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Coloring in the White Spaces

Reclaiming Cultural Identity in Whitestream Schools


Ann Milne

This book examines the struggle against racial and cultural inequity in educational systems, presenting the case study of a New Zealand school and its community’s determination to resist alienating environments. If we look at an untouched child’s coloring book, for instance, we think of the pages as blank. But they’re not actually blank – each page is uniformly white, with lines established to dictate where color is allowed to go. Children by this are taught about the place of color and the importance of staying within pre-determined boundaries and expectations, reinforcing a system where the white background is considered the norm. To challenge such whitestreaming, this book offers the example of a community that defied and rejected this environment in favor of a culturally-located, bilingual learning model of education based on secure cultural identity, stable positive relationships, and aroha (authentic caring and love). This journey is juxtaposed against pervasive deficit-driven, whitestream explanations of inequity and purported «achievement gaps» of indigenous Māori and Pasifika students. This story chronicles the efforts of the Kia Aroha College community on its quest to step outside education’s «White spaces» to create a new space for learning and to reclaim educational sovereignty – where individuals have the absolute right to «be Māori,» to be who they are, in school.

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Chapter 5. Changing the Lens


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There can be no authentic Māori education without a context in which te ao Māori can find its true expression. There can be no authentic Māori education without its encompassing wairua manifest in te reo Māori. There can be no authentic Māori education that does not set out from the beginning to enhance and strengthen he tuakiri tangata (a Māori identity). (Penetito, 2010)

Penetito explains that “there are many ways to ‘be’ Māori, but one constant is that the collective has priority over the individual” (p. 269). That is the polar opposite of Western perspectives on learning that value and reward individual achievement. Penetito observes that an educational philosophy has to spell out in detail those experiences that count towards what it means to “be” Māori and adds that, “this is the dimension with which mainstream schools and teachers are least successful in dealing with Māori students” (p. 267).

Kia Aroha College’s philosophy is clear. To be Māori in the school means that “as Māori” and “being Māori”—your cultural identity, have to be embedded in every aspect of the school day, no matter what the subject area, no matter what the activity, no matter whose class you are in. It has to be in school policy, in the budget, modelled by those who have leadership roles, intentionally taught in classes and underpinning...

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