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Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Mandatory Te Reo in Schools

Some years ago now there was a discussion about whether or not Maori (that is, te reo) should be universally offered in schools. Today the Greens, who this article says agreed with the earlier policy suggestion (I think they started it), suggest that Maori become a compulsory subject in schools.

I find it much easier to agree with the earlier proposition but my reasoning is completely awful. You see, I know exactly how it feels to not be able to speak an ancestral language but that language is not te reo (I hardly ever call Maori Maori because of Cook Islands Maori). Thus, it is difficult for me to spin compulsory te reo as anything other than a death knell to the hopes of Dutch being more widely taught in New Zealand (in theory, some schools some where in the country offer it: we saw a resource book for it once in Year Eight). That's a great personal disappointment.

The reasons for teaching te reo are thus:

  • historical redress for policies that led to or actively encouraged language loss (this also applied with 1950s Dutch immigrants to New Zealand; I don't speak Dutch for different reasons)
  • New Zealand is a bilingual country (sorry NZ sign language)
  • bilingualism has noted and long known benefits, and it doesn't really matter what languages are under discussion
Hopefully you can see the problems with teaching te reo from a political viewpoint. To the extent, that bilingualism is part of  the odious Bicultural lie it may be resisted on grounds not that dissimilar to my own (i.e. some might interpret teaching te reo as an assault on, say, Samoan, Indian or Korean ethnic identity). Much more common, of course, is the resistance that relates to the fraught relationship between past New Zealand and present New Zealand. In truth, I am probably a little squeamish in this regard myself. As I wrote a long time ago, however, "it's not right that bigots should decided whether or not a country pursues a particular policy". What this does mean, however, is that there are hurdles when it's quite likely these "bigots" (who are probably mostly "squeamish" too but we must recognise our complaints differ not in kind but in scale, hence the amalgamation) represent a substantial part of the electoral pool. This begs the question: have the Greens jumped the gun and offered an unelectable policy in an election they were poised to do well in? (I'll still vote for them, though. National's crap. Labour's racist* and the other parties are clones of National)

There are two other criticisms that need to be discussed. Firstly, that we should choose a "useful" language. Yeah, sure, we'd probably be better off learning German or Mandarin or Spanish in the sense that these are three major languages in the trade and political world (let's be honest here, France pretends it's more important than it is in Europe: everyone knows Germany wears the pants, and has a bigger economy). However, our primary interest is in the general benefits of bilingualism... not in churning out row upon row of prospective MFaT employees. It is also the case that once you're bilingual, being trilingual gets a bit easier too. In this sense, German! Spanish! Mandarin! or whatever other language is a red herring, especially considering which languages are most useful within New Zealand.

Secondly, there is Hekia Parata's objection: lol, choice. Well, that's exactly why she has to be the worst of the many bad ministers Key lumbered us with. The reason why Europeans are widely hailed for their language abilities is because everyone learns English from a young age. Problematically, Tasman didn't bother trying to develop a South Seas Netherlands so we already speak English and are thus robbed of the great obvious option (no offence to Mandarin speakers, but Mandarin is fairly complex and not as global as English; Spanish is a more global, simpler Mandarin). In other words, the choice we have here is whether or not we want a policy that would actually work. And to that, it has to be compulsory. And that, plus the above paragraph, is all the reason in the world to agree with the Greens.**


New Zealanders! It is time to put aside our personal emotive responses and seize te reo Maori as the opportunity to reap the benefits of being bilingual. Compulsory instruction is the only way to succeed and we have, for too long, suffered under a language-teaching regime that results in few learners. Sure, there will be some issues (such as an absence of teachers) but such practical challenges can be overcome. This will not be at the cost of other subjects, personal freedom (cf. maths, English) and offers us the opportunity to conduct much needed reform in English language instruction. The one caution I have left is thus: it needs to emphasise the language, not the culture. Do it, not for us, but for New Zealand's future. Te Reo Maori: The Investment Worth Making.

*To be fair, the Greens can be too in exactly the same ways but I rationalise that if I want the Real things to be done, it has to be the Greens or Labour and voting for the Greens at least doesn't reward Little's Labour's blatant small-minded xenophobia.

**And, it must be said, emphasising these reasons is a reason to not feel squeamish because the reasoning has nothing to do with colonialism and everything to do with "hey, there's already a language that is relatively widespread in schools". Emphasis of this could also annoy people who want to emphasise the earlier two reasons.

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