HDPA: Why did it take 80 years for us to start teaching our history?

Heather du Plessis-Allan,
Publish Date
Thursday, 12 September 2019, 4:35PM
Our history is much bigger than just the Treaty, writes Heather. (Photo / NZ Herald)

I want to give the government kudos today for doing something we should’ve done a long time ago, and that’s to make New Zealand history compulsory in schools.

We are one of the few countries apparently that doesn’t teach its own history. We teach someone else’s – in this case, English history. Isn’t that mad?

And we’ve been talking about this for decades. As long as 80 years ago, historians were asking why we were teaching English history when we had so much of our own to teach.

And it’s got a lot more attention of late, largely thanks to some students from Otorohanga College in the Waikato, who delivered a 12,000 signature petition to parliament asking for the land wars to be included in the curriculum.

Yes, there’s been a little bit of New Zealand history in school. Apparently there’s one achievement objective in social studies that teaches the Treaty, but that’s all, and even then schools aren’t obliged to teach it. They decide if they want to or not.

And our history is so much more than just the treaty.

Let me test you. Do you know the story of Te Rauparaha, who camped out on Kapiti Island off the west coast just north of Wellington, and was such a legend on the battlefield he pretty much ruled the Cook Strait for twenty years? 

Or the story of Chew Chong, the Chinese immigrant who arrived in Taranaki in the 1870s and became a hugely successful businessman, possibly installing New Zealand’s first freezing machine in a butter factory.

Or how the Bidwills cleared the Wairarapa, how a Lebanese immigrant in the late 19th century set up one of Nw Zealand’s most dominant wine companies, how Moawhango lost its commercial activity to Taihape just because officials decided to route SH1 through Taihape instead.

We should know these stories, because they’re great yarns, and because we’d understand so much more about ourselves if we did.

It’d help us understand why land confiscations have led to Maori poverty, or why so many of our grandfathers were so hard on our father, which you’d understand when you see how many of them went to the world wars.

Critics will question whether we have the teaching resources, and the class time for this. Of course we do, just stop teaching someone else’s history and replace with ours.

They’ll question what version of history we should teach. Well, history is always a debate about what really happened, so as long as we start somewhere.  Maori have a saying - ka mua, ka muri - which means you have to go backwards to go forwards.

This is a good step in that direction.

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