Teaching local history to students

Josh Lewis, a teacher at Rotorua Boys’ High School, emphasises the importance of young people learning about their own history and considering different perspectives of significant events.


Key idea

Young people should know about their own history and the history of their ancestors.


Professional learning conversations

  1. Discuss with your colleagues what makes an event historically significant. How can we study history from different perspectives? Design a set of criteria for significant historical events.

  2. Who should be involved in the design of our Māori history programmes? How do you go about setting up a model for a Māori history programme in your area?

  3. Making history relevant for young people is often critical to the success of any programme. How can we design programmes that incorporate personal and local history and also link to other important significant events?

For me growing up in Rotorua, it's pretty significant but it's not really something that was taught a lot to me at school. It wasn't until I went to university and started discovering the different perspectives of the Treaty of Waitangi or at least developing a decent enough understanding to hold my own perspective. But I think now that I'm teaching within my old school, it's important for these boys to know and understand what's happened around here, and what's going on – the history of our area.

I've always said to my boys at the beginning of the year to know where we’re going, we've got to know what we've done before. But what my ancestors have done before is different than what the boys that I teach, what their ancestors have been done before. So it's important for me to teach them stuff that is relevant to them rather than so much relevant to me.

I think they need to be given the tools to develop their own perspectives on the treaty. I think that's the biggest flaw in the education system when I went through was I thought I knew about the treaty, but it was a very one-sided view that I knew. And that goes for both sides, I think, of the kids that are coming through the school system. They don't know enough of both perspectives to develop their own opinion, and so it's important for me to teach them both sides of the story. Why did it play out like that? Why was there a treaty? Why did some tribes sign, and why did some not? And what the effect of that was, over time.

I guess that's what I'm here to learn today, what's significant. Like I said earlier, I grew up here and my knowledge of Rotorua history from what I've learnt this morning is basically the Tarawera eruption. That's what I was taught in primary school and aside from that, the history I learnt was New Zealand wars on a national, general, level I guess, and the World War I, World War II, the Nazis – like that's the history that I learned when I was at school. But I learned nothing about Ohinemutu, or Whakarewarewa or the area in which I lived, except that there was an eruption once, and that's really all I knew.