Monday, July 8, 2013

Maori: Precious Only To The Few

Do we? Really??
Last Saturday's editorial in The Press rode the coat-tails of Maori Language Week… and called for all children to learn the maori language at school!
It mounted the same old soapboxes used for years in this dull debate:
   "Maori has been an official language since 1987, yet we are a long way from embracing it. Some other countries have bilingual road signs; we generally do not. The current debate around whether the North and South Islands should also be called (maori names) is…controversial. Promoting and advancing the cause of te reo maori in this piecemeal way is likely to be slow and...factional." 
The editorial did not tackle WHY there's a general reluctance to wholeheartedly immerse the nation in maoritanga, or why – after $220million is spent annually to prop it up! YES! -  maori language usage is in steady decline.
   "Radio greetings, road signs, changing place names, and even Maori Language Week pronunciation campaigns can be seen as tokenism. None of them, individually, seriously advances the cause of the maori language. All of them together sometimes provoke carping and moaning …"
Like many white NZers, I have no issue with children learning maori history and culture at school…as long as it is evenly balanced with education about myriad other cultures that have shaped the world and impacted on our little corner of it. The maori viewpoint is not the ONLY viewpoint, and maori culture is NOT New Zealand culture – it is PART OF New Zealand culture (a point the PC Brigade dodges).
   "Learning another language means learning about another culture which - like travel - broadens the mind. Teaching primary school children about maori language and culture teaches them more about where they live. A spin-off would be that more maori language in schools would create a more supportive environment for pupils who happen to be maori, thus lessening the alienation some of them feel."
As for creating a "more supportive environment", the entire curriculum cannot be hijacked just to make one minority culture feel supported and nurtured. That is the role of their families (whanau) and tribal groups (iwi). See, I too can use a few maori words! Imagine the furore if a NZ school suddenly imposed, say, Islamic culture and language because a refugee family had enrolled there. For many, this is how an enforced maori prayer in a secular multi-racial school may be regarded…or how the actions of a headmaster wanting to change the 'school bus' sign into maori could be perceived.
   "Imagine a New Zealand where all children leave school able to hold and understand a basic conversation in te reo….our children and grandchildren have to find a common future for all New Zealanders. A near-universal knowledge of maori taught in schools could be one of the things that binds them together."
Again, the editorial writer bypasses that English - our national language - is understood around the world. It's not a struggling-to-survive language in the same general category as latin, koda, arvanitika…or maori.
   "If, as a nation, we value maori language as a taonga, why not get serious about it?"
And that's the crux of the matter. We, as a nation, do NOT feel the maori language is a treasure (taonga). It may be precious to the falling numbers who use it. For those who value it as an integral part of their very existence, it is seen as vital - and there's nothing wrong with that. But surely it is up to those groups to sustain it within themselves. I have heard no coherent argument, to support the claim that making maori compulsory in our schools will enhance and advance our society.
Thankfully, an editorial is only one man's opinion. Just like this blog.

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