Jul 26, 2012

"Fighting for the right not to learn te reo"

“We discovered the children were spoken to in Marry… we’re not of Marry culture” says Hayley Foster. In an interview with Campbell Live Hayley Foster and her husband Phill Foster objected to their daughter learning Maori.

Why? Well, from what the interview revealed the Foster’s opposition to te reo wasn’t practical, it was ideological. Phill Foster likened Maori language learning to “communism”. Yeah, because teaching te reo has so much in common with collective ownership of the means of production (yes, that was sarcasm). Hayley Foster spoke about “choice”. Well, having a choice is fair enough, but common sense, cultural understanding and the interests of the child should inform the Foster’s “choice”.

There is a wealth of evidence to support the proposition that second language learning supports cognitive development. Why, any sensible person should ask, would you oppose teaching methods that aid brain development? When the Fosters restrict their daughter to one language, the opportunity cost is significant. Learning te reo would have helped their daughters development, refusing such an opportunity may put the parents mind at ease, but it restricts their daughters learning prospects.

Hayley also asked “why should it be forced upon them, it’s not fair” as if learning a few Maori words, phrases and songs is some sort of cultural imposition. Hayley appears blind to the fact that the New Zealand education system is modelled on western values, traditions and approaches to learning. The curriculum itself - leaving aside the other aspects of the education system - remains euro-centric in content and outlook. Although students may learn Maori words, phrases and songs, those students will never be taught nor told to learn or think from a Maori perspective.

In my opinion, the Foster's complaints were pathetic. Where is the harm in learning te reo? There is no harm. There is an opportunity cost, there always is, but the cost is minimal when compared against the benefits of learning some te reo. Maori culture is a part of this country. It's not a foreign culture and the Fosters would do well to realise that. Their attitude, which is widely held, is retrograde and if they're so unhappy with Maori culture then there are plenty of flights leaving for Australia.


  1. Disagree with you, Morgan (for once).

    Although i'm sure these people are quite racist the family should have every right to choose what language their child is taught in, just like the families of Maori children (or any other children, for that matter) should be able to choose whether the child is taught in Maori or any of New Zealand's official languages.

    In the same way that effectively requiring schools to teach in English (the noble exception being kura) is genocide against the Maori language, so too would it be wrong to require another language medium.

    The ideal for me is one where choice is paramount - where children and their families can choose to be taught in one of New Zealand's three official languages, and beyond that have the choice over what they might take as a second or third language (be it Maori, English, Chinese, Latin, or anything else).

    1. Anonymous:

      The Foster's child is being taught in English. The Maori "teaching" is merely a smattering of words and phrases.

    2. Shame on TV3 and Campbell Live for showing this interview on the very first day of te wiki o te reo Maori. They could have showed it the previous week or the following week, but no! they decided to show it on the first night - and the theme for this year is 'celebrating te reo'! What poor taste! nice to see John Campbell speaking wonderful reo tho and with such great pronunciation. Well done John.

    3. I understand your point, and maybe I should have made myself more clear. Just as I don't believe Maori children should be required to learn English, I don't believe Pakeha children should be required to learn Maori.

      Ideally, of course, people will choose to, but that is not the point. If Maori is to be regarded as a national language it should be possible to go through life here knowing that and only that language. But the flip-side of that is not forcing children to learn any language.

    4. I'd hate to think what other languages the Foster's don't want their kids to be "taught". Mute the TV when Dora the Explorer is on, stay away from all those foreign film festivals, close your ears when public speakers greet the audience in any language other than English.

    5. Guys come on.. By doing English in every school we are forcing everyone to speak English foreigners have to come here and learn English otherwise people get upset at them. But this isn't even the land of Britain, this land is the Māori's they were forced to learn English fluently, and out of respect we should be MADE to learn a few words in Māori. I agree with choice but then I disagree because everybody's choice affects someone else and takes away their ability to choose. i didn't like the interview but get frustrated when people force their ideas onto others and then oppose anyone who try's to suggest an alternative. These people believe it is Maori trying to force ideas by furthering their daughters education, but really it is them who have the ethnocentric views. I think it is their view of Maori hindering the learning of the language they would probably have accepted French or Japanese.
      And if we believe everyone should have a right to choose how come school is compulsory how come science math and English are, there are good arguments out their saying that teaching life skills is far more beneficial than academic subjects. we gave up the right to choose when we put our children into school we expect the system to make the best choice for them and now a days with the research it is seen that teaching Maori at a young age will help learning development and the survival of the new Zealand culture.

  2. nicely said morgan...

  3. There is something misleading about this idea of 'choice' in respect of the language in which we choose to learn in. When a country has 3 official languages, you'd expect that all those 3 languages are taught in school. How amazing would it have been if we all learnt sign langugae growing up? Deaf people would be able to communicate with all of us and not just the few who can sign or understand sign, and we could communicate with the deaf in a language that has meaning to them. Similarly, why would we not compel learning Te Reo? To treat it as simply one of 3 options, is to treat it as somehow being a lesser language(not that I think this is consciously done when people talk about choosing). How? well, its taken as a given that we learn English, but as a choice to learn either Te Reo or Sign. When one official language is dominant over another, well, there is simply a heirarchy that shouldnt exist. If we were all fluent in English, Te Reo and Sign, well, it'd be simply beautiful.

  4. As a young pakeha woman, I was grateful to find out as I was enrolling my child in to kindy today that they use just as many Maori words and phrases with the kids as well as English - its one of our national languages and my kids should know it! Many many countries with multiple national languages expect you to speak them all fluently - its part (or should be) of our culture and as a librarian, something that I want to learn myself to better serve the community I support.

    I spent a year on an exchange when I was a teen and I was dumbfounded to note that my host family spoke 2 different languages fluently by the time they started school, and were expected to keep those 2 up as well as add to them another 2-3 (my host sister spoke 7 languages fluently at 16, this was not extraordinary there). As well as the fact they had a deeper understanding of their mixed culture and heritage, I swear it made them better learners.

    Kids are like sponges, we would be silly to limit them in their language development in my opinion.

    The teacher at kindy today also noticed I had written down that my kids know a teeny bit of sign language, and she said they would foster that. How cool is that??

  5. I note from the interview – and other articles – that the Fosters' daughter is named Latika which they have explained is an Indian name...I don't want to judge a book by its cover, but the Fosters don't appear to be of Indian descent.

  6. The "Stuff" article on this also includes the Fosters saying words to the effect that they are not racist because theybhave Marry (Maori) friends. This issue deserves further consideration in a blog devoted to it rather than as an aside to this learning/teaching Te Reo blog. What is racism? I think the term is used poorly and inaccurately. If someone was to say that Treaty breaches should not be compensated, is that inherently racist? I don't think so. It would be racist if the reasoning was based on a dislike or prejudice against Maori. If it wasn't, then maybe it wouldn't be racist. If my best friend was Pakeha could he/she claim not to be racist by virtue of that friendship. I think not. He/she may have a preconceived view that all Maori who go to tangi, and work on their marae and speak Maori and espouse unpalatable views such as tinorangatiratanga etc are "bad" Maori. I may be perceived as a "good" Maori because I do not do or say anything that that threatens his/her nice little cocoon of post colonial/neo colonial comfort. Pakeha still use this "good Maori-bad Maori" descriptor to distinguish Maori that they like (ie those who they think are like them) from those who they don't like, not on a personal level but from an ethnicity point of view. We will all know plenty of this type. We shouldn't fall into the trap though of branding as racist all those who disagree with us. More discussion on this perhaps E hoa.

  7. Personally I think all three official languages should be taught routinely at school.
    I regret that I have never learned Maori.
    Learning other cultures and language broadens children's horizons, cognitive ability and understanding.

    However the propensity of some to shout "racist" simply because someone disagrees is also regrettable.

    For example. I may object to treaty settlements that use our taxes simply to enrich a Maori moneyocracy, which has learn't all too well, from rich and acquisitive Pakeha.

    Note I cannot be racist. I have Maori, Tau-iwi and Pakeha friends also.

  8. "Well, having a choice is fair enough, but common sense, cultural understanding and the interests of the child should inform the Foster’s “choice”."

    The assumption her seems to be that the only informed choice is a choice that abides with the choice you would personally make.

    Giving people a choice is only substantive if you actually expect their choices to vary.

    There's an argument in favour of making Maori compulsory, but you've chosen instead to accept the principle of choice in your argument. But you don't really seem to genuinely believe in it.

    (Also, if you want Pakeha to learn Maori, I think making fun of their mispronunciation of Maori words is counterproductive)

  9. "Why should it be forced upon them, its not fair" Thats how our ancestors felt to when they were forced to conform to a pakeha way of living such as going to school and learning pakeha which was known as the process of assimilation. If they did not comply with those rules they were physically beaten and sometimes made to eat soap. Now thats not fair. People need to seriously think about the New Zealand's history before they make uninformed statements like this. Te wiki o te reo is by no means assimilation. It consists of a few common Maori phrases here and there but thats the extent of it all. If we consider why Te wiki o te reo and or these other revitalisation schemes for the Maori language was created it goes back to when the government decided to make it legislation that Maori were to be taught in Pakeha at schools which subsequently resulted in the demise of the Maori language. As regards to Te wiki o te reo being a means of force and obligation for people to speak Maori, thats not the idea of the week. The idea is to celebrate the Maori language by exposing it more in New Zealand society for one week in the year. Thats absolutely fair! If you look on the bright side of things, if you have two languages under your belt you are a more diverse person and you can relate to people if you know their language and culture.

  10. I am grateful my children are learning te reo but i have recently had concerns about things being taught like there is a god or spirit of the river,sky sun god not some believe but it is sometimes being taught like there is has anyone else had anything like this????

    1. well im maori and im so glad to hear your kids are learning maori aswel... but learning maori language inevitably introduces you to Maori mythology. the good thing about our culture is that it is not a dogmatic one were not the type of people to say this is truth and nothing but tthe truth.. these stories a created so we can all come to our own conclusions nothing more or nothing less :D



1. Anonymous comments will be rejected. Please use your real name or a pseudonym/moniker/etc...
2. No personal abuse. Defamatory comments will be rejected.
3. I'll reject any comment that isn't in good taste.