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Fretful Sleepers and Other Essays


The Council for Educational Research recently received a grant from the J. R. McKenzie Trust for research in Maori education. In its 85 years experience of Maori schooling the Department of Education has done no research and has conducted its policy by hit-or-miss methods and according to the personal theory of some administrative 'architect'. No one can provide an answer to such questions as would be of practical use to the Department's teachers, such questions as Bruce Biggs asked at Kaitaia: 'If a child is bilingual at school-entry, what will be the actual words he is likely to know in each language? Is his total vocabulary in both languages equal to the total vocabulary of a unilingual child? Does he distinguish conceptually between the two languages? Does he have different emotional attitudes to the two languages? Just what English constructions does he use? What constructions in English are unfamiliar to him? Does it help or confuse him to explain usage of one language by another? On exactly what points is his use of English unacceptable as New Zealand standard English?'15 Suggestions made at a Wellington conference called to discuss how to use the McKenzie Trust grant were that an experiment be done in a Maori-speaking community in using Maori as a teaching medium to Standard II, and teaching English at first as a second language (as is done in Samoa); that there be research into methods of teaching Maori; a study of the factors behind the success of Maori graduates; evaluation of existing institutions like Maori District High Schools and boarding-schools.

There has been unofficially sponsored research into wider questions in the last few years. David Ausubel's chapters on race relations in The Fern and the Tiki are unique as a brief popular survey of mutual attitudes between the two peoples: his Maori Youth, though its testing methodology has been dismissed by a psychologist16 remains a shrewd rough assessment of the Maori situation in 1958. More challenging to accepted ideas are the 'Rakau' studies by the University of Wellington Department of Psychology, studies of children and their parents in a forestry town. The methodology of these studies too has been dismissed by a psychologist.17 I know nothing of the validity of the tests that were used, but the observations on family life contain many insights. Yet the hypotheses the researchers claim to have confirmed are suspect, and some of them I cannot reconcile with my experience of Maoris. Their picture of the 'Rakau' personality is of one page 120 determined by an infancy experience of extreme indulgence followed by a 'rejection' when the next baby comes, an unsatisfied seeking for security in the group of siblings and playmates, and a tenuous rapprochement with parents during adolescence. They delineate the finished 'basic personality' as insecure, anxious, full of unresolved aggression, conformist, afraid of involvement, craving love but unable to give it. I doubt if Freud can be applied to Maoris or that one can limit one's study of Maori children to the household family of Mum, Dad and the kids. I fear that we are being given a new stereotype, and one that has less relation to its model than the usual one of cheerful, happy-go-lucky Hori. The studies are admittedly ethnocentric, but I suspect that they may have the effect of carrying the pakeha sense of cultural superiority to the point of ceasing to envy the Maori his freedom from our obsessions and insecurities, since he is mentally in a worse case than we are. For years our administrators and urgers have been telling the Maori what is good for him: now we are probing into his personality and telling him that is out of order too.

15 Report of the Northland Young Maori Leaders' Conference, Kaitaia, October 1960, p. x.

16 Richard Thompson in N.Z. Monthly Review, September 1961.

17 Dugal Campbell in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, December 1958.