Lack of NZ history teaching behind 'negative' views on Māori issues - teacher

People with "negative" views on Māori issues like Treaty settlements and Ihumātao are the victims of an education system that fails to teach New Zealand history, it's been claimed.

Graeme Ball, head of social sciences at Northcote College and chair of the NZ History Teachers Association (NZHTA) is at Parliament this week, presenting the case for it to be compulsory. Concern that it isn't is nearly historic itself. 

"In 1938, James Cowan - probably one of New Zealand's preeminent historians - was saying, 'Why are we teaching English history when we should be teaching our own history?'" Mr Ball told The AM Show on Thursday. "This has been around a long time."

The Ministry of Education doesn't know how many students get taught anything about our history. Mr Ball says the NZHTA has done its own surveys and found "some schools are teaching some New Zealand history some of the time". 

"There is one achievement objective in the social studies curriculum which is based on the Treaty, and that's it. But even that, it's up to schools whether they teach it or not."

Those who attend schools where it's on the curriculum are the "lucky" ones, he says.

"People who have particular views on issues around the treaty or Ihumātao - whatever it might be - that are a bit negative, they're perfectly understandable, those views, because they're based on ignorance. It's not their fault."

Education Minister Chris Hipkins told Stuff on Wednesday the Government was "actively looking" at the gap, and said there would be "more to say about" it at a future date. 

"I've not yet heard anyone who goes, 'this is actually fairly normal'," said Mr Ball. "It's abnormal. We seem to be the only country that I'm aware of in the OECD that doesn't teach its own history."

As for what would be in a compulsory New Zealand history course, Mr Ball said aside from a few key events, the contents shouldn't be proscribed.

"We would need to sit down and look at what needs to be covered. Obviously, the Treaty is a pretty important one, and the New Zealand Wars... What we don't want is some sort of nationally mandated story, because that's not how history works."

Without an understanding of what's happened New Zealand's past, he says young Kiwis will struggle to comprehend the conflicts and problems facing the future.

"It's a little difficult for the Prime Minister to talk about our 'nuclear-free moment' with climate change, when who knows how many young people actually know what she's talking about."

In case you're in the dark, Jacinda Ardern's "nuclear-free moment" referred to Prime Minister David Lange's refusal in early 1985 to let a US guided-missile destroyer - the USS Buchanan - into New Zealand, because the US wouldn't confirm or deny whether it was carrying nuclear weapons. 

New Zealand legally went nuclear-free in 1987 with the passing of the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act, which National opposed.