Deciding between Cultural Identity or 'Success' in Physical Education: De-Scribing Attidudes and Values

By Salter, George | Journal of Physical Education New Zealand, December 2000 | Go to article overview

Deciding between Cultural Identity or 'Success' in Physical Education: De-Scribing Attidudes and Values


Salter, George, Journal of Physical Education New Zealand


Abstract

'Health and Physical Education in the New Zealand Curriculum' (Ministry of Education, 1999)foregrounds the fostering of 'constructive' attitudes and values, as a fundamental contribution to the individual's well-being, the well-being of others and that of society as a whole. However, what particular `attitudes and values' might be important to various individuals and cultural groups, is a significant question. Our understandings are shaped by the cultural symbols and social structures in which our lived experiences are embedded. For Maori students, cultural scripts available from within a lived Maori world are shaped by a matrix of attitudes, beliefs, needs, values, customs and other concepts that are the essence of Maori culture itself. Understandings from within this world may conflict with those expressed in the official text of the HPE curriculum, which is founded on Western conceptions of knowledge, teaching and learning. They may also conflict with understandings of teachers and other students, whose beliefs and practices are predicated on the dominant discourses of the majority culture. In this paper I discuss the foregrounding of particular `attitudes and values' in the document, and explore issues surrounding their relevance in Maori cultural contexts.

Introduction

Learning involves the active engagement of individuals with their environment (Rovegno and Kirk, 1995), so that rather than merely receiving and internalising information they actively appropriate it (Kirshner and Whitson, 1998). In this process they adapt new knowledge to fit what they already know (Prawat, 1999), so that as Resnick and Clopfer (1992; p. 4) suggest, ".... to know something is not just to have received information, but also to have interpreted and related it to other knowledge". Learning is also constructed and constituted by interaction between what Giddens (1984) describes as the structuring properties of the society or community in which the school is located, and the cultural resources that young people bring with them to school (Kirk and MacPhail, 2000). Providing 'authentic' learning experiences that are valued by Maori learners in school physical education might be problematic, since `being Maori' provides particular cultural resources that impact on and shape the sense students make from their lived experiences. The subsequent interpretation and the meanings they make of these in the development of their own self identity and in constructing 'appropriate' attitudes and values, are likely to be informed at least in part by a Maori epistemology and ontology that might well be quite different from those of teachers and students of the dominant culture.

Clearly one of the central thrusts of the new Health and Physical Education in the New Zealand Curriculum is the development of self in society. The opening paragraph of the document's introduction, for example, states:

... students will develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes and motivation to make informed decisions and act in ways that contribute to their personal well-being, the well-being of other people, and that of society as a whole.

Ministry of Education, 1999; p.6.

In this paper, I want to examine issues surrounding the relevance and meanings of the attitudes and values expressed in that document, to Maori. In particular, I want to explore some of the tensions that might exist for Pakeha (non-Maori, of predominantly English/European descent) physical education teachers in mainstream education, were they to uncritically apply their own (dominant cultural) understandings of such constructs to the behaviours and practices of Maori students. Cazden (1988) and Tharp (1989) argue that educational achievement is in part determined by the degree to which classroom discourse is compatible with students' culture of origin. Maori students in New Zealand mainstream education might well experience feelings of alienation and identity compromise through being judged according to commonsense views of supposedly 'normal' development and achievement, so that as Durie (1997) argues:

Compulsory exposure to the cultural and ideological practices of the dominating society expressed through the formal agencies of the state such as schools . …

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