As previously mentioned, I teach in a bubble. I did an analysis of ethnic makeup in my classroom and discovered what I already knew. Out of the 73 faces I will have in my room today, 67 are identified on the school servers as New Zealand European, 4 as New Zealand European/Maori, 1 as French, 1 as Thai. Did someone say WASP’s?
The young women I teach in my English classes have expressed in speeches and class discussions how they feel intimidated and uncomfortable when they are in their uniform and they see students, especially Maori students, from other schools. They feel prejudged. Now, you have to realise that they say this without the slightest hint of irony. Without the slightest inkling that they are in any way in a position of cultural power. They make comments that Professor Russell Bishop delicately refers to as ‘deficit thinking.’
It’s easy for me to see that it’s vitally important that we acknowledge the Maori students in a way that cares for them, and cares for their performance. But on the other side of that coin I think I’m in a great position to challenge students on the ‘deficit explanations’ they bring to the classroom. I know these attitudes come from parents and peers. Gee, I only have to offer my divergent opinion on the topic of Maori incarceration rates with my in-laws and you can see the blinkers going on, the stereotypes being prepared, and the tub-thumping beginning. I am not naive enough to believe I can change attitudes entrenched over a lifetime. But the classroom – that’s a different thing.
I know what to do in the classroom. I develop relationship-centered learning models, I use a range of strategies that give feedback and feedforward, and I encourage my Maori students to aim high, to be excellent. Honestly, it’s not difficult in my bubble. As teachers, we are supported by a Principal and a Board who want to see our Maori students achieving at the highest level.
What is difficult is changing the mindset of the other students. This is a country that has top level sportspeople as icons and where we hear comments like this from Martin Crowe in 2003: “Maori do not make good cricketers because they struggle to concentrate for a day. Many Maori do not have the temperament or patience to play an entire day of cricket, let alone in a test match, which usually lasts five days.” I have heated ‘deficit thinking’ discussions with otherwise rational rugby friends who believe wholeheartedly that Maori are good for the All Blacks because of the warrior mentality and physicality they bring, but that they don’t make good first fives because of the intelligence required.
I’m telling you now, you can go into any rugby club in the country and there will be a good number of well-respected members who spout that view. And who have their own bubble of bar-leaners who validate them.
So, I know I’ve taken this discussion away from the readings, but it’s only because I feel passionate about this topic.
My job, as a teacher who doesn’t see many (if any) Maori students in my classroom, is to stand up for Maori in absentia. To get students thinking about what they are saying when they comment on ‘feeling intimidated’. To get those students to reflect on their own cultural capital, and the advantages they enjoy, to put themselves in the shoes of a minority group. To ask questions like WHY such a high proportion of Maori are falling through the cracks in our system.
If I can get my students to debate these topics with thoughtfulness, clarity, and well-researched arguments, I just might get brave enough to bring it up with my in-laws again.
Bishop, R., Berryman, M., Cavanagh, T. & Teddy, L. (2009).Te Kotahitanga: Addressing educational disparities facing Māori students in New Zealand. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(5),734–742.
Bucher, R. (2008). Building Cultural Intelligence (CQ): Nine Megaskills. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.