Te Wiki o te Reo Māori

The Unconscious Bias and Education report, released today, compared the effect low expectations had on Māori students here and African-American students in the United States….  Its principal investigator, Anton Blank, said negative Māori stereotypes were partly to blame for Māori underachievement, although poverty also played a role.

Source: Radio New Zealand, 10 July 2016

Tënä Koutou,

Today while I was having a shower I thought something like this:

  • no matter how many showers you have you never get sick of a good shower
  • I am definitely getting fatter
  • I could speak Japanese there for a while
  • I’m going to have to clean the f*&king house later
  • I should learn Mäori
  • Eleanor has the TV on too loud
  • I learnt Japanese because I lived there for five years.

And then it sort of hit me: if I felt like I should learn Japanese because I was living there then I should learn Mäori for the same reason.  After all, I lived in Japan for five years, and I’ve lived in Aotearoa for 38 (so far).

It’s one of a series of things that have been hitting me recently and making me feel uncomfortable.  Here’s one:

Everyday when I walk to my school I walk past a private school.  This sometimes irritates me with the usual mixture of socialism and envy that pollutes a certain kind of person’s mind (I am one of that type of person).  Because I notice things like race and gender all the time (I don’t know why, but I do) I often mentally note the homogeneity of the students getting let out of cars and going into the private school.  They are mostly white, with some Asian students mixed in.  This is not a groundbreaking observation, but it suddenly struck me in a new way.  For some reason it collided in my head with my opposition to charter schools.  It flashed across my often dormant brain that my opposition to charter schools was quite silly because we had had charter schools in New Zealand for at least a century we just called them private schools.  It suddenly seemed to me that if we had had charter schools for rich people for so long then we should have charter schools for other people too.  By other people I mean Mäori.

It’s taken me a long time to reach this conclusion because it runs against all kinds of beliefs I once held about a universal, humanist education.  I think I’m ready to admit that a universal, humanist education has in reality meant: a universal, humanist education for the dominant culture.  I’ve taught for ten years in New Zealand and the facts of our state education system have remained the same: we have a long tail, and that tail is brown.  I think that two things should happen:

  1. Mäori charter schools
  2. Compulsory Te Reo Mäori in state schools from Year 1 to Year 11.

Because I’m not in charge of Aotearoa however (you may have noticed this), I will have to settle for actual things I can do as a biased teacher in a biased system to have positive influence.

I’ve not been able to find the report I quoted at the top of this post on line yet, but I find that I have to agree with the articles I have read about it.  Saying that brings me no pleasure.  Of course low socioeconomic status plays a massive part in low Mäori achievement in schools, but so does teacher bias (and so does marginalising culture and language).  Of course we live in a multi-cultural society, but Mäori are unique to Aotearoa, and many iwi made an agreement to try a bi-cultural system in 1840.  The British and their descendants have not yet been able to get this right because they wanted power to come from only one source, themselves, and never even considered the idea that people could genuinely share a land.

Which is why I’ve decided to learn Mäori.  Alongside that I will use Mäori for classroom instructions in one of my Year 9 Social Studies lessons every week.  This will be hard for a few reasons, but mainly because – like heaps of people learning a language – I don’t want to look like an idiot.  There is one student in my class who is a fluent te reo Mäori speaker so that should be interesting.

In Japanese I would say ganbatte.  In Mäori I wonder what it would be right to say? Kia kaha?



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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō