Archive for April 2021

Is it a case of Don’t Mention the War?

Another ANZAC Day – for some a chance to remember, for others a holiday. Much talk about values seemed to accompany the commentary and comment from across the board.

I was interested in this because there seems to me to much more talk about unspecified values and their importance that actually grasping the issue of just what those values are, what they require of us and their connection to the palette of values that makes us to be New Zealand.

This is an important issue in terms of the forthcoming New Zealand Curriculum for History of New Zealand. What shape and force will ANZAC have in that curriculum? Will it be a sequenced set of understandings of “the ANZAC values” as it has grown over the years or simply a story about a time long ago, in lands far away, for reasons somewhat remote and for the somewhat unfathomable phenomenon of huge numbers of New Zealand citizens to end up in foreign countries facing dangers that often resulted in death?

And what articulation will there be in the new history curriculum between the ANZAC portion of our history and those other critical issues in our history – a set of issues related to the history of Maori and land, health, language, and parity of esteem for instance? Remember at this point that the NZ History curriculum will be across all ages in the schooling system. The Government characterised the development in this way:

The first step is to collaboratively develop a New Zealand’s histories update to the National Curriculum with historical and curriculum experts, iwi and mana whenua, Pacific communities, the sector, students, parents and whānau, and other groups with a strong interest in shaping how New Zealand’s histories are taught.

Quite a large and potentially challenging task I would have thought. And this curriculum has been promised for 2022!

I have just read Tom Scott’s recent book “Searching for Charlie: In Pursuit of the Real Charles Upham VC and Bar.” It is a challenging book in that I learnt much that I did not know or understood.  It left me wondering how a truthful set of lessons could be fashioned out of events which were at best frightening. 

I wrote two weeks ago that we Baby Boomers grew up in the shadow of World War II. But this did not impact too much on what we understood of this critical part of our history. At secondary school we turned out in School Cadet uniforms to march in the Hamilton ANZAC Parade to hear speeches about sacrifice and values before we marched away at the end of the ceremony not too much the wiser. My twin brother and I drew the “lucky lottery marble” that determined whether at the age of 18-years we went or not into 12 weeks of National Service followed by three years of territorial duties – we went. Again, while we learnt things it was more in the nature of “Today we have the naming of parts” as we took a Bren gun apart.” I followed this with five years of service in the 3RNZIR Band because I liked music!

One might have thought that we would be well equipped to contribute to the discussion when it came to the impacts of these experiences on the NZ History. Not so, the learning we did consisted of being in an audience of 900 National Servicemen for what was styled as “Reason Why Lectures.” Knowing that at the time the Viet Niamh war was in progress will tell you what that learning consisted of. And the anecdotes of the NCO’s needed to be taken with some salt. I wholeheartedly support the view that New Zealand should be teaching more of its history by I also know that what history and who teaches it could see several more ANZAC Days pass by before it becomes a reality.

Not quite Seventy-Six Trombones nor an audience with the Queen

It is a little recalled fact that the first Royal visitor to New Zealand was the Duke of Edinburgh. Not the recently deceased Duke Prince Phillip but Prince Alfred, son of Queen Victoria, who happened to be the Captain of a British vessel, the HMS Galatea, that called in to Wellington.

The death of Prince Phillip recalls the extent to which we baby boomers lived in the shadow of World War II and in the sunshine of the Royal Family which, in the fifties and sixties, New Zealand basked in.

The first visit of Queen Elizabeth II and her Consort Prince occurred in the summer of 1953/1954. Each school child in New Zealand was given a splendid concertina brochure that opened to show on one side a a procession of royal horses and soldiers, sketches of important sights of London. While on the other side the text focused on the coronation which had occurred some months previously. The headings made clear what this was about – The Queen, Our Royal Family, The Queen is Crowned.

But in the rather simple life that was led back then, the gifting highlight just had to be the medal we each received. It was the size of a real medal, was the weight of a real medal, it had a purple ribbon and a ribbon bar – we knew it was dinkum.

In Hamilton (1954 remember) the royal entourage hung about for several days and my brother and I were dragged about by Mum to catch fleeting glimpses of the Queen as she was driven past in large shiny cars, walking away through entrances – “Yes, that was the Queen under the hat with the blue feather!” All in all, a a set of recollections of those Royal Hats, the blurred windows of large shiny cars and, of course, those two gloved and waving hands. Our mother accompanied all this with her mantra: “This is History”.

Things were managed much better in 1963 when once again the Queen and Consort were in New Zealand. It was summertime, stinking hot, but that didn’t stop all the students from schools in Hamilton being transported to Seddon Park (now known as a venue for cricket), arranged in rows, primary in the front, secondary capped and uniformed, all in preparation for  the Queen and Consort to be driven on the back of a Land Rover, up and down, up and down the rows so that the children both primary and secondary could become a little more acquainted with our beloved monarch.

I recall that it was a really hot Hamilton afternoon. I recall too that the royal entourage was delayed, probably inspecting yet another dairy factory. My brother and I were in the Fairfield College Brass Band which had the privilege of playing for the assembled guests and our honoured visitors (both futile expectations as turned out). But with no shelter, sitting up alter for the imminent arrival which when at last the Guests arrived and the Brass Band had struck up (not quite Horse Guards Parade) the event proceeded with squealing, shouted messages from the delighted children. It was over seemingly to us at the time, largely before it had started. But there was a sequel that delighted us.

Several days later a Letter to the Editor of the Waikato Times appeared detailing the excellent contribution to the Seddon Park Royal Event by the Fairfield College Brass Band under difficult circumstances – great heat, competing with the noise from an audience of youngsters that had gone to Seddon Park to see the Queen not to listen to a Brass Band. Sitting out in the noon-day sun, the delay and so on. It was a great thing for this citizen to have done, the school was chuffed when it was read out at a subsequent assembly and the members of the band subsequently blew a little harder at the tribute from this anonymous citizen.

But this raises the question for me.  What knowledge and how much attention will be paid in the history of New Zealand to be rolled out in school and the Monarch which, as our Governor General has recently pointed out, is the Treaty Partner with Māori albeit a function that is the responsibility of the NZ Government or, as it is usually put, the Crown?

Oh, and the letter to the Times? Some years later I found out that the anonymous letter (as was the order of the day back then), was written by our Mum!

Nulla mensa sine impensa

Imagine my surprise while idly soaking up a rather interesting programme on television about the English monarchy when I learned that King Charles II’s motto was Dum Spiro Spero – While I breathe, I hope.  Shakespeare is said to have written the very same motto on his first published manuscripts.

It has been the motto of Fairfield College, Hamilton, since its founding in the late fifties. Not that it served an obvious purpose, for it was seldom used but it was always featured on the rather pleasant Crest that accompanied it. Nowadays the Fairfield’s crest has three mottos, to use the technical term, reflecting its multicultural commitment.

Now when my brother and I were at Fairfield College, the notion that we would have hope if we had breath seemed quite reasonable and on a bad day quite reassuring. But it was not that we did not have experience with mottos, no, not at all, for we had been to primary school and to intermediate school.

We had breezed our way through primary school not really engaging with the motto of Frankton Primary School, “To thine own self be true.” This was largely because the notion that we would tell lies to ourselves took some understanding and, anyway, it was never actually mentioned. However, some years later, good old Polonius popped up in Shakespeare’s Hamlet when giving advice to his son Laertes to suggest that it was a good thing to do.

But the ability to grapple with a good motto came along when we attended Maeroa Intermediate School in Hamilton, a new school opened in 1956, which was determined to take part in the habit of reflecting the well proven habits of motto-making and our origins of such clarion call to be virtuous.

Each day we would cycle to school wearing caps that bore the crest and the motto – “I shall not cease from mental fight.” This is as you Dear Reader, will know that this a line from William Blake’s rousing song, Jerusalem.  This relatively modern school explains that we have a proud tradition built up over the past fifty-six years and our motto, ‘I will not cease from mental fight’ represents our belief in developing students who will be life-long learners.”  This is one explanation, but William Blake might not have had the weapons and tools of modern education in mind – a device, sports, teachers working hard and students engaged. No, he had different ideas of how it would be done: the bow of burning gold, the arrows of desire, the sword that is wide awake in his hand and above all, The Chariot of Fire! But be at rest, the crests on our caps showed each of these critical elements, the tools required to affect a better, more pleasant world replacing the dark satanic mills, a green and pleasant world, something like Jerusalem and England would be green and pleasant again.

No wonder we sang our little heads off with gusto when we sang Jerusalem at the last assembly each year. At last, a motto with gravitas.

Vocational Education is no joke!

The first of April each year is a time that is most characterised as the pulling-the-leg time, of large-scale and small-scale deception and tricks and the fabrication of ideas and possibilities that might just be true, then again, on second thoughts it might just be a leg pull.

Last year, on 1 April a significant development in the New Zealand vocational and technical education sector that was too wide-sweeping to be a joke took place – all 16 Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics formed an alliance to operate under a common brand and for all intents and purposes become instantiations of a mega-polytechnic.

There would be no pulling rabbits out of hats although it is rumoured that there Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns in some quarters. There also was the careful tip-toeing around certain words – a*********** and m*****. There was to be no repeat of the frenzy that was triggered in Australia as new universities were created through, shall we say “getting together”? And technical colleges grew in stature under the TAFE banner. A famous description was spawned as a warning about what might happen. To cut a long story short, a commentator in describing the determination to avoid actual m***** told of the story going around “in uppity circles Institution A was spoken as if it were a certain ‘Biblical Character’ for accepting the local college. As we know from Revelations (17:3), that person sat upon a scarlet beast having seven heads and ten horns – not a bad description of the academic structure in many a combined institution.”

 So Pukenga, who we know to be a “skilful, versatile intellectual, skilled” body by dint of its name (which reflects those characteristics) has provided the steady-as-it-goes to reach its first birthday calmly. One cannot help but think that the increases in enrolments was a helpful gift born out of the misery of a pandemic. But calmness is only a state that you reach but not one that you cannot sustains forever.

Change must come. First, key unified and strategic actions must be around provision and increased positive outcomes for priority groups, Maori, Pasifika, Migrants, those who are still being left behind. Secondly there is also an opportunity to increase the involvement of Pukenga institutions in Secondary / Tertiary programmes – networks are in place at a national scale, the success and progression levels of school students to polytechnics from these programmes cannot be ignored.

But thirdly and most of all, Pukenga must persuade the institutions as to the need for recognisable and nation-wide marketing, the nation-wide availability of the key programmes that mark out the polytechnic territory and above all, one system for enrolment that is smooth quick and easy.

Finally I look forward to cracking open a Pukenga Easter egg next year, 2022 and see a VET system that is characterised by managed pathways to employment that are seamlessness in their programme delivery and students zipping over the transitions that remain potholes in the road to success.