Friday 22 April 2022

Controlling The Past.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past. All of us labor in webs spun long before we were born, webs of heredity and environment, of desire and consequence, of history and eternity.” - William Faulkner

IT WAS NEARLY SIX YEARS AGO that I defended New Zealanders’ historical ignorance as a not altogether bad thing. In a column entitled “Let Sleeping Ghosts Lie”, I wrote:

There is a reason why so many of the signposts to old battle sites are weathered and overgrown; why lichen has been allowed to obliterate the names of those who fell. Sleeping ghosts, like sleeping dogs, should never be needlessly awakened.

Unsurprisingly, New Zealand history teachers were outraged. How can New Zealand’s peoples be reconciled, and past injustices put right, if its young people are kept in ignorance of their country’s past?

It was a battle-cry that carried the reformers to victory. Under the Labour-led government of Jacinda Ardern, the positive noises made by Bill English’s National-led government were translated into hard-and-fast policy. From 2023, New Zealand history will be a compulsory feature of the school curriculum for Years 1-10.

A cause for celebration? Well, that depends upon your point of view. History is as much about the present as it is about the past. What we choose to remember, to bring forward into the consciousness of people living today, is a profoundly political act, with frequently explosive political consequences.

Just how fraught with danger the emerging new curriculum promises to be was brought home to the viewers of an item broadcast on Monday night’s edition of One News.

A Māori mother was distressed because her son’s class had been asked to give a Yes or No answer to the question: ‘Should land be returned to Māori?’ She expressed her displeasure at what she described as the closed nature of the question and its lack of context.

There will be many New Zealanders, however, in whose judgement the question posed is entirely fair and reasonable. Any accurate account of the history of Māori-Pakeha relations since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi cannot fail to conclude that, as one history teacher interviewed for the news item declared:

“Their [Māori] ancestors were evicted, essentially, from their lands, which [were] taken from them”.

If justice and reconciliation is the goal of the new compulsory curriculum, then the question of who owns New Zealand can hardly be avoided.

The problem, of course, is that if the correct answer to the offending teacher’s question is: “Yes, the lands that were unjustly (illegally) taken from Māori should be restored to them”; then, immediately, a whole host of subsidiary questions arise. Supplying honest answers to these questions will likely prove beyond the resources of New Zealand’s teachers.

Herein lies the danger. Once the scale of injustice is exposed, how should students – Māori and Pakeha – respond? Being young, their answers are likely to echo the words of the New Zealand poet, James K. Baxter:

Anger is bread/To the poor, their guns more accurate than justice

Knowing New Zealand bureaucracy’s horror of passion and plain speaking, it seems a given that teachers will not only be expected to make sure that such sentiments are discouraged, but that they are also suppressed.

We are thus presented with a policy paradox. Our government is insisting that young New Zealanders be taught their country’s history: but not in a way that allows them to both perceive the truths of the past, and act upon them in the present. If you think this contradiction is bound to tie our history teachers up in all manner of pedagogical and cultural knots, then I think you’re right!

One more thing arises out of Monday’s One News item – and it bothers me.

How is the Ministry of Education proposing to deal with the cultural reality that most of the teachers, and most of the students, involved in the new history curriculum will be non-Māori? If Te Ao Māori drives the responses of tangata whenua, then is it not equally true that the cultural life-worlds of non-Māori will determine their responses? How, then, are we to avoid the new history curriculum generating in the here-and-now exactly the same conflicts that beset the past?

If the answer to that question involves a huge amount of prescriptive effort, centred around what teachers and students can think and say, then serious politico-cultural conflict is inevitable.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell wrote: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

Fasten your seat-belts.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 22 April 2022.


The Barron said...

I watched the TV One News item and saw it as indicating why the new curriculum is required. What you had was a social studies teacher raising something under the current curricular structure. This was not identified as a trained and qualified history teacher. Social studies has often been seen as a role teachers could be assigned with minimum training. It is broad and can lead to good intentions poorly enacted, as the One News item highlighted.

The new curricular gives greater direction. It has guidelines, it has input by history teachers, allows for local contribution both internal to the school and external and gives specific training. As the example shows - discussion of the historical development towards our current nation cannot, and should not, be avoided. What is being offered is a safer and structured way this can be achieved for the whole school community.

In regard to the issue of Te Ao Maori being centric to the curriculum, clearly prior to colonization Te Ao Maori was established in New Zealand. As colonization developed, Te Ao Maori developed and has remained, but interaction puts this both integrated and alongside the wider development of the nation. The social studies teacher highlighted on the news was non-Maori addressing the issue without the training and grounding required for an understanding of Te Ao Maori. That was the point of the parent complainant. It is also what should be addressed in the MOE roll out.

Archduke Piccolo said...

Interesting article! Not a topic I've thought all that much about. The problem of 'righting' a past wrong, is that it can so easily involve committing a present (or future) wrong. Look at Palestine.

How then to reach a reconciliation (supposing one is desirable and desired). Another approach might require investigating. I can see the value of a history course in such exercises. There is another problem: examining THIS wrong (shall we say), can overlook THAT wrong. And it's not a bad idea to examine the how, as well as the why. Lands were alienated from Maori less through military means than through legislative - and some pretty scaly law making. One doesn't as a rule hear much about this. Further, lands were alienated not only from Maori. Less brutal than many another Colonial project, New Zealand has still created for itself a very murky past.

Time was New Zealand prided itself for its (traditional) egalitarianism. But I recall this graffito on a Wellington City wall:

'If you think New Zealand is a classless society, then you're middle class.'
Ion A. Dowman

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Students need to know the truth about their history – not some sanitised culture wars version. Red states in the US are promoting this sort of thing with extremely vague legislation, putting teachers in an unenviable position of not exactly knowing if they can mention things like slavery or Martin Luther King. All under the guise of forbidding the teaching of CRT, which they define as "anything taught about race relations that I don't like or might embarrass me".
History teachers, whatever you might think about them are professionals, and they don't just stand at the front of the class these days and lecture students. Students are and encouraged and expected to be acquainted with relevant documents and opinions from the past.
I thought you were all for free speech and transparency? The kids I came across when I was volunteering in my son's high school library are certainly mature enough to handle the truth – certainly more mature than many of the commentators on the various news and blog sites who are having a moral panic about this.

John Hurley said...

Underlying it is a nefarious intent so the "history teachers" are dishonest from the start.

As Leah Bell informs Gisbourne students:

“It affects our health care, it affects our schools, it affects how much money we have. It affects who goes to prison and who doesn't go to prison.”

and Fiona Kidman says "a moment's discomfort [may hurt] but structural racism kills". Anne Milne is dead sure if Maori kids don't do as well as Pakeha it is structural racism.
So it is all about deconstructing our society (as in US and Blacks).

I discovered an enlightening book: Charles Murrays The Coming Apart of White America

It is about meritocratic society and how it separates us socially and culturally (who listens to Concert FM anyway?). The problem is we have different life experiences and interests.
click on listen

John Hurley said...

Continuing on Coming Apart: The State of White America.
Meritocratic society concentrates people in Zip codes. They work at the same sort of places, marry similar people to themselves and become significantly differentiated from ordinary people to the extent [my idea as I haven't finished] that the lower half become the other.They can embrace minorities until they go beyond being housemaids and move into their area (as was shown in an experiment where Hispanic speakers were placed at local stations - they significantly shift from Democrat to Republican).
Have you ever wondered why so many IT people are Greg Prestlands [the Standard]?
The net result is the cognitive elite control everything. I presented my video of Ha-Joon Chang on why a Swedish bus driver earns 50 times more than and Indian bus driver ("draconian" control of borders). Eric Crampton saw that as a reason for immigration.

Patricia said...

A very very good essay, Chris. One possible solution to the problem of land ownership is that when New Zealand becomes a republic the land is transferred from the crown to a Maori entity. The crown currently owns all the land in New Zealand and the so called current owners only have a fee simple estate. The crown can only take our land for specific purposes and so that right would also be transferred to the Maori entity. May be that would work. Although I think there would still be a hue and a cry from most pakeha.

John Laurie said...

45,000 Maori "owned" the whole of New Zealand? The first Maori village on the east coast north of Auckland was north of Wenderholm. The isthmus had been deserted for nearly 20 years after the 1821 battle at Mauinaina, Panmure. Travellers in the 1840s could look back fom the edge of the volcanic plateau at 100,000 acres of the upper Waihou, covered in fern, with not a single house or cultivation on it. Not to speak of the 1200 or so Maoris in a few scattered coastal settlements in the South Island. Most of the North Island was purchased with the agreement of the sellers. Large proportions of the confiscated areas were returned. A correlation between confiscation in the nineteenth century and socioeconomic status today compared to other iwi has not been established. Two rounds of full and final settlements for confiscations have been concluded. The new history curriculum should devote much more time to the advances in civilisation, the development of agriculture and industry, the triumphs of infrastructure, dams, roads, ships, telephones and aeroplanes. which have made all our lives so much richer, instead of encouraging ethnic antagonism.

Trev1 said...

I think this country is buggered. So much hate based on ignorance and revisionist "history ".

greywarbler said...

About this: A Māori mother was distressed because her son’s class had been asked to give a Yes or No answer to the question: ‘Should land be returned to Māori?’ She expressed her displeasure at what she described as the closed nature of the question and its lack of context.

I totally agree with her. The people who have set this curriculum should be available for discussion and questions. Not what 'they' want but what a group of interested, reasonably informed people consider by a clear majority. Select committees are not enough. Open meetings are not enough. (They get taken over by convinced speakers who can harp on to their favourite obsession and hold the floor like Atlas.) Remember whoever said this last, they said a smart thing: The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. Bertrand Russell.

Maori have chosen as a group to go the pragmatic way through colonialism, but assert also their cultural ways that knit them together; perhaps that should be weave because that was traditional - knitting was European-introduced.

larry mitchell said...

NZ history curriculum dilemma in a nutshell Quote: ... Trotter: "serious politico-cultural conflict is inevitable". Oh Touche'. What a tar baby.

Simon walker said...

Who controls the past controls the future, and who controls the present, controls the past.

Simon walker said...

Sorry, I made that comment before finishing the whole essay.

David George said...

Further reading: Elizabeth Rata: The Decolonisation of Education in New Zealand

"While decolonisation is underway in all the nation’s institutions, education is the key ideological institution. The Curriculum Refresh’s ‘other knowledge-systems’ approach re-defines academic knowledge as just another knowledge-system, rather than what it actually is – the universal knowledge developed across the disciplines and altered for teaching at school."

"Destroying confidence in the science – culture distinction, a distinction which is one of the defining features of the modern world, will be decolonisation’s most significant and most dangerous victory." The tragedy is that this decolonising racialised ideology will destroy the foundations of New Zealand’s modern prosperous society. The principles of universalism and secularism are its pillars in education as elsewhere. Academic knowledge is different from cultural knowledge because it is universal and secular. We could certainly live without this knowledge – our ancestors did, but would we want to"

David George said...

Chris: "What we choose to remember, to bring forward into the consciousness of people living today, is a profoundly political act, with frequently explosive political consequences".

So what, exactly, are the motives for what has been chosen to represent our history. Reading the official curriculum information is not particularly helpful. Generalised intentions about understanding the past to shape the future don't answer the fundamental question about the choice of content.

That the whole thing is overwhelmingly Maori centric and laudatory to all things Maori is beyond doubt. Why is that? The curriculum has clearly been designed to either ignore or denigrate the achievements of the (primarily) European arrivals. Why? The incendiary implications of such a distortion should be of concern to all of us.

The changes to the "history" curriculum are only part of the programme of implementation of He Puapua programme, an agenda deliberately concealed prior to the last election. I expect that Ardern & Co will be forced to be a lot more forthright this next time and the people will finally get the chance to have some sort of say in our country's future direction.

David George said...

From the Elizabeth Rata essay linked above:
"Yet decolonisers reject the fundamental difference between science and culture claiming instead that all knowledge is culturally produced, informed by a group’s beliefs and experiences, and geared to its interests. Indigenous knowledge and ‘western’ knowledge are simply cultural systems with academic education re-defined as the oppressive imposition of the latter on the former."

This is where the insidious hand of the critical theorists shows itself; a manifestation of the theory that any and all difference in outcome is caused by oppression of some sort. Thus we see demands that even science be rebuilt from the ground up, it's basic tenets rejected or reduced to make them compatible with "other ways of knowing" - folklore essentially. I can certainly see many of our most accomplished scientists heading for saner places as funding is re-directed (as it is now being) to serve this ideology fantasy.

David George said...

These initiatives, like the new history curriculum, are part of an assault on our, my, culture. Just ordered the new book The War on The West by Douglas Murray.

"It is now in vogue to celebrate non-Western cultures and disparage Western ones. Some of this is a much-needed reckoning, but much of it fatally undermines the very things that created the greatest, most humane civilization in the world.

In The War on the West, Douglas Murray shows how many well-meaning people have been fooled by hypocritical and inconsistent anti-West rhetoric. After all, if we must discard the ideas of Kant, Hume, and Mill for their opinions on race, shouldn't we discard Marx, whose work is peppered with racial slurs and anti-Semitism? Embers of racism remain to be stamped out in America, but what about the raging racist inferno in the Middle East and Asia?

It's not just dishonest scholars who benefit from this intellectual fraud but hostile nations and human rights abusers hoping to distract from their own ongoing villainy. Dictators who slaughter their own people are happy to jump on the "America is a racist country" bandwagon and mimic the language of antiracism and "pro-justice" movements as PR while making authoritarian conquests.

If the West is to survive, it must be defended. The War on the West is not only an incisive takedown of foolish anti-Western arguments but also a rigorous new apologetic for civilization itself."

A compelling discussion with the Author:

John Hurley said...

See this thread Mani Dunlop on Joe Bennet

Barry said...

I expect that - like the almost total failure of the English and Maths curriculum and the abysmal standard of students that have been unfortunate enough to come through thosecurriculums - that the history curiculum will have similar catastrophic results. All three were designed in the Ministry of Education so what could go wrong? Answer - everything.

llloyd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Barron said...

I note not one of the comments that are against the new curricular are suggesting that the trained history teachers will be presenting anything other than factual history. No one seems to be suggesting that the trained history teachers do not have the skills to deliver this. The problem seems to be that the contributors do not want history education delivery to honestly reflect the past. I am unsure whether it is the descendants of the indigenous or the decedents of the colonizers they do not want to understand the history of interaction.

It is a fine line between these contributions views and that occurring in the State House of Mississippi where they wish to have a 'heritage' month to celebrate the confederacy. 38% of those in the state are descendants of those that were the enslaved property of others. This is to be legislated suppression as such reminders sour the celebration.

I think we can trust the history teachers to deliver factual history that is able to allow the students to analyze that there were multiple perspectives then and now.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well, we going to be talking about books, is a sample of my holiday reading from sunny Hawke's Bay. An absolutely fascinating read.
"The Politics of Fear" by Ruth Wodak

"Winner of the Austrian Book Prize for the 2016 German translation, in the category of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Populist right-wing politics is moving centre-stage, with some parties reaching the very top of the electoral ladder: but do we know why, and why now?

In this book Ruth Wodak traces the trajectories of such parties from the margins of the political landscape to its centre, to understand and explain how they are transforming from fringe voices to persuasive political actors who set the agenda and frame media debates. Laying bare the normalization of nationalistic, xenophobic, racist and antisemitic rhetoric, she builds a new framework for this ‘politics of fear’ that is entrenching new social divides of nation, gender and body.

The result reveals the micro-politics of right-wing populism: how discourses, genres, images and texts are performed and manipulated in both formal and also everyday contexts with profound consequences. This book is a must-read for scholars and students of linguistics, media and politics wishing to understand these dynamics that are re-shaping our political space."

David George said...

The Barron: "the contributors do not want history education delivery to honestly reflect the past"

You are mistaken in that assumption, at least as far as I'm concerned. Regardless of the teacher's intentions, the curriculum itself is dishonest. It leaves out entire chapters of our history (for example the tribal wars which surpass the Rwanda genocide/civil war in scale) and, by omission and commission, deliberately provides an inaccurate picture of our past.

John Hurley said...

Skunks writing about polecats

Shane McDowall said...

John Laurie. New Zealand's population was 80 to 100,000 in 1800. The South Island had between 10 to 15,000 of this total. Check Ian Pool's "Te Iwi Maori".

What is really absurd is the notion, widespread in Europe, that there existed in distant lands dimwitted natives more than happy to part with millions of acres of land for a few trinkets.

Jason Barrier said...

Of most concern to me, Chris is how this version of our history seems to pick and choose parts and completely ignore other parts of our history and thus presents a superficial and one-sided, and narrow viewpoint for our children. As an avid history buff, I am all for the teaching of NZ history - but not this nonsense, which effectively jumps from early Maori life to colonization, without mentioning the longest period of warfare in our history. The Musket Wars covered the first 40 years of the 1800s in blood - torture, and cannibalism were common. This was a time of massive power adjustments (by those tribes who first obtained muskets through trade with pakeha) where Ngapuhi went canvassed all the way to the lower NI East Coast, Te Rauparaha went from Kawhia through Taranaki to conquest the upper SI, and Ngati Tama and Ngati Mutunga invaded Rekohu and committed the closest thing to genocide that our country has ever seen. Not only that - but these Musket Wars impacted heavily on a) the incentive for Tribes to sign the Treaty and b) its subsequent protection of customary rights, as it effectively froze in time the rewritten political boundaries post those conquests. We can see that today with some of the settlements. Any study of New Zealand history without inclusion of the Musket Wars is deficient and delusional. Further, the study of the Maori economy is surely a good thing, but any economic historian must be pulling his or her hair out, at the omission of the advent of refrigerated boats and a meat export trade and the importance of that in our development. Let's get a more inclusive 'warts n all' history in front of our kids so they can develop a more nuanced understanding of our past to better equip them to solve today's problems.

John Laurie said...

Shane. 1800 was before the 20 years of intertribal war, before the depredations of Hongi and Te Rauparaha, and the new diseases. Maori were generally keen to have British towns and settlers right up to the middle 1850s for the wealth they could earn from trading and employment.