A Policy A Day: Treaty Education in Schools

In the lead-up to the election, we are examining a policy a day. We’re exploring a variety of policy areas, explaining the background and analysing some of the policy options, with a mixture of technocracy and values-based approaches. Inevitably, some opinion will make its way in and we make no apology for that – after all, we’re voters too. A list of all the articles is available hereEnjoy!

Today’s post is by Phoebe Balle

Background 
The Treaty of Waitangi is generally considered the founding document of our nation, yet many people know worryingly little about it. There is currently no guarantee that students will receive treaty education during their schooling. The New Zealand curriculum asks school leadership to ‘consider the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi / the Treaty of Waitangi’. Besides the fact that ‘consider’ holds no imperative to take action and that the treaty ‘principles’ are very different to the treaty articles, according to the Ministry of Education, it’s up to each board of trustees to decide what should be in a school’s curriculum [Editor: worryingly similar to our approach to civics education more generally]. As a result of this hands-off Ministry approach, treaty education varies widely among schools and is sometimes left out altogether. Furthermore, when treaty content is included in school curriculums, Tamsin Hanly’s [1] research on the teaching of the treaty in primary schools confirms that many teachers only know the inaccurate “standard story” of a colonial history of New Zealand, for example, that Māori ceded sovereignty to the British. Below are some responses from recently graduated students and student teachers when asked what they knew about the Treaty of Waitangi when they left school. These responses suggest that the existence and quality of treaty education in schools is highly variable and even contradictory.

1960, Standard One, Auckland state school 
‘…we were each given a small brown pamphlet (probably about A4 size folded into 3) which was a miniature facsimile of The Treaty. We had to memorise and recite aloud a paragraph which began: The Treaty of Waitangi was signed on February the 6th 1840 by which the Maori ceded their (rights? lands? -can’t remember) to Queen Victoria…’

2001, Wellington state school
‘I knew there was a treaty. No idea of the context. I had a vague idea some wrong stuff happened, and something about there’s a Waitangi Tribunal that does something.’

2004, Year 9 Social Studies, Auckland state school 
‘I left knowing the Treaty existed, that “Māori ceded sovereignty to Britain”, and that some dude chopped down a flagpole.’

2005, Year 9 Social Studies, Auckland private school
‘Covered the treaty in yr9 social studies. Learned next to nothing other than dates and that the translation was controversial. Nothing about te tiriti or details on the variations in the different versions.’

2010, Year 13 History, Dunedin state school 
‘the take home messages I got was that Māori didn’t cede sovereignty, they allowed governorship (though this was controversial) and that until 1840 Māori held the balance of power….’

2016, Teachers training college, Victoria University 
‘2 lectures that I don’t really remember. Then we had a debate about whether we should still honour the treaty aaaand everyone got really uncomfortable.’

Still studying, Teachers training college, Canterbury University 
‘We did a Treaty workshop this year…We had a follow up assignment based on it too, and there has been other links through the other subjects we are studying.’

What is Treaty Studies?
‘Treaty studies’ should include local iwi history, civic, and heritage studies. There is scope for modules on critical histories of the Pacific and pre-colonial Māori society, interactions between Māori and tauiwi (non-Māori) surrounding key events in the history of Aotearoa such as the signing of He Whakaputanga (known as the Declaration of Independence) and the signed text of te Tiriti o Waitangi, different cultural worldviews and forms of governance (Tikanga-based vs Westminster systems), the process of colonisation and contemporary impacts, and much more. It has the potential to be a rich and varied subject.

Why does it matter?
A critical, well-informed, historically accurate understanding of the complexities of our homelands and heritage is an essential foundation for exploring questions of identity and power, both national and personal. Debates in the political arena about the relevance of the treaty can feel distant from the realities of many tauiwi people, but this is largely because we are not equipped with the knowledge to engage in these important conversations. The current failure of the school system to provide adequate (or any) treaty education impacts us on a personal level and shuts us out of vital public debate. I have participated in some treaty education workshops where the sight of a participant in tears asking “why didn’t I learn this in school?” is not uncommon. Independent Treaty educators report that this cry is raised in virtually every treaty workshop they run for adults. As James Baldwin said, “History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.”

People of Aotearoa want to know the truth of our history. We want to live honourably in this country. An education system that continues to perpetuate colonial myths and enable ongoing ignorance about our own history is shameful. We are one of few countries worldwide without a strong form of ‘civics education’ in our curriculum. Understanding our place in Aotearoa through a critical understanding of the complexities of our history and the contemporary impacts today should be a priority in the school syllabus.

Is treaty education within the government’s purview?
The government has been instrumental in shaping the way treaty education has been taught in schools. H.C. Evison [2] recently brought to light the fact that in 1966, the Education Department, now the Ministry, changed the high school curriculum instructing that for School Certificate, students would only be examined on history from 1870 onwards. The government’s blatant erasure of the treaty signing and other crucial parts of our history from the school syllabus in the sixties has produced the current generation of 40+ year old people in power including educators, lawyers and politicians who are often illiterate in pre-1870’s Aotearoa history (and often beyond this period too). This Ministry action illustrates the extent to which our government has gone to foster ignorance about our history.

It is not only the government’s purview but their responsibility to make treaty education a substantial part of the school curriculum to begin to undo this damage. It is also their responsibility to strive for harmonious race relations, and Ingrid Huygens’ [3] research showed that for Pākehā, learning about the treaty was a key factor in encouraging positive relationships with Māori.

Is it feasible?
Absolutely. The Education Council has just released its new Code and Standards for the Teaching Profession which set out what it means to be a teacher in Aotearoa New Zealand. A clear statement of commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi is included and is also woven throughout the Code and Standards. All teachers will need to demonstrate this commitment in their practice. This is a commitment within the teaching profession which aligns well with bringing Treaty Studies into schools. We already have resources and expertise to deliver on this commitment; many Māori have been trying to educate tauiwi about their Treaty of Waitangi responsibilities since 1840.

From the 1980s some tauiwi have taken up responsibility for educating their own. These are highly educated experts like Dr Ingrid Huygens who wrote her PhD about the processes of Pākehā change in response to the Treaty of Waitangi. Experts like these could be employed by the Ministry of Education to run teacher and student teacher development programmes. There are a wealth of resources available for teaching iwi histories and Tamsin Hanly’s Critical Guide to Māori and Pākehā histories of Aotearoa provide an accessible teaching framework for exploring these subject areas. As with all transitions in the curriculum, such a process will take time, but introducing a curriculum that teaches a critical history unbiased by colonial mythology is well worth the effort.

Conclusions
Between discussion about ethical investment, taxes, and monetary policy, one of the specific policy points in the Green Party economic policy says that they promise to “properly fund environmental and Treaty education”. The Māori Party has a similar policy that calls for “funding for Treaty settlement education in all schools”. Policies to properly fund treaty education in schools will properly prepare our citizens for living in Aotearoa and engaging in important dialogue about identity and power. Treaty Studies is vital to building healthy power-sharing relationships that allow Aotearoa to flourish.

Phoebe Balle graduated from the University of Auckland with degrees in ecology, sociology, and Māori studies. She currently works in education and is a member of the Wellington Tiriti Collective.

[1] Hanly, T. (2007). Preparing Our Students For Bicultural Relationship Pākehā Primary Teachers and Bicultural Histories of Aotearoa. University of Auckland
[2] Evison, H. (2010). New Zealand racism in the making. The life and times of Walter Mantell. Panuitia Press, Lower Hutt.
[3] Huygens, I. (2007). Processes of Pākehā change in response to the Treaty of Waitangi. University of Waikato http://researchcommons.waikato.ac.nz//handle/10289/2589

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