Lewis Andrew

A new website called Unteach Racism has been set up for teachers in New Zealand. Apparently, this is the result of a few years of collaboration between the Teaching Council and the Human Rights Commission. The stated aim of the website is to support teachers to “identify confront and dismantle racism in education.” Who knew racism was such a problem in New Zealand education?

Who knew teachers were deliberately favouring some and targeting others for failure? Being a teacher myself I was shocked! Having always desired the best for all my students and delighted in the achievement of every single one regardless of ethnicity, I was shocked to be informed that racism is a systemic part of New Zealand education. I assumed my colleagues were more or less the same as me. Yet it seems thousands of my colleagues are racist rednecks who have slipped into the education system with the nefarious intention of secretly passing on their intolerant bigotry and deliberately targeting sections of our community for permanent illiteracy, innumeracy, shame and poverty.

Thankfully, despite being educated in such a patently racist system, our glorious Teaching Council has remained untouched by this racism and is committed to rooting out the bigotry of hate and oppression in order to usher in a glorious new dawn of racial harmony and educational equality. The result is an app that is apparently designed to brainwash support teachers to think about what they know about racism so they can teach unteach it in the classroom. Thankfully this will without a doubt immediately shame all these evil racist bigots within the teaching profession and they will repent of their evil ways. No longer will they be able to blame weeknight party throwing, sexually immoral, unemployed, drug-dealing drunkard parents for the failure of their children. The blame will be back squarely where it belongs – with the racism of the system.

In the next few weeks, we will work through the eight modules on the app. Today we will look at Module 1 which is entitled “Unteach Racism”. The stated aims of this module are to introduce the concept of systemic racism and identify its impacts in education and other sectors. We commence with a typically emotive and fluffy speech that one expects from a young girl who has not yet moved into the real adult world. She is a young Maori student who suggests that failing to pronounce a name or place correctly is feeding the ‘taniwha of racism’. So take that all you ignoramuses who pronounce Paris ‘Pa-riss’. You racist bigots.

We are then taken on a tour of examples of ways that racism has shaped our systems, structures and social outcomes. The module consists mainly of statistics of which some are noted below. A few of the statistics are linked back to government reports, but a couple are linked to articles from Stuff – that bastion of neutrality and objectivity.

  • June 2017 unemployment rate for Pakeha was 3.4% while Maori had an unemployment rate of 11.1%
  • In 2017 the mean hourly rate for Pakeha was $30.09, for Pacific Peoples it was $22.96
  • 52.9% of the prison population is Maori, but only 18.7% of our population is Maori
  • Maori home ownership rate is 31%, whereas Non-Maori home ownership is 57.9%
  • Pacific and Maori participation in Early Childhood Education is lower than Pakeha
  • Only 2.7% of students are enrolled in Maori medium education
  • Maori learners are twice as likely to be suspended

Once again, we have a list of disparities cited with no context to ‘prove’ racism. Despite the stated aims of the module being to introduce the concept of systemic racism and identify its impacts in education, it seems that the two ideas are conflated. For the designers of this brainwashing app, systemic racism seems to be defined as the existence of disparities between races. This ‘proves’ systemic racism. Actually, these statistics do no such thing. Even a quick read of some of the linked reports demonstrates there is complexity. For example regarding the unemployment rate, a Statistical Analysis of Ethnic Wage Gaps in New Zealand suggests that “Educational level and occupation are the two factors that have the largest impact on Maori-Pakeha and Pacific-Pakeha wage disparities, amongst all those considered.”

Assuming systemic racism is the cause of these disparities is simple and perhaps, therefore, appealing to the simple-minded, but what if the existence of disparities is not so simple? What if different cultures in their different values tend to choose things in accordance with those differing values? And what if those different choices lead to different outcomes? Even some of the quotes from learners illustrate this. One child in Kura Kaupapa Maori was asked about achievement. The learner said, “Achievement should be more than grades. Be able to support whanau and doing jobs well in life.” That’s not something I (an experienced teacher) have heard regularly (if at all!) from an Asian parent’s lips. Perhaps, just perhaps, the values a family has will make more of a difference to a child’s educational success and achievement than this mythic taniwha named ‘systemic racism’. If the problem is ‘white privilege’, what is it that enables other minorities such as Asians to succeed more than Pakeha New Zealanders?

Since feedback is an essential part of the teaching process, I have assigned a grade to the Teaching Council of New Zealand and given them my teacher’s comment on their work. Let’s hope for better in the future.

Grade: F–

Comment: Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand. Thank you for finally handing in your grouped assignment entitled Unteach Racism. It’s a little overdue. I note you started this in 2018 with the Human Rights Commission. Frankly, I expect more from you given the exorbitant fees you forcibly charge me for the privilege of you hectoring me and badgering me all in the name of improving my teaching. Furthermore, given the extensive time frame you got with those extensions, I was hoping for a top-quality assignment. Unfortunately, I have to grade you an F double minus for biased presentation of statistics with no context, lack of critical thinking, an absence of diversity of thought and alternative viewpoints and a divisive approach to race relations in New Zealand. I also think you have inaccurately titled the assignment. I suggest “Teaching Racism” would be a more suitable title. Please do better next time. With a little more research and a more balanced approach, I hope, though sincerely doubt you are capable of more.

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Unteach Racism? Module 1
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