Race, race, race

Once you notice the “say anything you want, but don’t mention race” thing it is glaring.  Take a look at this story:

Transient students falling behind – principals: More and more students are shifting from school to school as rising rental costs force their families out of their homes, principals are reporting.  They say the frequent moves disrupt students’ learning and their classes. (RNZ)

This news story does not mention race once, but it does mention four schools by name.  If you look them up here’s what you find:

  • Rhode Street School – Mäori 81%, Cook Island Mäori 4%
  • Crawshaw School – Mäori 70%
  • Manurewa East School – Mäori 49%, Pasifika 40%
  • Fairburn School – Mäori 17%, Pasifika 50%

Let’s be clear, this article talks about “transient students” and mentions schools with predominantly European sounding names: Rhode, Crawshaw and Fairburn, but what the story is actually about is Mäori and Pasifika communities.  Yet, as I said, race is not mentioned once in the whole story.

Before we move on let’s take a moment to note the Ministry of Education’s response:

The Ministry of Education says figures for 2015 show transiency rates have remained fairly static over the past few years, while NCEA Level 1, 2 and 3 achievement statistics show continuous improvement since 2008.  Systems were in place to ensure schools can support students who move, the ministry said.

Now because no one mentions race, the Ministry can make these statements.  The follow-up questions should be:

  1. How about over the last twenty years?
  2. Do you track transiency rates by race or income level?  If so, have they remained the same for all groups in society?
  3. NCEA results are tracked by race and decile, so are these rates different between races (yes), and have they all been continuously improving?

If you go to the bottom of the article you will find a link to a story from 2014:

Poor students move school a lot: A new report shows schools in low socio-economic areas have much higher rates of students moving between schools. (RNZ)

Another article, another story where race is not mentioned even though it is critical.  Instead the usual code words are used: low socio-economic area, decile 1, low-income families.  You remember the statistics above, right?  We’re talking about schools where at least 75% of the students are Mäori and Pasifika (usually over 80%, sometimes over 90%).

Two things: (1) not mentioning race is misleading and disguises racism both current and historical, and (2) not mentioning race means that white people become paranoid about things that don’t actually apply to them.  High decile schools (white schools) don’t have high turn over rates.  It’s another thing in a suite of things in favour of being the dominant culture in a system set up to reflect your “normal”.  In this case a low turnover rate reflects stable housing, and employment for the school’s contributing population.

Sometimes these infobites are allowed to float around free of race and frighten the white people.  When National was campaigning to become the government eight years ago it liked to say: 1 in 5 students can’t read and write… the school system is failing!  There is some truthiness in this as long as you understand that those 1’s in the 1 in 5 are disproportionately from “low decile schools”.  Suddenly white people are looking at their schools down their noses and frowning at teachers even though nothing has changed for them or their kids: the system works well for the people it was set up to serve.



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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō