NZ History in schools

Of course, there are risks that, if done poorly, compulsory history in our schools could veer into the realm of indoctrination.  —Historian, Paul Moon

Taught for at least half a century

By Roger Childs

The decision to make NZ History compulsory up to Level 10 (the old Fourth form) has been hailed as a progressive step by many. However, as many readers will recall, it’s been taught for decades. Some of you will remember using Our Country’s Story by McDonald. Over a period of 40 years, I always included it in my Social Studies programmes. 

The difference this time is that all teachers will need to include it, and there will presumably be a set prescription.  But how will this be done? What, for example, will New Entrants be taught at the beginning of the process?

Who will decide on the curriculum?

My understanding is the Ministry Of Education is working with mana whenua of each region. Beyond that I’m not sure. I suspect they will be making contact with a range of historians and education professionals. —Rob McCann, 2017 Labour candidate for Otaki

Obviously, the Ministry will ultimately decide what is to be covered, but what sort of consultation process will take place? If Rob is right, will Pasifika, Chinese, Indian, Irish, Scottish etc.. communities, also be involved? What about most folk who just see themselves as New Zealanders?

Some of the impetus for this far-reaching decision came from two Otorohanga College girls who discovered that important battles in the New Zealand Wars were fought near their homes. They mounted a campaign for all students to learn about these conflicts and their country’s history. One outcome of their efforts was that three years ago a day was set aside – 28 October — for remembering the wars, strangely on the day of the 1835 Declaration of Independence.

Now they have their wish that all students will learn about our country’s story.Early roads

What will be covered?

The recent announcement apparently suggested that the following would be included:

  • The arrival of Māori
  • First encounters and early colonial history
  • Te Tiriti o Waitangi / Treaty of Waitangi and its history
  • Colonisation of, and immigration to, New Zealand, including the New Zealand Wars.
  • Evolving national identity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries
  • New Zealand’s role in the Pacific
  • New Zealand in the late 20th century and evolution of a national identity with cultural plurality.

Obviously, this is a pretty broad brush and not a definitive statement. However, things will have to move quickly as it is all going to start in 2022.

Warts and all?

The phrase is attributed to Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the British Isles in the 1650s, who reputedly instructed painter Sir Peter Lely to do his portrait ‘warts and all’.

Waitangi_Tribunal_logoHistorian Vincent O’Malley and the President of the New Zealand History Teachers Association have emphasised that a “warts and all” approach is needed. However, some people have already voiced fears that iwi leaders and Maori academics may have too much say in the ultimate shape of the prescription. Will the final document have an over-emphasis on the Treaty of Waitangi, breaches of the Treaty by “the Crown”, the New Zealand Wars, Parihaka and the Waitangi Tribunal?

What about warts like the extermination of the moa, Haast’s Eagle and other birds; the burning of huge areas of forest by Polynesians and European settlers; the devastating inter-tribal wars; cannibalism and slavery; the genocide in the Chatham Islands; the scores of breaches of the Treaty by Maori such as Te Kooti’s massacres at Matawhero and Mohaka; the Gallipoli disaster?

Kate SheppardClearly, deciding on what is taught is problematic and the general outline featured in the “what will be covered” section above makes no mention of:

  • The process of opening up New Zealand in the 1860s and 1870s, and the economic and urban growth that resulted which ultimately benefited all groups
  • The social and economic reforms by the Liberals in the 1890s and Labour in the 1930s.
  • World Wars and depressions.

There will obviously be plenty of debate to come over the shape of the syllabus, but it is to  be hoped that what is ultimately taught is based of what actually happened, what people at the time were saying and the irrefutable evidence. Not easy!