CHAPTER SIX TERTIARY ENVIRONMENT
6.4.2 The Power of the Curriculum
Participants considered the lack of curricular attention to Maori issues compromised the university’s academic objectivity, which in turn negatively impacted on the acquisition of knowledge of both Maori and non-Maori students and violated the ascribed function of a university:
i) I’ve actually found in classes if they’re studying…a Maori component…that most of the tutors have had a woeful lack of information regarding Maori issues. (Hine).
ii) Departments should have strong focuses not just on New Zealand but on Maori…psychology is one, [they] don’t have anything, they don’t think that they have to, and yet they’re training psychologists where 51% of Maori are in…negative social indices and they don’t think that they’ve got to train [students to deal with Maori issues], or they can do their one-weekend Treaty of Waitangi Workshop and that’s it, they’ve got the cultural component. …Clinical students [complain] because what happens is when they go out in the real world – bang - it hits them in the face, they know how much they have not learnt. They’ve complained…to me numerous times. (Mary).
iii) I was the only Maori on placement with four other [social work] students…and I was going out to work with a Maori family and another student…said to me “I want to come with you to see how you work” and I said, “Well I don’t want you to come with me, it’s not my job to teach you.” She said, “Well, how else am I going to know how to work with Maori families?” I said, “Well there’s a gap you’ve identified in your learning. (Wai).
iv) [In] first year [law] we have 6 hours of Treaty of Waitangi lectures at 101 level and 6 hours of the Treaty again at 200 level. That’s our whole Maori law content in a law degree…. We don’t learn about Maori land law…[or] anything else related to Maori law. In public law, the content was the same as the content in Laws 101. That lecturer repeated the same information, added a little bit about the 1995 tino rangatiratanga movement, which included the Motoa Gardens case, so we’re talking about something …that happened 8 years ago and it [was] not a
dominant movement. There’s so many other things…[e.g.] seabed foreshore…of interest to Maori law students…. We have historical colonial papers that you can do, the history of New Zealand from a colonial standpoint, we have absolutely nothing Maori-focused. We have an optional Treaty paper…it has been offered this year …the first year that it’s running in a long time. Its being run by somebody who I certainly wouldn’t select…none of our Maori students will…do the course and until we get a better lecturer and there’s no Maori lecturers. We’ve got a guest lecturer coming in for 6 lectures this year for 101 students. (Blossom). v) Maori content is ridiculous over at Law School…some of our Maori students have said, “OK,
I’d better go elsewhere”- so after they’ve done their compulsories - they’re off. (Blossom).
Blossom has subsequently reported progress since the appointment of the Pro-Vice Chancellor Maori in 2005 demonstrating the influence individual staff members exert on curriculum content:
vi) …students within the Law School are much better supported and there is now a part-time Maori lecturer on the staff. There is now more Maori content in the curriculum including Maori Land Law and issues relating to the marine legal environment. The part-time Maori lecturer now teaches the Treaty of Waitangi component of the Laws 101 course.
Once again, Bennett’s (1995:672-676) analysis of the way different types and forms of racism are expressed in tertiary institutions is useful in understanding issues raised by participants (i, ii, iii, iv, v). In contrast to manifestations of institutional racism, which are subtle and often concealed in established policies and practices, cultural racism represents the combination of ethnocentricismtogether with the power to suppress or eliminate expressions of other cultures. This is consistent with the exertion of
hierarchical power by the central majority, which ensures the privileging of certain people and ideas over others at any given time (Tucker, 1990:xx). In Aotearoa/New Zealand asymmetric power relations ensure the supremacy of Western Judean Christian knowledge as “universal truths” and the concomitant denigration of Maori epistemology, as political and cultural elites determine who should have access to what and whose knowledge (Stuart and Thompson, 1995:4). Foucault’s concept of “power-knowledge” explains the paradoxical nature of education which is “both empowering as it generates active subjects who ‘better understand’ the world and themselves, and yet is also controlling because regimes of knowledge limit and prescribe that understanding of it” (Stuart and Thompson, 1995:7).
The importance of curriculum content is not unique to participants in this study. Allen (1997:180-184) found that Black perceptions of tertiary institutions in the United Kingdom were linked to curriculum content (whereas, Whites believed that Black perceptions of tertiary environments related to the number of Black students on campus). The Eurocentric bias of knowledge forced many minority students to question the “academic objectivity” of institutions, as the cultural relevance of the curriculum was central to constructs of personal and group identities and the
legitimacy of institutional knowledge in view of their lived realities. Allen (1997:186- 187) concludes that Black constructs of accessibility to higher education equated with institutional responsiveness to, and the relevance of, Black culture in the curriculum. Parallels can be drawn between Allen’s findings and Blossom’s (v) contention that Maori student dissatisfaction with the curriculum content at the Law School caused some students to transfer to tertiary institutions that embraced bicultural curricula.