Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

The Sociology of Education in New Zealand: An Historical Overview

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

The Sociology of Education in New Zealand: An Historical Overview

Article excerpt

Writing about the sociology of education in New Zealand involves navigating a minefield of diverse interests, so I want to start by apologising for all the errors of omission, commission, wrongful interpretation, misunderstanding and other grievances that will surely be hurled at me by the disgruntled. One question that might be asked is "why did she get to write this article?". The main reason, I assure you, is that one or more qualified persons turned down the offer of this poisoned chalice, and I was mad enough to agree.

It is fifty years since the publication of New Zealand Sociology, and also fifty years since the first publication of the New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies (NZJES), and I have relied quite heavily on the latter as providing early evidence of sociological thought within the academic study of education. One would think, if sociology is the study of social forces and movements, broadly speaking, that it would be difficult not to find huge evidence of sociological analysis within education. But, in reality, most of the early critical perspectives on education derived primarily from self-described psychological and philosophical roots. It was not until the mid-1970s that sociological perspectives became strongly evident in academic education writings. While social themes were covered in plenty, sociological methodology was not apparent in the early days.

There have been relatively few education academics who have considered themselves to be primarily sociologists. Among them was one outstanding figure, the late Professor Roy Nash, who brought sociology with him to a position at Massey University in the mid-1970s, and proceeded to teach and research within that discipline until his untimely death. Others who have practiced what is essentially the sociology of education (the study of education in society) often call themselves philosophers, historians, policy theorists, feminists, kaupapa Maori theorists, cultural studies experts or many other labels.

Currently, those of us who come from a sociological perspective have seen our voice dwindle. In the new university where, to cruelly paraphrase Marx, the point is not to merely understand the world but to get a job in it, the sociology of education is a poor cousin to classroom management techniques and vocational programmes. The irony should not be overlooked of sharply worsening social conditions in New Zealand occurring at a time when the tools for analysing and understanding them are often no longer taught.

The beginnings of the sociology of education in New Zealand

The development of state schooling in New Zealand from the 1870s was a profoundly sociological move. It was about educating New Zealanders for their place in the world and constructing a new society. Free, compulsory education for all was promised in the Education Act 1877, and indeed was both the carrot and stick that drove attendance. For much of the first hundred years of the Act, education was viewed by academics as an equitable and benevolent good fostering opportunities for all in a liberal society (Openshaw et al, 1993: 87). The establishment by statute of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research in the 1930s signalled a desire for innovative approaches to education, highlighted by the highly innovative and influential Education Research Series monographs.

By the 1960s, differences in educational achievement between Maori and pakeha children were being explored largely through theories of human development and testing at school. The discourse was of deficits that could be overcome. For example, Maori language was still seen as a "restricted code" (Hawkins, 1972). The early years of the NZJES saw publications on psychology, reading, history and some interesting comparative work within Pacific systems. Early sociology articles examined "education, social change and the economy" (Braithwaite, 1967), the "changing rate of delinquency in New Zealand" (Marsh and Darwin, 1967) and the "New Zealand delinquency rate" (Fleming and Slater, 1968), plus a critique of the discourses around delinquency (Braithwaite and Arvidson, 1968). …

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