Friday, March 18, 2022

Caleb Anderson: NZ History Curriculum

The final version of the New Zealand History Curriculum contained no significant changes in spite of widespread concerns. The consultation process was an exercise in window dressing. The review panel was stacked, the terms of reference limited, the period of consultation constricted, and the outcome predetermined. 

My concern is not that there are controversial ways of looking at history, this is what makes history so exhilarating. My concern is that alternative perspectives can be deliberately suppressed in order to advance one perspective alone, creating the impression that alternative perspectives are not credible. As a consequence, critical knowledge is cast to the wind, perspectives become untethered from the events which gave rise to them, and the deliberate selection of some facts, and denial of others, can create questionable conclusions, unbalanced views, and unjustified causes.

History is more an art than a science. Being open to alternative perspectives forces the consideration of inconvenient facts. This is how ideas are sifted, shaped, refined, tested, some last and some don't. Legitimate historical inquiry is a natural bulwark against extreme ideas and intentional manipulation. Of course, history practiced legitimately is something of a rough and tumble exercise, you can be confronted with perspectives you find offensive, and you may have to concede or modify a position in light of new facts. But there are nearly always reasons why some facts are left out, or understated, and why some are included, and sometimes overstated. When critiquing a historical perspective, it is often a very good starting point to ask yourself precisely which critical information is left out, there is always a reason for this. In short, to engage in history properly is to willingly expose your primary assumptions (and prejudices) to the light of alternative perspectives.

With respect to colonization, we are never told that intertribal slavery existed in almost every colonized land prior to colonization, or that the earliest slave traders were not the nations of Europe, or that tribal groups often lived in perpetual fear of their more powerful and ambitious neighbours, or that colonization was sometimes a lifeline to smaller tribes fearful of annihilation at the hands of larger tribes. We are not told that traditional societies were generally highly stratified, with almost no upward mobility, that tribal life was often brutal and short, that cannibalism was sometimes practised, that pantheistic and spiritualistic religions made people fearful, that primitive and labour intensive technology exposed people to a life of toil, and regularly to the vagaries of famine. We are not told that sometimes the colonizing powers were very reluctant colonizers, that a piece of land purchased by a settler may have been paid for at least a dozen times to multiple owners, that missionaries and foreign service officials were often the most ardent advocates for the protection of indigenous people, that the punishment of indigenous children for speaking their native language at school was often at the behest of their parents. We are seldom told that the anglo nations were the first in the world to legislate against slavery, that colonization brought advantages ... more comfortable homes became possible with the arrival of nails, written language with the arrival of the alphabet, warm clothing and blankets with the arrival of textiles, better diets with the introduction of new crops, more accountability (and justice) with the arrival of a legal system, a more coherent set of propositional ethics with the arrival of Christianity. It is easy to trivialize these things from our twenty-first-century perspective, but these changes yielded no small gain, and help to explain the eagerness of many colonized people to engage with the colonizers. Consideration of the bigger (and fuller) picture brings perspective.

Colonization was often, and ultimately, a brutalizing process, and the impacts of colonization endure. But the history of the world is one of the constant colonization, of the over-layering of people groups, of subjugation and integration, over and over again. There are almost no exceptions to this. People moved when they needed to, and displaced others when they could. Stronger tribes prevailed, and weaker tribes were assimilated, or worse. Similarly, the nations of Europe emerged from tribal beginnings, and as a result of territorial conflicts between these tribes national borders emerged. Colonization is the lifeblood of history, it is a manifestation of the outworking of universal principles, and reflects powerful human instincts to survive at a minimum, and to thrive at best. Judgment of historical realities needs to be tempered with a realistic, and balanced, vision of human nature, not a myopic and idealized one, and not one which attributes vice almost exclusively to some, and virtue almost exclusively to others.  The proposed new curriculum is not a balanced presentation of the facts, but a cut-and-paste justification for an unbalanced and agenda-ridden view of history. Its core assumptions are selective and highly challengeable.

History teaches us that we are not so different from those who have come before us, or from those who inhabit a different part of our planet. We have similar motivations, good and bad. We repeat the sins of earlier generations, nuanced and rationalized to our time and context, we can be cruel when the opportunity for gain presents, when our interests are threatened, or when we are fearful. We sin against others, not always in equal measure, but we sin against them nevertheless, the same precipitating motivational drivers exist for us all, adjusted only to scale and circumstance. This should create within us a reluctance to point our finger. I am not saying that there is never a time to put right the wrongs of the past, but we should be honest about the actions of our forebears too, we should not rest our arguments on convenient facts alone, and sweep inconvenient facts under the carpet.

Radical re-sets, always accompanied by a historical cut and paste exercise, usually do not go well, and can be ultimately catastrophic. The French, Russian and Maoist elitest revolutions were all attempts at sudden change. Books were burned, statues toppled, churches razed to the ground, and re-education became a paramount preoccupation. In Paris, the streets ran with blood, and a prostitute was carried to Notre Dame and invested as the new goddess of reason, in Russia, a man owning three cows instead of one could be dispatched to a Siberian gulag for his overt capitalism, and in China, countless people disappeared without a trace. Perhaps worst of all, people began to turn on each other. Knowing what happens when ideas are pushed to (or beyond) their limits (which invariably happens when competing perspectives are disregarded) gives us a taste of how badly things can actually turn out. We could never end in such a place, how sure are you of that?

Repeated comments by the Maori Party that Maori were subjected to genocide, and a holocaust, are an object lesson in where you can end up when you play loose with the facts of history, and when you can come to believe your own lies. These words are the exclusive domain of the Jewish people. To equate the planned, systematic extermination of six million Jews with the colonization of New Zealand is unforgivably ignorant. Loose-lipped commentators in the United States have been stood down, and forced to apologize, for anti-semitic comments of lesser magnitude than this, and yet the New Zealand media have barely commented, or challenged, this baseless assertion, it largely passed without notice, more than once

In short, history is impossibly complex, as are the people it seeks to represent.  As there is no truth, but many truths, there is no history but many histories.  Thus what makes history exciting, is also what makes it prone to abuse.  I would strongly recommend ‘The Uses and Abuses of History” by eminent historian Margaret MacMillan for a fuller explanation. And I would like, as a person of part-Jewish descent, to recommend the following website to the Maori Party, or anyone interested, for their education and edification.

History done well is an adventure, if done poorly, it is best left alone!


How dismal was the TVNZ coverage of the release of this document. Carefully stage-managed. Half a dozen predictable responses in favour, followed by one measured and respectful voice of concern from the ACT party. The former preceded with a waiata and a weeping PM, and the latter by an image of a snorting pig ... I kid you not, take a look on TV on demand, our politically neutral MSM actually did precede the minuscule time allowed for an ACT party response with the image of a snorting pig. Wouldn't be so bad if we were not the ones funding them.

Caleb Anderson, a graduate history, economics, psychotherapy and theology, has been an educator for over thirty years, twenty as a school principal

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Terry Morrissey said...

I watched the 1 News clips from that whole ludicrously managed item.
I take it that Sylvia Park School is a maori only school. If not why did I not see any non maori children.
That news item alone shows what a complete brown wash that whole sylabus is.
Reading history from pre 1840 shows what real life was like in New Zealand, slavery, cannabalism, wars, dishonesty and deceit(the last two still practised by the government) not the utopia the labour cult would have children believe.

Anna Mouse said...

Brilliantly encapsulated commentary on how aweful NZ has become when we have to revision history to fit an ideological narrative.

DeeM said...

This article should be compulsory reading for all our history teachers, academics, students and our political elite to instruct them in the correct way to study and teach history.

NZ is heading down the well-worn, bloody path of so many other tried-and-failed extreme ideologies but, as usual, our current zealots either believe their version will work this time, or they are so blinkered by their own fanaticism that they are incapable of seeing the alternatives.

Either way, the country can't afford to give them the time to find out which one it is. Real history shows us in no uncertain terms what happens when populations permit a tiny minority of extremists to enact a warped social experiment on them.

NZ has to firmly reject our current cabal of woke, neo-marxist nutters and return to electing governments that govern to represent the people....not themselves.

Don said...

I would like to use my 50 years of teaching service to reassure you that our best response to the new indoctrination curriculum is the way in which children and young people themselves will respond. As in many other subjects most will let it skate over them as having no relevance to themselves. They will not just forget it, they will not take it on board because to them it will be just another boring subject to reject as soon as possible. They take the present, their individual coping with their own developmental problems as their highest and immediate concern. All else is superficial irrelevancy.

Empathic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Empathic said...

Yes, TVNZ is one of the team of $55 million, and probably more. Very dangerous when a government starts exerting control through bribery over media, providing them with money if those media agree to support falsehoods such as that the Treaty of Waitangi promised Maori co-governance with the Crown. It's typical of socialist government though, as is blatantly forcing schools to indoctrinate children with false propaganda.

Geoff. said...

Having been born in a country which has been colonised/conquered at least four times I think that it is fair point out to Maori that things might have been so much worse. I am not even trying to justify any of the horrendous things that were done on either side, but they are history, a part of the fabric of the human race which can never be changed despite the best efforts of the history-twisters we seem to be plagued with at present. Some Maori may think that they suffered the most of any colonised people, they didn't!
They were never enslaved or cannibalised by there colonisers, only themselves.
By being written down by the first settlers their language has been saved for those who wish to retain it. In England between 1066 and 1360 there were two official languages, French and Latin.
Maori have never been forced to live in segregated areas ( reservations), maybe if thy had they would not now be seeking the racist "Separate Development"
Few colonised people were granted any rights, let alone equal rights guaranteed by a treaty.
Maori might do well to compare notes with the Aztecs, Cheyenne, Zulu and the English.
Colonisation is inevitable where there is a vast difference in technology and it is rarely peaceful. Acceptance of what has happened and bringing it all out into the open, warts and all, is the only sound foundation on which to build a harmonious society. An unreconciled history tainted with bias can never achieve this.

Lesley Stephenson said...

Facts have never been important in communist china's history which is taught to all young people. Isn't that just what this govt is trying to achieve?

RAYMONDO said...

I did all my schooling from age 10 to 18 in Africa and i can say while I may not have remembered my history lessons from school I do remember how I treated people and how I was treated. Racism is real but in NZ we are only pussy footing with it. Once you start advocating necklacing na d doing it you have real racism. This is the way NZ is heading.

Robert Arthur said...

Incredibly, for reasons unexplained, the public submissions were not made available for the public to scrutinise. We are regularly incited to participate in democracy. I laboured for a week and produced a 17 page submission. A complete waste of time. I could have better spent the time painting the house. One apologist on RNZ said they had expanded the scope to cover pre 1840, and that that was always intended, although not clearly stated. At least now, before they are bored silly with the later propaganda, boys in particular will now lap up the stories of Nga Pui and the canoe load of heads, Te Rauparaha's trip to Kaiapoi, the fate of the captured chief etc.
Even if they had been given the opportunity the msm are too lacking in skills and/or too lazy to pursue these matters at all and certainly not objectively. And now in the shadow of the PIJFunding conditions, detailed examination certainly will not occur.

Robert Arthur said...

Correction. It was a mere 9 pages not 17. I confused with another futile submission on another recent maori favouring topic.
Curiously the curriculum refers to histories; a concession that it not the true one. Whereas most school histories at junior level are based directly on one or a very few books, this one seems to rely largely on the teacher's imagination. The now conventional brain washed teacher will have little problem regurgitating the standard instilled patter but able, thinking, objective teachers will be very challenged. What should be a simple topic will require considerable effort; yet another distraction from maths, science, and English, achievements in all of which now sadly lacking.