Tuesday, 9 February 2021

History without knowledge of history

Last week Labour's Minister of Education announced the compulsory "histories" that young New Zealanders will now be taught in government schools. 

Oddly enough, says historian Michael Bassett, the "histories" curriculum (for that is what it is) displays the authors' ignorance of some basic historical facts.

For example, far from rushing to add New Zealand to the British Empire, Britain was extremely cautious before dispatching William Hobson; the Colonial Office was seriously worried that the Musket Wars between Maori had reached the stage where nothing short of military intervention would protect Maori.
This is combined with an emphasis on three "big ideas" that don't so much summarise local history as sanitise it:
Translated, the first ["big idea"] is that Maori history is fundamental to understanding everything about New Zealand. 

Nothing, in other words, about the ideas and technology brought here by later settlers that we all now enjoy. 

The second one, translated, is that the consequences of unstated, but implied, wicked colonisation continue 'to influence all aspects' of our history. 

As if New Zealand's first and second settlements are the only "histories" to tell about this place, and grievance over the latter the only mode of recounting them.

The third is that colonists’ power exerted over the years has invariably inflicted damage, injustice and conflict on Maori. Nothing about economic development which lifted New Zealand after the Treaty from a state of anarchy ... The development of the modern economy is [also] of no account in the Ministry these days where no one seems to give a thought to where their salaries come from. 

This is the historic equivalent of a cost-benefit analysis that refuses to even acknowledge any benefit.

And, as I predicted, there’ll be no mention of the Musket Wars in the new curriculum. The government is intent on sanitising our history, presumably in the hope that henceforth we’ll all 'be kind.' ... 
    Unless someone has the intestinal fortitude to challenge this new proposed curriculum, history is a doomed subject. Certainly there is nothing in it to enthuse today’s students who prefer action, learning about the wider world, new ideas, wars and international affairs. 

You know, like explaining all those things that give the context to the history of this small island nation.

Bassett heaps blame for the mess:

Superficially, we can blame those ... devising this mumbo-jumbo curriculum, but I think the rot goes far deeper. This report follows on from those recent ones about falling literacy and numeracy in our schools...
    There is a pattern here. Educationally, New Zealand has lost its way.... Coming on top of the alarming reports about our educational performance overall, what is proposed is just another piece of evidence that substantial segments of the country’s bureaucracy, and the ministers who control it, aren’t fit for purpose.

This may be the most relevant local history that the next generation of students will need to learn: the gradual decay of learning in this place.

NB: A former minister himself (though not of education) Bassett studied history at the University of Auckland back when History was the University's third-largest department. He has three degrees in history, was a senior lecturer in history and a member of the Waitangi Tribunal. He has published 13 history books and authored four biographies for the Dictionary of NZ Biography.

[Hat tip Point of Order, from whence comes the short Bassett bio.]


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