A talk and a curriculum from New Zealand

February 15, 2023 • 12:15 pm

What is PCC(E) banging on about today? This post is about the decolonizing of government school curricula in New Zealand, especially of “early childhood curriculum.” Why do I care? I’ve explained it before: I hate to see a country I love going down the tubes, especially in science and academics. But you should also realize that there are few people in New Zealand who can publicly say the things I can, or publicly post letters opposing the ideological domination of science and academia by indigenous people.  Anybody who had a job in New Zealand would get fired for writing posts like this one. So it’s also a resource for the many disaffected kiwis who, because of pervasive “cancel culture” in their country, never get to hear those who support them. These posts may bore you, and in that case just skip them!

Yesterday I posted a letter to the new Prime Minister of New Zealand (and its new Minister of Education), signed by Elizabeth Rata and three other academics. Rata is Director of the Knowledge in Education Research Unit on the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland. Although she was instrumental in helping Māori students, her refusal to equate Māori “ways of knowing” with science, or to take the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti) as a binding document that gives indigenous people the right to dominate at least half of the public school curriculum, has caused her to be canceled among “progressive” Kiwis. Plus, as noted below, she signed the (in)famous Listener letter (see it here), which caused a huge uproar despite the fact that its sentiments were rational and correct.  This is from Wikipedia:

Rata was one of the principal figures in developing the kura kaupapa schooling project. She was the secretary of the combined kōhanga reo whānau seeking to develop continuation for Māori language learners graduating from kōhanga reo and was a member of the original Kura Kaupapa Māori Working Party. However, according to Rebecca Wirihana, herself an early Kura activist, “Elizabeth has been wiped out of the history of kura kaupapa.” Her recent criticisms of the direction of Māori immersion education, and of the insertion of mātauranga Māori into New Zealand education,  have prompted some highly critical responses.

. . . In July 2021, in the context of a review of the NCEA (New Zealand’s National Curriculum), Rata, along with six other University of Auckland professors and emeritus professors published a controversial letter entitled “In Defence of Science” in the New Zealand Listener, which said indigenous knowledge (or mātauranga Māori) “falls far short of what can be defined as science itself”.

This 26-minute talk, by Rata, called “New Zealand’s descent from democracy into ethno-nationalism”, was pointed out by reader JS428 in a comment  on my post.  What it’s about is the “decolonization” of New Zealand that’s supposedly based on the Treaty of Waitangi (1840). Ti Tiriti has been subject to various interpretations, and has been used to call for the equality of Māori ideas and culture with all other ideas and cultures in the schools. Although Māori constitute only about 17% of New Zealand’s population, they claim this hegemony because they’re the descendants of indigenous Polynesians who colonized the island, and also because they interpret Te Tiriti as giving them that right. But remember that New Zealand is now a multi-ethnic society, with these proportions of groups given in Wikipedia:

As at the 2018 census, the majority of New Zealand’s population is of European descent (70 percent), with the indigenous Māori being the largest minority (16.5 percent), followed by Asians (15.3 percent), and non-Māori Pacific Islanders known collectively as Pasifika (9.0 percent).

Yet, as you’ll see below, Rata is pushing back in this talk, calling for a return from the tribalism (based on “treatyism”) between Māori on one hand and everyone else (83% of the population) on the other. What’s happening in New Zealand is that a Māori-based ideology (Rata calls it “ethnonationalism”—the equivalent of CRT in America—is demanding not just education equity, but educational equality. That is, striving for instructional equity would occupy a far smaller proportion of academic instruction than would equality.  (Of course I favor educational equality insofar as it means that all students should be given the same opportunities and treated the same. Rather, by “equality” above I mean that half of the curriculum should be devoted to studies of Māori culture, language and ways of knowing.)

Rata asserts that this ideology controls language, the media, and education in New Zealand, and she’s not far wrong. Her discussion of education starts at 15:49 in the talk.

What I’m concerned with, as was Rata in the letter she co-signed yesterday, is summarized in her quote:  “Our education system is indoctrinating children into re-tribalism.”  I will let you be the judge of that by perusing the official government “preschool curriculum” below. Her two reforms for education itself are these. First, “remove the treaty and its principles from all education” (remember, it’s the treaty which makes activists demand to make Mātauranga Māori—Māori “ways of knowing”—coequal to science in the classroom). And you’ll see how the Treaty is used on p. 3 of the preschool curriculum below. Second, Rata asks the country to “rebuild the education system to teach academic subjects—the source of the “partially loyal individual”—rather than ideological dogma.

Below, which you can access by clicking on the screenshot (the pdf is here), is the newest (2017) version of New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum, required to be taught in all public pre-schools. Look through it yourself (don’t read it unless you want to wade through 70+ pages of palaver), and see if you detect what I do: an insidious attempt to take over education via the tribalism Rata mentions about above.

The title page itself, almost entirely in Māori, is echoed throughout the document. Note that already on page 3 they invoke the Treaty as justifying the extreme intrusion of ethnicity into the curriculum. They say it’s a curriculum for “all children,” but it’s really a curriculum for the Māori—certainly not for the equally numerous Asians, whose culture and language don’t permeate this document.  (Try finding some Chinese or Hindi words in there!) Now this document does contain, as did the higher-level curriculum I discussed yesterday, some good goals.  But just skim through the pages and see the pervasiveness of the treaty-based ideology.

You’ll be the judge; I haven’t the spoons for any kind of detailed analysis. You won’t be able to understand a lot of this document unless you already speak Māori, or have a dictionary in hand. Remember, look at the cover and recall that English is by far the language most widely spoken in New Zealand.

As always, I’m not at all opposed to making New Zealand students learn about Māori history and culture: they bloody well should! But ethnicity-based teaching cannot be allowed to dominate all aspects of schooling to the point that New Zealand students begin falling behind comparable countries in academic achievement. And that’s already happening. And the government doesn’t seem to mind. Many Kiwis, as David Lillis mentioned in the comments yesterday, are self-censoring on this issue because they fear for their reputations and livelihoods.

8 thoughts on “A talk and a curriculum from New Zealand

  1. FYI – I might only skim, or not contribute to discussion, but it is in no way “boring”.

    Appreciate the writing, always.

  2. Okay, I just took about 5-10 minutes to skim through the Early Childhood Curriculum. Lots of Māori terms which are translated into the usual words, phrases, and concepts commonly found in educational documents. I noticed a reference to critical theory (“Te Whāriki reflects research that adopts critical theoretical lenses to examine the influence of social conditions, global influences and equity of opportunity on children’s learning and development.”) that is short and vague enough to be innocuous. There’s a continued emphasis on working with the child’s particular community which, again, wouldn’t in itself set out any red flags.

    I didn’t find anything I thought was objectionable. Of course, this curriculum is basically for early child care and preschool so that it deals with infants, toddlers, and very young children. I wouldn’t expect too much propaganda aimed at 2 year olds (even assuming anyone wanted to promote propaganda.) If I was a parent considering putting my child in this program, based on what I saw in a very quick overview I’d probably be pleased to do so. It looks reasonable, thoughtful, and well-balanced.

    It also looks like I’d moved to a foreign non-western country which is bending over backwards to welcome Westerners and reassure us that we’re included, which is very considerate of them.

    1. Hi Sastra,
      the propaganda you mention in paragraph 2 is primarily directed not at preschoolers [ though there is some ], but at adults.

      Here is but one example. I have a middle-aged Taiwanese friend who has enough money so that she doesn’t need to work to pay the bills. She came to NZ as her mother and siblings emigrated here. She is fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese, knows quite difficult literary Chinese script, as well as being fluent in Japanese, and in English. Unlike many Mandarin-first language Chinese speakers, her written English is to all intents perfect. And she has great interpersonal skills.

      One would feel this person would be a great asset to NZ’s multi-ethnic society. So did she, and she trained as an early childhood teacher when she migrated to Keyaurastan. She told me she nearly failed the examination to be a preschool teacher, because there was a compulsory module in the final examination in which someone spoke Maori to a Maori kid, and the kid replied back in Maori. The questions were on the content of the dialogue, and what Qs the early childhood teacher could add, in Maori.

      Crucially , this exam occurred before the current Labour govt was elected in 2017. She told me there was no alternate module in the final exam where the child was spoken to in, say, Samoan, Tongan, Mandarin, Arabic, Hindi, Tamil — ie all the other common languages in NZ. Every single Asian, White, and PI exam candidate for early childhood education had to answer this Maori drivel. Naturally, no Maori student had to be examined in how to understand Asian drivel.

      So, NZ is a ‘democracy’ where there exists nobody who understands Maori language but is incapable of understanding basic English, but there has to be a compulsory exam question on Maori language. But the languages of Asian and Pacific island taxpayers are ignored in the exam curriculum, and no heed is paid to Asian or Pacific children whose first language isn’t English, in terms of catering to their needs.

      You may not be surprised to learn Rachel got the message loud and clear that Asian infants were not catered for in terms of education of early childhood teachers. So she declined to work in the early childhood education system, though she passed her exams as her marks in the other modules dragged her over the finishing line.

  3. As some of your commentary implies, it’s not so much that ‘it’s the treaty which makes activists demand…’, but rather that the Treaty is used through selective interpretation as a proxy to sanctify contemporary political positions, as if a brief document hastily written 183 years ago by a very small group of men from a country without compulsory education, where the adult franchise was restricted to 20% of males, and signed by a much larger group of men in a territory where slavery, cannibalism and inter-tribal warfare were still practised, can express eternal general truths with highly specific applications, despite the intervening changes in Maori society, the changing ethnic composition of NZ non-Maori society, and advances in democratic political thought since then.

    As is often the case, a passionate, organised minority can defeat a less-organised majority. New Zealand is a small country with a powerful central educational bureauracy and fads quickly sweep through education, either because frontline educators, facing highly visible failure in particular groups and areas, are desperate for solutions, or because school inspectors, insist on accountability in terms of some dogma, and there is, or used to be, a lot of in-service training to spread this new wisdom.

    Teachers, in my 31 years in NZ education, 10 years overseas, want their students to succeed, but very few ask, “So what’s the evidence that X practice produces y outcomes?” and instead defer to enthusiastic ‘experts’. It took me some years of reading radical educators and adopting new teaching practices spread by in-service training to realise how little systematic, empirical evidence of success there was, how difficult it was to apply notions from other contexts to the failing students in front of me.

    Unfortunately, NZ is in danger of becoming, in the words of a previous prime minister talking about our covid response, ‘a smug hermit kingdom’ with some of the inward, authoritarian focus that implies. Educational bureaucrats, believers in biculturalism and indifferent to the multi-cultural realities of our cities ask, “What does success look like to Maori?” instead of asking, “What does success look like to the rest of the world?” and assume on very little evidence that they actually know how to achieve success for Maori and that this will also produce success for everyone else, a bizarre position to hold for people obsessed with the supreme importance of different ethnic identities in education.

  4. Somewhat depressingly for New Zealand voters, the foreword to that document is by Hekia Parata, who was minister of education in the previous (National) government which had been in power since 2008. This would seem to indicate that, as far as education goes, there will be little to choose between National and Labour in the election later this year, and indeed I have heard no public statements of concern about this issue from any National politician – although I have been told that Erica Stanford has at least spoken to people like Professor Gaven Martin, co-author of the excellent report on maths education, ironically sponsored by the RSNZ. It does seem to bear out David Lillis’ comment that education is not a big issue for most of the public.

  5. The cynic might think that this “inclusive” movement is a Trojan Horse designed to keep Maori people marginalized. What better way than to valorize and elevate folk “ways of knowing” to the status of scientific knowledge? Such an approach is almost guaranteed to be adopted as it confirms (and romanticizes) priors. A more honest approach would be to call it “other ways of living” (i.e. living without scientific knowledge), which anyone should be free to do, I suppose. The only responsibility of the government should be to disclose to people is what they stand to gain and/or lose by adopting folkways as opposed to modernity but committing itself to adherence to science in all matters in which it matters, while allowing for Maori practices which do not pose a threat to the public–like we do in the U.S. with public prayer. We know knowledge doesn’t come from asking God for it, but if people want to believe it does, fine. Just don’t expect anybody to base any consequential decisions on “knowledge” claimed to be derived by revelation.

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