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.