What belongs in polite conversations?

By Rose Langridge – Humanities subjects teacher; Careers Advisor–High School

In 1936 Maria Montessori asked “what is the task confronting education? Its primary goals must be the realisation of the values of the human personality and the development of mankind” (Education and Peace, p. 54).

I think this is still the primary role of the course that we call humanities.

The Tāwari class members make the choice often about the content that they cover in history and social studies. They often choose topics that can be uncomfortable. We acknowledge this and there are set rules for how to discuss things. We need to actively listen to one person at a time and we need to think about our responses. If they are not kind, necessary or helpful then we need to think about whether we need to say what we are about to, and come up with a way to frame things so that we are respectful. If we can do this in a noncontroversial way, then we can move forward and be peaceful in many aspects of our daily lives.

A very common phrase is that in polite conversation one should avoid discussing religion and politics. The reason for this is so that awkward situations do not arise. However, it cannot be denied that religion and politics are two highly influential factors that shape any human society. Humans are the change agents of the world and our cultural markers generate the social world in which we live. I do not think the issue is the content but rather not knowing how to have these courageous discussions in a polite and non-confrontational way.

This is what we should be focusing on.

It is clear that developing the skills to analyse and discuss our world needs to be central to the humanities programme.  Being able to equip students with the skills to unpack our world in a meaningful way is imperative given the floods of data that we all encounter on a daily basis.

Both Kawakawa and Tāwari also have a weekly wānanga (seminar). This is a key component of the high school model and relates directly to the principles of education and peace. The purpose of wānanga is to meet, discuss, deliberate and consider things. By learning how to interact with difficult material in this way class members are able to begin to develop their own beliefs about the world and the change that they want to see.

We as adults are far more likely to be rigid. It is children who by their nature are all motion. Giving them the skills to make sense of the world, question where they stand and discuss sensitive topics in a respectful way, may indeed change the world.

They could move us towards peace which would indeed be a great gift not only for them but for us as well.

The nature of change

By Jason Johnson – Kawakawa Teacher

“Everything flows and nothing abides” —Heraclitus

With the welcoming of Hilary to our team up here in Kawakawa and the departure of Richard, who has led our programme for the past five years, the return to school from lockdown and the strange restrictions on daily life, and the upcoming general elections and ongoing strife I read about each day around the world, I have found myself reflecting on the nature of change.

As humans, we generally like to be in a state of equilibrium. Much of our effort is devoted to removing chaos from our lives, to developing systems for organising and resetting our environment.  Why?  Because predictability saves energy. When our environment is predictable, we expend less of our precious mental resources carrying out everyday activities. Thus humans have developed an innate behaviour to bring order to our environments, not just to be more comfortable (who doesn’t feel better in a tidy room!), but to save our resources for more important things. Like sharing ideas, making art and music and connecting with loved ones.

Yet we live in an ever-changing world that requires us to adapt to changes in our environment on a daily basis. Some changes are small and able to be accommodated easily — “now it’s raining, best put on a raincoat” — but others, like the global pandemic we are currently experiencing, require total paradigm shifts and the establishment of a new equilibrium.

Ecologists have a term for this process. They call it disturbance, and it is a vital part of the functioning of healthy ecosystems. When a large tree falls, opening up the forest canopy, or fire sweeps across a hillside, burning up a stand of Manuka, there is massive change. At first, it may seem catastrophic — that which was once, is no more. But nature quickly fills the gaps. The resources once used are now free to be utilised by other organisms. New space is available — more light, more water — and there are opportunities for different species to take on new roles in the community. Without this disturbance, ecosystems stagnate. Dominant species monopolise resources and the system loses its biodiversity, the number of different species, and its ability to adapt to future change diminishes. In short, without some disturbance, ecosystems lose their ability to cope with change at all.

In finding our new equilibrium we are now presented with opportunities. We should assess what is fundamental to the way that we do things and wants to be preserved. What can we choose to develop in a new way, to take advantage of the changing situation? As we do this, however, we remember that too much change, or constant change, can be stressful. We need to be able to find a new equilibrium. And as adults, we must show our young people how to ride through times of uncertainty. We can model how to adapt and, as Jacinda Ardern reminds us, how to be kind to each other as we do it.