The New Zealand Project – Max Harris

Max Harris is a Rhodes Scholar and a friend who I met at Secondary School. His book The New Zealand Project was a proud read from the perspective of seeing a brilliant peer’s writing published and an inspiring read from the perspective of the ideas and challenges that he shares. I was particularly interested in the views expressed on education, and this blogpost will attempt to capture some of my reflection on this.

The foundation of the book is a call for “politics grounded in cornerstone progressive values of care, community and creativity” (12). This values-based approach is threaded throughout the book in chapters that deal with various aspects of the political landscape from justice to economics, and the environment to gender and sexuality (I was very proud to see the last one achieve a chapter status).  Of the values discussed, I particularly responded to the importance of creativity. It is a value I championed in the Newlands College vision and a skill that the World Economic Forum claims will be vital for future employment. Creativity invokes imagination and innovation and “is in tension with the value of tradition” (16). Creativity is fundamental to a progressive society.

The discussion around a values-based approach led me to two takeaways from the book:

  1. That this value based approach should be used as a framework in other fields, for example I feel that there would be merit in using this framework as an approach to education if school decisions were seen through the lens of care, community and creativity. I feel a different decisions would get made.
  2. Education, therefore, is more deeply political than I have previously supposed.

While reading I started to think of some of the issues raised around NZ politics and applying them to education: the technocracy, the accessibility, the boldness of decision making being limited by the overton window etc. The ease of substituting ‘education’ for ‘politics’ was provocative, giving me lots of reflect on in terms of the way that the profession approaches the ‘bigger’ conversations in education. Where do values sit in these conversations? To what degree are we guided by them? There is, I think, an unfair weighting to the discussion that sits around ‘how’ where more value-based dialogue would concentrate on the ‘why’ and ‘what’.

The conclusion of the book contained three educational proposals for further debate:

  • “Te reo Maori should be a learning area in the New Zealand curriculum. Inequalities between Maori and Pasifika must be reduced…
  • A review of school zoning, enrollment scheme and school inequality should be undertaken…
  • Civics education should be introduced in New Zealand schools” (283-4)

Should this debate occur through the lens of care, community and creativity then I believe we could make some very promising progress.


Harris, Max (2017) The New Zealand Project. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books Ltd.

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