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I got an email from a secondary-school science teacher in New Zealand, who gave me permission to quote it all (but of course I’m omitting his/her name). It shows the beginning of the incursion of Mātauranga Māori (MM) into secondary-school science classes. The government has decided that MM, which does include some factual knowledge (growing crops, catching eels, etc.), but also includes morality, theology, superstition, and word-of-mouth legends, is to be taught as coequal to modern science in science classes.  The page below, which comes from a school student workbook—an instructional manual with test questions—is one of many that you can see by paging back and forth at the website.  You’ll find that most of the biology is okay, but now and then they slip in some Mātauranga Māori, presenting it as an alternative view of traditional teaching. First, the email (again, reproduced with permission.

Hi Jerry,

I’m a British expat Science/Biology teacher settled and teaching in New Zealand since 2006. I wanted to share with you the latest Scipad student workbook that is widely used in NZ schools. This is the new revised edition for Year 9, the first year in senior school and their first real exposure to science in the classroom. Here’s page 124, it’ll only take you 2 minutes. I despair, creationism (gods) and supernatural forces (mana):

It gets better. To make way for this, they removed the pages on Cells and Microscopy. I’m at a loss to know what to do. Fortunately I am only three years away from retirement and will be able to avoid this nonsense. In the meantime my advice to anyone considering a career teaching science in New Zealand is quite simply don’t do it.

Here’s that page.

Notice the criticism of the “traditional worldview” and the presentation of the obviously superior Māori worldview. (And, of course, the questions, which make the student buy into Māori spirituality.

I can’t help but add here that the idea that the Māori consider themselves part of the environment, stewarding it carefully as opposed to the “destroy it all” Europeans–isn’t correct. What we know is that between the arrival of Polynesians on the island (13th century) and the colonization by Europeans (18th century), the main method of Māori cultivation involved burning off the native forest.  Māori burning was so extensive that it could be detected in Antarctic ice cores, and is estimated to have reduced the forest cover of the island from 80% to 15% (compare left with middle figures below). Europeans of course burned more forest, and that you can see by comparing the middle figure to the right figure.  They don’t like to talk about the Māori burnings in NZ, but researchers agree that a substantial part of the reduction in virgin forest cover was caused by the indigenous people. (They also, of course, drove the moas extinct by killing them for food.)

Here’s the result of forest removal by the and after European colonization (from Weeks et al. 2012)

I added that to put some perspective on the claim that Europeans were the people who really destroyed the forests of NZ while the Māori were taking good care of it. And, of course, NZ now has one of the world’s best conservation efforts—largely a product of Western science.

At any rate, my point in posting the page above is to show that the coequality of Western science and indigenous science, or even the claimed superiority of the latter, gives a false view of the facts—and of science itself.  The page presents Māori sociology in the form of whakapapa, which really means a genealogy of humans (the network of relationships among indigenous people), and not, as the text implies, an (evolutionary) genealogy of all of life.  The page also introduces two teleological terms, “mauri“, or “life essence”   and “mana“, the endemic power of a person, a plant or animal, or even an object. Both “mauri” and “mana” are spiritual or teleological terms, and have no meaning in modern science. Even rocks have mauri!

Saying that damaging the environment reduces its mauri and its mana gives us no improved understanding of the environment, but only serves to validate Māori religion. Thus, introducing these terms in a biology curriculum means introducing indigenous spirituality or religion. And yet the kids are quizzed on them! In such a way does the NZ educational standards serve to confuse people and give credibility to the unevidenced spiritual beliefs of indigenous people. Let science be science! If you want to talk abut mauri and mana, put it in the sociology or anthropology class.

Finally, I paged through through the text and, finding that most of it was okay, asked the teacher why he/she recommended that one not try to make a career teaching science in New Zealand. The response:

The Scipad is generally ok, which is why it was disturbing to see this. There’s some chance it might be ditched in a future edition.

But this is the tip of the iceberg. It’s a trend. Our PD (professional development) over the past few years has been almost exclusively CRaRP – culturally responsive and relational pedagogy. We started last year with three days from visiting speakers on a course about the Tiriti (Maori version of Treaty of Waitangi) which many of us found ill informed, biased and racist. It was an agenda, rather than an exploration of colonisation. This year we were told how we could incorporate Karakia (prayers, but at least they can now be non-religious) at the start of each lesson. We are told forcefully by senior management (non-scientists) that Matauranga Maori is science. The Science teachers in my school don’t raise their heads above the parapet, and try to avoid the whole issue.

I guess that’s the crux: being told that 2+2 is 5, and when you say it’s 4, you face considerable kick back.

I regularly mentor trainee teachers. They are not being trained how to teach, how to write schemes of work, lesson plans etc. They express surprise when I share my texts (from the UK) on classroom control etc. But they are all expected to indulge Matauranga Maori, and are castigated if they challenge this.

It’s also about workload/burnout and $$. . . Forty years ago a NZ teacher earned the same as a backbench member of parliament. Today they earn just over half. There has been a gradual decline in teaching as a career. And it’s a global phenomenon.

As an evidence based free-thinker who leans left, it is odd to find myself wondering if I am racist! I understand the intent, as Maori are disproportionately poor, and are still held back by many with racist attitudes. But I don’t think this pressure to claim indigenous ways as always equal helps address poverty.

Actually, I would advise NZers to go into teaching if: 1.they are in Science/Maths – for the job security; and 2. they intend to go overseas (US/UK curriculum, money, opportunity, feeling valued).

From what I see in NZ, and given that its present Prime Minister is Chris Hipkins, NZ’s former Minister of Education who promoted the infusion of MM into science, I think things will surely get worse. Certainly there are no prominent voices in the country advising the schools and government to stop the madness infecting science education. It is only foreigners like Richard Dawkins and me who can write about this stuff without suffering professional consequences.

We already know that the average scores of New Zealand’s students in science, math, and reading has been on a downhill slide for nearly 20 years, putting the country behind other nations comparable in their “First World” status. (See this post by Martin Hanson for the sad statistics.) The infusion of indigenous culture into the science curriculum will surely not stem this decline.  Knowing that the government plans to keep increasing the amount of indigenous lore into the curriculum, I have to say that if I was a Kiwi and wanted to teach science, I’d probably go to another country.

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