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Biculturalism: The relationship between education policy and art education practice in secondary schools in Aotearoa New Zealand
Jill Smith – Principal Lecturer in Art Education, Auckland College of Education
In this research I take the position that biculturalism in Aotearoa New Zealand is not so much a theoretical construct as a proclamation of a political stance. I aim to uncover the interpretations of biculturalism that have guided state education and to investigate practices which respond to what I call the „bicultural imperative‟.
Although the research focused on art education in secondary schools, the enactment of statutes establishing bicultural policy in education has implications for other curriculum areas.
The motivation for the research arose from my role as a teacher educator with responsibility for training secondary school art teachers. Bicultural policy requires me to prepare students in respect of Mäori art. Earlier research has made me conscious of the dilemma of firstly, a largely non-Mäori secondary school teaching force required to fulfil bicultural obligations and, secondly, the comparatively few Mäori holding the (Western) qualifications requisite for entry to tertiary institutions and colleges of education, and subsequent employment in secondary schools. My awareness also of the paucity of knowledge and experience that the majority of my predominantly non-Mäori students have of „things Mäori‟
predisposes me towards affirmative action.
Two questions prompted my research on this topic:
; What is the political and social agenda that lies behind New Zealand‟s
bicultural education policy?
; What are the perceptions, behaviours and performances of the participants in
relation to the bicultural curriculum imperative?
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I took as my starting point the Treaty of Waitangi signed in 1840 by over 500 Mäori Chiefs, and by Governor Hobson, representing the British Crown. The intention was not to research the Treaty itself although the topic required an intensive search of the literature related to it and subsequent events.
The Treaty established the signatories as equal partners holding equal rights and privileges but the precise interpretation of this declaration of equality, and its legal status, has been argued ever since. The vast literature on the Treaty reveals that it conformed to prevailing colonial policy, but according to such as Kawharu (1989), Orange (1987), Brownlie (1992), and Renwick (1991) it was politically motivated and can be interpreted as an expedient solution adopted by the British Crown. The Treaty remains a central issue in New Zealand.
Claudia Orange, in the foreword to her seminal publication The Treaty of Waitangi
(1987) claims, “The British considered that they had acquired sovereignty over New Zealand, but to Mäori people the treaty had a very different significance”. Further, she claims that successive provincial governments quickly subverted the original intentions of the Treaty. She records Chief Justice Prendergast‟s ruling in 1877 that the Treaty was a “nullity”, a declaration which held sway until the 1970s. This effectively rendered the Treaty, and the protections it was intended to give Mäori, completely without force. Orange believes that “The gap between Mäori
and European expectations of the Treaty remains unbridged” (1987: 5).
The literature also suggests that imperialism, the maintenance of dominant Päkehä power and authority, has prevailed. Despite some evidence of often paternalistic, humanist attitudes, assimilation has been overtly and covertly the prevailing policy. Research by such as Jones, McCulloch, Marshall and Linda and Graeme Smith (1990), Pearson (in Macpherson, Pearson & Spoonley, 1991) and McKenzie & Openshaw (1997) reveals substantial disaffection with such policy. Orange considers that:
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…confusion over the treaty arises from the way it has been used to
further what the different parties have each considered legitimate
interests and to validate certain assumed rights. Europeans, in
particular, have shifted their position on the treaty to suit their
purposes (1987: 2).
In the 1970s, a climate of liberal humanism prompted by „Päkehä guilt‟ and
responsive to Mäori protest and affirmation of rights, led to enactment of statutes establishing bicultural policy. It was in 1975 that the School Certificate Art prescription was introduced. A most innovative art education document for its time, and one which endured until 2000, it was the first to include a specific requirement for students to study „the significance and form of some examples of
Mäori art‟ (Department of Education, 1974).
In 1993, the Ministry of Education‟s The New Zealand Curriculum Framework,
which includes Essential Learning Areas for the visual arts, specifies bicultural requirements for all schools. In the foreword states:
The Curriculum Framework acknowledges the value of the Treaty of
Waitangi, and of New Zealand‟s bicultural identity and multicultural
society (Ministry of Education, 1993: 1).
stAnother key Ministry of Education document, Education for the 21 Century,
The Treaty of Waitangi establishes the right of Mäori and non-Mäori
to all the benefits of education (Ministry of Education, 1994: 7).
The most recent curriculum statement, The Arts in the New Zealand Curriculum,
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In Aotearoa New Zealand, all students should have opportunities to
learn about traditional and contemporary Mäori art forms (Ministry of
Education, 2000: 71).
The most recent assessment statements for students in years 11-13 are the Achievement Standards for NCEA, the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (2000). At year 11, for example, an internally assessed standard in Visual Arts requires students to:
Research art and artworks from Mäori and European traditions and their contexts
(NCEA Visual Arts achievement standard 1.1, New Zealand Qualifications Authority, 2000).
While statutes and documents may be definitive, Tim May claims that:
Documents do not simply reflect, but also construct social reality and
versions of events…documents are not neutral artefacts…[they] are
now viewed as mediums through which social power is
expressed…They are approached in terms of the cultural context in
which they were written and may be viewed as attempts at persuasion
(May, 1993: 138-139).
Such a view raises issues of the relationship between definitive statements of law and the interpretations and implementations of them. Curriculum statements are binding requirements upon New Zealand schools. They emphasise that all students and not just Mäori are to receive a bicultural interpretation of arts education. Although my research explored this relationship in a sample of secondary schools, I argue that it has significance beyond the classroom. To require that a nation sustain bicultural policies and practice has substantial social and cultural ramifications.
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The Problem of Defining ‘Biculturalism’
Although arguments related to the Treaty are unresolved its principles have been enshrined in government statute and shape the educational policies upon which my research was focused. It is these issues that both underlie and complicate a definition of biculturalism in New Zealand.
„Biculturalism‟ is a controversial issue. New Zealanders display a wide variety of views and attitudes. Some Mäori groups seek independent sovereignty and reject what they see as the oppressive policies of a post-colonial government. By contrast, some Päkehä resent what they see as privileged treatment of Mäori and reject any responsibility for their past treatment. There are both Mäori and Päkehä (Jones et al, 1990) who are concerned about claims that Mäori health, education, economic status, employment and criminality are of serious concern. Others such as Vasil (1998) maintain that Mäori do not constitute a separate national community and that tribal organisation is the base of loyalty. Still others protest the need for multiculturalism rather than biculturalism (Whitecliffe in Boughton & Mason, 1999).
Eminent Mäori scholar, Ranginui Walker, claims that the assimilationist policies which contradicted the intention of the treaty inflicted “on subsequent generations
of Mäori children an identity conflict that persists to the present day” (Walker in Bray & Hill, 1973: 111). He considers the destruction of their culture has developed both a defeatist and aggressive response from Mäori who seek an identity outside the Päkehä conventions.
Mäori artist and scholar, Robert Jahnke, sees biculturalism as a deliberate Western construct. To him biculturalism is a means by which the dominant and power-holding sector can ameliorate discontent and salve conscience without surrendering supremacy. He states:
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One suspects that like those time „dishonoured‟ terms like
„acculturation‟ and „assimilation‟ (its) legitimacy is determined by
political expediency. For biculturalism to be more than a pathetic
fallacy requires empathetic negotiation across the boundaries of
cultural reality. To presuppose a priority of vision defined solely by
Western perception merely perpetuates the cultural capital of the elite
as the sole criterion of cultural legitimacy (1995: 9-10).
Elizabeth Rata (Rata, 2000) commenting upon biculturalism, provides a cogent analysis of the evolution of what she terms the „bicultural project‟, a bicultural partnership ideal of the 1980s designed to correct the wrongs of the past. For Rata, biculturalism was established by middle-class post-war Päkehä humanists as a response to Mäori impatience with the failure of successive governments to recognise and deal with Mäori disempowerment. It has, she considers, been short-lived. The new middle class has sensed defeat and retreated in the face of increasing ethnification and indigenisation by Mäori who reject the paternalism of biculturalism and multiculturalism.
There are Päkehä such as Christie, at one time principal of Mt Albert Primary School, who see Mäori as not taking advantage of what is offered by a beneficent government, of being given unfair advantages in terms of compensations negotiated under the Waitangi tribunal, and of provoking dissent by claims for independence and sovereignty. In one of his commentaries, „Brainwashing in
Schools‟, he states:
The situation is created in New Zealand where children with even a
slight trace of Mäori ethnicity, or none at all - and often none at all –
are coerced into displaying „Mäori culture‟, into believing notions of
kotahitanga, kingitanga, and rangatiratanga, and to assume a partisan
ethnic stance… All such thinking, though based on bunkum, is taught
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in schools by government directive and enforcement, with the support
of academia from where it is piped throughout (Christie, 1999: 71).
What emerges in the literature is that there is difference of opinion about what constitutes „biculturalism‟. Whatever the truth of the matter, as an educator I must accept that biculturalism is written into state statutes for education.
As I discovered in this research, however, the effective implementation of such requirements is dependent upon and affected by the attitudes, opinions and behaviours of the participants.
The Problem of Defining ‘Mäori Art’
Equally difficult for this research was defining „Mäori art‟. It is as complex and
differentiated as art of the Western world. Hakiwai explains that what the Western world has called „Mäori art‟, Mäori call taonga:
Taonga or treasures embody all those things that represent our culture.
The histories, myths and traditions, memories, experiences and stories,
all combine to help define and identify us as Mäori people…Our
treasures are much more than objets d‟art for they are living in every
sense of the word and carry the love and pride of those who fashioned