• Don Brash


The proposed History curriculum is so bad that it is hard to know where to start. Indeed, in the limited time I have to write a submission, I will confine myself to a few important observations.

My own credentials to comment on the curriculum relate mainly to having studied History for three years at the University of Canterbury, getting an A grade in each year. I subsequently did a Masters degree and a PhD, but in Economics. I have read widely in New Zealand history.

I make just seven observations:

First, given that in many subjects taught at Primary level there is only very imprecise specification of the content of what is to be taught, it is bizarre that in this subject it is proposed to specify quite precisely what should be taught. It is particularly odd given that, if the focus is to be heavily oriented to the history of Maori in New Zealand, so much of that history must rely on sometimes unreliable oral accounts.

Second, the big three themes of what is to be taught are, at best, an extremely incomplete view of our history. There is no reference to, for example, the significance of gold discoveries, or of the invention of refrigeration, or of New Zealand’s becoming the first country in the world to grant women the vote, or of the appalling way in which early Chinese settlers were treated, or of the early development of an old age pension, etc.

Third, even though many more New Zealanders died in the Musket Wars in the early part of the nineteenth century as Maori fought Maori than in all subsequent wars combined – the so-called Land Wars, the Boer War, the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War and Vietnam – I saw no reference to them. And yet a recognition of that appalling inter-tribal warfare is crucial to understanding why most Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

Fourth, nor did I see any reference to the widespread practice of both slavery and cannibalism prior to 1840, with one of the great benefits of colonization being the virtually immediate cessation of both practices.

Fifth, it is asserted that Maori chiefs did not cede sovereignty in signing the Treaty but rather entered into some kind of “partnership” with the Crown. This latter-day reinterpretation of the Treaty is simply stated as a fact, without any acknowledgement that the assertion is hotly contested, is flatly contradicted by many of the speeches recorded by Colenso in writing at the time (on 5 February 1840), flatly contradicted also by speeches made by numerous chiefs at Kohimarama in 1860, and is regarded as absurd by political leaders as different as David Lange and Winston Peters. This is such a fundamental matter that to simply assert that a partnership was created between the Crown and Maori chiefs totally discredits any claim to objectivity which the proposed curriculum might have had. (A similar observation should be made about the Declaration of Independence of 1835, which was signed – by a tiny number of primarily Ngapuhi chiefs – at the initiative of James Busby. It is portrayed in the proposed curriculum as a major document: in fact it was totally disregarded by almost everybody within weeks of its being signed.)

Sixth, there are a number of assertions made as if they were uncontested and verifiable fact, when at best they are based on supposition and centuries-old oral tradition. For example, it is asserted as fact that “Maori migration to New Zealand was deliberate and skillful”. That may be the case, but in the 21st century we have no way of knowing that and to many observers it seems an implausible proposition.

Finally, the proposed curriculum continues the irritating practice of referring to our country as Aotearoa New Zealand, a name which, while currently fashionable in the public sector, is clearly not the official name of our country and was never used by anybody, Maori or Pakeha, until late in the 19th century. The draft curriculum also continues another practice which has become common in the public sector, namely sprinkling an English-language document with words in te reo which are incomprehensible to the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders. That certainly does nothing for the comprehensibility of the document.

Read the proposed school History curriculum draft here