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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 7. Coloring in the Self-Learning Space


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The Self-Learning Lens

Aluli-Meyer (2001) explains that, “Everything I have learned in school, everything I have read in books, every vocabulary test and jumping jack, every seating arrangement and response expectation—absolutely everything—has not been shaped by a Hawaiian mind.” She says realization of this fact came slowly to indigenous Hawaiians, “dulled by the guessing game of another culture, still believing that literacy is the best indicator of intelligence,” and “always at the short end of a smaller and smaller identity stick” (p. 124). This understanding has developed to realizing that Hawaiian education does not need to be seen in relation to Western norms, but must be seen in relation to knowledge that is organically Hawaiian:

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