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Saturday, 04 May 2013 20:08

High School Confidential: The Politics of Maori Secondary School Education

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Ruatoki, New Zealand, 2007. 
 
At about dawn on the 15th October 2007, the residents of the small Maori village of Ruatoki in the Eastern Bay of Plenty in New Zealand were  traumatised by a raid on their homes by fully armed, masked police who broke down their doors, held families with small children at gunpoint for hours, denied residents their basic rights (like going to the toilet) and cordoned off and isolated the village for the entire day. Vehicles (including the school bus) going into and out of the village were  stopped and searched - occupants subjected to search, without warrant and detained and questioned for hours. The cause was an action under the newly passed terrorism legislation (initiated at the request of the United States after 9/11) that sought to laty charges of terrorism against a group of residents from the locaL Tuhoe tribe, who had been carrying out activities in the Urewera National Park forest (shooting, throwing molotov cocktails, practicing stalking and camoflage) deemed to be associated with intended acts of terrorism. Altogether 17 people were arrested in raids around the country. Those arrested included peace acdtivists, environmentalists and, of course Maori acticists - most notably the Tuhoe acticist Tame Iti who had several times previously thumbed his nose at colonial oppression and had been one of the most vocal of Tuhoe seeking Tuhoe sovereignty and self-determination.
 
The raids in 2007, echoed similar raidfs on the Tuhoe village of Maungapohatu almost a hundred years earlier against the Tuhoe activist leader Rua Kenana who had encouraged his followers to reject conscription into the (White man's) First World War and to resist the sale of any more land to the white settlers or the government. In turn, Rua's actions followed on from the scorched earth policy carried out by the government fifty years earlier and the illegal confiscation of 5700 ha of Tuhoe land. What all of this indicats is that the police raids on Ruatoki did not take place in a cultural or historic vacuum, but in a highly charged and racist environment in which state piower was used to intimidate, threaten and subjugate an innocent and peaceful community. (A recent government enquiry concluded that the raids had been unlawful, unjustified and undesirable. The police have still refused to offer a sincere and unqualified apology).
 
For a clear historical perspective to the raid, click here.
 
What has this to do with education? A great deal! Most of the Tuhoe teenagers attend one of three local high schools - one of them a Whare Kura or Maori immersion high school. in Ruatoki, the other two are in the nearby town of Whakatane and are "mainstream" schools in which Maori academic achievement is much lower than non Maori. In Aotearoa-New Zealand, Maori High School students  in general have a "failure" rate almost twice that on non-Maori. In Whakatane the rate is even higher. This pattern is common in the education of previouisly colonised Indigenous peoples  worldwide and has been attributed significantly to the deficit-thinking (read racism) of teachers. On an attempt to address these disparities, the government has introduced a system of intervention - Te Kotahitanga - aimed at sensitising teachers to issues of cultural difference and acceptance. The Te Kotahitanga programme is a professional development programme for teachers which aims to conscientise them to an awareness of how their negative expectations of Maori students impacts upon their achievement levels. Conservative critics have attacked the programme, suggesting that it is "ideological" in nature. This paper looks at the programme and at the criticism levelled at it. The analysis centres around teacher and student attitudes in one particular High School located close to the small Maori village of Ruatoki. It was here that recently, polce cordoned off the village and arrested two members of the community in "anti-terrorist" raids.
 
While mainstream theoreticians and commentators have been quick to point out the difference in achievement rates and the need to do something about them, few have made the link between Maori student failure and State-sponsored acts of terrorism such as that which took place in Ruatoki. The police "anti-terrorism" raids in Ruatoki, in which heavily armed "anti-terrorism" squads boarded and searched a preschool bus, has sparked disquiet among all New Zealanders and outrage among Maori. To the latter it is seen as an extension of State repression and assimilationist policies that have existed from the first days of colonisation. The history of Maori educational experiences suggests that Maori student failure is an act of ongoing resistance to State oppression and State-sponsored policies of assimilation which persist into the present and appear to be escalating - hidden behind an ideological mask of multiculturalism and misplaced Nationalism that borders on the Fascist.
 
Maori (Tuhoe) residents of Ruatoki are still seeking apologies and compensation from the police for the trauma cause by the raids. Tuhoe say that their youndg and impressionable teenagers will probably never be able to trust the police, the justice system or State authority again. What matters more, it seems to me, is that this distrust extends beyond the police to the government in general, and by extension to the dominant white culture that the government is seen as primarily representing.

 

To download the High School Confidential PDF click here .

To link to the Te Kotahitanga site at the University of Waikato click here

A corroborative article from the United States: A Desire To Learn:African American Childrens' Positive Attitude Towards Learning Within School Cultures of Low Expectations is available here. The article was written by Jeffrey L. Lewis and Eunhee Kim and records the identical impact of deficit thinking amongst young African Americans. It was first published in  the Teachers College Record.

To download the PDF click here.

In addition to the above, a further article is available as a PDF which also corroborates the work of Bishop, Berryman et al.  This study, Miseducating Teachers about the Poor: A Critical Analysis of Ruby Payne's Claims about Poverty was conducted by Randy Bomer, Joel E. Dworin, Laura May & Peggy Semingson. It appeared first in the Teachers College Record.
 

The passing of George Bushʻs much touted legislation No Child Left Behind (2002) established a new social category of students - economically disadvantaged - that is required by the new law to have its test scores monitored by the Department of Education of the Federal Government. The purpose of the law is to ensure that poor children do not get academically "left behind". The passing of the law has resulted in the development of a plethora of teacher development programmes. One of the most popular of these programmes has been Ruby Payne's professional development programme A Framework for Understanding Poverty. This PDF article contains a critical analysis of Payneʻs programme and finds it to be a classic example of deficit theorising. It finds that her truth claims, offered without any supporting evidence, are contradicted by anthropological, sociological and other research on poverty. The authors demonstrate  that teachers may be misinformed by Payne's claims. As a consequence of low teacher expectations, poor students are more likely to be in lower tracks or lower ability groups and their educational experience is more often dominated by rote drill and practice.

To download the PDF click here. 

In the San Francisco Bay Area there is currently running a successful programme that partners tertiary students with High School students who are currently achieving below their potential. Established in 2001, PEP is a service-learning collaborative teaching pipelines of SFSU's Asian American Studies Department in the College of Ethnic Studies.  PEP partners with San Francisco public schools and the Filipino Community Center located in San Francisco's Excelsior neighbourhood.  PEP's main partnerships are between San Francisco State upper division undergraduates and graduate students interested in pursuing careers in the field of education, and high school, middle school, and elementary schools students primarily from low-income backgrounds.

One of the PEP Pipeline's main objectives is to reach out to students who are performing below their potential.  PEP's teaching philosophies include epistemological pedagogy, visual arts/media literacy, barangay/bayanihan/community building pedagogy, critical performance pedagogy, social justice pedagogy, counter-storytelling, and decolonising pedagogy.  These are implemented though a fun yet critical cultural curriculum that focuses on Filipina/o American studies (including introducing the students to Filipina/o literature, dancing and the arts), one-on-one mentoring, college counselling, and leadership/self-determination training.  As a community service-learning program, PEP also provides training for college students who are interested in teaching and research.

  • The overall vision of PEP is to support learning and teaching as practices of freedom.  It is committed to:
  • developing education to be accessed as a means toward global, local, and personal liberation;
  • creating critical spaces in the educational system and in the community where students and teachers study the struggles and survival stories of Filipina/os in the United States and throughout the world; and
  • promoting and advocating for services, social justice, and self-determination

To link to good description of the PEP programme site click here.

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