Federation of Social Studies Associations Conference

  • Brian Donnelly
Education Review Office

E nga reo, e nga mana, e nga hau e wha, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.
Ki nga kaiako o o tatou kura, e mihi ana tenei ki a koutou,
Kei te hari koa te ngakau ki te tautoko te kaupapa i tenei ra.
No reira, kia ora tatou katoa.

Thank you for the opportunity to address you.

One of the features of my present position is that most of our speeches are written for us. I can see
the reason for that.

One wrong word and you're on the front page.

But it can be constraining.

So, today's speech is an opportunity for me to reflect my position with regard to Social Studies.

I can still remember, as a young child growing up in a State house in Auckland, a visit by my

We didn't see him very often, as he lived in Wellington, but on this occasion, at a family meal, he
became quite distressed because not one of us five kids had ever heard of Tutankhamun.

Evidently he had learned about Tutankhamun at school and was horrified that the modern
education system no longer taught such important and critical material.

Thus it is with the subject of Social Studies.

What is important to one generation is less so to another.

I'd have to say that my own schooling was pretty devoid of studies in the field, other than the
weekly radio sessions of radio presenters on current events and learning lists of capitals.

Being in an "academic class" at secondary school meant French and Latin, not history and
geography during my secondary schooling.

We learned about the history of Rome, but nothing about the history of our own country.

What we did learn about our history was sanitised and mythologised.

In reading through the position paper prepared for the Ministry, I discovered Tony McNaughton,
who was strongly influential in the Social Studies movement.

Back in the early 1970s, as part of my studies at Auckland University, I did a paper taught by
Tony McNaughton, called "Curriculum Design". The textbook was by Hilda Taha, whose name
also appeared on the position paper.

Indeed, my decision to train as a primary teacher was my response to the social empowerment
thrust of education of the early 1970s.

This was how I was going to change society.

I have never regretted that decision, but the reality soon dawned on me in the same way as I
realised I couldn't stop the Vietnam War by standing on the border between North and South and
shouting out, "Cut it out, you guys."

When I did start teaching in the 1970s, social studies was still trying to define itself.

There was a strong incentive to create a discipline, to define the unique nature of the subject, and
debate became bogged down in aspects of methodology, particularly methodology that could be
described as in the sphere of cognitive development.

What I rarely heard, if ever, was debate over the purpose of social studies as a separate and
defined area of school curriculum.

One phenomenon I have come to realise since those bewildering times is that much of the
disagreement in education is created by differing assumptions that protagonists bring to the debate.

These assumptions may be about the purpose of education - and this certainly underlies much of
the debate on social studies - or the nature of knowledge, from the end of the spectrum of people
like Hurst and Peters, with their belief in unique disciplines, to the other end, held by the
progessivists, of the holistic nature of knowledge.

The result of basing debate on differing assumptions is that people talk past each other and are
unable to communicate with each other.

Issues become bogged down in matters such as whether people of Irish heritage such as myself,
whose ancestors have been here since the 1860s and whose experience firmly roots one in this
land, should call themselves "Pakehas"; or whether the topic of "pet lambs" can be considered an
appropriate vehicle towards the development, in New Entrants, of an intellectual understanding of
the concept of caring.

It is interesting to me that, although the debate about social studies as a subject has gone on
internationally for 100 years or so, a study by Wong in 1991 of the curriculum of 74 countries
showed that the total amount of time given to the social subjects remains fairly constant.

This study showed that this subject has been taught in nearly all countries in the world for about 8%
- 9% of the total time over the past century, and that the emphasis has dramatically shifted from
separate instruction in history and geography towards combined social studies.

The current position held by the Business Roundtable is really reactionary, trying to turn back the
tide of time.

And despite the on-going debate in New Zealand, there is a remarkable consistency about
purposes between the Thomas Report of the 1940s - which asserted the need for students to
learn, through social studies, democratic values, civics, and respect and tolerance for others - the
aims of the 1961 syllabus, and the most recent draft documents.

It is quite clear to me that schools are able to either reinforce or challenge the values and beliefs of

Moreover, I would argue that for a cohesive society it is necessary for our schools to do so.

Respect for the values of others does not mean tolerating the behaviours of others that fall outside
the consensual values of our society at large.

White or brown supremacy are inconsistent with our national values, as is acceptance of cultural
practices such as clitoral circumcision.

The notion that tolerance for others' values logically leads to a cultural relativism of "anything goes"
is nonsense.

The point is that no education can be value-free and educators who posit that put themselves into
an indefensible position.

Therefore, my argument is that social studies has a critically important role in the curriculum of our
nation's schools.

It has a critical role in the knowledge base upon which our next generation is to base its decision

Myths surrounding the Morioris and the Treaty, upon which my grandparents, my parents, and
even my own generation have based beliefs, need to be expunged.

However, what is more important, to ensure that we don't simply create a new set of myths, is the
development of capacity amongst the members of our new generation to critically assess

Therefore, there is a legitimate and valid cognitive base to the social studies curriculum.

Values and attitudes will always be more problematic.

However, rather than skirting around the issues, we need to front up to them.

There are certain values we want to be upheld by our nation's citizens; these are national values
and we should demonstrate our pride in them through the schooling process.

How many would disagree that values such as caring, honesty, industry, tolerance for the
differences of others - with the overriding national beliefs - non-racism, non-genderism are values
that we should hold as a nation?

If this is correct, then we should be unashamedly promoting them through our schooling system.

The interpretation of these values into action should be part of the deliberation process.

In other words, we value honesty, but what does this mean for our everyday lives.

Of the three processes in the draft - inquiry, exploring values and social action - it seems to me that
the first two are simply means to the end.

On the question of values, however, I issue a challenge to all social studies teachers and that is the
challenge of the "hidden curriculum."

If you are truly proponents of your discipline, you must also be the watchdogs over the hidden
curriculum within your institutions.

I'll always remember going to the first 'Meet The Teachers' meeting when my son entered
secondary school.

The best I could describe the process was that it was like a cattle yard.

However, when my wife and I met with his Social Studies teacher we were informed our son was
no good at Social Studies.

When asked for an explanation we were informed that he hadn't done well in his first test.

The teacher had to look up his mark book to find this piece of information.

I would suggest that as long as teachers are going to use pencil and paper test for such judgements
we may as well go back to history and geography and that critics of the new syllabus will have their
greatest allies in the teachers themselves.

Finally, I would like to say that I ran a course in January of 1996 - which seems light years away
now - on Managing the Curriculum.

One of the assignments for the students was to write a school programme based on the draft Social
Studies or Technology documents - that was so they couldn't copy an existing programme.

Every one of my students - all in full time positions as teachers or principals - found the task
manageable and, indeed, I was surprised at how well they did under the circumstances.

The assignment was based on the first draft.

As you well know, the document has been around the traps a couple of times since then.

What I believe is important is that teachers and, in particular teachers of the discipline, have been
listened to and their concerns taken on board.

That may have led to a longer development period, but it is my belief it had led to a far better

I have now been through the three syllabus drafts and, although I know there will be continued
debate, I believe that the final draft will be an extremely valuable document for your area of
curriculum concern.

In reflecting on my own experience for this speech, one aspect that came through for me was the
fragmentation, the inconsistency and the imbalance in social studies teaching in New Zealand.

The new document will provide greater direction and balance whilst retaining the capacity for
teachers and schools to have a degree of control.

I believe it provides the necessary direction in the provision of a national consistency, whilst
allowing for analysis of local needs and emphasis of local priorities within the curriculum.

The challenge to all of us is to make it a living document in terms of the quality of social studies
teaching in the classrooms of our nation.

I am pleased to see that the teacher workload has been taken into account when developing the
final statement.

I am very pleased that teacher associations and Social Studies teacher associations have endorsed
this document.

And I am very pleased that $5 million has been set aside for staff development in 1998 and 1990.

I therefore believe that the Minister will be able to launch the Social Studies Curriculum Statement
next month with a great deal of confidence.

Thank you.