Academic journal article Oceania

Anthropology, 'Native Schooling' and Maori: The Politics of 'Cultural Adaptation' Policies

Academic journal article Oceania

Anthropology, 'Native Schooling' and Maori: The Politics of 'Cultural Adaptation' Policies

Article excerpt

The 1920s and 1930s saw the development and implementation of education policies of 'cultural adaptation' in colonial territories by a number of imperial powers. The British government's endorsement of such a policy was signalled in 1925 with the publication of a White Paper, Education Policy in British Tropical Africa. As explained at the time by Ormsby-Gore (1932:70), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies and chairman of the Advisory Committee which formulated the policy, the document 'epitomises the policy of Great Britain as regards native education, and may be taken as the foundation upon which the education departments in the African dependencies have since been endeavouring to build'.

An adaptationist policy was also officially adopted in the 1930s by the New Zealand Native Schools system charged with providing schooling for Maori in rural areas. Educational historians have pointed to the influence of the British policy on this move, evident in the quoting of sections of the British White Paper in official reports on the Native Schools in the 1930s (Barrington 1976; McKean 1987). However, as we shall see, other important influences were also at play - including those from within the Maori community itself. What is especially significant about the New Zealand situation is that by the time 'cultural adaptation' had been adopted as an official policy in Maori education, the concept had already been embraced by Maori scholars and politicians seeking to improve the position of Maori within a Pakeha-dominated society.

Of particular interest in the development of policies on cultural adaptation is the role played by anthropology. Both the official policies of the British Colonial Office and the New Zealand Department of Education, and the unofficial policy of Maori scholars and politicians owed much to the thinking of anthropologists of that time. However, while all three policies shared this influence and were also inter-related in other ways, it would be a mistake to assume that they were adopted for similar reasons nor, indeed, that their advocates necessarily conceptualized 'adaptation' in the same way. Rather, as we shall see, 'cultural adaptation' was interpreted in different ways and the three policies adopted to fulfil widely differing goals. It is the political implications of the involvement of anthropology in the pursuit and fulfilment of those goals which is of particular concern here.

Any comparison of the British and New Zealand education policies must take cognisance of the differences in the political contexts in which the policies were developed. While the British policy was developed in the context of classical colonialism which involves a geographic separation of 'metropolis' and 'colony', that of New Zealand was developed in the context of 'internal colonialism' where the colonial processes take place within the same nation state and involve an intermingling of the dominant and subordinate populations (Pearson 1990:32-33; Stone 1979:255-259). A second major difference to take into account is that, whereas the British White Paper heralded the formal entry of the state into colonial schooling in Africa, the New Zealand adaptation policy was adopted after the state had already been funding and controlling 'native' schooling for more than sixty years.

'Adaptation' in British colonial education policy

The British education policy of adaptation as spelt out in the 1925 White Paper stated that:

Education should be adapted to the mentality, aptitudes, occupations and traditions of the various peoples, conserving as far as possible all sound and healthy elements in the fabric of their social life; adapting them where necessary to changed social circumstances and progressive ideas, as an agent of natural growth and evolution (Education in British Tropical Africa, 1926:3).

The White Paper was the outcome of several years of negotiations and investigations involving the mission societies and the Colonial Office and encompassing both political and commercial interests. …

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