Thursday, August 17, 2006

Their problem is that they're not white enough

The Dominion post has declared it annoying reporting on academic studies week:

Maori and Pacific Island children need to be taught to ask questions to improve their skills in maths, says Massey University lecturer and researcher Bobbie Hunter.

She said there was widespread concern about the lower level of numeracy in Maori and Pacific Island children compared to their Asian and European peers.

"It is recognised among teachers that this group of children does not ask questions or argue a point.

"We need to teach them to do what European children do automatically."
It's not that the teachers are doing anything wrong in schools. The reason Maori and Pacific Island kids aren't doing so well is their own faul - they're not enough like Pakeha kids.

I think there is an important point buried in there - all students should be taught to question and argue in primary school and secondary school. It's ridiculous to say questioning comes naturally to any ethnicity (particularly as she's a secondary school teacher - there's a lot of shaping of what kids do naturally by the time they get to high-school) and I think she ignores the role racism from teachers plays in shaping students behaviour. I went to an multi-cultural, reasonably low-income high school and I was the middle class white girl who asked a lot of questions (one of my maths teachers actually told me I took up too much of his time - but he was an asshole - and wasn't interested in developing anyone else questioning him in my place - just wanted us all to shut the hell up). I know I wasn't 'naturally' any more questioning or curious than the other girls in my class - it's just that I was more comfortable in an the class-room setting, and knew how to ask my questions in a way that would get rewarded by my teachers.


  1. "one of my maths teachers actually told me I took up too much of his time - but he was an asshole - and wasn't interested in developing anyone else questioning him in my place - just wanted us all to shut the hell up"

    I know exactly who you're talking about!! I had that teacher too, and he made a similar comment to me. My mother phoned him and ripped him a new one (before reporting him to Miss Campbell, heh), so I don't think he'll be arsing around like that any more.

    This was a terrific post, Maia, and I think you're absolutely right. There's nothing "automatic" about the way European children behave -- they observe from the society they live in that Europeans have a sense of entitlement to be more assertive. It's acquired, not innate, behaviour, and to suggest that a questioning temperament is a European birthright is racism, pure and simple.

    What I'd like to see is for educators to provide assertiveness training for every child, and stop making racist assumptions. To some extent, this is what I do when I'm teaching university students, but by then it's too late to catch the kids who fell through the gaps and will never have the privilege of higher education. It's very sad.

  2. Anonymous11:40 am

    When I went through teachers' college and university education studies there were so many academics (if that's what they were) in education who looked to simple biologically determined, essentialist or inate answers to why certain things took place and why children, even relative to ethnicity, acted in certain ways.

    I too read that story in the Scum Post and through christ, what next? I haven't read the research paper yet, so wouldn't want to say too much, but on the face of it it sounds bunkim.

    The best academics at Massey University are the education sociologists and philosophers who look at how neo liberalism and the capitalist economic system have negatively influenced our schooling system and broader society.

    My experience is that so many teachers feel "success" when the students are quiet and mouths closed. Many maths lessons bore students to tears and are not meaningful to their lives.

    There is actually a lot of research that suggests that too many teachers talk far too much rather than actually letting students actually do things and explore for themselves. There's actually very little time for students to question in primary classes.

    Asking questions in front of others (class or group) isn't easy in many situations. I'd suggest that this has a lot to do with the actual learning environment and far more than just making ridiculous generalisations based on ethnicity.

  3. Having read the same article (this is an assumption on my part) I’m surprised at how Maia & Sofiya can come to the conclusions that they have.

    Sofiya - as a University academic who teaches impressionable young minds Imp surprised at your immature rant. A little bit of academic thinking would not have gone amiss.

    I note that the researcher is a Cook Island Maori, Is this objection? I have noticed a number of "middle class liberals" get uncomfortable with educated Polynesians expressing independent views.

  4. Here's the spanner in the works of the thesis of both your and the researcher's arguement. North Asians as a group perform far better on standardized tests of Maths and Science both as migrants in New Zealand and also in their home countries. Yet their entire education system is still largely based on 'teacher knows best, don't question me or I'll beat you.'

    However what is different is how seriously education is taken by society. Korea shuts down the day that the entrance to university test is taken. Roads are closed, flights are diverted, and vigils outside the school are performed in support of test takers. Makes you wonder what our kids could do if even 10% of the time and energy devoted to rugby was diverted to educating to them on stuff outisde of the sports pitch.

  5. I don't think anyone has suggested that what "...European children do automatically..." is a "natural" or "biological" trait. The obvious conclusion is that it's a cultural one, and it's not even slightly racist to suggest that there are cultural differences between ethnic groups.

    Stef's experience suggests it's the attitude of the parent culture towards education that counts the most, and I wouldn't disagree with that.

  6. Genetics do make a bit of difference you'd have to be being willfully blind not to realise that. To take an obvious example - a race of tall people may indeed be more confident at basketball.

    Also genetic dynamics such as that described by Gwain here
    also effect interesting things like game strategies and artistic preferences and apparently - from my experience - quirks like hating to kill insects.

    Racism and upbringing also effect things too of course, and I'd be pretty dubious about have race based education policy, it would probably hurt more than it would help.

  7. Well, I'm from a race of tall people, and I'm tall and my entire family is tall, and we are all woefully abysmal at basketball. The speed and coordination required in sports are rarely by-products of physiognomy; they're learned skills.

  8. Maia, has the article been edited since you posted?

    I quote:

    "She said in her experience teaching years 8-11, once the students were taught how to ask questions, their skills significantly improved.

    To achieve this, some teachers would need to change their views about their role in the classroom, she said. " (my bold)

    This seems squarely at odds with your reading (and sofiya's).

  9. Questioning in class is generally discouraged for all sutdents in my experience, certainly as a white male questioning was a big deal. Rote learning as in the case of many asian nations is not something i would ever want any young person to aspire too. Questioning open minds are to valuable for the education system.

  10. haha sofiya, ok, maybe not basketball - how about "placing things on high shelves competitions"?

    Anyway - nothing is a byproduct of physiognomy, physiognomy is a by product of other things.

    And things being "learned skills" doesn't say much about them not being genetic because your genes guide how you learn. Most things are 100% learned in that if you lacked key influences wouldnt do them, and 100% genetic - in that it you lacked certain key genes you wouldn't do them.

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. Um, I'd like to point out that the person who made a comment under my name at 4.45pm was not, in fact, me. I always sign into Blogger before commenting on this site.

  13. Anonymous4:39 pm

    It is kind of interesting how different cultures treat education. Last year I was in a 7th form art history class mainly made up of asian girls. At the start of the year the teacher used to have heaps of class discussions which I and the other NZ born people plus a Fijian Indian guy (who'd lived in NZ for ages) used to find really useful for our learning. They made learning fun.

    Then the teacher did a class survey of what all the students thought of her lessons. The silent majority (ie the Asian girls mostly 1st generation immigrants from China, Korea and Taiwan) all wrote that they wanted to her to write up notes on the board for us to copy exactly word for word instead of lively discussions.

    Genetically us humans are all quite similar from what I understand but we've all ended up different parts of the World where we've grown to treat things differently.

  14. Stephen - sorry I thought I'd made clear in the post that I wasn't necessarily blaming the researcher, more the reporting. As I said I agreed with the point that kids need to be taught to question. But my experience is that the reason Maori and Pacific Island kids are less likely to question in school is about racism in the class-room at least as much as it is about any cultural differences in the home (and the idea that it may be genetic is laughable).

    Insolent Prick - I banned you from commenting on my blog some time ago

  15. Of course you did, Maia. The mere thought that somebody with a much more lucid and coherent, albeit opposing view of the world as your own, is just too much for you to cope with.