Friday, April 06, 2018

The ignorance factor

The Ministry of Education has rejected a plea for the New Zealand Wars of the 19th century to be made a compulsory part of the history curriculum at our schools. The Ministry says local school boards should decide whether or not the wars are taught on their campuses. Entrusting such a decision to Pakeha-dominated boards in redneck towns and suburbs is like giving responsibility for science education to the local branch of the Exclusive Brethren.

Back at Rosehill College in the '90s the school board gave our seventh form history teacher the choice of spending a term on either Elizabethan England or the NZ Wars. She chose to take us back to the Elizabethan era, despite the fact that our school was close to scores of historic sites from the Waikato War - imperial redoubts, Kingitanga pa, churches with reinforced walls and bullet holes, sites of guerrilla ambushes, and graveyards where soldiers lay. What a waste.

I have talked to hundreds of New Zealanders about the Waikato War, as part of my research for Ghost South Road, the book I'm publishing soon with photographers Paul Janman and Ian Powell. I've noticed a huge gap between Maori and Pakeha knowledge of the war. Most Maori know at least the outlines of the conflict, and many can give detailed accounts of battles, and produce artefacts - old cannon shells, photographs of warriors - that are held as taonga by their whanau.

A few Pakeha, especially older people who were born in this country, know about the Waikato War, but the big majority have an encylopaedic ignorance of the conflict. Some of them have told me that the war was fought in the fifteenth or sixteenth century; some have insisted that it was a fight between rival Maori iwi, and had nothing to do with Pakeha; others have claimed that the fighting occurred in the years before 1840, and was brought to a close by the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Waikato War is by far the most important event in New Zealand history. Without it, New Zealand would not be a unified nation, the dairy industry would not exist, and Auckland would still be our capital city. The ignorance of Pakeha about the foundational event in their country's history is not healthy, especially when it is set beside the vivid and bitter memories of Maori.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Blogger Richard said...

Fighting my way through the spam detritus Scott! I feel as though I am battling through scrub before I can get my musket to train on the enemy!

A good post. Yes. I knew something of the Maori situation at school. I didn't study history (I wish I had, in fact I don't see why I couldn't study history, geography and chemistry etc but one tended to one side or the other, although I imagine it wouldn't have been impossible as Bob Tizard who was our form teacher before he went off to politics told us he had studied "both sides" so he could teach Latin and English as well as Maths and Chemistry etc).

But my stumbling block for Geography (I can't recall there even being a History subject, there must have been) was that the teacher was mad! I mean almost literally. And he was so tormented in his own mind and life that he would write up a lesson on the blackboard. We were to copy that all down, and keep absolutely silent. Any sound could provoke a violent and angry reaction. That wouldn't put kids off anywhere except we soon realized he was mad. His name was Mr Barlow. Years ago that was. He used to pace up and down, tormented, between the desks. Very little comments, just that. One day some girls were laughing at something and he rounded on them shouting that they were to keep right out of his personal life. No one said anything at all after that.

But it is a dilemma. Surely the NZ Wars and NZ history are vital. There is no reason that both cant be taught. England's history is also interesting.

In redneck land all is distorted and very little good information gets through to the majority of people.

They are obsessed with either WWI or WWII. I have to admit that WWII was big with me as a boy because of movies etc. That resistance to studying NZ history etc has remained. However, I have somewhat redressed that in recent times. In general studies before High School we did have quite a good introduction to the history of Maori landing here and I was fascinated by that. My brother in about 1959 or so joined the Maori club that was at primary school. So some of the teachers etc were quite enlightened for the times.

Also my English teachers were good. They had no love of wars. So we learnt (among much else) the poems of Wilfred Owen which despatched the terrible First World War and then the Diary of Ann Frank demolished WWII.

I am sick of hearing about the ANZACS and the tedious cliche that our nation was shaped by those awful and completely senseless wars for the power, Great Britain, that probably ultimately fueled most of the bloodshed in any case. But of course we happen to be in the Pacific. Which is your very good point.

This is not to mean that we shouldn't learn about Elizabethan times also. The strands of history connect up.

Your GSR project will also go toward redressing some of the ignorance. (When I 'got into' books via Ron's bookshop etc NZ books bored me (or more so than now)...but there is a strong group of people for whom the focus is NZ. Rednecks aside. These are looking at NZ History and local histories. And some into Maoritanga and other areas of history, often, for good reason, wanting the original books...

But the immense ignorance of what is more important than say Richard Dawkins latest theories or the cosmological ravings of the now deceased wheel chair man mumble on about (fascinating but more or less useless stuff!); the ignorance in key areas remains.

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