Place-based education and Māori history

Professor Wally Penetito, Professor of Māori Education at Victoria University, begins by describing growing up without having the rich, local historical stories and artifacts included in the local school curriculum. Wally talks about place-based education as a “basic principle of education – begin with stuff you know, and then move into the unknown.”  He talks about the three strands –placed-based curriculum, pedagogy, and the idea of challenging your “taken-for-granted” world.

Key ideas

Professional learning conversations

  1. In designing a Māori history programme, what part do the personal stories of all the people involved  – the people telling the story, the people they are talking about, the students, the teachers – play in the overall programme?

  2. How will Māori be included in this programme? In what ways does this project impact on Māori? Is this appropriate and respectful?  Do I need to consult with Māori for this project? If so, how do I do that?

  3. How can we best connect with the past, acknowledging the different perspectives and points of view about historical movements and events?  

  4. Place-based education is discussed here – Beginning where your feet are,” “Getting to know where we are first, then spreading out into the world. What systems and protocols could we put in place to ensure that this happens, incorporating the important aspects of a place-based programme into our curriculum?

  5. Can we challenge taken-for-granted versions of events in our teaching? How do we teach history that challenges the accepted versions of events?

  6. When considering Māori history and local people telling local stories we may find we want to be able to share these stories. How can we develop systems, networks, and connections that help us develop a national dialogue and a discourse that we can all access for the teaching of Māori history? What are some of the considerations in doing this?

  7. How do we teach the Treaty as part of our Māori history programme?

I am from Tainui. My family is still there. As part of the confederation, I’m a member of Ngāti Hauā, which is central Tainui, including Matamata, Morrinsville, Cambridge that area. That's where I was born and brought up. I went to school there and lived my first years of my life in that area. That's still a very important part to me as far as I'm concerned. My early years I've spent in the Waikato. The local marae that I belonged to is called Raungaiti , which is just down the road from where I lived. We're still, that is our marae today, but like a lot of people in teaching, I've been all over the place. I've taught in other parts of New Zealand, including Auckland and Wellington and Bay of Plenty, South Waikato, but I've also had a stint overseas in Britain, teaching on exchange there.

My profession has been in teaching and in latter years I've also ended up in the university, mainly still as a teacher. So that's kind of in a nutshell, anyway, where my background is. My family is mainly centred in the Waikato. I think from the time I can remember as a young person, Ngāti Hauā has been, for want of a better word, impoverished I guess, in terms of their ability to look outward to the world, to be positive about things and I'm sure that it's got a lot to do with the way in which land from that early period in the land wars, was taken.

So we didn't really learn about that. It wasn't something that happened in our education system, either the idea of raupatu confiscations, or about the wars, or about those people who were involved that came from where I come from. The leaders of the day, that was invisible really. I think that's one of the motivating factors for me to say this is not right. Something needs to happen about this, because I know this is not the only place where that is the case, unfortunately.

And in some ways that's one of the legacies of colonialism everywhere in the world. Wherever colonialism occurs there is a sort of shutting down of people's history, the people that were originally there. So it's not surprising in that sense. But move on a couple of hundred years. If we're still harboring resentments around those sorts of things, then it's time to change, time to do something about it, and history has a really important role to play in doing just that.

Waharoa was actually the name of the village that I lived in for sometime. It's still there, Waharoa. There’s a large dairy factory there. It was a centre for early settlers, and they, who came in here and took over the land, and bought farms. There were people who were there who, even the name Waharoa itself was named after an ancestor whose name was Te Waharoa Tarapipipi, who was one of the outstanding leaders of his day as a warrior chief. We didn't learn about him at school; we didn't learn about his son either, which just may be a little more peculiar. His son was known as Wiremu Tamihana. Nowadays he’s referred to as the kingmaker. He was a really important politician of his day – started a school, opened a church in the district. Books are written about him today, but we didn't really learn about either of those two gentlemen at school and everybody who followed really from them in terms of leadership, Tipu Tai Nakawa, about the king movement, about the Māori parliament, which is established there in Morrinsville in the day. Those are all important historical artifacts of the time but really didn’t figure in our education.

Other things did, strangely enough. But most of these things that figured were happening, or had happened, 12,000 miles away. Unfortunately we grew up knowing a lot more about British history in some ways than I did about New Zealand history, and that's inexcusable I just really think. Certainly, in today's world, that's totally inexcusable. We need to do something urgently about that.

In many ways history was dead to me, and that was probably to start with, that was very unfortunate. But secondly, I think probably understandable, given we didn't really get connected with the history as something which was that you owned personally. It was something which happened somewhere else a long time ago, and that was what history was. I think that's really wrong. That's a wrong idea about what history is. It is about what we remember. I suppose as an inadequate definition of history, but I think it is what we remember. And we remember what it is we're told, what it is we learned, what we come to know about the world that we live in.

That will do for me anyway as a definition of history, but I didn't really learn about those things in my youth. I did learn about them much later in life. I continue to learn about them.

Place-based education is really an excuse to begin where my feet are, if you like. That's part of the cliché of place-based education – begin where your feet are – where you're standing. Get to know this place first, and then spread out into the world. That's kind of really been my main motivation and inspiration for place-based education.

This is my message to teachers and educators everywhere. We need to start where our feet are, but never let it stay there. That's the beginning point only. Everything else moves out from that. It's kind of like, sort of, a basic principle of education – about begin with stuff you know, and then move into the unknown. It's kind of like good sense. That's how I see it.

Place-based education is really, there's no limits to it. I don't know what might count as a limit to it, to what might be a curriculum for it, if you like. It comes down to what does place-based education mean? It is about that knowing where your feet are, but it's also how you get to know. That's a really important part of the agenda as well for place-based education. It's how you get to know, and that's about pedagogy and that's about knowing what it is that our ancestors, what our, the people that we belong to, how they tell their stories, the way in which they impart that history. It isn't about, just about books. In fact the books are very much later on. That's very much what you move to later on, when you get some earlier understandings that come from relationships with people.

And a big part of that, in the Māori world anyway, is through story telling, through pepeha, through kōrero, through being on a marae and exchanging views about what’s going on here, and the histories that belong to that place.

Māori history is what the history that’s told to us by the people that belong to that place, and there's no place that I know of in New Zealand where there hasn't been a Māori occupation, where Māori haven't been, where Māori still are. In some cases a lot of places have been emptied out of Māori, but what remains there are the names of the rivers that are there, the names of the streams, the names of the hills and mountains, the names of the whenua, and also things like proverbs and pepeha are still there.

They may need people who know them to bring them to life again, but that's the history. You need to know those things. It's very personal, I think. It isn't about studying under the microscope, so much as being with others who know it and can tell it to you. What you do with it after that is up to you. How you might extend that learning and, fortunately, in today's world there are lots of ways of extending it. For example, the Waitangi tribunal reports. I mean there’s a massive dossier of information that's peculiar, particular, to absolute identifiable places. The words that have been written on the Waitangi tribunal claims, the reports are just massive. I used to buy them at one stage but they outstrip me because they produced, they’re so big, they’re so costly, but they're there, that's the important thing. They are a documentation of a local people's interpretation of what their place is about and how they connect to it. But I think people would need to gather up what they can find in the literature. I think as a teacher this is what you might want to do if you shifted to a place and you wanted to know a bit more about it. Then you go to the libraries and you look up things and there’s so much archival material available today that you could find out a lot. But you need to move beyond that to connecting with the people who belong there.

The local hau kainga, the tangata whenua, the local marae people, they need to become associated with those. If the learning of the history comes from that slow, lengthy association, and I think both of those things, the idea of it being slow, and lengthy, stretched out over time, they are really important things to do. You ain't going to learn about the local Māori community by making a visit to the local marae this weekend. That might just whet your appetite for further pursuits. But I think that's the key in many ways and actually is pushing on with that idea that you want to know this, and the local people get to know pretty quickly whether you really are serious about wanting to know. And it's got a lot to do with how often you keep turning up, how often you keep asking the questions, how long you persist in doing this. That's the message about whether you really want to know or not.

I've got another strand to place-based education that I use every time. One of them first of all is about the curriculum, about the idea being placed-based curriculum. The second one was really about a pedagogy, which comes from out of that place as well, that takes into account how you teach something. The third thing is, and probably the most difficult for most people, is the idea of challenging your own taken-for-granted world.

Now that to me is the critical factor. Everybody has got a taken-for-granted world. That's the stuff you were brought up, that you believe in. They are the things that you socialise in, your values, norms, and all those kinds of ideas. And being able to challenge them is difficult because you own them and I think that becomes even more important in an educative world. You have to be able to do that. You have to be able to set aside your own views about things to explore how others feel about things, and that's what I mean by the challenging the taken-for-granted world. And they are my three strands whenever I talk about place-based education – the curriculum, the pedagogy, and the challenging the taken-for-granted world.

And that's pretty tough, and again some people don't want to deal with New Zealand's history because it makes people angry. Well, I mean only if you've got something to get angry about. And the thing about that is again it comes down to how do you do it then? If it's worth knowing, if it's worth, if it's important then we need to persist and find ways to bring it into the open, allow people to say things without feeling threatened, to be bold.

I think back to my old school days. I didn't get taught these things about Wiremu Tamihana and Te Waharoa and I think, why? We were right there and the teachers liked talking to us about other parts of the world, so what is it? And I can only think that they must have thought either it was bad, or that all the Māoris would be up in arms about things, or that something damaging was going to happen. I don't know. But neither do they, because it never was on the agenda to start with. I think the idea about your being courageous and being brave about these things is to me, absolute. You've got to be able to do these things because they're right, not because it's a good thing to do. It's because it's the right thing to do. If you don't know your history, I think you're lesser. All of us are lesser as a result, lesser people as a result of our education as if we don't really know that part about why we're here or how we should relate to this place where we are. How we should connect to the people who are here? All those kinds of things, that to me is really the essence of it all.

I think the treaty, again it's just one of those periods in our history, which has a beginning and not an end, as yet, that actually plays a really prominent role in defining really, who we are. This is kind of like for Pākehā New Zealand, Māori New Zealand, it defines the sort of starting point of our relationship. It isn't something which we can just say, it depends on whether I like it or not. It has, it's grounded in a period of development of our society, of our country and it's been there all the time, even though again, if I go back to my schooling days, the Treaty of Waitangi wasn't really something we learned about. It was a facsimile that was on the wall, and I think every school got one and nothing happened to it. We never read it. I don't ever remember referring to it. All I know is it was there.

You know, well, that's a humbug, in anybody's language, that's a humbug. And I think, if anything nowadays, the debates around the treaty and the mass of literature on the treaty, has made it possible for us all to have something to say about it, something to think about, something to talk about, something to refer to. It's got all of those ingredients there and still nobody telling you what the right answer is. It's something you’ve got to make your own mind up about, so that sounds to me again, like a pretty good ingredient for an educational process.

This is kind of why I feel education plays such an important role in our development as a society as well. Being in education ought to be opening up people's minds. It ought to be helping us to engage in what actually happens when, helping us make our own minds up about what we think about all of that. It isn't like somebody says, here’s the answer to those questions. And when it does that, we are no longer involved in education. I think we are involved in something else and it's not about schools. It is part of life still, but it's not education.

So I think the important thing about it is that we do learn to ask question about it, we do learn to address them, we do learn to find the best answers we can find for them. I think that’s the service we do really. We're not saints and we're not doing anything more than providing stepping stones for young people to help make their own minds up about these things which occurred in our past.

The fact that they belong to us is why we need to learn to own them. Colonialism, as you know, that's another delicate subject. Well, it's no more delicate than slavery in the United States of America, about racism in any other part of the world, including in New Zealand. These are the hard subjects to deal with and they will always be, but they don't go away either. We just learn to deal with them as best we can and to be honest about it. I can’t add any more than that, I think. I think our integrity as a nation really is dependent on how we deal with those things.