Eight minutes away from Mt. Roskill I sit in the mezzanine of a hall awash with over 50 years of conservative tradition. A ‘multicultural’ community sits before me, something I’m aware of thanks to a year eight social studies class on ‘the melting pot’. For years, this was the peak of my enlightenment to the nature of race relations in New Zealand. Beyond the ‘the melting pot’, my understanding of cultural identities in New Zealand stemmed largely from opportunities to join school ‘cultural groups’. Doing so involved performing once at Polyfest and ensuring you had a co-curricular under the ‘cultural’ section of your school report.
An enlightening history department had begun to make up for years of eurocentric education through the thorough teachings of New Zealand history, unravelling the westernised ideologies so prevalent in the institution they work for.
At the end of Maori language week 2015, a member of the senior management team took it upon herself to learn a line of Maori to recite to the school. Somewhat of a performance, she stumbled her way through the phrase, through unfamiliar sounds, ‘daring’ us to learn a phrase ourselves.
Those of us who had begun to understand the whiteness of the institution that had taught us so much, cringed as we watched from the mezzanine. The event was raised as a point of discussion with our history teacher. This token attempt at promoting Maori culture had only served to highlight it’s painful absence from the school culture.
I realised that from the institution which had taught me so much, I had also learned from what it didn’t teach me. While unfamiliar with the term at the time, I realised I had learned the significant part a school has to play in instilling ideologies and teaching you, what it wants to about the world outside its walls.
Cauchi, Ben. Tiki. 2002. Photograph on gold toned paper 380 x 430 mm. Massey University Art Collection, n.p.