Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies

The Management of Ignorance? the 'Future-Focus' and New Zealand Social Science Teaching

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies

The Management of Ignorance? the 'Future-Focus' and New Zealand Social Science Teaching

Article excerpt


'Future-focus' is one of eight principles in the New Zealand Curriculum, and the 'Social Sciences Learning' area is an obvious starting point for curriculum design. However, any discussion of 'futures' raises questions about possible, preferred and alternative futures, and whose vision of 'the future' becomes dominant. This paper argues that the curriculum's future-focus should be understood as emerging from broader debates about New Zealand's future which originated in the 1970s and early 1980s, and that a particular version of New Zealand's future has come to dominate discussions. The paper stresses the need for teachers to critically examine the vision of New Zealand's future that circulates in discussions of education and to draw upon the full potential of the social sciences so as to allow students to explore a wider range of futures.

Keywords: future-focus; curriculum; social sciences; ideology critique.


This paper is concerned with the question of 'futures' in teaching social sciences in New Zealand schools. Arriving in New Zealand from Britain and faced with the immediate prospect of teaching a course on social science education to pre-service primary teachers, I was taken by the line in the New Zealand Curriculum that stressed the principle of 'future-focus' (Ministry of Education [MoE], 2007). I subsequently learned that the 2002 Curriculum Stocktake recommended that the principle of future-focus be added to the New Zealand National Curriculum, with specific reference to the need for students to reflect upon 'issues of citizenship, sustainability, enterprise and globalization' (MoE, 2002). This principle is in line with the desire that the National Curriculum should prepare young people for the complexities of life in a rapidly changing world. The Stocktake argued that the principle of future-focus could be delivered through existing 'learning areas'.

To recent arrivals to New Zealand this 'future-focus' is clearly evident: in casual conversation, in political discussion and in the wider public sphere a distinct concern for New Zealand's future is never far from the surface. This is reflected in concerns about the state of the economy and the continued importance of dairying and its links with the Chinese market, as well as the issue of out-migration of New Zealanders to Australia and beyond, the emergence of a New Zealand identity linked to the Asia-Pacific region, concerns about Mäori-Pakeha relations and the ongoing question of sustainability reflected through the 100% Pure NZ 'brand'. Perhaps more than other nations, New Zealand, by dint of its small population size and distance from even its nearest neighbour, has reason to engage in debate about its future.

The recent global financial crisis and subsequent 'fiscal realism' (Gamble, 2012) that it has given rise to, makes the future-focus of the Curriculum even more relevant. Given that the Financial Times even felt compelled to run a series of articles entitled 'The Future of Capitalism', it is no surprise that there is a heightened interest in 'The Future', as reflected in the eponymous title of Nobel Prize winner A1 Gore's book. Gore won his Nobel Prize for his earlier film and book, An Inconvenient Truth, which brought to mainstream attention the existence of anthropogenic climate change. This is a heavyweight contribution. For Gore, the drivers shaping the future are: the continued integration of the global economy, through processes of economic globalization and technological development replacing human labour with machines; the rise of a 'global mind' based on heightened connectivity raising questions of power and accountability; the biotech revolutions which are radically reconfiguring what it means to be human; the question of anthropogenic climate change and resource issues; and demographic shifts. Gore concludes that human civilization has 'reached a fork in the road we have long travelled'. One path leads to the destruction of the climate balance and the depletion of irreplaceable resources, the degradation of human values and the possibility 'that civilization as we know it would come to an end'. …

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