Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Being 'Good' in the Classroom: Whiteness and Moral Liminality in the 2023 Aotearoa New Zealand Histories Curriculum

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posted on 2023-08-22, 02:30 authored by Georgia Griggs

This thesis explores how Year 10 social studies students and teachers at Kāpiti College, a secondary school in the North Island of New Zealand, are affected emotionally by whiteness and the White desire to be ‘good’ when learning about colonisation. The influence of whiteness is invisibilised and normalised in the 2023 Aotearoa New Zealand histories curriculum, influencing students and teachers to think of whiteness as ‘neutral’. The new curriculum was introduced to primary and secondary schools in 2023 and was adopted early by Kāpiti College in 2022. Emotional reactions to colonial topics and the effect of whiteness in New Zealand schools have been the subjects of previous research (MacDonald, Funaki, and Smith 2021; MacDonald 2020; Manning 2018; Bell and Russell 2021; MacDonald and Kidman 2021; Harcourt 2020). My research builds on this through an investigation of the influence of the 2023 Aotearoa New Zealand histories curriculum in maintaining and obscuring whiteness. Data was collected over eight weeks of fieldwork with five Year 10 social studies classes at Kāpiti College, using classroom participant observation, teacher semi-structured interviews, one lunchtime focus group with students, and an anonymous student survey. This thesis explores the effect that the dominance of whiteness had on the emotional responses of my participants. This included Pākehā students and teachers and their desire to maintain White innocence, tauiwi students who sometimes bought into that whiteness and did not see their settler stories reflected in the classroom, and Māori students whose anger and sense of injustice were silenced by whiteness.

Using Thomassen’s (2014) discussion of liminality, Fassin’s (2013) discussion of resentment and ressentiment, Applebaum’s (2010) discussion of whiteness, and Abraham and Torok’s (1986) cryptonomy, I argue that teachers and students experience varying types of discomfort. These include the desire to be ‘good’ and the resulting moral liminality which influences them to self-censor and become silent. Pākehā teachers and students are unsure how to be ‘good’ in response to the violent histories of colonisation, attempting to suppress uncomfortable emotions within the classroom environment, thus maintaining whiteness and coloniality through silence. Māori students’ emotional expressions are limited by White silences and the omission of Māori resistance histories, disregarded in the name of ‘neutrality’.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

130199 Arts not elsewhere classified

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

2 Strategic basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Gibson, Lorena; Howland, Corinna