Education Summit #EdConvo18

I was recently invited to speak at the Education Summits in Christchurch and Auckland, as part of the Government's review of education, and was asked by several attendees, and the facilitators, if I could share my presentation. Here it is, verbatim, with links to the student video clips and other source material. Obviously, some of the content repeats what I have said in previous blog posts and presentations. The speaking slots at the Summits followed a format of 15 minutes speaking and 15 minutes Q & A. You can follow the Twitter posts on #EdConvo18


Kia ora everyone

My work and my research examine the damage we do to children who are not from the dominant culture, the one that has used, and continues to use its power to decide what schools and learning look like – my culture I’m ashamed to say – so this review is welcome, and long overdue, and the changes we need to make are massive!

In my role as a Pākehā educator, researcher, writer, and former school principal of Kia Aroha College in Otara, in South Auckland, and in the work I am doing now with schools and school leaders, I find schools continually asking for help with what they mostly perceive to be the “problem” with Māori achievement and Māori education – so it’s an issue where the interest is huge, and the understanding is sadly lacking.

Wearing my other hat, the one that is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother of Māori children, in a whanau that has been on a deliberate trajectory to the point where my great-grandchildren speak fluent Māori and no English, I have no more patience with the idea that further generations of our babies  are going to be failed by our education system, while we mess around collaborating about their deficits.

I’m hoping that the voices of young people – in my case, the voices of Māori and Pasifika learners and graduates of Kia Aroha College, a decile one, designated-character secondary school, will help give you a brief glimpse of what I mean, and the situation I want us to think about today, and one I hope this review will finally be honest about.

Firstly, I want you to hear Matthew – in Year 13 at Kia Aroha College last year, and a member of the group we call Warrior-Researchers — learners who investigate and expose policy and practice in our system that don’t work for them, like, for example, those words, “as Māori” that schools don’t understand, and last year, their findings on Communities of Learning presented to the NZARE conference.

Matthew analysed the achievement challenges, endorsed by the Ministry of Education, of 77 of these communities, and this short clip shows you what he found.

So how do we explain to Matthew, the position of Māori learners in our appalling statistics? Do we really think that minimal gains or shifts are enough to solve the problem? Or do we think that our blinkered focus on literacy and numeracy, a ‘good enough’ level of NCEA is going to really make a difference?

Matthew’s question – “how come they don’t know how to teach us?” is a serious one, because unless we think our Pākehā children have some magic reading and writing gene that our Māori kids missed out on - we DO think it’s the kids’ fault, and all our system’s interventions and reforms have been aimed at fixing them, dragging them up to some  arbitrary norm so we can tell ourselves we have successfully achieved the holy grail of “equity.”

You can read all their published work on this link and see their research presentations about "as Māori" here

The fact is that in 2017 in New Zealand:

  • 73% of all teachers were Pākehā

  • 80% of school management and leadership positions were held by Pākehā

  • 73% of all teachers were female

Yet the groups our system consistently fails are, as Matthew identified, Māori and Pasifika boys, then Māori and Pasifika girls, so there is a huge gap in our understanding of the lived realities of the children we need to make the biggest changes for. This is not to blame Pākehā teachers, but to point the finger at our system and to say that this gap in our knowledge is the real space our policy, and our professional development needs to target – not how to get better literacy, numeracy, or NCEA outcomes!

As Verna Myers says, we have to do our work – and there are no shortcuts!

The work of seeing the barriers, understanding our privilege, and the work of gaining the skills we need to decipher all this.  That’s a lot of work – but without it, we can’t hope to make a difference. Without that work, we are making a deliberate choice to remain “neutral,” or to take no action to change it.

 Matthew’s COL analysis is just one example of where those barriers and that privilege are glaringly obvious. He is right. It is racist, and our children are exposed to both individual and institutional racism on a daily basis.

The “unsolicited” comments of children about the racist language and practice they experience in school, “surprised” the interviewers in the research carried out jointly by the Children’s Commission and the Schools’ Trustees Association.

The Ministry of Education has been reported just last week as advocating that a “bold step” that would make a difference for Māori learners would be to address teachers’ “unconscious bias” towards Māori children. They are right – it would – but I find that hypocritical if we are not going to address the institutional racism endemic in our education policy and practice.

We cannot continue to fudge this issue by using what Anna Kegler (2017) calls the sugar-coated language of White fragility– using words that let us off the hook, trying to describe racism, “nicely” in ways that are more palatable to us.

 Unless we are actually unconscious, as in out cold, we cannot be oblivious to the fact the our system only works for some of our children and we can predict who will be at the bottom of our achievement data, with absolute accuracy, before the school year even begins. That’s a rigged game.

The personal racism those young people told us of is layered on top of, and is a direct result of, the institutional and structural racism deeply embedded in our education system, that allows us to consistently fail our Māori children, and blame them for those results. Embedded, in our stand downs, suspensions, and exclusion statistics,  in our definitions of achievement and success, in our belief we have a monopoly on advanced, scholarly ("academic") learning, in our outcomes, in our dropout rates, underpinned by our failed policies like National Standards, entrenched in our teacher training, and played out in our pedagogy that negates and eradicates who our children are and continues to assimilate them in our schools.

How dare we be surprised!

So how do we counter the impact of this on our young people, how do we challenge it, and change it so that they are learning in spaces that fit them and that support and develop their Māori or cultural identity – within our Whitestream education system?

What we have been developing at Kia Aroha College over the last twenty years is what Paris and Alim (2012) describe as culturally sustaining pedagogy. We call it a critical, culturally sustaining pedagogy of whanau. It is a critical pedagogy that gives young people the tools to critique and analyse systems of power, to understand how these work, and to challenge, and change them. It teaches Māori and Pasifika learners that Matthew is right – we don’t know how to teach them – and the reason our Māori and Pasifika learners are at the bottom of our statistics is our fault, not theirs. Our young people have to know that. Just as Kura Kaupapa Māori do, this way of working allows Māori or Pasifika children to be Māori, or Samoan, or Tongan, all day in school, without compromise.

CSP goes beyond culturally responsive pedagogy, which has been around for the last two decades without making as much of an impact as we need it to. It goes beyond thinking we just have to have better relationships. It raises fundamental questions about the purpose of schooling, and the responsibility of schools to sustain and, in indigenous communities, to also revitalise culture, instead of ignoring, assimilating, and eradicating it as they have done in the past – and still do currently —as the CoL challenges, and the “surprise” about racism both show.

CSP does not believe we should work purely to close an achievement gap, and refuses to compare the “success” of students based on their cultural background. Imagine that! A pedagogy that sustains cultural identity and puts it at the centre of children’s learning, identifies, and eliminates what my research calls white spaces – in our thinking and in our practice, and designs new ways to co-construct learning and assessing - and it looks very different from our current, colonial, model of schooling.

I want to finish with a short clip that shows the outcome of that work in the analysis and critical understanding of some former and current students of Kia Aroha College.

This is what Warrior Scholars look and sound like – and they are a formidable force for change!

What actions do I think would begin to further this work? I left this final slide up during our discussion:

  • Resource and establish more Kura Kaupapa Māori, Kura-a-iwi, and Section 156 Designated-character schools – like Kia Aroha College – embrace changes of status – those communities are thinking, and our current colonial status doesn’t work!

  • Don’t make that process so difficult

  • Resource innovation and difference, instead of trying to fit us all into the same box

  • It’s not about STEM or STEAM – it’s about children and identity – first

  • Embed critical pedagogy, and understanding White privilege, in teacher education and PLD – heavily resource this, long term – beyond a ‘paper’ or one-off course

  • Resource parent and community learning about critical and social justice engage with community on THEIR terms and develop reciprocal relationships of TRUST – listen!

  • Resource schools to sustain culture, not just “respond” to it ad hoc

  • Stop focusing exclusively on literacy and numeracy and encourage, fund, develop assessments that widen our definitions of success and achievement

  • Share power!

  • Think beyond equity – “the end game is sovereignty” (Dr Papaarangi Reid)

  • Allow for other knowledges, other advanced scholarship, that challenge the monopoly of a Western academic tradition