Labour’s History Curriculum

Ever since Jacinda Ardern announced that history would become a core subject in schools, Ministry of Education officials have spent millions of dollars devising a curriculum. They got advice from a very narrow range of the woke and well-meaning, and some serious barrow-pushers. They then seem to have sought a fig-leaf of respectability by asking for approval from the once highly reputable Royal Society of New Zealand. The results of all this were published [3 February]. A finer assemblage of mumbo-jumbo it would be hard to find. A careful reader examining the underlying intention behind it all will conclude it is to re-name the country Aotearoa, eventually dropping any mention of New Zealand, making Te Reo compulsory for everyone, and handing control of the country’s identity and intellectual life to the Maori Council.

Along the way, our modern Ministry of Education reveals that it is woefully ignorant of historical facts. For example, far from rushing to add New Zealand to the British Empire, Britain was extremely cautious before dispatching William Hobson; the Colonial Office was seriously worried that the Musket Wars between Maori had reached the stage where nothing short of military intervention would protect Maori. The Ministry’s paper makes elementary grammatical mistakes with its presentation, failing sometimes to get its nouns and verbs in agreement. I have only a few words of Te Reo. I wonder if all the Maori explanations that will be understood by only 2 to 3% of the population are more accurately expressed?

The content of the Ministry’s presentation is utterly depressing. Fancy selecting those three “big ideas”! Translated, the first one is that Maori history is fundamental to understanding everything about New Zealand. The second one, translated, is that the consequences of unstated, but implied, wicked colonization continue “to influence all aspects” of our history. The third is that colonists’ power exerted over the years has invariably inflicted damage, injustice and conflict on Maori. Nothing about economic development which lifted New Zealand after the Treaty from a state of anarchy where 25% of the entire Maori workforce between 1810 and 1840 had been killed and eaten, and others enslaved. The development of the modern economy is of no account in the Ministry these days where no one seems to give a thought to where their salaries come from. And, as I predicted, there’ll be no mention of the Musket Wars in the new curriculum. The government is intent on sanitizing our history, presumably in the hope that henceforth we’ll all “be kind”.

Superficially, we can blame those tasked with devising this mumbo-jumbo curriculum, but I think the rot goes far deeper. This report follows on from those recent ones about falling literacy and numeracy in our schools. The rot lies at the heart of the Ministry of Education. It has not been renowned for robust leadership since the days of Peter Fraser and Dr Clarence Beeby. In the early 1970s the Ministry was led by a rather sad old guy called Ned Dobbs whom Prime Minister Norman Kirk nick-named “Dobbin”. A lack-lustre set of ministry heads and ministers followed. Scientifically sound methods of teaching reading were pushed aside, School Certificate was abolished, and all sorts of nostrums and fads have accounted for New Zealand’s steady decline in international educational standards.

There is a pattern here. Educationally, New Zealand has lost its way. Right now, the Minister of Education is grossly overloaded with Covid responsibilities, having doubled for much of last year as Minister of Health, the two most onerous social portfolios. We can charitably assume that Chris Hipkins didn’t have time to read, let alone think carefully about the pernicious nonsense the Ministry of Education has served up to him. Coming on top of the alarming reports about our educational performance overall, what is proposed is just another piece of evidence that substantial segments of the country’s bureaucracy, and the ministers who control it, aren’t fit for purpose.

What is going to happen is that the flight to private schools and those that follow overseas curricula will speed up. And there won’t be the teachers to teach the new fangled history in schools anyway because the proportion of students doing university history has been dropping now for decades. In the 1960s, History was the third largest department at the University of Auckland. Fads and frolics by foolish people reduced the numbers to the point where large chunks of history are no longer taught. Unless someone has the intestinal fortitude to challenge this new proposed curriculum, history is a doomed subject. Certainly there is nothing in it to enthuse today’s students who prefer action, learning about the wider world, new ideas, wars and international affairs. And despite protestations from the woke, New Zealand’s political history always filled class rooms.

As mentioned previously, Michael Bassett is a noted author and historian and was a Minister in the 4th Labour Government (1984-1990.) —Eds