A Matter of Choice–Biculturalism

Eine Frage der Wahlmöglichkeit – Bikulturalismus


Abstract: In the high-autonomy, nonprescriptive curriculum environment that operates in New Zealand, it is history teachers who are charged with the responsibility of engaging young people with controversial aspects of the past. While this model allows for some innovative teaching programmes, it also works to hamper the extent to which young people learn about the traumatic nature of colonisation in this country and contemporary efforts to address the legacy of the past.
DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2017-8094.
Languages: English, Deutsch

In the high-autonomy, nonprescriptive curriculum environment that operates in New Zealand, it is history teachers who are charged with the responsibility of engaging young people with controversial aspects of the past. While this model allows for some innovative teaching programmes, it also works to hamper the extent to which young people learn about the traumatic nature of colonisation in this country and contemporary efforts to address the legacy of the past.

No Vacuum

What are the implications of a high-autonomy, non-prescriptive history curriculum for engaging young people with controversial and contested features of the past? New Zealand has something important to say to us about this question. Although the last 30 years have seen the country working to address the traumatic legacy of the colonisation for indigenous-Maori[1] on a range of levels, the curriculum does not prescribe historical knowledge and teachers have the autonomy to shape their history programmes around the interests of their students. While this has seen some innovative teaching programmes[2], it also largely inhibits history teachers from engaging young people with critically informed understandings of controversial questions about the experience of colonisation. This not a reflection of a post-colonial mind-set that, until recently, saw history teachers largely ignore New Zealand’s past[3], but rather that teachers are embedded in particular school communities and the memory messages that are often dominant in such settings are hostile to engaging with the controversial nature of colonisation.

Curriculum choices about history do not occur in a vacuum and teachers do not operate as autonomous entities when it comes to curriculum making. Schools are self-managing (and have considerable say over what is taught) and teachers’ curriculum approaches to controversial historical questions will reflect the values, attitudes and collective memories of parents, students and colleagues in their school community.

Waitingi and the Biculturalism

The colonisation experience is among the most controversial features of New Zealand’s history. The wars fought between the Crown and Maori in the mid-19th century shattered the cohesiveness of many tribes; by 1900, the majority of Maori land been alienated and the population was less than half of what it had been when European settlement began.[4]

Since the 1980s, there has been an increasing commitment to confront historical grievances, and the relationship between Maori and non-Maori is now based on the bicultural framework of the Treaty of Waitangi.[5] All government departments are required to consult with Maori over matters that concern them, and the Waitangi Tribunal (a government-funded body) is responsible for investigating historical claims, made by Maori tribes, of wrongdoing by the Crown in the nineteenth century (with the aim of redress for past injustices).

In the context of New Zealand as a bicultural society that is in the process of addressing historical grievances, it could be assumed that history teachers would prioritise questions regarding New Zealand’s controversial past and that their school communities would be supportive of them doing so. However biculturalism is a more contested question than it appears, which has implications for the extent to which teachers can operate as autonomous curriculum makers.

Hobson’s Pledge, the Backlash

For example, the Hobson’s Pledge lobby group includes a number of influential New Zealanders who reject the notion that Maori have unique status and that the Treaty (or the Waitangi Tribunal) has any place in contemporary New Zealand society.[6] Hobson’s Pledge claims that ‘we are all New Zealanders’ and warns that biculturalism is leading to racial divisions and ‘irreversible separatism’.[7] These ideas are not new. They emerged as a potent force ten years ago when Maori claims to New Zealand’s seabed and foreshore[8] divided the country.

The views of Hobson’s Pledge were echoed in submissions to the Maori Affairs select committee that heard the recent student-initiated petition that called for the colonial wars of the 19th century to be included in the curriculum. Whilst the petition was supported across the political spectrum by all main-stream parties (and 23% of submissions supported the initiative), the majority of almost 200 submissions (75%) were vehemently opposed. These submissions typically ignored recent research on colonisation. They claimed the petition was playing on the guilt of Europeans for the treatment of Maori in the past, fostering racial division and drawing on misleading, selective, ‘politically correct’ views of the past.[9]

The Harmfulness of Curricular Autonomy

The cultural memory messages that informed these submissions (and Hobson’s Pledge) provide an insight into the challenges that teachers as curriculum makers face in engaging their students with controversial aspects of New Zealand’s past. It illuminates a largely unsympathetic perspective of the Maori experience of colonisation that shapes thinking in many school communities and that is seldom evident in official channels.

The colonisation experience in New Zealand is a sensitive, complex and highly politicised issue about which there is no agreed consensus. The selective memory narratives that shape opposition to biculturalism are not based on detailed knowledge but, rather, are framed by ‘generalised structures … with the same basic plot’. These are used to provide a simple, clear, uncontested version of the past that reinforces the values, attitudes and collective memories of a particular community.[10]

In this context, the high-autonomy model mitigates against young people developing an understanding of the traumatic experiences of colonisation. In many schools, teachers are not sufficiently confident in their knowledge of controversial features of the colonial past and/or not well supported by their school community to address such questions. The high-autonomy, non-prescriptive curriculum model works against young people developing the sort of knowledge-based understandings of the colonisation that would equip them to operate successfully as critical citizens in a bi-cultural nation that places a high priority on reconciling the relationship between indigenous-Maori and non-indigenous New Zealanders.


Further Reading

  • Vincent O’Malley, The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000 (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2016.)
  • Barbara Mary Ormond, “Curriculum decisions – the challenges of teacher autonomy over knowledge selection for history.” Journal of Curriculum Studies (2016), http://dx.org/10.1080/00220272.2016.1149225.
  • James V. Wertsch, “Collective Memory and Narrative Templates.” Social Research 75, No 1. (2008): 133-156.

Web Resources

[1] Maori are the indigenous, first inhabitants of New Zealand who are the descendants of Polynesian settlers who arrived approximately 800 years ago. New Zealanders who claim Maori ancestry currently make up around 10-15% of the country’s population.
[2] Michael Harcourt and Mark Sheehan (eds.), History Matters: Teaching and Learning History in 21st New Zealand (Wellington: NZCER Press, 2012).
[3] Mark Sheehan, The Place of ‘New Zealand’ in the New Zealand History Curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies 42 (2010), 671-691.
[4] Vincent O’Malley, The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000 (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2016).
[5] Signed first at Waitangi, in the north of New Zealand, in February 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was a pact between the British Crown and Maori chiefs. Maori ceded sovereignty to the British in return for guarantees that they could retain particular privileges and rights over their lands and fisheries. The Treaty was signed prior to the widespread British colonisation of New Zealand. In 1840, there were fewer than 2000 Pākehā in New Zealand and around 120-150,000 Maori. However, the Treaty did little to protect Maori from the worst effects of colonisation.
[6] http://www.hobsonspledge.nz/ (last accessed 1. December 2016).
[7] http://www.hobsonspledge.nz/ (last accessed 1. December 2016).
[8] Maori claims to the foreshore and seabed were based on a 2003 Appeal Court decision that the foreshore and seabed were ‘land’ and that, under common law, Maori tribal groups who had continuously occupied coastal regions since 1840 could make a claim to the Maori Land Court for title. It was an especially divisive issue that saw the government legislate to disallow these claims being made.
[9] http://www.parliament.nz/en-nz/pb/sc/make-submission (last accessed 1. December 2016).
[10] Wertsch, James V. “Collective Memory and Narrative Templates.” Social Research 75, No 1. (2008): 133-156, p.140.


Image Credits

Arrest of Rua Kēnana, 2 April 1916 © Archives New Zealand (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Recommended Citation

Sheehan, Mark: A Matter of Choice–Biculturalism. In: Public History Weekly 5 (2017) 2, DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2017-8094

In dem hochgradig autonomen, freien Umfeld für Curricula, das in Neuseeland herrscht, sind vor allem GeschichtslehrerInnen dafür verantwortlich, dass sich junge Menschen mit kontroversen Aspekten der Vergangenheit beschäftigen. Obwohl dieses Modell Freiräume für innovative Lehrpläne eröffnet, schränkt es auch das Ausmaß ein, in dem junge Menschen etwas über das Trauma, das die Kolonialisierung in diesem Land hinterlassen hat, lernen und über zeitgenössische Ansätze das Vermächtnis der Vergangenheit zu thematisieren.

Kein Vakuum

Was bedeutet ein hochgradig autonomer, freier Geschichtslehrplan für die Beschäftigung von jungen Menschen mit kontroverser und umstrittener  Vergangenheit? Neuseeland kann uns einen wichtigen Beitrag zu dieser Frage liefern. Auch wenn das Land in den letzten 30 Jahren auf unterschiedlichen Ebenen daran gearbeitet hat, das traumatische Erbe der Kolonialisierung der indigenen Maori[1] anzusprechen, schreibt der Lehrplan historisches Wissen nicht vor und die LehrerInnen haben die Autonomie, bei der Gestaltung ihres Geschichtsunterrichts auf die Interessen ihrer SchülerInnen Rücksicht zu nehmen. Dies hat zwar zu einigen innovativen Unterrichtskonzepten geführt,[2] aber es hindert GeschichtslehrerInnen auch deutlich daran, junge Menschen zu motivieren, sich mit kritisch begründeten Kenntnissen zu kontroversen Fragen von Kolonialisierungserfahrungen zu beschäftigen. Dabei handelt es sich nicht um ein Abbild einer postkolonialen Geisteshaltung, die bis vor kurzem darin bestand, dass GeschichtslehrerInnen die Vergangenheit Neuseelands weitgehend ignorierten.[3] Vielmehr zeigt es, dass LehrerInnen in bestimmten Schulgemeinden eingebettet sind und dass die Erinnerungsbotschaften, die oft in solchen Umgebungen dominieren, der Beschäftigung mit der umstrittenen Natur der Kolonialisierung entgegenstehen.

Wahlmöglichkeiten für einen Geschichtslehrplan entstehen nicht in einem Vakuum, und Lehrende wirken nicht als autonome Einheiten, wenn es um die Gestaltung des Lehrplans geht. Schulen sind selbstverwaltet (und haben erheblichen Einfluss auf die Lehrinhalte) und Lehrplanansätze der LehrerInnen in Bezug auf kontroverse historische Fragen spiegeln für gewöhnlich die Werte, Einstellungen und kollektiven Erinnerungen der Schulgemeinde (Eltern, SchülerInnen und Lehrerkollegium) wider.

Waitingi und der Bikulturalismus

Die Erfahrung der Kolonialisierung gehört zu den umstrittensten Merkmalen der Geschichte Neuseelands. Die Kriege, die zwischen der britischen Krone und den Maori Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts geführt wurden, zerstörten die Einheit vieler Stämme; bis 1900 war die Mehrheit der Maori-Gebiete entfremdet, die Bevölkerung hatte sich gegenüber dem Anfang der europäischen Besiedlung halbiert.[4]

Erst seit den 1980er Jahren ist die Bereitschaft, historische Missstände anzusprechen, gewachsen. Die Beziehung zwischen Maori und Mehrheitsgesellschaft basiert auf den bikulturellen Rahmenbedingungen des Vertrags von Waitangi.[5] Alle Regierungsorgane sind verpflichtet, bei Angelegenheiten, die sie betreffen, Maori zu konsultieren. Das Waitangi-Tribunal, durch die Regierung finanziert, hat die Verantwortung, historische Ansprüche von Maori-Stämmen zu untersuchen, welche auf Fehlverhalten seitens der britischen Krone im 19. Jahrhundert gründen (mit dem Ziel, Entschädigung für vergangenes Unrecht zu erreichen).

Im neuseeländischem Kontext – eine bikulturelle Gesellschaft, die dabei ist, historische Missstände anzusprechen – könnte angenommen werden, dass GeschichtslehrerInnen Fragen zur kontroversen Vergangenheit Neuseelands priorisieren und dass ihre Schulbezirke sie dabei unterstützen. Bikulturalismus ist allerdings umstrittener als oft angenommen, was Auswirkungen auf das Ausmaß hat, mit dem Lehrende als autonome Gestalter von Lehrplänen operieren können.

Hobson’s Pledge, die Gegenbewegung

Der Lobbygruppe Hobson’s Pledge gehören beispielsweise einige einflussreiche NeuseeländerInnen an, die den Sonderstatus der Maori ebenso grundsätzlich ablehnen wie den Vertrag (oder das Waitangi-Tribunal) in der heutigen neuseeländischen Gesellschaft.[6] Hobson’s Pledge behauptet, “wir [seien] alle Neuseeländer“ und warnt, dass Bikulturalismus zu Rassentrennungen und zu “unumkehrbarem Separatismus“ führe.[7] Diese Ideen sind nicht neu. Sie tauchten als eine mächtige Kraft vor zehn Jahren auf, als Ansprüche der Maori auf Neuseelands Meeresboden und Küstenvorland[8] die Nation spalteten.

Die Ansichten von Hobson’s Pledge wurden in Eingaben an den Sonderausschuss für Maori-Angelegenheiten aufgegriffen, der eine kürzlich von SchülerInnen initiierte Petition behandelte. In dieser Petition wurde dazu aufgerufen, die Kolonialkriege des 19. Jahrhunderts in den Lehrplan aufzunehmen. Obwohl die Petition von allen großen Parteien quer durch das politische Spektrum Unterstützung fand (und 23% der Eingaben sie unterstützten), war die Mehrheit der fast 200 Eingaben (75%) vehement dagegen. Typischerweise ignorierten diese Eingaben neue Forschungsergebnisse zur Kolonialisierung. Sie behaupteten, die Petition spiele mit der Schuld der Europäer wegen der Behandlung der Maori in der Vergangenheit, unterstütze Rassentrennung und erzeuge irreführende, selektive und “politische korrekte” historische Sichtweisen.[9]

Schädlichkeit der Lehrplanautonomie

Die kulturellen Erinnerungsbotschaften, die diesen Eingaben (und dem Hobson’s Pledge) zu Grunde lagen, liefern einen Einblick in die Herausforderungen, mit denen LehrerInnen als Gestalter von Curricula sich befassen müssen, wenn sie ihre Studierenden mit den kontroversen Aspekten von Neuseelands Vergangenheit konfrontieren. Dies beleuchtet eine weitgehend un-empathische Perspektive auf die Kolonialisierungserfahrung der Maori, die das Denken in vielen Schulgemeinden prägt und die selten aktenkundig wird.

Die Kolonialisierungserfahrung in Neuseeland ist ein sensibles, komplexes und hochpolitisiertes Thema, für das kein gesellschaftlicher Konsens gefunden wurde. Die selektiven Erinnerungsnarrative, die den Widerspruch gegen Bikulturalismus prägen, basieren nicht auf detaillierte Kenntnissen, sondern sind durch “generalisierte Strukturen … mit dem gleichen Handlungsablauf” gestaltet. Diese werden dafür verwendet, eine einfache, klare und unwidersprochene Version der Vergangenheit zu liefern, die die Werte, Einstellungen und kollektiven Erinnerungen einer bestimmten Gemeinschaft verfestigen.[10]

In diesem Kontext spricht das hochgradig autonome Modell gegen die Entwicklung eines Verständnisses für die traumatischen Kolonialisierungserfahrungen bei jungen Menschen. In vielen Schulen sind LehrerInnen sich ihres Wissens über kontroverse Aspekte der Kolonialvergangenheit nicht sicher genug bzw. werden durch ihre Schulgemeinden nicht bei deren Thematisierung unterstützt. Das hochgradig autonome, freie Lehrplan-Modell arbeitet gegen die Entwicklung eines wissensbasierten Verständnisses für Kolonialisierung bei jungen Menschen, mit dem sie erfolgreich zu kritischen BürgerInnen einer bikulturellen Nation werden könnten, die eine hohe Priorität auf die Aussöhnung der Beziehung zwischen indigenen Maori und nicht-indigenen NeuseeländerInnen legen.



  • Vincent O’Malley: The Great War for New Zealand. Waikato 1800-2000. Wellington 2016.
  • Barbara Mary Ormond: Curriculum decisions – the challenges of teacher autonomy over knowledge selection for history. In: Journal of Curriculum Studies. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00220272.2016.1149225.
  • James V. Wertsch: Collective Memory and Narrative Templates. In: Social Research, 75 (2008) H. 1, S. 133-156.


[1] Maori sind die indigenen ersten Bewohner Neuseelands, Abkömmlinge der polynesischen Siedler, die vor etwa 800 Jahren dort ankamen. NeuseeländerInnen mit Maori-Abstammung bilden aktuell ca. 10-15% der Bevölkerung.
[2] Michael Harcourt/Mark Sheehan (Hrsg.): History Matters. Teaching and Learning history in 21st New Zealand. Wellington 2012.
[3] Mark Sheehan: The place of ‘New Zealand’ in the New Zealand history curriculum. In: Journal of Curriculum Studies 42 (2010), H. 5, S. 671-691.
[4] Vincent O’Malley: The Great War for New Zealand. Waikato 1800-2000. Wellington 2016.
[5] Erstunterschrieben in Waitangi, Nordneuseeland im Februar 1840. Der Vertrag von Waitangi war ein Pakt zwischen der britischen Krone und Māori-Ältesten. Die Māori tauschten Gebietshoheit gegen Garantien, dass sie bestimmte Vorteile und Rechte in Bezug auf Böden und Fischerei behielten. Der Vertrag wurde vor der ausgedehnten britischen Kolonialisierung von Neuseeland unterschrieben. 1840 lebten weniger als 2000 Pākehā und ca. 120-150.000 Maori in Neuseeland. Allerdings hat der Vertrag die Maori vor den schlimmsten Auswirkungen der Kolonialisierung wenig geschützt.
[6] http://www.hobsonspledge.nz/ (letzter Zugriff: 1.12.16)
[7] http://www.hobsonspledge.nz/ (letzter Zugriff: 1.12.16)
[8] Maori-Ansprüche auf Küstenvorland und Meeresboden basierten auf einer Entscheidung des Berufungsgerichts von 2003, die feststellte, dass Küstenvorland und Meeresboden “Land“ sind, und dass, nach bürgerlichem Recht, Maori-Stämme, die seit 1840 die Küstenregionen ununterbrochen bewohnt hatten, berechtigt waren, Besitzrechte beim Gericht für Maori Ländereien zu beantragen. Das war ein besonders polarisierendes Thema, das die Regierung dazu veranlasste, Gesetze zu erlassen, die solche Ansprüche nicht gestatteten.
[9] http://www.parliament.nz/en-nz/pb/sc/make-submission (letzter Zugriff: 1.12.16).
[10] James V. Wertsch: Collective Memory and Narrative Templates. In: Social Research, 75 (2008) H. 1, S. 133-156, hier S. 140.



Arrest of Rua Kēnana, 2 April 1916 © Archives New Zealand (CC-BY-SA 2.0)


Jana Kaiser (kaiser /at/ academic-texts. de)

Empfohlene Zitierweise

Sheehan, Mark: Eine Frage der Wahlmöglichkeit – Bikulturalismus. In: Public History Weekly 5 (2017) 2, DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2017-8094

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DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2017-8094

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7 replies »

  1. Thanks for this post Mark. As someone who is currently involved in social studies curriculum reform in post-colonial B.C. and Alberta, Canada, the non-prescriptive history curriculum from New Zealand is often discussed and examined. It is interesting to hear your thoughts about its limits in teaching about the colonial past, which is a huge issue in Canada too.

    I am fascinated that students petitioned to have the history of colonial wars mandated in the curriculum, but that this petition was defeated. I am not surprised that given the autonomy and choice about what to teach, many history teachers are not teaching about colonialism and its negative consequences. I would think that teachers are influenced by grand narratives and popular memory of NZ history, they don’t want to take on controversial topics, and the don’t feel knowledgeable to teach about this history, although this doesn’t stop them from teaching other safer topics they know little about.

    I would say that you have a rich treasure trove of potential history education research topics to investigate.

  2. I remain unconvinced by claims that teachers are not engaging with the colonial past of New Zealand. My experience in marking national exams, presenting at conferences and engaging in discussions on teacher forums in blogs and social media convinces me that there is more (and increasing) exploration of these issues than ever before. Because of that, I don’t see the problem as being of anything like the magnitude Mark Sheehan seems to (unless I’m misreading him). I agree that more must be done and am particularly interested in real solutions rather than any theoretical posing of questions based on a paucity of data.

    I see the start of the solution as simple. Teachers need to be persuaded and empowered, not by direction, but by opportunity to discover, discuss and explore colonial and post-colonial contexts (within and beyond New Zealand). It must be done alongside programmes that prepare and support teachers’ abilities to incorporate sound current knowledge with culturally responsive pedagogy. Here, I believe, is where central provision (funding for CPD programmes, conferences and huis, resources and support from iwi and academic experts) is needed. That was provided, in limited form, through the Maori History Project where I and a small number of teachers got the chance to meet centrally to discuss ways and means and be informed by leading Maori educators of the problems and their expectations before working in our own regions with iwi and teacher groups to design and trial programmes and assessments. I saw at first hand the growth in teacher knowledge, engagement and determination to shift their programmes as we built new and responsive relationships and began to hope that there might be the chance to refine, spread and extend the model as groups started to present at teacher conferences and the like. There was, in short, real and significant change.

    As so often happens in New Zealand education, shifting political priorities over-rode past commitments. The Maori History Project was concluded, with no time to even critically review its achievements and deficiencies (so that, when priorities shift again, there would at least be a base to work from). All that will apparently remain will be a website, curated by a private provider on government contract, with the materials developed, many of which have not been presented to iwi for comment and approval (an initial commitment), few of which have been trialed and most of which lack the context and support for teachers outside the project to adapt or use with confidence.

    In such circumstances some teacher unease about change and innovation is understandable, especially when it emanates from any official directive. The experience of the last thirty years convinces me that such things are written on sand.

    When I look for real change and innovation, I look to my community and the links we can forge with iwi and, academics to generate and sustain our own momentum. All the evidence I see since we shed the shackles of prescription and began to explore the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum convinces me that there are many leaders in schools and communities who are immediately looking to innovate and seek new paths. My own experience of the late and deeply lamented Maori History Project is that the vast majority of the profession will be equally responsive to change if support can be accessed.

    It is my fervent hope that the Year 1-8 Guidelines, Te Takanga O Te Wa, will survive and thrive in Primary and Intermediate schools and put pressure on Secondary schools to respond in kind. In the meantime, teacher cluster groups will form if encouraged by local and national subject associations. We can start with senior History and Social Studies and it will inevitably reach back to the junior school where all students will be exposed to it. I am convinced it will be the teaching community who affects the changes because we can provide the long-term commitment to providing the kind of support teachers actually want and need.

  3. It has been a long time ago when I came to New Zealand for the second time in 2003 as a visiting PhD student. As a high school teacher and historian who was doing research on the migration from Austria and Germany to New Zealand in the 19th century I was also interested in race relations between Maori and Pakeha in the past. The times were kind of turbulent back then as I remember. The New Zealand foreshore and seabed controversy divided the nation as Mark Sheehan states in his article. Maori claims to the foreshore and seabed were based on a 2003 Appeal Court decision and some of the opposition parties were fighting this decision.
    None the less I found New Zealand to be a liberal and open society and the relations between Maori and Pakeha were indeed much better than the ones between Aborigines and white Australians on the other side of the Tasman. It seems to me that the times had changed. Historians like James Belich wrote masterpieces on New Zealand history and Michael King’s “Penguin History of New Zealand” was a top seller, which is quite unusual for a history book in any country. A new era of progressive historians had emerged. Their work offered a range of new perspectives on New Zealand’s past.

    Since then a different view on the nation’s past has spread and Maori history has been much more integrated in historical research. You could call this phenomenon rethinking national history which – of course – is not accepted by everybody especially in settler societies like New Zealand. “The very people who were telling Maori that New Zealand could have only one identity actually had two themselves: they were Britons as well as New Zealanders” historian James Belich said in his Keynote Address to the Concepts of the Nation Symposium in 2007 (see https://nzhistory.govt.nz/files/documents/JamesBelich-GlobalizationandNation.pdf).

    I believe that both new research on colonial times and Pakeha-Maori relations together with the opportunities of the curriculum are a good basis for teachers to teach kids about the controversial past and offer them new perspectives of New Zealand history. Furthermore teachers should integrate the New Zealand experience into a wider context, showing similarities and differences between New Zealand and other settler societies like Australia, Canada or the United States.

    I must confess that I find it disturbing when Mark Sheehan writes that “in many schools, teachers are not sufficiently confident in their knowledge of controversial features of the colonial past.” Shouldn’t it be the very duty of universities to educate history students and future history teachers about topics of the nation’s past which by some members of society may be called controversial?

    There is one more thing I would like to mention. I do not agree with Mark Sheehan when he speaks about New Zealand as a bicultural society. It is much more a multicultural society these days. The challenges for historians and history teachers in the future will be to include the people from the Pacific Islands and Asia in their studies and their teaching, too.

    The controversy will go on.

  4. Editor’s note: This comment by Robert Guyver refers to another article by Mark Sheehan: https://public-history-weekly.degruyter.com/4-2016-15/indigenous_war_remembrance_new_zealand/

    In this article Mark Sheehan makes a strong and convincing case for the inclusion of suitable contexts for the development of critical historical thinking, and none of these contexts is as relevant as the New Zealand Wars, although I can see that the Musket Wars are also relevant, but it seems that this was not a colonial war per se.

    I am glad that a petition has been submitted but am surprised that it was students who took the initiative to do it. Good for them though! It seems to have a great deal of support, although there may indeed be some flaws in the thinking behind the wording. To my mind Mark Sheehan’s argument for some kind of minimum prescription or framework remains valid even in the face of some strong but ultimately unconvincing counter-arguments.

    In a parliamentary constitutional democracy like New Zealand (which is a signatory to the Charter of the Commonwealth), the school curriculum is surely a matter which needs to be debated and decided upon by a wider constituency than merely the teachers who teach it, although clearly the teachers are pivotal stakeholders in any curriculum debate. If teacher autonomy or teacher convenience is seen as the only virtue which has to be maintained it shows an alarming lack of concern for students. It also shows an irresponsible ‘laissez-faire’ attitude by politicians and civil servants who want to leave this controversial but nevertheless essential subject alone.

    I think that the argument about local relevance (by one of those giving feedback) has weaknesses. For example there were not as far as I know any well-known battles in the Wars of the Roses in Cornwall, but it remains an event of national significance which I know that Cornish students study. I suspect that both the Musket Wars and the so-called Land Wars (now known as the New Zealand Wars) are relevant and should be studied in both of the main islands of New Zealand. They give the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of the Treaty of Waitangi. A point which may be relevant is the fact that the New Zealand Wars are the subject of a 1998 television series presented by New Zealand historian James Belich whose sympathy for Māori can also be seen in his groundbreaking revisionist source-based 1986 text on which the television programmes were based (The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict).

    I would challenge the argument that any form of prescription would become a recipe for a white male interpretation or bias, or that it would have to be written by an inexperienced group of party-political appointees. A framework curriculum can have built-in criteria to ensure a range of perspectives, including of course – and importantly – that of women and Māori, and indeed the principle of contestedness. The framework ideally has to have three elements: syntactic, pedagogic and substantive. The syntactic and pedagogic can be based on internationally-accepted history education principles, the foremost of which centre around disciplinary or historical thinking, consciousness or literacy. Substantive frameworks address the problem of content or historical knowledge, and metaphors suggesting ‘stuffing’ students with knowledge are misleading when the desired outcome is a form of critical discrimination and an ability to evaluate plural perspectives and interpretations. Sufficient access to significant contexts (or access to sufficient contexts) should be the driving principle for this substantive element.

    I favour broad periodisation with overview and depth study as a principle for designing a curriculum. As an example an overview of both the Musket Wars and the New Zealand Wars with a local-history based depth study of one of the two might be a way around the difficulties described by one of those who gave feedback. I also like the idea of a comparative study (e.g. with what was going on the same time in the USA, Canada or even Australia [the Black War in Tasmania is significant] – see Nicholas Clements, The Black War – Fear, Sex and Resistance in Tasmania [UQP, 2014]).

    Having already read the chapter on Anzac/Gallipoli jointly written by Mark Sheehan and Tony Taylor (in Teaching History and the Changing Nation State) I am acutely aware of the need for young people to appreciate, or perhaps believe, that a blood sacrifice was necessary to found a nation, but blood was spilt in conflicts in New Zealand-Aotearoa quite a while before Gallipoli.
    Whereas it might be tempting to share that I have my doubts about continuing to feed division by stressing the polarisation between the old binaries of Māori and Pakeha I do however believe that suppressing traumatic memory in the name of creating a collective identity is also wrong and that Māori history needs to studied by all aspiring New Zealand citizens when they are still at school. To this end not only the Musket Wars and the New Zealand Wars should be there but also there is a need to examine the history of Māori dissent and resurgence as it is a significant movement which fed back into the two-stage creation of the Waitangi Tribunal. There is a remarkable literature on this, particularly the late Judith Binney’s seminal 2009 work, Encircled Lands- Te Urewera 1820-1921 which includes the New Zealand Wars period.

    However, settlement in New Zealand, in particular in the larger cities, includes peoples from non-European countries, including Asia and elsewhere in the Pacific. Any framework for history education, whether inside Social Studies or outside, might benefit from setting the history of Aotearoa-New Zealand in a global context, perhaps with some long-term themes that span a wide range of chronology and even wide range of geography.

    – Belich, J. (1986). The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict. Auckland: Auckland University Press.
    – Belich, J. (1998). The New Zealand Wars (5 Part Television Series). Landmark Productions.
    – Binney J. (2009). Encircled Lands- Te Urewera 1820-1921. Bridget Williams Books
    – Nicholas Clements, N. (2014). The Black War – Fear, Sex and Resistance in Tasmania. St Lucia Queensland: University of Queensland Press.
    – Sheehan, Mark; Taylor, T. (2016). ‘Australia and New Zealand; ANZAC and Gallipoli in the Twenty-First Century’, in R. Guyver (Ed) Teaching History and the Changing Nation State – Transnational and intranational Perspectives, pp 237-254. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

  5. As a teacher who has been responsible for leading two different high school history departments in New Zealand the last ten years, I would like to offer a different take on this topic. It must be recognised that history is only offered as an independent subject in the last 3 years of schooling in New Zealand, it is optional whether or not the students take it, and it is at best medium size subject in terms of student numbers. In all other years it is usually subsumed into social studies. While creating a culturally aware citizenry familiar with the problems of our colonial heritage is a worthy goal, it should be questioned whether an optional subject is the best vehicle to accomplish this.

    I believe Mark is correct that the absence of prescribed syllabus of colonial New Zealand history is likely to result in less teaching of it. However, I reach that conclusion by a very different route. I do not believe that a backlash against controversial New Zealand history in the wider school community is the cause of this phenomena. Indeed, the controversial aspects of our past engender New Zealand content with a present day relevance that adds appeal. I also disagree with Paul Enright’s conclusion that a lack of confidence among teachers is the problem. History departments in New Zealand schools are renowned for their absurdly low turnover of staff. Most teachers are very experienced with expertise pre-dating the liberalisation of the curriculum between 2011 and 2013 and have experience with New Zealand content. Yet, the syllabus offered in my own history department will nevertheless reflect the same reduction in New Zealand content alluded to by Mark Sheehan.

    As a department head of an optional subject, I have to be sensitive to the reasons why students take my subject. For the most part, they are keen to learn about epic events in distant lands, to have their horizons broadened, and to learn about other cultures. An interest in NZ history is rarely a factor and I suspect very few of my students would have signed the recent petition. In both schools that I have worked in, history students immediately disengage when their own nation’s past is discussed, and switch off entirely when the Treaty of Waitangi or New Zealand Wars are mentioned. This is one of the reasons why the New Zealand focused assessments in our smorgasbord style assessment regime are some of the least utilised nationwide. The petition was a surprise to me as I have watched the number of senior history students in my first school triple over nine years as the New Zealand content was gradually reduced to a bare minimum. In my current school, the number of students in the final year increased by over 50% when the focus of the year was changed from a study of 19th century colonial New Zealand to a broader mix with a global focus. It is difficult to use the senior history curriculum as a building block to an informed citizenry prepared to confront our nation’s colonial heritage when no one takes your class.

    Is it possible to have a context that our nation’s students are bored with yet at the same time know next to nothing about? I would like to make a case that the wording of the curriculum and attitude of teachers in Years 0-10 ensures that our nation’s founding document, Treaty of Waitangi and the ensuing conflicts precisely meet that criteria. Mark’s article implies that freedom of choice for teachers means freedom to ignore, for me it means freedom to repeat. Most of my students would claim to have touched on various aspects of our bi-cultural national heritage at multiple times in the first ten years of their social sciences education and in a relatively random manner that varies from school to school. This is very much encouraged in our Learning Objectives. While there is little doubt that the in-depth understanding achieved through a study of these topics in the senior school would add value to their education and would build on the relatively superficial understanding gained in previous years, the rich tapestry of New Zealand history is not quite so vibrant by the time that the students reach Year 11. Even in junior social studies my colleagues puzzle over how to deal with the phenomena of ‘Treaty fatigue’. A common refrain from my students might be: “Sir, we get that the Maori got a raw deal, now can we please learn about something else”. In a high stakes world of the senior school, my hard decision is a choice between generating a smaller cohort of culturally aware citizens or a larger cohort of history loving citizens. In the circumstances as I see them, I choose to bring history to a wider audience.

    What I would like to see is a ‘less is more’ approach to our nation’s past. Teach it early, teach it once, and teach it well. Then senior subject specialists might have a foundation to bring a more sophisticated understanding to their students within the framework of an option subject. My fear is that too much New Zealand content superficially repeated will not only lead to our subject becoming more of a minority subject than it already is, but is actually detrimental to its intended goal.

  6. A small contribution to this discussion may come from looking at the 2015 New Zealand History Teachers (NZHTA) survey. It gives us some insight regarding the types of topics that are taught in the country’s history classrooms, from Year 11 to 13, (typically fifteen to eighteen year olds).
    At Year 11 the topics of civil rights in the USA and the origins of World War Two dominate with a good number of twentieth century New Zealand contexts also being taught. At Year 12 the most popular topics are the the Vietnam war, the Russian revolution and Nazi Germany, with protest movements in New Zealand also featuring as reasonably popular. In the final year of high school, Year 13, the topics of Tudor-Stuart England and 19th Century New Zealand dominate. Across these three years there are also a great number of different topics being taught, from the history of medicine to crime and punishment, which are not easy to categorise; likely reflecting the autonomy that enables teachers to select content material tailored to their own or to student interest.

    So the picture is mixed – certainly New Zealand history is being taught. It is also clear however, that so too are topics that date back to earlier curriculum documentation from the 1980s (Forms 5-7 History Syllabus for Schools) and many of these seem Eurocentric. That said, what the survey results don’t show is that there are many instances of clusters of ambitious history teachers (see Paul Enright’s comments) who have sought to change the way history is taught from, so to speak, the bottom up. Once again, however, the picture is not so clear. Tamsin Hanly’s upcoming interview in the NZHTA journal, History Teacher Aotearoa, outlines many of the issues raised by Mark’s blog; that much more direction and support could be given to teachers to help them engage their students with Maori histories.

  7. Reconciliation without Repetition

    I read Mark’s blog and the several replies with great interest. I am a Professor of Social Studies Education in New York City and most of my research examines how young people’s ethnic identities influence their understandings of national history. With Mark’s sponsorship, I conducted a small-scale project in 2013 on Maori and European-descent adolescents’ views of the Treaty of Waitangi and the teaching of New Zealand history in schools.

    My commentary supports Mark’s concern about educating young people for critical citizenship, as well as considering the particularities of the classroom contexts in debates about teaching controversial historical issues, especially those whose legacies continue to divide and harm in the present. Although all nations have experienced controversial historical events, the ones that are most difficult to teach are those that affect people in the present. The history of land confiscations in indigenous-settler nations is controversial not because people today condone past violence. It is controversial because its legacy continues to affect and cause conflict among people today. Historical issues related to enslavement and other forms of oppression also continue to create rifts in contemporary societies.[1]

    As a result, many teachers do not deal with “difficult histories.” As Stephen Tester noted in his response, his students suffer from “Treaty fatigue,” i.e., the repetitive teaching (although not necessarily learning) of the Treaty and other indigenous-settler issues, to which his students might say that they “get that the Maori got a raw deal, now can we please learn about something else?” He also noted that because his students can opt out of history classes, he experiences a dilemma between teaching repetitive lessons about the history of colonization, which generates “a smaller cohort of culturally aware citizens,” or teaching historical topics that students find more interesting, thereby creating “a larger cohort of history loving citizens.”

    From Stephan’s commentary, I assume that the students he refers to are non-Maori. In my study of New Zealand adolescents, I found similar comments among the European-descent students in a majority European-descent student high school. The students commented on the repetitive nature of studying the Treaty and wanted to learn about other topics. This wasn’t the case, however, in a majority Maori high school, where the Maori students, who also had several lessons on the Treaty over the years, wanted to learn more about it, as well as other Maori historical experiences. Although this is an obvious example, it speaks to the need to contextualize conversations about teaching controversial historical experiences. Overall, I believe that teaching controversial history is necessary, but which and how issues are raised is dependent on the context of the classroom.

    I agree with Mark that schools ought to address issues of reconciliation between divided populations. And I imagine that most educators agree with Stephan that teaching the same content repeatedly is not engaging or effective. That said, I believe that an important purpose of history teaching is to provide young people with the knowledge and skills needed to make ethnical judgments about and act upon issues in contemporary society.[2] Examining controversial historical issues and their legacies can be important objectives for teaching social studies in New Zealand and elsewhere because they have significant consequences in and beyond students’ lives. Broad and varied inquiries centered on historical and contemporary themes related to justice and injustice, rather than the repetition of specific topics, is a way to promote critical citizenship and reconciliation and avoid topic fatigue.

    One final note. Two weeks after Donald Trump was elected President of the U.S., 10,000 educators responded to a survey which found that the election uniformly had negative effects on schools: there was a significant increase in bullying of and increased anxiety among immigrants, Muslims and students of color.[3] The “Trump effect” also has an influence on up-coming Dutch, French and German elections, where nationalist anti-immigrant politicians are on the ballot.[4] I am not very familiar with the current political context in New Zealand, but given the serious concerns of U.S. educators with our political climate, history educators ought to consider raising social justice issues in the classroom, whether they take the form of anti-colonialism, anti-immigration, etc. In the context of today’s political realities, at least in the U.S. and Western Europe, it’s not enough to promote students’ love of history. We also must prepare young people to be critical citizens, so that the negative legacies of difficult histories in any national context are mitigated.

    [1] Terrie Epstein and Carla Peck, Teaching and Learning Difficult Histories in International Contexts: A Critical Sociocultural Approach (New York: Routledge Press, in press).
    [2] Andrea Mulligan, Transcending the Ethically Silent Space of New Zealand’s Social Studies Curriculum (Ph.D. Dissertation, Victoria University of Wellington, 2014).
    [3] Southern Poverty Law Center, The Trump Effect: The Impact of the 2016 Presidential Election on our Nation’s Schools (Montgomery, AL: Southern Poverty Law Center, 2016).
    [4] Greg Palkot, “Trump Effect? Populism leaves it mark on European allies’ election,” foxnews.com, last modified 15 February 2017, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/02/15/trump-effect-populism-leaves-mark-on-european-allies-elections.html (last accessed 15 February 2017).

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