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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 6. Coloring in the School-Learning Space


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The School-Learning Lens

This chapter describes the school’s practice through the school-learning lens, the lens through which Kia Aroha College views the mandated national curriculum. The chapter describes the pedagogical practices within the school that intentionally “color in” the school-learning White space and specifically describes a critical pedagogy of whānau in practice. It emphasizes however that practice viewed through the school-learning lens is predicated on the belief that not only do we have to view learning differently, through lenses that include self-learning and global learning, but there is still very much work to be done to review the practice in our education system within this school lens. Within school-learning experiences there must be room for “opposition scholarship” (Calmore, 1992, p.2161), that challenges the narrow focus of Western academic learning and has a legitimate and equal place, not alongside the lens, but centered within it.

Culture at the Center

Over the past two decades, both in New Zealand and internationally, there has been an increasing realization of the central role of students’ cultures ← 95 | 96 → in classroom practice. In New Zealand, the school’s role in connecting school-learning to students’ cultures was highlighted by Bishop and Glynn (1999) who developed the idea that, “culture counts” explaining that classrooms should be “places where learners can bring to who they are to the learning interactions in complete safety, and their knowledges are acceptable and...

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