national curriculum.
A pretty useless diagram of the plan, but typical of these documents:
If you want a much shorter summary of the overall plan (8 pp. total), click on the screenshot below:
Just two excerpts. First, from p. 3: the identitarian “our shared Kaupapa” page (“kaupapa” means “plan” or “proposal”):
We are refreshing The New Zealand Curriculum to better reflect the aspirations and expectations of all New Zealanders. The refresh will adorn our ākonga with a korowai tied with a 3-strand whenu (cord). This korowai will be layered with huruhuru (feathers) representing who they are, who they can be, their whakapapa, and their connection to our whenua (lands). The whenu tying it together is made up of whānau (family), ākonga, and kaiako (teachers) working as partners to use and localise the NZC.
The refresh will ensure that the NZC reflects diverse ways of being, understanding, knowing, and doing. It helps us inclusively respond to the needs of individual ākonga, who are at the centre of all we do.
Ākonga will be able to see their languages, cultures, identities, and strengths in what they learn at school. This will empower ākonga to go boldly into an everchanging future and contribute to local, national, and global communities.
This vision will primarily be realised by kaiako and school leaders, in partnership with iwi and their school communities. However, it will be important for all New Zealanders to be part of this journey and help create multiple pathways towards equity and success for all ākonga.
From p. 4: “A snapshot of what’s changing” (I’ve inserted the red rectangle):
This is the ultimate takeover of power by the Authoritarian Left, for when you control what is taught, you control what people think as well as the future of the country. I feel sorry for New Zealand and its citizens, for imagine what will befall their children in school. Indoctrinated in identitarian politics and convinced that indigenous knowledge is just as good as modern science, they will be in no position to navigate the modern world outside their own country.
Finally, here’s a letter from four New Zealand academics from three different universities has fallen into my hands, and I have permission of all four signers to publish it. They wrote on February 8 to Chris Hipkins, the New Zealand Prime Minister (copied to the Minister of Education), objecting to the education plan. I have attached the whole letter so everyone can see it, but have put the bulk of the letter below the fold so as not to make this post too long. The corresponding signatory is Professor Elizabeth Rata, who also signed the “Listener Letter” that caused so much kerfuffle in New Zealand by contesting the view that Mātauranga Māori should be taught as coequal to modern science in secondary schools and universities. I have omitted email addresses. You will find the names of the signers below the fold:
Professor Elizabeth Rata
[To:]The Rt Hon Chris Hipkins
Freepost 18 888
cc: Hon Jan Tinetti [NZ Minister of Education]
8 February 2023
Dear Prime Minister Hipkins,
We, the undersigned, draw your attention to two major problems in the Ministry of Education’s Curriculum Refresh policy and in the associated NCEA qualification reforms. These problems were created during your tenure as Minister of Education and can only be solved by calling an immediate halt to the radical initiatives causing the problems. Because the matter is of such urgency, this letter is an open one and will be made public.
The first problem is the fundamental change to the purpose of New Zealand education contained in the Curriculum Refresh document, Te Mātaiaho: The Refreshed New Zealand Curriculum: Draft for Testing, September 2022.
The second problem is an effect of the first. It is the insertion into the curriculum of traditional knowledge, or mātauranga Māori, as equivalent to science.
Click “continue reading” below to see the rest of the letter, including the signers:
Problem 1: Changing the purpose of New Zealand education
Since the 1877 Education Act, the purpose of education has been to build our nation upon the accumulated knowledge of humanity. The intended benefits of this universal education system are numerous. Six generations of New Zealanders are educated; a robust economy is developed; stable democracy is secured through secular institutions – all enabling the social cohesion of a multi-ethnic population with different backgrounds but united in its commitment to our nation.
The Curriculum Refresh has abandoned this goal of unity. Instead, the democratic idea of the universal human being upon which the education system was founded is replaced with a localised system that classifies children into racialised groups with, as the Curriculum Refresh states, ‘diverse ways of being, understanding, knowing, and doing’. (Our emphasis).
The ‘Kaupapa Statement’ that guided the Curriculum Refresh development makes this revolutionary new purpose perfectly clear:
We are refreshing the New Zealand Curriculum (the NZC) to better reflect the aspirations and expectations of all New Zealanders. The refresh will adorn our ākonga with a 3-strand whenu (cord). This korowai will be layered with huruhuru (feathers) representing who they are, who they can be, their whakapapa, and their connection to our whenua (lands). The whenu tying it together is made up of whānau (family), ākonga, and kaiako (teachers) working as partners to use and localise the NZC. The refresh will ensure that the NZC reflects diverse ways of being, understanding, knowing, and doing. It helps us inclusively respond to the needs of individual ākonga, who are at the centre of all we do. Ākonga will be able to see their languages, cultures, identities, and strengths in what they learn at school. This will empower ākonga to go boldly into an ever-changing future and contribute to local, national, and global communities. This vision will primarily be realised by kaiako and school leaders, in partnership with iwi and their school communities. However, it will be important for all New Zealanders to be part of this journey and help create multiple pathways towards equity and success for all ākonga. (Our emphasis.)
A racialised curriculum
After classifying children racially, the Curriculum Refresh embeds this identity categorisation. We are to be recognised in the education system as either Māori or not. Yet the reality is that modern individuals choose which identity matters to them, a choice informed by personalities, capacities, interests, goals, family, communities and heritages, and likely to change during the lifespan as circumstances change. At school we share the identity of pupil and student.
In contrast, the culturalist ideology now informing education policy places our identity as an ethnic one, a view that risks perpetuating fixed racial stereotypes. More seriously, it links culture to race, a link justified by the belief that how individuals think, behave, and relate to others is pre-determined by their genetic ancestry.
This race-culture link is seen in the Kaupapa Statement that ‘Ākonga will be able to see their languages, cultures, identities, and strengths in what they learn at school’. It is a pre-modern race ideology that will destroy our modern future-oriented education system and should be seen for the revolution it is.
Problem 2: The effects of radical change
The second problem to which we draw your urgent attention is the effects of this radical transformation of New Zealand education. They include ‘culturally responsive pedagogies’ – the idea that diverse way of ‘being, knowing, understanding and doing’ require different learning approaches. An example of this is the misguided belief that Māori- and Pacific-heritage children learn better in groups. Literacy too is under attack by those seeking to ‘decolonise’ reading and writing – see https://nzareblog.wordpress.com/2022/03/22/maori-literacy/
The knowledge equivalence error
We draw your attention specifically to the effect on the curriculum caused by the false claim that traditional knowledge and modern science are equivalent (mana orite). This is damaging, not only to science education within New Zealand but to our nation’s international reputation.
The damage occurs in two ways. First, the interweaving of mātauranga Māori across the science curriculum forces a comparison between the two knowledge systems in ways that do justice to neither. Traditional knowledge has its own value and purpose and belongs in curriculum subjects such as social studies, geography, and literature. But it is not science and does not belong in the science curriculum.
Second, the NCEA Reform and Curriculum Refresh bring pseudoscientific ideas into science due to the poor transposition of some concepts from mātauranga Māori. For example, the NCEA Chemistry & Biology Glossary introduces the idea of mauri as a relevant concept in biology and chemistry. It defines mauri as:
The vital essence, life force of everything: be it a physical object, living thing or ecosystem. In Chemistry and Biology, mauri refers to the health and life-sustaining capacity of the taiao, on biological, physical, and chemical levels.
Vitalism, the idea of an innate ‘life force’ present in all things, has surfaced in many cultural knowledge systems, including European, but has been soundly refuted and is not part of modern science. Inserting mātauranga Māori into the science curriculum will, not only lead to confusion in our schools and for our students, but will destroy our nation’s reputation for quality science.
A scholarly account of the difference between mātauranga Māori and modern science which compares the properties of each knowledge type, their differences, their relationship, methods and procedures for their development, and policy implications is available on pages 13-21 in https://www.hpsst.com/uploads/6/2/9/3/62931075/2019nov.pdf
Please halt the Curriculum Refresh
Asserting that the Treaty of Waitangi is ‘a fundamental component of our constitution’, Te Mātaiaho: the Curriculum Refresh’s radical goal is to ‘foster the next generation of Te Tiriti partners by moving beyond the rhetorical notion of “honouring” Te Tiriti to giving effect to it’ (p. 5).
But the status of the Treaty is subject to unresolved political contest. It is undemocratic to engineer a revolutionary constitutional change through the educational curriculum.
We ask for the restoration of an academic curriculum and qualification system based on the democratic principles of universalism and secularism; a system that enabled generations of New Zealanders to acquire the universal knowledge of humanity. It was the reason for the nation’s successful education system that has lasted nearly one hundred and fifty years. The transformative Curriculum Refresh will undo the principles and practices that made such success possible with dire consequences for New Zealand’s future.
Prime Minister Hipkins, the Curriculum Refresh and the NCEA Reforms were developed on your watch as Minister of Education. It is, therefore, incumbent on you to repeal them before irrevocable damage is done to our country. As Prime Minister, you are certainly in a position to do so.
Professor Elizabeth Rata
Director of the Knowledge in Education Research Unit
Faculty of Education and Social Work
University of Auckland
Distinguished Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger
Director of the Centre for Theoretical Chemistry and Physics
Massey University Auckland
Dr Raymond Richards
Research Associate (retired Senior Lecturer in History)
University of Waikato
Dr David Lillis
Retired Senior Academic Manager and Senior Lecturer in Statistics and Research Methods
These four academics have “had their say”, as the second document calls for. Will the government listen? If history is any guide, I wouldn’t count on it. Kudos to the signers above: it takes immense bravery to write such a letter and then make it public. I know that a lot of Kiwis agree with Rata et al.’s sentiments, but as one of them told me, it’s too dangerous “to stick your head above the parapet.”