Judith Collins lashes out against education initiative raising importance of 'recognising white privilege'

Judith Collins is lashing out against a Ministry of Education initiative that speaks of the importance of recognising "white privilege", saying those behind it "should be sacked". 

In June 2018, the ministry began working with a number of Māori leaders on a way to strengthen ākonga Māori achievement and address bias. It developed the kaupapa Te Hurihanganui, which the ministry says "tests community-led approaches to addressing racism in the education system and improve outcomes for Māori learners and their whānau".

"It is community driven, and developed with early learning services, schools, hapū and iwi, students and parents in each community," Rose Jamieson, Tumu Te Papa Aronui, deputy secretary, Parent Information and Community Intelligence, told Newshub. 

"Communities, including their teachers, will understand how systemic racism plays out in policies and practices, and how inequities might be addressed. Exactly how communities do this will be up to them to determine."

It consists of six key principles - such as Tino Rangatiratanga and Te Hāngaitanga - to be applied across different "education system levers", like within communities and the curriculum. 

Budget 2019 included $42 million over three years for Te Hurihanganui and is now being implemented in four communities, most recently in Nelson. 

One part of the initiative's "blueprint" mentions the need to build critical consciousness, which it says means "recognising white privilege". 

"Building critical consciousness means reflecting critically on the imbalance of power and resources in society, and taking anti-oppressive action to do something about it for the better," it says.

"It means recognising white privilege, understanding racism, inequity faced by Māori and disrupting that status quo to strengthen equity."

Collins, the National Party leader, isn't happy with that.

"These people should be sacked. They are disgraceful," she told Magic Talk on Monday. "They are teaching children – little kids – that they should feel either angry at the kids sitting next door to them, because apparently that kid’s got white privilege, or else the child itself – the white child or Pakeha child – should be feeling guilty because of this white privilege."

Collins believes privilege tends to come from one's socio-economic standing. 

"That is actually what makes a difference and that’s how we can actually bring people out. We can’t change people’s race, we can’t change their ethnicity. What we can do is change and get a quality education and not the sort of nonsense that we’re hearing.

"I mean, it's worst than nonsense, it’s actually quite evil what they’re doing to kids."

The Ministry of Education didn't comment on Collins' remarks or why recognising white privilege was important. 

However, last week, Associate Education Minister Kelvin Davis said the kaupapa was important to driving change.

"The education system hasn't worked for everyone in New Zealand and one of the biggest reasons for this inequity is systemic racism. Te Hurihanganui is how we’re learning what works in communities to fix that," he said.

"Communities are the heart of Te Hurihanganui - iwi, whānau, ākonga, schools and early learning services.  When educators and policymakers work in partnership with communities, we can make change happen on the ground as well as across the education system."

Asked if she ever spoke to her husband, who is Chinese-Samoan, about white privilege, Collins said he "took matters into his own hands".

"He got an education, joined the police force, went to university and started a business. So he didn’t sit around sitting there saying 'poor me, poor me'.

"He had a mother who was absolutely focused on helping the kids get ahead and what I look at is this pathetic dumbing down of people and saying, because you’re a certain colour then you can’t do something.

"That is the sort of paternalistic, racist nonsense that I cannot abide. I live my values against racism and I will continue to stand up against the pathetic behaviour that’s coming out of places like the Ministry of Education."

The ACT Party first came out against the programme over the weekend. 

"The promise of our country is to value each person as we find them and value their human dignity without prejudice," leader David Seymour says. "A policy that asks children to apologise for their colour is the worst form of bigotry. Dressing it up as anti-racism is hypocrisy."

He said while Māori do face worse social and economic outcomes, policies like charter schools, overhauling the delivery of mental health services and requiring rehabilitation in prisons have "the potential to deliver better outcomes for Māori".