Defending the high ground : the transformation of the discipline of history into a senior secondary school subject in the late 20th century : a New Zealand curriculum debate : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy in Education, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
This thesis examines the development of the New Zealand secondary school history curriculum in the late 20th century and is a case study of the transformation of an academic discipline into a senior secondary school subject. It is concerned with the nature of state control in the development of the history curriculum at this level as well as the extent to which dominant elites within the history teaching community influenced the process. This thesis provides a historical perspective on recent developments in the history curriculum (2005-2008) and argues New Zealand stands apart from international trends in regards to history education. Internationally, curriculum developers have typically prioritised a narrative of the nation-state but in New Zealand the history teaching community has, by and large, been reluctant to engage with a national past and chosen to prioritise English history. Also in the international arena the history curriculum is shaped by government agencies but in New Zealand in the late 20th century, a minority of historians and teachers had a disproportionate influence over the process. They eschewed attempts to liberalise the subject by the Department of Education (and thereby reflect contemporary developments in the parent discipline) and shaped the curriculum to reflect their own professional interests.
This thesis puts forward a hypothesis that seeks to explain the nature of continuity and change in the senior history curriculum in the late 20th century with a view to illuminating the origins of recent debates in the history teaching community. It argues that it is the examination prescriptions that dictate what is taught at this level and that there are three key criteria that must be met if a senior curriculum initiative is to be successfully introduced, or an existing area of historical knowledge is to be retained. Firstly, it is necessary that the decision-making elite share a consensus that a particular body of historical knowledge is of higher status than any alternative. Secondly, a successful initiative must reflect the existing scholarly constraints and boundaries of the parent discipline. Finally, advocates of a particular area of knowledge must be able to establish alliances with major stakeholders in a subject community who are sympathetic to their cause. The role of dominant individuals in this process was paramount in the 1980s as Department of Education curriculum committees at this time operated on the ethos of ‘consultation’, with little explicit philosophical direction and no authentic evaluation. This model is examined by considering the examples of women’s history (that was successfully embedded in the 1989 curriculum), Maori history (that was not) and 16th and 17th century English history (that has dominated the history curriculum in New Zealand for over 30 years).