By: Audrey Young
Not enough New Zealand history is being taught in schools, MPs were told today by history teachers themselves.
The New Zealand school curriculum gave history teachers a great deal of autonomy over what they taught, History Teachers’ Association chairman Graeme Ball told the Māori affairs select committee.
“What we have here is something that is very powerful as the high-level of autonomy in our curriculum document and especially for our history teachers,” he said.
“But there is a concern that one of the victims, perhaps, of this high autonomy environment has been New Zealand’s own past.”
He said it could be time to consider compulsion, though the association was not advocating it.
After year 10 (the old fourth form), history had to compete with compulsory subjects such as maths, science and English.
And because many students believed their own history was not important, it meant many teachers did not offer New Zealand history.
“There has been a pressure on teachers to quieten down, if you like, the amount of New Zealand history that they teach in their programmes.
“Our problem really isn’t actually that New Zealand history is boring or any of these other perceptions that they have – it is just that, a perception that is the problem.”
The compulsion in subjects such as maths and science made sense, Ball said.
“I think that is not perhaps a huge stretch of the argument to at least consider it as an option here in New Zealand.”
The perception of one’s own history being boring was not confined to New Zealand.
Ball, who teaches history at Northcote College, said he was in Dublin a few years ago doing a walk around the city related to the 1916 Easter Rising.
He went into a bar afterwards and got talking to the young barmaid about what he had been doing and she had said how boring she found Irish history in school.
“I couldn’t believe it .”
Ball was supported by historian Dame Claudia Orange and Dr Michael Sheehan, from Victoria University’s faculty of education.
Ball said with a review of NCEA beginning, it might be time to consider some innovation in New Zealand history teaching.
“We are ready for it here in New Zealand. I think there is a Zeitgeist here.”
In response to a question from New Zealand First MP Jenny Marcroft about teaching colonial history, Ball was clear that he was not talking about a single “nationally mandated narrative”.
“Instead of just one voice, one national narrative, there would be … multiple voices coming in.
“That’s what history is anyway. You know you don’t just listen to one voice.
“History teachers in New Zealand are very good at recognising multiple voices. It’s a huge part of what we do.”
He said the briefing to the select committee was a result of the History Teachers’ Association passing a resolution at its AGM in April to take a more activist approach to history teaching.
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has some sympathy.
“As a former history teacher and a former student in New Zealand, I think the history of our country is seriously important but I was brought up on Janet and John goes to the sea and a whole lot of history about some other country but not my own.
“That’s why I did New Zealand history at university.”
National MP Paul Goldsmith, who did an MA in history at Auckland University, is also sympathetic.
“I’d certainly be in favour of more New Zealand history being taught, as long as there is a diversity of views.
“I wouldn’t be in favour of coming up with ‘the version of history and this is the way, the truth and the light’.
“As long as there is a diversity of views, I’d be in favour of a group like this coming up with easily accessible materials.”
He did his MA thesis on William Colenso, a printer and botanist who was at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.
Source: NZ Herald