Māori men at a marae / Bernd Hildebrandt / Pixabay.com
In what may be one of the better news stories we’ve heard this year, the government has announced that teaching New Zealand history in schools will be mandatory starting 2022.
On September the 12th, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed the goals set by educators, government and mana whenua in Parliament.
The new curriculum aims to cover:
- The Arrival of Māori
- First encounters and early colonial history
- Te Tiriti o Waitangi / Treaty of Waitangi
- Colonisation, immigration, the New Zealand Wars
- New Zealand’s role in the Pacific
- The evolution of our national identity
Ardern emphasised that the unique and often confronting events of our nation’s past have much to teach us about our future, and that New Zealanders’ knowledge of their history “should never be left to chance.”
Leaving it to chance, however, is what most of the schools around the country currently tend to do.
Under the current curriculum, certain aspects of NZ history are expected to be taught, like Te Tiriti o Waitangi, along with the critical thinking skills that accompany historical analysis. But often, schools opt to teach the bare minimum of the topic with a handful of Māori words and customs thrown in.
Tamsin Hanly, author of a resource for teaching New Zealand history and a part-time teacher at the University of Auckland's School of Education, said the current guidelines “are so generic that you can basically get away with just covering things like Matariki.”
Which, to me, is disgraceful.
And the effect of years of subpar history education is evident given the amount of colonialism apologists among us. This latest announcement has brought them out in their droves:
“But the Māori slaughtered the Moriori who lived here before them.” (Spoiler alert: bullshit)
“We’d better teach all of NZ history then, like how Māori tribes warred with and killed each other before the Europeans arrived.”
“Don’t forget Māori benefited from European medicine and technology, too.”
And, truth be told, I’m not particularly averse to these defensive excuses being discussed in the classroom.
How did conflicts between iwi shape the social landscape pre-colonisation? How do they differ from the New Zealand Wars? Who are the Moriori and where did our misconceptions about their interactions with Māori come from? What did it cost Māori to be integrated into settlements and access European “benefits”?
The questions, debates and clashes of opinion that the curriculum change announcement has incited online is exactly what we need more of in the classroom. When facilitated by trained educators, a healthy dose of confrontation is one of the best ways to learn.
I’m no history buff, but I’m a sucker for a good debate. The suggested curriculum is packed with topics that can help shape more critical, empathetic and socially-aware students. And most of us can’t wait.Support Villainesse