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New Book Says Re-Write Curriculum

Maxim Institute Media release

30 September 2003

New Book Says Re-Write Curriculum

A complete re-write of the New Zealand secondary curriculum is called for in a new book released today by the Maxim Institute.

Vying for Our Children breaks new ground in identifying the ideologies, beliefs and ideas which have shaped the curriculum. Author Paul Henderson says four of these ideologies are having an enormous impact on education and conditioning our children’s thinking.

“Unless the curriculum is re-written, from a new philosophical basis, they will continue to affect New Zealand’s future detrimentally.”

Vying for Our Children highlights the most important question in education, rather than asking what children can do we should ask what children are becoming?

The book finds13 things wrong with the curriculum. Among them Henderson says, it places children on pedestals; kills history; removes hard-graft from learning; bends education to political correctness; fosters indoctrination; and trivialises education to focus on the needs of the economy.

Vying for Our Children calls for new curricula statements as guidelines free from political correctness or an excessive emphasis on economic driven outcomes. Instead education should ask what it means to be a human and emphasis the role of teaching rather than reduce teachers to facilitators.

“The 1990’s was a decade of radical transformation in education,” Paul Henderson says. He identifies neo-marxism; economic reductionism; post modernism; and progressivism as the four most influential influences.

Henderson says that neo-marxism has smothered the curriculum in political correctness as it seeks to dismiss the past and eliminate differences between people. Economic reductionism wants to produce a skilled workforce and is less interested in children than economic efficiency. Postmodernism thrashes traditional New Zealand values and questions the concept of objectivity. Progressivism rejects the past, bolsters individualism and reduces teachers to child minders.

There is a terrible danger in equating skills or social reconstruction with education says Henderson. “Being prepared for employment is one thing, but being able to think deeply about human nature and being able to establish human relationships is far more critical.”

Many parents will be uneasy about the contention in the curriculum framework that learning, culture and morality are relative and change in time.

Henderson is concerned that literature which introduces New Zealanders to some of the best minds in history and best expressions of humanity is largely expunged for forms of language that are utilitarian.

“Parts of the Health and Physical Education curriculum are best described as depleted gobbledegook which must be an embarrassment to New Zealand in the eyes of international commentators.”

In the last decade the curriculum has not raised achievement. Instead children are probably more confused. The case for new curricula is even stronger when our results are compared internationally: New Zealand is performing poorly in Maths, Science and Literacy.

Vying for Our Children makes six recommendations the first of which is new curricula statements as guidelines. “Continuing with the 1990’s framework presents special dangers to education and New Zealand,” say Henderson.


Paul Henderson is senior education analyst at Maxim Institute. He has taught in Asia and Europe, and worked on curriculum development in Africa.

Comments on the book

“Vying for Our Children is challenging and provocative,”
Roger Moses, Headmaster Wellington College.

“It provides an incisive and invaluable critique of the strengths and weaknesses of our curricula documents,”
Neil Riley, Head of Department English, Southland Boys High School.

“At last a book that does not shrink away from the hard questions. This book deserves serious consideration from all thinking New Zealanders,”
Alan Peachey, Principal Rangitoto College.


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