A good summary of the mess that is science education in New Zealand

September 20, 2023 • 11:30 am

If you want to see what the government of New Zealand is up to with respect to science education, you can’t do better than listening to this video/slideshow by two exponents of the “we-need-two-knowledge-systems” view. I’ve gotten a lot of scary stuff from Kiwi educators in the last couple of weeks, but this one site sums up how science education in New Zealand is circling the drain.

And it’s happening because of uber-wokeness: the propensity of Kiwis to regard the indigenous Māori and those with a fraction of Māori ancestry as somehow sacred, with a culture and “knowledge system” that are beyond criticism. Combine that with a nationwide authoritarian mindset that will get you fired if you criticize anything Māori, and you have a recipe for madness.

(By the way, the country is now often called “Aotearoa New Zealand” as a concession to the Māori, in whose language the first word means “land of the long white cloud”. I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually dropped the “New Zealand” part.)

Click on the screenshots below to hear a 57-minute podcast showing what I see as a deeply misguided and unscientific attempt to give New Zealand schoolchildren two—count them, two—”knowledge systems”. One of them is simply modern science, and the other is Mātauranga Māori (MM), a pastiche of knowledge accumulated by trial and error, but also of religioun, superstition, ethics, word of mouth tradition, etiquette, and many things having nothing to do with science. These latter things should be regarded not as “ways of knowing” but as “ways of feeling” or “ways of behaving”.

The site below is sponsored by the New Zealand government, so you know it’s serious.

The summary:

In this recorded webinar Pauline Waiti and Rosemary Hipkins explore the idea of knowledge systems with examples from science and mātauranga Māori.

The report Enduring Competencies for Designing Science Learning Pathways introduced the idea of exploring both science and mātauranga Māori as knowledge systems. Thinking about knowledge as a system is likely to be an unfamiliar idea for many teachers. In this webinar we unpack the metaphor, using familiar science concepts to show which of them might be appropriately explored through both knowledge lenses (i.e. science and mātauranga Māori) and when this might not be helpful.

Rosemary Hipkins is in fact the mother of NZ’s present Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who himself served as Minister of Education for the Labour Party. She began as a biology teacher but now is a Big Noise in “improving” the curricula in New Zealand’s schools. For her services to education she was recognized in the 2023 New Year Honours List, becoming a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit “for services to science education”.

is the director of

Click on the screenshot above or below to go to the 57-minute lecture/discussion/slideshow below.

The video begins with a lot of untranslated

First of all “MM” isn’t a “knowledge” system in the way you probably think, since “knowledge”, conceived of as “generally accepted empirical truth” is only a small part of MM. The discussants get around this by including “values”, “experiences,” and “standards” as aspects of “knowledge”. Then, as the defendants of MM do so often, they present a complex diagram of what science is (13:30). It adds nothing to the “unpacking” of science.

At 14:54 Waiti introduces the MM idea of “mauri,” which is simply a “teleological force” that adds nothing to our understanding of nature; it is simply a quasi-religious concept. Waiti admits that this is a different way of looking at empirical problems, but is “equally as valid” as is modern science. My response is “no, it isn’t.” But at last we see some proponents of MM who say that they’re not plumping for equal time for science and MM in the classroom, nor a direct equivalence. Instead, but just as bad, they argue (see slide below) that although these nonequivalent ways of knowing, they can still be brought together usefully to present a complete picture of nature.

How? That’s the big problem, and one that, as far as I can see, has no solution. That’s because there really is only one way of knowing about the world, and that’s using the tools of science. Dragging in ideas like “mauri” not only pollutes science, but confuses students. “Mauri,” again, is a quasireligious concept, defined by the



The next slide brings in the MM concept of “mana”, defined by the dictionary as

prestige, authority, control, power, influence, status, spiritual power, charisma – mana is a supernatural force in a person, place or object. Mana goes hand in hand with tapu, one affecting the other. The more prestigious the event, person or object, the more it is surrounded by tapu and mana.

. . . and tapu means this:

be sacred, prohibited, restricted, set apart, forbidden, under atua protection – see definition 4 for further explanations.

definition 4:

restriction, prohibition – a supernatural condition. A person, place or thing is dedicated to an atua and is thus removed from the sphere of the profane and put into the sphere of the sacred. It is untouchable, no longer to be put to common use.

Hipkins then points out that in MM, unlike science, both living and nonliving objects have agency. (This is of course connected with mauri.)

Note that in the next slide, MM as a “knowledge system” also “conveys wisdom about how to live and be.”  How on earth can views about the best way to live one’s life be usefully folded into modern science?  Don’t ask me.

Finally, Hipkins defines what she means by “equal status” for both MM and science. At least she admits it doesn’t mean equal time in class!  But in the entire podcast they give not one example of how “western” science can be brought together fruitfully with MM.

And the advantages of combining two knowledge systems? The answer is in the slide below. It isn’t convincing.because the main object of MM appears to be to “live as ethically and responsible as possible” That’s a goal completely different from that of science, even though they imply that that’s also a goal of science.

In the end, these aren’t two “knowledge systems”. They aren’t at all comparable, much less compatible, and to call MM a “knowledge system” is mostly false. Imagine watching the podcast as a teacher and then trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do in class!

What appears to be happening is a pullback from teaching MM as coequal to science qua science in science classes and its replacement with MM’s characterization as coequal to science as a “knowledge system” (whatever that means).  That is, students will now be taught a form of cultural relativism in science classes and there will be emphasis on the limitations of science—limitations overcome by learning about MM, which has knowledge not present in science. This is no improvement over the previous plan, but a recipe for added confusion.

In my view, as the authors of the Listener letter argued, MM shouldn’t be dragged at all into the science class, but reserved for sociology or anthropology class. There’s already a word for the small part of MM that can be incorporated into science. It’s called “science.”

I have comments from three Kiwi scientists (all anonymous, of course) about this presentation.  Here’s the first one:

This is not an improvement in epistemic terms. Arguably it’s even worse than integrating MM into science, as social constructivism/epistemic relativism are antithetical to science.
I think it does make it easier for us to criticise what’s going on, however, as the postmodernist ideology is more evident. It’s pretty hard to argue that criticism of postmodernist ideology is racist!
You ask: how are they going to teach MM now? The answer is they’re not – to do so would be “recolonisation”. This was never really about teaching MM. It was always a political project designed to promote an ideological agenda. Here’s a relevant quote from Doug Stokes’ book “Against decolonisation”:
“[A]ctivists impose decolonisation as part of a counter-power move to push back against what they claim is knowledge power plays of historically tainted thinkers and institutions. In short, if all knowledge is relative, it becomes politically acceptable to impose your agenda in the name of social justice and a form of restorative activism. Decolonisation is thus an explicitly political power play.
This, in turn, transforms the academic social contract. It moves from a process whereby the sum of human knowledge improves in terms of its capacity to explain the world to a form of radical political deconstruction underpinned by an ethical claim that this is justified to compensate for the legacy effects of the alleged perfidiousness of Western civilisation. The assertion that all human knowledge is equally valid and the university is a site of power contestation makes it easier to understand the abandonment of fundamental academic principles, not least that of academic freedom; Itself often portrayed as a conspiracy on the part of bigots to justify discrimination and ideas that may run contrary to those of the progressive ‘woke’ Left. Aside from the obvious fact that if all knowledge is relative, why should we subscribe to the assertions of the decolonisation critique itself, [when] this form of unbounded judgmental relativism abandons any notion of reality or truth for a seeming endless play on meaning, identity and power that is transforming the university system.” (p. 83-84)
In short, the inherent attack on science is a feature, not a bug, and we’re replaying the science wars of the 1990s. People here in NZ should be asking themselves the following questions: if any of the MM proponents actually had a commitment to science, why are they all engaging with MM instead, and why to they consistently seek to caricature modern science?
From anonymous scientist #2

I’ve come across this video resource for teachers at a site that to the best of my knowledge is funded by the NZ govt. If you ever want to go through a painful experience, do watch this and then tell me if it makes any sense to you. The Q&A at the end is also telling.

I just cannot understand how anyone can watch this type of talk and think it can be useful for school teachers. But if you say anything about it in NZ you will be most certainly labelled as racist, intolerant, and/or full of prejudice…

And from the third anonymous Kiwi scientist with whom I’ve discussed the podcast:

Thanks for taking this issue on, and I look forward greatly to you taking up the issue. In my opinion it’s full of pretentious, impenetrable, but vacuous nonsense. Education here is ruled by a clique, membership of which (and thus career prospects) is confined to those who are happy to relinquish any belief in science and indeed, critical thinking. It brings to mind Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

I don’t think that the educational and political powers in New Zealand realize how much their “sacralization of the oppressed” has angered and frustrated Kiwi scientists. And they’ll never know this so long as they deplatform, demonize, or fire those who speak against the Official Position.

Just give me a little less than an hour of your time to watch this presentation, and you’ll see what a mess science education (and education in general) has become in New Zealand. For here we have two recognized science experts trying to mix two immiscible liquids.

I’ll finish with a bit I’ve published before, quoting an ex-pastor. You can substitute Mātauranga Māori  for “religion” here, as there’s quite a bit of faith in MM’s “knowledge system”:

[This is the quote] I used to begin Chapter 4 in Faith Versus Fact. It’s from Mike Aus, a former preacher who left the pulpit after admitting his atheism on television. . .

When I was working as a pastor I would often gloss over the clash between the scientific world view and the perspective of religion. I would say that the insights of science were no threat to faith because science and religion are “different ways of knowing” and are not in conflict because they are trying to answer different questions. Science focuses on “how” the world came to be and religion addresses the question of “why” we are here. I was dead wrong. There are not different ways of knowing. There is knowing and not knowing, and those are the only two options in this world.

Co-leader of N.Z.’s Māori Party claims that Māori are a genetically superior group

September 15, 2023 • 11:30 am

Is it okay for oppressed minorities to evince blatantly racist attitudes, claiming, for example, that they are “genetically superior to other groups”? (Needless to say, the claim I’m discussing here is not backed by evidence.)

I’d argue that no, dismissing entire groups as inferior based purely on stereotypes is wrong, whoever does it. But it’s even worse when the racist is a co-leader of an important political party in a Western nation.  And what’s triply bad is that the national press and government of that country, which happens to be New Zealand, fails to call out the racist.

That is, of course, because the racist is Rawiri Waititi, a Māori who is co-leader of Te Pāti Māori (TPM): the Māori party in New Zealand’s House of Representatives.  And the report, which I can’t find elsewhere, comes from the World Socialist Website (click below to read). On the other hand, the racist quote seconded by Waititi comes from The Northland Age, part of the New Zealand Herald, the country’s most widely read newspaper:

Here’s the new excerpt, and the bolding is mine:

In an interview with TVNZ on Sunday, Rawiri Waititi, co-leader of Te Pāti Māori (TPM, the Māori Party) defended the blatantly racist statement: “It is a known fact that Māori genetic makeup is stronger than others.”

The statement was made to the Northland Age in September 2020 by TPM candidate Heather Te Au-Skipworth while outlining the party’s call for a $100 million fund to invest in “Māori sport.” It was then added to TPM’s website and was only removed last year after the far-right ACT Party complained about it.

TPM did not issue a public retraction or apology. Now, with an election approaching on October 14, Waititi has doubled down on defending the claim that indigenous Māori are a superior race.

His comments reveal the utterly reactionary character of Māori nationalism, a form of racial identity politics that is dressed up as progressive by the New Zealand political and media establishment. They highlight the sham being perpetrated by liberal commentators such as the Daily Blog and pseudo-left groups like the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), which are supporting TPM as a “left-wing” party.

Speaking to TVNZ interviewer Jack Tame, Waititi defended the comment by stating: “How can it be racist when you’re trying to empower a people that are climbing out from the bottom of the bonnet [sic] of colonial violence for the last 183 years?”

He continued: “We’re trying to rebuild our people… [after] years and years of colonial violence on our people. And so why can’t we call ourselves magic? Why can’t we call ourselves proud? Why can’t we believe in ourselves? And why can’t we say to our people that your genetics mean something, that you can be proud of that?

Umm. . . yes, of course the Māori can believe in themselves and empower their people. Yes, they can be proud, though calling themselves “magic” is a bit too close to superstition for my taste. And of course your genetics does “mean something”, like which group you’re most closely related to (I’m betting on Polynesians).

But what you can’t say is that your group has a “stronger genetic makeup” than other groups. The term “stronger” is meaningless here, and is not used by geneticists to compare genomes of different groups.

The original statement was apparently meant to refer to sports, as seen in the quote below from Heather Te Au-Skipworth, but then she extended it to intellect as well. Here’s the statement from the 2020 NZ Herald:

“Exercise has been a big part of who we are, how we came here and how we would traverse the lands of Aotearoa,” TeAu-Skipworth said.

“Māori invented many sports prior to European arrival – running, swimming, fishing, waka, hunting, kī o rahi, taiaha/mau rakau/te whare tū taua, to name a few – all examples of a tūpuna mindset, an ancestral way of being and acting that we call Whānau Pakari…

To interrupt, I doubt that hunting, swimming, fishing, and running were literally invented by Māori. This cannot be true because people were doing these things all over the world well before the Māori came to New Zealand about 800 years ago (e.g., the Olympics in ancient Greece). Hers is just a dumb statement that is not at all specific to the Māori.

Te Au-Skipworth continued:

“There is much to be taught and learnt from the navigators of our past and how we can use that mātauranga to sail and paddle our way into a future frame by Whānau Pakari.

“It is a known fact that Māori genetic makeup is stronger than others. When there is commitment, dedication and great support around Māori to achieve a high standard in sport, it is guaranteed that Māori will thrive.

“Our ancestors were not just athletic, they were also strategic thinkers with intentions to survive. This all required stamina, resilience, endurance, speed, agility and logic.

It was racist when she said it, and it’s racist when Waititi says it. As the anonymous Kiwi who sent me this link said:

Surprisingly (or not), neither the media nor the Race Relations Commissioner has shown any interest.

If a white New Zealander said that “colonialist genetics were stronger than Māori genetics”, it would be all over the Kiwi news as an arrant example of racism, which it would be. So it’s telling that when a big-time Māori politicians says something equivalent, it’s ignored by the press, the government, and the public.  That is what is known as “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” and all decent Kiwis, whether Māori or “colonialists”, should be demanding retractions and apologies.

Don’t hold your breath. It would be considered racist to call anything said by a Māori “racist.”  That’s how far the fear has spread in New Zealand.

University of Auckland continues to promote indigenous ways of knowing while not allowing a promised debate between that and modern science

September 12, 2023 • 9:45 am

In July, 2021, a group of seven University of Auckland academics (two now deceased) published a letter in the Magazine “the Listener”  saying that the local (Māori) “ways of knowing”, or Mātauranga Māori (MM), while of significant cultural, sociological, and anthropological value, was not equivalent to modern science.  It was written because the New Zealand government and academic establishment was proposing to teach MM as coequal to modern science in the science classroom.  (This plan is still going on.) Since MM is a gemisch of some genuine empirical trial-and-error knowledge with superstition, ideology, ethics, and undocumented tradition, the seven authors were absolutely right in asserting that that mixture of “ways of knowing, feeling, and living” was not equivalent to pure modern science.

This now-infamous “Listener Letter” (it has its own Wikipedia page) caused a huge fracas, with academics writing petitions against it, the Royal Society of New Zealand denouncing it and then investigating two of the letter’s authors who belonged to the Society (that went nowhere), and then the Vice-Chancellor of Auckland Uni (i.e., the head of the University), Dawn Freshwater, issuing a statement damning the letter:

A letter in this week’s issue of The Listener magazine from seven of our academic staff on the subject of whether mātauranga Māori can be called science has caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students and alumni.

While the academics are free to express their views, I want to make it clear that they do not represent the views of the University of Auckland.

The University has deep respect for mātauranga Māori as a distinctive and valuable knowledge system.  [Note that MM is far more than a “knowledge system.”] We believe that mātauranga Māori and Western empirical science are not at odds and do not need to compete. They are complementary and have much to learn from each other.

This view is at the heart of our new strategy and vision, Taumata Teitei, and the Waipapa Toitū framework, and is part of our wider commitment to Te Tiriti and te ao principles.

It’s not clear that Auckland Uni even had any views on the issue, and the letter, which you can read here, caused “hurt and dismay” only among the perpetually offended. The Listener Letter was simply a defense of modern science against “ways of knowing” that include superstition, religion, legend, and ethics.

Freshwater later walked back her rancor a bit, promising that within a year, Auckland Uni would have a debate about modern science versus MM’s indigenous “ways of knowing.” Here’s her promise (link same as above, emphasis is mine.)

I am calling for a return to a more respectful, open-minded, fact-based exchange of views on the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science, and I am committing the University to action on this.

In the first quarter of 2022 we will be holding a symposium in which the different viewpoints on this issue can be discussed and debated calmly, constructively and respectfully. I envisage a high-quality intellectual discourse with representation from all viewpoints: mātauranga Māori, science, the humanities, Pacific knowledge systems and others.

I recognise it is a challenging and confronting debate, but one I believe a robust democratic society like ours is well placed to have.

That promise was a lie. Freshwater never organized such a debate, and it’s 2½ years on. It’s clear that she will not allow critics of teaching MM as coequal to science to have any forum at Auckland Uni.  Freshwater was just stalling for time, and her behavior was and is unforgivable.

Instead, Auckland Uni is going full steam ahead pushing the scientific value of MM while criticizing modern science. Have a look at this article in the Auckland Uni newsletter, sent me by a university member too fearful to reveal their name (given the censorious climate in NZ, that’s par for the course):

Click on the screenshot below to read. Nope, it’s not a debate, but a kumbaya-fest on the value of MM. I reproduce the entire short piece. “Pūtaiao” can be loosely translated as “science”. As usual, the article is full of Māori words that aren’t understood by most readers; some have been translated by the UNI, and I’ve translated the most important ones remaining.

Notice that “STEM” has now become “STEAMx3,”, standing for “Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Maths, Medicine, and Mātauranga Māori.”  MM has become coequal with science in the very term!

Māori researchers from within the University and across the country were gathering this week for the inaugural biennial Pūtaiao Symposium at Tai Tonga campus.

The two-day event aimed to connect and inspire researchers, educators, students, influencers, and movers and shakers in Pūtaiao and STEAMx3 (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Maths, Medicine, and Mātauranga Māori)

‘Ma Mua Kaa Hua,’ exploring the past to inform the future, was the theme, with an overarching aim of supporting future generations of Māori students and researchers.

Organised by Te Whare Pūtaiao, Faculty of Science, the first day of the event, on 7 September, was to focus on researchers, the second day on educators, influencers, iwi, hapū and community leaders.

A broad range of topics was to include the decolonisation of science, grounding research in kaupapa Māori, and data sovereignty, with an emphasis on participants engaging kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) and a whakawhanaungatanga (relationship building) approach.

This is an attack on modern “colonialist” science and an approbation for the “way of knowing” of MM (“kaupapa Māori” is “things done according to Māori principles”).  It is a symposium designed to show the superiority of MM over colonial “Western” ways of knowing.

And of course it’s a far cry from the promised “debate”: it is one-sided boosterism, sponsored by Auckland Uni, for indigenous ways of knowing.

So I ask Vice-Chancellor Freshwater: ˆwhere is the discussion you promised over two years ago about the relationship between mātauranga Māori and science? You committed yourself and your University to that debate. Were you lying? Was your intent always to denigrate modern science at the expense of Māori ways of knowing, an intent furthered by Chris Hipkins, your new Prime Minister and former Minister of Education, who’s always pushed the equivalence of indigenous ways of knowing with modern science?

I can only watch on the sidelines, sadly shaking my head as people like Freshwater and Hipkins transform New Zealand science into a program for social justice, prioritizing indigenous knowledge over genuine science. Auckland University is the best school in the country, but is becoming a joke.

I will be writing Freshwater, asking where that promised symposium is, but I wouldn’t hold my breath that it will ever take place.  The lobby for all things indigenous has created a climate in which not only such a symposium could never be held, but also in which those who want such a discussion are even afraid to bring it up lest they lose their jobs.

Poor New Zealand! If you want to do science, I’d suggest either leaving (if you’re a resident), or choosing some other country in which you can study science without being hectored by those pushing indigenous “ways of knowing.”

Criticism of New Zealand’s educational policy, this time from the National Party

July 10, 2023 • 11:45 am

The Platform is a New Zealand radio station and website that describes itself as an “independent media” venue, though the Wikpedia description also says that it’s”antiwoke”. If you read further in the Wikipedia piece, though, you see that it often gives a platform to the Kiwi political Left (Labour).

The Platform describes itself as an “independent media site” giving listeners “unbiased coverage commentary and opinion and the chance to have your say on the issues that affect you.” The station claims to be independent of government funding and political interference. The Platform promotes itself as an alternative to “taxpayer-funded media” and so-called “woke culture warriors” whom it accuses of seeking to “stifle debate and suffocate democracy. It is listed on the New Zealand Companies Office’s website as a recorded media and publishing company based in the Wellington suburb of Te Aro.

I’ve written a lot about New Zealand politics and education; both are imposing censorship on those who criticize indigenous “ways of knowing” as equivalent to modern science. Both are also enacting policies that downgrade the teaching of science and math in public schools. This has led some Kiwis to transfer their kids into private schools.

The article below, which quotes heavily from my own website, is about New Zealands’s newish Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, previously Minister of Education. It was Hipkins who was largely responsible in his former job for creating the deference to indigenous “ways of knowing,” and now, as PM, is making that deference into official policy. That is the “old-time religion” referred to in the title.

Christopher Luxon is the Leader of the Opposition and of the New Zealand National Party, which is politically more to the right than the ruling New Zealand Labour Party. (Kiwis tell me that “more to the right” corresponds roughly to “centrist” in America; there appears to be no real political equivalent in New Zealand to America’s far-Right Republicans.) Luxon is a religious Christian, but has promised not to change any religious “hot button” laws, like New Zealand’s liberal policy on abortion.

At any rate, the article reiterates many of the criticisms that I and others (including anonymous Kiwis) have leveled against the increasing “indigenization” of the country. The piece winds up suggesting that PM Hipkins may have inherited that tendency from his mother.

Below: a quote so I can brag. But it also heartens me that those in New Zealand are paying some attention to what I write here. That is, after all, why I bore some of you with repeated posts on New Zealand. I am in the lucky position of being in the U.S. and not subject to New Zealand demonization, so I can say what I think about the government’s policies.

From the articles:

It is one of the ironies of this election campaign that Chris Luxon is being painted as a religious zealot who will allegedly force Christian beliefs on the nation even as Chris Hipkins is actually introducing mātauranga Māori into education — and most controversially into science.

Last week, Chicago University’s Jerry Coyne, one of the world’s pre-eminent evolutionary biologists, described mātauranga Māori as a mix of “religion, ethics, morality, tradition and superstition” with some “empirical, trial-and-error based knowledge that can be taken as part of science”.

“It is not a ‘way of knowing’,” the professor said, “but a ‘Māori way of living’.”

Over the past two years, Coyne has regularly dissected proposals to insert mātauranga Māori into New Zealand’s science curriculum, and outlined what he sees as the damaging consequences for students and for the international reputation of the nation’s universities as science teaching “circles the drain”.

He entered the debate after a letter on mātauranga Māori and NCEA science titled “In Defence of Science”, written by seven Auckland University professors, was published in the Listener in July 2021. Two years later, Coyne says he still gets a stream of emails from New Zealand academics and teachers who feel they can’t speak out publicly about mātauranga Māori for fear of losing their jobs.

In discussing the topic in depth, Coyne is doing the job New Zealand mainstream media refuses to do.

Yes, indeed I am, though articles like this one are helping.

The article goes through the infusion of Mātauranga Māori (MM, or Māori “ways of knowing”) in society and education, but I’ve done that to death and you can read the article for yourself. It then suggests that the PM’s penchant for  MM comes from his mother. This may be gossip, or it may be true, but the assertions and quotes below can be checked (I’ve bolded three):

Of course, you’d never guess from the persona the Prime Minister has cultivated in the media as a down-to-earth, working-class “boy from the Hutt” that he grew up in a home dedicated to radical educational ideology of the kind promoted by the Ardern-Hipkins government.

Rosemary Hipkins, who began her career as a science and biology teacher, is now “Chief Researcher/Kaihautū Rangahau” at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research, which she joined in 2001. It is a statutory body that operates under the NZCER Act 1972 and, while not formally attached to any government department, university or other educational organisation, is contracted by the Ministry of Education to develop policy.

Rose Hipkins is heavily involved in research for the redesign of NCEA [National Certificate of Educational Achievement]. As the NZCER website puts it: “Currently Rose is working on several projects supporting the review of the NCEA”… and is exploring “the implications of decolonisation”.

Her most recent book, Teaching for Complex Systems Thinking (2021), includes “an explicit discussion of parallels between complexity science and indigenous knowledge systems (specifically mātauranga Māori in the New Zealand context)”.

A 2022 paper, Enduring Competencies for Designing Science Learning Pathways, for which she was lead author, states that young people will need to be educated in “at least two different knowledge lenses” — mātauranga Māori and science — in order to “understand their place and identity in the natural world” and “to live as ethically and responsibly as possible”.

It is clear that the acorn hasn’t fallen far from the tree in the Hipkins family. You might even say that when it comes to promoting mātauranga Māori in science and “decolonising” the curriculum, Chippie is a chip off the old block.

His mother’s contribution to the radical overhaul of education has been rewarded by the Labour government. In 2019, Rose Hipkins was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to science education.

Finally, here’s a recently published statement from the National opposition spokesperson for Education, Erica Stanford. Click to read:
National has its own education plan (below). Though I haven’t seen it, I’d bet that it’s stronger on hard science than Labour’s draft proposal.

Labour’s science curriculum a failure in the making

Labour’s new science curriculum will have a detrimental impact on student outcomes and achievement and should be scrapped right now, National’s Education spokesperson Erica Stanford says.

“Teachers who have seen Labour’s proposed curriculum have called it ‘embarrassing’ and said that it would lead to ‘appalling declines in student achievement’.

“Right now, only 20 per cent of Year 8 students are meeting the expected standards in science.

“Despite these dire numbers, education experts say that Labour’s leaked new curriculum lacks any meaningful detail on the fundamental knowledge that students need and will worsen the situation. Science teachers say it makes no mention of physics, biology or chemistry.

. . . .“National will rewrite Labour’s curriculum to include clear requirements about the specific knowledge that students should be learning, and when. In science, this means a focus on chemistry, physics and biology.

“National has already announced our Teaching the Basics Brilliantly plan, which will set clear requirements about the non-negotiable knowledge and skills children need to be taught each year in primary and intermediate schools.”

If you’re a Kiwi, how are you going to vote?  I liked Jacinda Ardern, but she went “progressive” and then quit. Hipkins I have no use for, but I know squat about Luxon.

Leaked curriculum proposal shows further degradation of science in New Zealand

July 5, 2023 • 10:30 am

UPDATE: (Read after reading what’s below the line.) NewsHub, which has seen the proposed curriculum document described below, also says that biology is largely missing from the proposed curriculum. For crying out loud! Click to read, and remember, I have not seen the confidential document but am reporting about it based on the statements of those who have seen it.

A bit of the article and some reaction from a NZ science educator:

Science teachers are stunned that a very early draft of the revised science curriculum makes no mention of physics, biology or chemistry.

Newshub has obtained the document, which was sent to a few teachers for their feedback.

Some of them were so alarmed they went public.

Doug Walker is the Head of Science at St Patricks College in Wellington.

“The moments I really thrive on are when you see that dawning epiphany on a student’s face,” Science Teacher Doug Walker said.

He has an absolute blast teaching science.

However, Doug is among a number of teachers who’re worried after seeing a leaked draft of the revised school science curriculum.

“I was quite surprised and concerned about what seems to be missing from the document,” he said.

That document proposes to teach science through five contexts – including the Earth system, biodiversity, and infectious diseases.

But nowhere in the draft does it actually mention teaching the basics of science, like physics, chemistry or biology.

h/t: Michael

Pardon me for writing about New Zealand science education again, but part of what I see as the function of this website is to serve as the voice of those scientists and science teacher in that country who are too cowed and fearful for their jobs to speak up against the dismantling os science teaching happening in their country. And I am encouraged to do so by many Kiwis who email me. So, here goes. . .

A draft of a proposed national New Zealand science curriculum was apparently leaked by concerned teachers to Dr. Michael Johnston, a senior fellow at the New Zealand Initiative. His bona fides are these:

Dr Michael Johnston has held academic positions at Victoria University of Wellington for the past ten years. This includes being the Associate Dean (Academic) of the University’s School of Education for the last 3 years.
Prior to his time at Victoria, Dr Johnston was the Senior Statistician at the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, a position he held for 6 years. Before that, he held positions at Melbourne and Latrobe universities.
Dr Johnston holds a PhD in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Melbourne.

The New Zealand Initiative, which published Johnston’s appalled reaction to the leaked curriculum, is described by Wikipedia as “a pro-free-market public-policy think tank and business membership organisation in New Zealand” whose areas of focus “include economic policy, housing, education, local government, welfare, immigration and fisheries.”

You can see Johnston’s outraged piece at the Initiative’s site by clicking on the screenshot below.  And below that is an article in the New Zealand Herald, the country’s biggest newspaper, that reports not only on the leaked document, which outlines secondary-school curricula, but also on the reaction of teachers and educators, which is by no means positive.

What’s missing from the new secondary-school curriculum is, well, most of chemistry in physics. Instead, these subjects will apparently be integrated into a “Big Four” holistic approach, which will teach all science under the rubrics of “climate change, biodiversity, the food-energy-water nexus, and infectious diseases.” (These are Johnston’s words.)  You can see that there’s no coherent coverage of a given subject, and I can’t even see how biology will be integrated into this framework.

Remember, this is just a draft, and perhaps public outrage will get the Ministry of Education to fix the curriculum, though I doubt it. But if it doesn’t fix it, the decline in New Zealand’s public education, as measured against comparable countries, will continue.

A few quotes from Johnston:

The Ministry of Education has recently produced a draft of the ‘refreshed’ curriculum for school science. But calling this document a science curriculum is far too generous. It is a blueprint for accelerating the decline of science in New Zealand.

Central concepts in physics are absent. There is no mention of gravity, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, mass or motion. Chemistry is likewise missing in action. There is nothing about atomic structure, the periodic table of the elements, compounds or molecular bonding.

These are key concepts for any student wanting to study the physical sciences or engineering at university. The universities will have to prepare themselves to teach science from scratch. If the Ministry gets its way, our schools will no longer be doing it.

What, you might be wondering, does the draft curriculum cover?

It seems that everything in science, from early primary school through to Year 13, will be taught through just four contexts: climate change, biodiversity, the food-energy-water nexus, and infectious diseases.

These are all important topics, but they do not comprise the general science education that is our young people’s birthright. In fact, to understand these things with any degree of sophistication, a solid understanding of basic science concepts and theories is required.

No doubt Ministry officials think that young people will find these topics attractive. They may be right. But if they are not systematically taught the basic theoretical content upon which study of these matters depends, they will never understand them. Initial attraction will turn to frustration. The likelihood of our best and brightest finding their places on the shoulders of giants like Rutherford and MacDiarmid will be diminished.

Nothing about gravity or the structure of atoms, nothing about the periodic table or mass and motion? What is going on there?

I won’t quote at length, as the article is free, but I’ll add that Johnston finds that the curriculum proposal distorts even the nature of science, making the curriculum seem parochial:

Just as disturbing as what is absent from the new science curriculum, is that the curriculum writers don’t appear even to know what science is. The document reads as if it was written by bureaucrats, not scientists. It opens with a ‘purpose statement’, outlining three overarching things that students are supposed to learn.

The first reads, “science is developed by people being curious about, observing and investigating the natural world.” That is true – curiosity is an important attribute of scientists. Observation and investigation are key elements of scientific methods. But these are not the things that make science unique as an approach to understanding the universe.

What makes science unique is its highly refined, methodical, approach to investigation, linked to the logic of theory testing. The experimental method is preeminent in this regard. But ‘experiment’ is another word that is absent from the Ministry’s new science curriculum.

And here’s the parochialism, which will be the death of science in this country:

Next, the curriculum tells us, students will “develop place-based knowledge of the natural world and experience of the local area in which they live.”

As Johnston retorts, “One of the beautiful things about science is that it takes us beyond the local.” I may be wrong, but I suspect this “place-based knowledge” comes from influence of the Māori, who are increasingly insisting that they must have control over their own scientific endeavors rather than integrate them into the whole of science. And Māori science is perforce local science.

The article below, from the New Zealand Herald, reprises what Johnson said (the paper must have seen a draft), but adds some comments. Click to read, and if it’s paywalled you can find it archived here.

A few bits:

Science teachers are shocked that an advance version of the draft school science curriculum contains no mention of physics, chemistry or biology.

The so-called “fast draft” said science would be taught through four contexts – the Earth system, biodiversity, food, energy and water, and infectious diseases.

It was sent to just a few teachers for their feedback ahead of its release for consultation next month, but some were so worried by the content they leaked it to their peers.

Teachers who had seen the document told RNZ they had grave concerns about it. It was embarrassing, and would lead to “appalling” declines in student achievement, they said.

More critics, some of them apparently big machers:

Association of Science Educators president Doug Walker said he was shocked when he saw a copy.

“Certainly, in its current state, I would be extremely concerned with that being our guiding document as educators in Aotearoa. The lack of physics, chemistry, Earth and space science, I was very surprised by that.”

New Zealand Institute of Physics education council chairman David Housden said physics teachers were not happy either.

“We were shocked. I think that physics and chemistry are fundamental sciences and we would expect to find a broad curriculum with elements of it from space all the way down to tiny particles.”

. . .Institute president Joachim Brand said he was worried teenagers would finish school without learning fundamental knowledge about things like energy and matter.

He warned the draft was heavy on philosophy and light on actual science.

“There is too little science content. Science needs to be learned by actually doing it to some degree. You need to be exposed to the ideas of how maybe atoms work, how electricity works, how electric forces and if that is not specified and you’re only given these broad contexts, then I’m really worried there will be huge gaps,” he said.

. . .Secondary Chemistry Educators New Zealand co-chairperson Murray Thompson said after he read the document he was left asking where the science was.

“The stuff in there is really interesting, but we have to teach basic science first. Where’s the physics and chemistry and why can’t we find words like force and motion and elements and particles, why aren’t those words in there?

“It’s the same mistake that they made with maths and literacy. They said ‘here’s the system, here’s the way’ and the maths was all about problem-solving and written problems and all that stuff without the basic skills,” Thompson said.

But of course given the fact that many educators don’t seem to care that much about a rigorous science education, you can find defenders of this plan, though only one is quoted:

One of the curriculum writers, director of the Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research at the University of Waikato Cathy Buntting, rubbished suggestions key areas physics and chemistry would not be taught.

“Absolutely not. But they will be teaching the chemistry and the physics that you need to engage with – the big issues of our time – and in order to engage with the excitement of science and the possibilities that science offers,” she said.

However, Buntting said the document was intended to encourage change.

“What we are pushing towards with the current fast draft is more of a holistic approach to how the different science concepts interact with each other rather than a purist, siloed approach.”

Bunting is not a scientist but a specialist in education, and her concentration appears to be largely on “citizen science”.  (By the way, I’ve realized that the word “siloed” should raise a red flag, as, when used as a pejorative as above, it’s the opposite of “holistic”, another red-flag word, as is “stakeholders.”)

I should add that Wikipedia notes that the founders of the University of Waikato “From the beginning. . . . envisaged that Māori studies should be a key feature of the new university. It appears to be the center for Māori studies among New Zealand universities, and its webpage says this:

The world is looking to Indigenous knowledge to solve modern-day issues. Rated as one of the leading Mātauranga Māori centres in the country, we represent innovation and tradition in teaching and research, and provide global leadership in sustainable development and Indigenous issues. Our students are armed with the knowledge and attitude to advance Indigenous peoples and provide cultural perspectives in contemporary environments. Create positive change. Learn from the best.

No, the world is not looking to Indigenous knowledge to solve modern-day issues (I’ll name two of these issues: development of vaccines and global warming). Indigenous knowledge, if relevant, can surely be folded into the science mix to solve problems, but it’s usually more tradition-based than forward looking. And the mention of Mātauranga Māori (MM), or Māori “ways of knowing” is a bit disturbing, for MM that’s more than just empirical, trial-and-error based knowledge that can be taken as part of science. MM includes, as I keep saying, religion, ethics, morality, tradition, and superstition. It is not a “way of knowing” but a “Māori way of living.”

At any rate, although the leaked document was a draft, it doesn’t bode well for Kiwi science education. The only two readers’ comments on the NZ Herald page show that at least some of the public isn’t fooled:

Māori reject a giant New Zealand ocean sanctuary proposed by the government

June 18, 2023 • 11:10 am

The Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, the descendants of Polynesians who made it to the island in the 13th century. After conflict with the Europeans who arrived in the early 19th century, some (but not all) of the Māori tribes (“iwi”) signed the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi (“te Tiriti o Waitangi”). That treaty, whose interpretation is in parts ambiguous (partly because there’s an English and Māori version that aren’t 100% interchangeable), nevertheless has three provisions that are clear. Here’s how Wikipedia describes them.

  • Article one of the Māori text grants governance rights to the Crown while the English text cedes “all rights and powers of sovereignty” to the Crown.
  • Article two of the Māori text establishes that Māori will retain full chieftainship over their lands, villages and all their treasures while the English text establishes the continued ownership of the Māori over their lands and establishes the exclusive right of pre-emption of the Crown.
  • Article three gives Māori people full rights and protections as British subjects.

In general, while making Māori subject to British governance, then, it also grants them rights over their land and property and civil rights equal to those of the British subjects in New Zealand.

This last part, the “full rights and protections”, is the part that’s at issue today, for it’s being seen as granting Māori not just legal or moral rights identical to that of “Europeans,” but giving them equal access to and resources of science and natural resources.  I’ve written many times, for example, how the Māori and their supporters are insisting that Maori “ways of knowing” (“Mātauranga Māori”, or MM), be taught as coequal to modern science in school science classes, even though MM has only a small bit of empirical practical knowledge, and largely comprises myth, legend, morality, customs, and religion.

And so it goes with other subjects. The Treaty is interpreted as meaning that Māori get equal say in what kind of science will be done and should get as much money as non-Māori for science projects, even though the people with some or mostly indigenous heritage make up only about 17% of the population. Further, to extend the Treaty to the idea of “equal teaching of science” or “equal grant funding” forces it apply to realms that weren’t even in existence in 1840.

A lot of the fighting about applying the Treaty involves who gets the power to run New Zealand, and because the indigenous people are seen as oppressed “people of color”, there is little pushback to their claims. Teachers objecting to MM being taught in science class, for example, risk their jobs. The epithet of “racism” chills all discourse about how to deal with Māori claims; the group truly has, in New Zealand, what’s been called “the authority of the sacred victim”.

A recent and prime example of misapplication of the Treaty (and of fishing rights negotiated between Māori and the “Crown”), is the overturning of a huge and essential ocean sanctuary proposed and approved by the New Zealand government. Now this sanctuary will not be created because the iwi not only claim fishing rights (which are meager: about $100,000 U.S. per year), but want majority or even full power over the governance of this sanctuary.

What I’ll report here is what I’ve gleaned from several articles, the main ones being below (click to read).

The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, discussed in Parliament since about 2015 (and heavily promoted by former PM Jacinda Ardern), is a proposed 620,000 km² (about 240,000 mi²) sanctuary extending far around New Zealand’s largely uninhabited Kermadec Islands, shown below. The archipelago is located about 1000 km (600 miles) northeast of New Zealand’s North Island, and the islands are where the red marker is:


Here’s a pdf of the 17-page proposal from the Minister of the Environment about establishing the Kermadec Sanctuary; and a pdf of the bill is here.

The sanctuary is being established to enlarge by nearly 100-fold the existing Kermadec Marine Reserve, and, at twice the size of New Zealand, would be one of the world’s largest marine reserves. As the Kiwi site Stuff notes:

It supports life not found anywhere else on the planet: home to 431 fish species, six million seabirds, three types of endangered sea turtles, and more than 250 species of coral and aquatic invertebrates.

It is geologically significant, with the world’s longest chain of submerged volcanoes and the second-deepest ocean trench, plunging to depths of 10km – deeper than Mount Everest is tall.

Remote and largely uninhabited, most will never get the chance to visit this subtropic island arc, around 1000 km north-east of the North Island. And that’s what makes it so special – for millennia, it has thrived untouched by human activity.

The Sanctuary is seen as helping fulfill a UN program to protect more of the oceans (one reason being their value as a buffer to climate change). If established, this reserve would, together with ones established by the US, UK, and Australia, protect 3.5 million km² of ocean.

But the Kermadec Sanctuary is not going to happen. Why? Because the Māori commercial fishing interests voiced opposition, and the iwi voted almost unanimously to reject the proposal. Since their assent is essential, the sanctuary is an ex-sanctuary, singing with the Choir Invisible.

The pathetic thing about this objection is that “the Māori commercial fishing interests” are almost nil given that the sanctuary is so far away from the mainland.

[The iwi] argued Māori would no longer be able to source commercial quota from that area. (Officials calculated the catch was small – about 20 tonnes, worth roughly $165,000 a year.) Believing this would override fishing rights enshrined in the ‘Sealord Deal’ – a 1992 commercial fisheries settlement – Māori fisheries trust Te Ohu Kaimoana (TOKM) took legal action.

I’m assuming those are New Zealand dollars since this is a New Zealand site, so the value of the catch is about $102,000 US per year. And THAT is preventing this sanctuary from coming into being? Hell, the government could pay it off easily, and in fact they offered to do so, along with other concessions to the Māori. When it became clear that the Māori weren’t keen on an earlier proposal, the government’s Environment Minister David Parker put this on the table:

Parker, who had hoped to get it over the line before the election, said he had been working on the revised proposal since 2017 to try to get the sanctuary established. His changes included renaming the sanctuary the Ngā Whatu-a-Māui Ocean Sanctuary and setting up a co-governance entity Te Kāhui to manage it. Te Kāhui was to get a $40 million research fund to do that.

The proposed legislation also required it be managed in a way that recognised Māori rights and interests. Te Kāhui was also to be tasked with considering whether the sanctuary could be given legal personhood, as happened with the Whānganui River. It also allowed for a review of the fishing total allowable catch in 10 years’ time, and rights to compensation.

Te Kāhui would consist of four government ministers, four Te Ohu Kaimoana representatives and one representative each for Te Aupōuri and Ngāti Kuri – mana whenua in the area.

You can’t come up with a better deal than that: a cool 40 million in research, co-governance between the “Crown” (the government) and the Māori, renaming the sanctuary, management recognizing Māori rights and interests, and a council with 60% Māori members. Did that fly?

No. The Māori want more. As they made clear, they are “the original conservationists” and don’t want to share any control by the UN or the New Zealand government:

Peter-Lucas Jones of Te Aupōuri said it was never going to support what was proposed – because of the impact on rights and the structure of the proposal.

“We were never going to agree to the Crown extinguishing our indigenous rights and interests in the moana [area of water] that has been identified for the sanctuary.

“[However], we are the original conservationists and we want to see more happen in that space in the interests of the future of our mokopuna [descendants]. But we want to lead that, not be added onto somebody’s relationship strategy with Unesco and the Americans. We want to be part of an idea that looks much further into the future than the next 20 years.”

Parker said iwi had indicated they were not interested in compensation, but the Government had been clear it was willing to consider compensation for fishing rights that would be suspended, saying the cost would be modest because little commercial fishing took place in the area concerned due to its remoteness.

It seems clear that this is not about money or commercial fishing at all; it is a gesture by the Māori to show that, as “the original conservationists” (who killed all the moa and burnt a huge section of the islands), they aren’t getting enough power. They want to LEAD the project, not just be one of a team that include the UN and the NZ government, not to mention the horrible Americans.

This is what conferring authority on a “sacred victim” yields: a huge amount of protection to a fragile ocean environment must give way so that the iwi of the Māori can have power and respect. They don’t want to just be on a team, they want to RUN the team, and in a way beneficial to future Māori.  (As the old saying goes, though, “there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’.”)  That is a selfish inversion of priorities that can endanger not just marine life, but the whole planet.

As usual, I got this tip from an anonymous Kiwi scientist who is angry not just at what happened, but at the fact that other Kiwi scientists aren’t objecting to the unconscionable usurpation of power based on the “sacred victim” narrative. As the scientist told me:

I don’t know why iwi rejected it, but it looks as if the iwi want to control the whole process. What interested me was the lack of comment from marine conservationists. Normally when an MPA [“Marine Protected Area”] proposal is rejected there is a lot of protest. This time – crickets.
This lack of protest, of course, is because those who object to the Māori’s demands will be called racists.

New Zealand’s educational decline

June 16, 2023 • 9:15 am

I’ve written before about how poorly New Zealand is doing, relative to similar countries, in educating its children, but I didn’t know how poorly until a Kiwi sent me this article from the think tank The New Zealand Initiative.  The author, Roger Partridge, not only gives the depressing data, but also focuses on problem: the government’s “child-centered approach” to teaching.

By the way, I get a lot of these articles from different New Zealand residents, all of whom want me to write about the problems of their country but are too afraid—and rightly so—to give their names. So these are all from anonymous sources.

Click to read:

The data from 2020 (my bolding)

The rise of automation, artificial intelligence and pressures from developing economies are threatening low-skilled and unskilled jobs. Never has the need for school leavers to be well-educated been more important than today.

Yet something is rotten at the core of New Zealand’s education system. A growing proportion of children leave school unable to read an instruction manual or do basic maths. Over the last twenty years, our education system has slipped from being the envy of the world to barely mediocre.

Kiwi students once ranked near the top of international education league tables. In the latest results from the highly rated Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study, Year 5 students placed last among all English-speaking countries and 24th out of all 26 participating OECD countries. Students suffered similar slides in maths and science.

The New Zealand education system is also now one of the most unequal in the world. The gap between the educational “haves” and “have nots” eclipses all our English-speaking OECD peers. All this, despite Government spending per child increasing in real terms by more than 30% since 2001.

Here are data from 2022 given by Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution: (my bolding)

Low attendance at school is another sign the country’s education system is slipping with children from lower socio-economic areas the worst affected, the executive director of the New Zealand Initiative says.

The New Zealand Initiative is a think tank which carries out research to help New Zealand plan for the future.

It has commented on new research by the Education Review Office that shows children are missing school more in New Zealand than other English-speaking countries.

The office found four in ten parents were comfortable with their child missing a week or more of school per term and a third of students did not see going to school every day as that important…

The education system had been declining for 25 years and data backed up his view, such as the Pisa study carried out by the OECD. As an example, in maths the knowledge of a 15-year-old New Zealand student equated to a student aged 13 and a half 20 years ago.

. . . . In the past 12-18 years, New Zealand’s scores had declined by 23 points for reading, 22 points for science and 29 points for maths. The OECD estimated that 30 points was equivalent to one-year of learning.

Here are the 2019 attendance data from that link above, showing the proportion of students in different Anglophone countries that attend school regularly (regular attendance “is defined as attending more than 90 percent of the time). New Zealand’s 2021 figure went up just 2%—to 60%.

Now what’s the reason for such a decline in both educational attainment and attendance? (Surely they are connected!) While a University of Auckland analysis of the slip in literacy produces only a bunch of waffling, including obsession with the Internet (something that of course also dogs competing countries), Partridge blames New Zealand’s philosophy of education (my bolding):

In her new book, my New Zealand Initiative colleague Briar Lipson exposes how pseudo-scientific dogmas have enveloped our education system. The book New Zealand’s education delusion: How bad ideas ruined a once world-leading school system is a startling dissection of the perils of the so-called child-centred approach forced onto schools by official curriculum and assessment policy.

Gone are the days when teachers followed a national, knowledge-based curriculum, ensuring all children are exposed to the same knowledge in core academic subjects like English, maths, science and social studies. Instead, the much-vaunted New Zealand Curriculum is a scant 67 pages long. The entire curriculum for social science (including history, social studies, geography, economics and politics) for Years 1-13 fits on a single A4 page.

How much children learn about the world around them is left to the discretion of the individual school, teacher and, increasingly, child. Instead of knowledge, children are to develop “competencies” like problem-solving and critical thinking, commonly described as “21st century skills.” (Goodness knows how any leader managed when they were educated in the 20th century.)

Some schools have continued with a more traditional, knowledge rich curriculum. This is especially true of schools that have opted out of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) in favour of international examination systems like Cambridge or International Baccalaureate. But in state schools, New Zealand Curriculum’s extreme child-centred approach prevails.

The problems with a child-centred approach are obvious. Or they are to almost everyone except those responsible for the education system. If the content of classroom study must “relate to the child,” students may learn little about the world outside their family or surroundings. This risk will be greatest for children whose home life involves neither books nor quality time engaging with adult family members.

Partridge also notes that the educational deficit is, as expected, larger in “vulnerable” communities. I’m not sure if this is a euphemism for communities comprising more indigenous (Māori) inhabitants, but statistics do show that the child poverty level is palpably higher in Māori children than the average child in New Zealand (and that of course means that the disparity between Māori and European descendants is even higher). Partridge continues:

In New Zealand’s Education Delusion, Lipson argues that the solution to these education woes is to strengthen the role of knowledge in the New Zealand Curriculum.

Drawing on both empirical research and cognitive science, Lipson shows that the New Zealand Curriculum’s approach has things backwards. Knowledge is a pre-requisite for all competencies, from reading comprehension to creativity and problem-solving (try fixing an engine without knowing how it works). Lipson’s research also demonstrates that direct instruction by teachers is the best route to gain that knowledge.

Taking on the education establishment is not for the faint-hearted. The Ministry of Education, the New Zealand Council for Education Research and the teachers’ unions are well-organised. They (mostly) sing from the same song sheet and defend their beliefs with a religious fervour. And were it not for international data, it would be almost impossible even to identify New Zealand’s downward trajectory and grave inequities.

That song sheet, by the way, includes the famous tune, “All Ways of Knowing Are the Sa,me/The Lord God Made Them All.”

I’m not going to weigh in on how to fix this problem: it’s enough to recognize that it exists and it is severe. What I will say is that the government of one of my favorite countries is doing precious little to fix it; in fact, it’s exacerbating it in two  ways.

First, if a “child-centered” curriculum involves enhancing children’s local knowledge at the expense of general or worldwide knowledge, it’s parochial.  And surely giving indigenous “ways of knowing” (Mātauranga Māori or MM) equal billing with the “ways of knowing” taught in comparable OECD countries will not help literacy, science, or math—the three areas in which NZ is especially behind. By making itself more parochial, and sacralizing the indigenous people, the NZ government and educational establishment will only guarantee that they continue to drop to the bottom.

Further, the constant sacralizing of the indigenous language won’t help with literacy either, particularly compared to other Anglophone nations.It’s nice that Crown people can speak some Māori words, but local language is dominating to the point where foreigners can’t read a lot of stuff supposedly written in English.

Second, by chilling speech around these issues (as I said, most Kiwis who write me don’t want their names used), the government can go ahead and do what it wants without getting any pushback. What I predict will happen is that well-off Kiwis will increasingly put their children in private and independent schools having more rigorous curricula. That will, of course, only enhance the disparities in education between rich and poor, and make state-run schools much worse than private ones. It will also enhance general inequality.

Education, along with many other aspects of NZ’s national welfare, are being held hostage by fealty to beliefs and demands of the Māori , people who most need the benefit of better education. But nobody dare mention the likely effects of indigenizing or “decolonizing” national education.

I see no way to stop this, particularly because those in higher education and the government must hold to their virtue by adhering to the ambiguous 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, the basis for claims that everything Māori, including science, must get attention and money equal to those given matters of the “crown”, as Europeans are called. It’s sad to watch the self-destruction of this country, but the greatest dissolution is down the road, when undereducated Kiwi children grow up and run the country.

The indigenization of New Zealand’s Space Policy

June 4, 2023 • 1:00 pm

The other day I forgot to mention that New Zealand has a “National Space Policy” that you can read about here.  Here’s an excerpt from the brief announcement:

The next ‘giant leap’ in New Zealand’s space journey has been taken today with the launch of the National Space Policy, Economic Development Minister Barbara Edmonds announced.

. . . “With the launch of our National Space Policy, we’re presenting a clear and connected picture of New Zealand’s space interests to the world.

“The policy identifies stewardship, innovation, responsibility, and partnership as key values for New Zealand in space. Harnessing these values will inform space-related engagements, policy creation and strategies across government.

The National Space Policy is led by robust objectives of:

  • Growing an innovative and inclusive space sector
  • Protecting and advancing our national security and economic interests
  • Regulating to ensure space activities are safe and secure
  • Promoting the responsible use of space internationally
  • Modelling sustainable space and Earth environments

“This is an important milestone in our space journey as it provides an overview of New Zealand’s values and objectives to guide future space-related policies and regulation.

“This is an ongoing conversation. We will continue to engage with stakeholders and industry,

That sounds good unless you’ve been immersed in New Zealand’s politically correct efforts to indigenize science. This is ultimately based on the view that the indigenous people (Māori) are entitled, via the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi (“Te Teriti”) to coequal participation in science, not just as workers but also entitled to teach their traditional lore, Mātauranga Māori (MM), as coequal in schools to what they call “Western science”.  There is some empirical knowledge in MM, but also a heap of legend, oral tradition, religion, morality, and rules for life. MM, on the whole, is not equivalent to science, but contains science, just as the Bible contains some real history. Yet the interpretation of the Treaty as making all things Māori almost sacred is holding back science in a big way.  So the words “stewardship” and “stakeholders” are, to me at least, code words that this endeavor too will be “decolonized.”

I’ve seen little analysis of the Treaty vis-à-vis education, but it needs to be discussed. The English and Māori versions differ, not all Māori chiefs signed it, and it’s an agreement, not a constitution. Basically, it guarantees the Māori the rights to keep and hold their land, gives Britain sovereignty over the country, but also guarantees that all Māori have full rights as British subjects. Here’s the important part: Article 3 of 3 (English translation on a NZ government site):

In consideration thereof Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand Her royal protection and imparts to them all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.

That’s all well and good, but it’s not clear to me how the “rights and privileges” of British subjects guarantees the Māori the right to have their “way of knowing” taught in government-run science classes. But of course even debating that issue is taboo in New Zealand. (As always, I think MM is an important part of local culture that should be taught as sociology, anthropology, or even religion, but not as science.)

But I have digressed big time. In the link above is another link to the whole government space policy, which is here.

And here’s the interesting bit:

Obligations which apply to all New Zealand space policies

All space policies must also be consistent with New Zealand’s existing commitments, including. . .

  • Te Tiriti o Waitangi: a commitment between the Crown and Māori which provides the basis for ongoing partnerships between the government and Māori on space, including on the implementation of these values and objectives. The Crown is committed to recognising and reflecting Māori interests, including those embodied in the Treaty principles of partnership, active protection, and participation.

Modelling sustainable space and Earth environments

Encouraging inclusive, sustainable space collaborations within New Zealand

Mātauranga Māori and space are deeply connected, with space representing whakapapa (genealogical links to the beginning of the universe), wairuatanga (the spiritual connection between Earth and the universe, derived from Māori cosmology), and tātai arorangi (Māori knowledge of astronomy). The New Zealand government encourages inclusive collaborations with individuals or groups who are currently underrepresented in the space sector (including, but not limited to, Māori); and for these collaborations to work toward sustainable outcomes. The New Zealand government will also strive to further understand and assess representation across the space sector, to best direct inclusive collaboration opportunities.

The treaty is quoted again, and this means that not only will equity apply to the whole policy, but indigenous people will get piles of money to give their take on the policy. More distressing is the dissimulation of the last paragraph, which simply lies when it says that “Mātauranga Māori and space are deeply connected”.  What they’ve done here, as usual, is make an analogy between science (space exploration) and aspects of Māori society that have almost nothing to do with space (whakapapa and wiruatanga are spiritual and moral concepts). The one exception, tātai arorangi, involved learning enough about the positions of celestial bodies to navigate across the south Pacific and, later, judge the seasons for planting or hunting.  But the space bit of MM is no longer a pressing concern to anybody in the country except those whose ancestry may help them get jobs or money.

This is from a discussion of the subject by two academics:

David Perenara-O’Connell

Māngai, Tāwhaki Joint Venture

The knowledge is very clear with regard to how our people came to be here, and that it wasn’t by mistake, and it was through a deep understanding of the stars and the Sun and the Moon and the weather and the birds – all of those things that they were able to harness to get from one place to the next without necessarily knowing where that next place was.

For us at Taumutu and Wairewa – Ngāi Tahu hapū – we are inherently eeling, fishing villages, so we spend a lot of time at night out gathering our kai, and through that, the importance of the Moon, the time of the year when we gather the tuna, which we call the hinapōuri, the time of the dark nights through to the timing of the sky and the constellations that guide us in those mahinga kai activities.

So when you’re gathering tuna on the banks of the river or on the gravels of Kaitōrete with your tamariki and your kaumātua, there’s an exchange of that knowledge about the stars constantly moving overhead.

In the following, “kūmara” is a Polynesian type of sweet potato. Bolding in the text is mine.

Dr Pauline Harris

For Māori, a lot of our knowledge is passed on through word of mouth, but there’s lots of different forms for that. All sorts of information is carried in things like our pūrākau, our stories, our waiata, our songs, our whakataukī. They all carry messages, knowledge, history, information, data.

I’d like to use the example Whānui. Whānui is a star called Vega. Whānui was the father of the kūmara. And his wife and him had these kūmara children, and his brother Rongo-maui wanted to bring the kūmara to Earth. And so he went up there and he asked for the kūmara. Whānui said, “No you can’t have that. You’re not allowed to take my children.” And Rongo-maui stole the children and brought them down to Earth. Whānui was very angry with the fact that his children were taken, and he sent down his other children, which were like caterpillars and stuff, and they were sent down to Earth to destroy the crops of the kūmara so that they couldn’t use them.

There’s lots of different messages in there. There’s messages around the wrongdoing of stealing things but also about the relationship between kūmara and the star Vega or Whānui itself. And when that star rises, it indicates the time of the year, around about March, which is when you have some practice associated with the kūmara.

You can be the judge of whether this knowledge, which was indeed of use to the Polynesian ancestors of the Māori as well as to the early Māori themselves, should now also be deeply integrated into modern space exploration and the policy that guides it.

Some correspondence and a statement from from the Royal Society of New Zealand about “ways of knowing” and cancellation

December 22, 2021 • 9:30 am

Here’s a bit more (and I’m not done yet) about the fight to teach valid science in New Zealand rather than teach valid science in science class as coequal with indigenous “ways of knowing.”

The Royal Society of New Zealand has the formal name “Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi”, with the last two words being Māori for “group of experts”. But I’ll just call it the Royal Society of New Zealand (RSNZ), for its legal name remains “Royal Society of New Zealand”). It is the Kiwi version of London’s Royal Society (abbreviated RS), and is a group of elite scholars chosen for their accomplishments.  It gives out grants, publishes its own journal, holds meetings, promotes science and technology and, like the RS or the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, provides advice to their government. All of its activities are, by statute, limited to science and technology.

A short reprise. A while back a group of 7 scholars from the University of Auckland wrote a letter, “In defense of science”, published in a weekly NZ magazine called The Listener. You can see the letter here (read it again if you will, as it’s short). It’s largely a critique of the Kiwi initiative (fostered by the Government, by universities, and by many NZ academics) to have complete parity of teaching in science courses modern science with Māori “ways of knowing”, or mātauranga Māori (MM for short), literally “Maori knowledge”. While asserting that it was valuable to teach MM in school for cultural and historical reasons, these seven scholars (one a Māori) objected to teaching what is a gemisch of practical knowledge (sometimes gained empirically), mythology, morality, philosophy, and legend alongside modern science in science class.

Regardless of its intention to “empower” the Māori, the effect of teaching MM alongside real science would be to confuse everybody and wind up lowering the level of science in New Zealand, which has been dropping in international rankings for math, science, and reading scores for over two decades, and every academic in New Zealand knows this. (I’ll give more data on this in a future post.) Yet the RSNZ criticized the seven signers of the letter and, supposedly after a complaint, began investigating the two living members, Robert Nola and Garth Cooper, a Māori (another signer has died).  This investigation that could result in these two distinguished members being booted out of the RSNZ—just for exercising free speech!

Here’s the statement issued in July by the RSNZ (click on screenshot to see it in situ:

I found the statement ridiculous, coming from an institution with the mission of promoting science. It explicitly argues that MM is a “valid truth” (wrong: for one thing, it’s creationist in its view of life and the universe), but also criticizes the seven people, including three RSNZ members, who signed the Listener letter. This is a chilling of free speech; there should be no such public pronouncement by the RSNZ touting MM as “valid truth”, much less demonizing three of its members publicly.

I objected in an email to the Director of Advice and Practice of  RSNZ, which is below:

From: Jerry Coyne
Sent: Saturday, 4 December 2021 7:36 am
To: Roger Ridley
Subject: Booting signatories out of the Royal Society

Dear Dr. Ridley,

I understand from the news that New Zealand’s Royal Society is considering expelling two scientists for signing a letter objecting to teaching “indigenous” science alongside and coequal with modern science.  As a biologist who has done research for a lifetime and also spent time with biologists in New Zealand, I find this possibility deeply distressing.

The letter your two members wrote along with five others was defending modern science as a way of understanding the truth, and asserting that Maori “ways of knowing”, while they might be culturally and anthropologically valuable, should not be taught as if the two disciplines are equally useful in conveying the truth about our Universe. They are not. Maori science is a collation of mythology, religion, and legends which may contain some scientific truth, but to determine what bits exactly are true, those claims must be adjudicated by modern science: our only “true” way of knowing.

I presume you know that the Maori way of knowing includes creationism: the kind of creationism that fundamentalist Christians espouse in the U.S. based on a literalistic reading of the Bible. Both American and Maori creationism are dead wrong—refuted by all the facts of biology, paleontology, embryology, biogeography, and so on. That your society would expel members for defending views like evolution against non-empirically based views of creation and the like, is shameful.

I hope you will reconsider the movement to expel your two members, which, if done, would make the Royal Society of New Zealand a laughingstock.

Jerry Coyne
Professor Emeritus
Department of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago

Richard Dawkins also wrote to Roger Ridley, and you can see Richard’s letter here. I suspect he will get a very long response, for Dawkins’s email and his letter to “New Zealand friends of science and reason“, also published in The Listener, carry a lot of weight!  In response to the barrage of letters, articles, and newspaper articles about the RSNZ’s “investigation,” its chief executive, Paul Atkins, issued a weaselly statement saying the RSNZ was supporting both science and MM and was launching a new program “to deepen understanding of mātauranga”

[The RSNZ will launch] ‘Mātauranga Māori and its Interface with Science’, to be run through our expert advice function, co-led by Professor Rangi Matamua FRSNZ, School of Māori Knowledge Te Pūtahi-a-Toi, Massey University. The aim will be to further explore and deepen the Society’s, its members’ and hapori communities’ understanding of mātauranga and its relevance to science and vice versa. The work will seek input from a wide range of experts, networks and perspectives.

I suspect this is a put-up job which will tout all ways of knowing as coequal. I deeply doubt whether the RSNZ will say flatly that “MM is not, as a whole, science” and shouldn’t be taught as coequal to science, even though several Māori academics have said just that! But we shall see. Will they ask Drs. Nola and Cooper to speak, and even Richard Dawkins?

This morning I finally got a response from Ridley, below (I’ve redacted email addresses):

From: Roger Ridley
Sent: Tuesday, December 21, 2021 9:03 PM
To: Jerry Coyne
Subject: RE: Booting signatories out of the Royal Society

Dear Professor Coyne

Thank you for taking the time to write with your email and views, and apologies for the delay in replying – we have received a lot of traffic on this issue as I’m sure you will know. Please be assured that the Society supports the principles of freedom of speech.  For clarity, the Society itself has not brought any complaints against the authors of the Listener letter.  However, as a professional body, we have a complaints procedure that we are obliged to follow when we receive complaints about a member from another member or a member of the public. That process needs to run its course. Media speculation about the outcome, which could include setting the complaints aside, are completely premature.

On the question of the content of the letter that sparked reaction from various quarters, the Society’s view is that that the current situation is unhelpful to constructive dialogue, and we are therefore putting in place a work program intended to bring the discussion back onto a more helpful footing.

Best wishes for the festive season

Dr Roger Ridley
Mātanga Rangahau | Director Expert Advice and Practice
Royal Society Te Apārangi
11 Turnbull Street, Thorndon, Wellington 6011
PO Box 598, Wellington 6140, New Zealand

I’ve heard from one other reader who got a similar but shorter response; Ridley is not just sending out boilerplate responses, which is good.

However, his letter is still weaselly, and the reason why is detailed in the email I just sent him, which I’ve put below.

Dear Dr. Ridley,

Thanks very much for answering my email and clarifying that the RSNZ hasn’t itself brought any complaints against Dr. Nola and Cooper. But I don’t understand why your “complaints procedure” involves more than a very quick appraisal of the Listener letter and whatever “complaint” it produced.  Your members were exercising free speech in a magazine, and for that reason alone the complaint should be quickly dismissed. There is nothing difficult about this decision.

What bothers me more is that the RSNZ did indeed issue a public complaint about the letter, and implicitly about its signatories.  As you may recall, this is what that statement, signed by the then-President of the RSNZ as well as by the Chair of the Academy Executive Committee, said:

The recent suggestion by a group of University of Auckland academics that mātauranga Māori is not a valid truth is utterly rejected by Royal Society Te Apārangi. The Society strongly upholds the value of mātauranga Māori and rejects the narrow and outmoded definition of science outlined in The Listener – Letter to the Editor.

It deeply regrets the harm such a misguided view can cause.

If you consider that the “current situation is unhelpful to constructive dialogue”, then your own Society, and the statement above, is largely to blame. This investigation should “run its course” in about one day, and then you should apologize to Drs. Nola and and Cooper (as well as the other four living signers), and issue a public statement that they were exercising their free speech by voicing their opinion in a magazine.

The RSNZ, by trying to somehow harmonize modern science with mātauranga Māori, is not only engaged in a futile task, but also practicing a kind of social engineering with the aim of empowering an indigenous people. This kind of well-meant attempt to reconcile two incompatible “ways of knowing”— and to teach them in science class as both “valid truths”—will result only in a further decline in the quality of science and math education in New Zealand, which as you know has been dropping for over two decades in comparison with other countries.

I urge your Society to act sensibly and stop asserting that mātauranga Māori is a “valid truth”. Some of that endeavor does convey practical truths, but a lot of it doesn’t, comprising as it does mythology and legend.  Defending mātauranga Māori is not the same thing as defending science.

Jerry Coyne
Professor Emeritus
Department of Ecology & Evolution
The University of Chicago

If you want to write Ridley, email me and I’ll give you his email address.