Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Stories All Over the School: Primary Schools, Pākehā Teachers, and the Construction of ‘Culture’

posted on 2023-05-17, 03:00 authored by Avery Smith

In recent years there has been a push in New Zealand education for the ‘inclusion’ of Māori (the Indigenous people of New Zealand) culture into the national curriculum in service of improving the educational outcomes of Māori learners. What remains underexplored is the present culture within schools in which Māori culture is to be ‘included’. This study looks at the construction of culture in two mainstream Primary Schools.

This ethnographic study was conducted over the course of a school term in two-year 5/6 classes, one in a majority Pākehā school and the other in a majority Māori and Pacific school. I explored the institutional and interpersonal mechanisms that ideas about culture were produced and reproduced through in everyday activities. Settler Colonial Studies, Critical Race Theory, and Critical Whiteness Studies for the theoretical basis for this research. Additionally, I developed a distinctive framework for understanding the findings called the Black and Indigenous Perspectives on Whiteness (BIPOW).

Storytelling is a central feature of this thesis. I explore how the stories we tell are powerful transmitters of the understandings we carry about ourselves, each other, institutions, and the nation. I follow in the tradition of Critical Race theorists who use storytelling, narrative and counternarrative, and allegory as a means to decentre Whiteness. I leverage storytelling to illustrate the ways schools and classrooms disseminate ideas about culture and race.

I conclude that schools pass on ideas about culture through educational policy, practices, and the hidden curriculum. Whiteness is often tacitly transmitted within schools and classrooms, even in cases where the expressed intention is to be welcoming of and inclusive of diversity. The Pākehā teachers who took part in this research had a limited understanding of culture when it came to themselves but were able to identify aspects of culture in Māori and Pacific ‘Others.’I suggest that if schools in New Zealand want to improve the quality of education for Māori and Pacific students, and indeed all students, they must unsettle taken-for-granted notions of cultural dominance rooted in White supremacy. Inclusion of other worldviews into an existing system is not enough, the perspectives of Indigenous, Black and other racialised groups must be centred if we are to dismantle the edifice of White colonial education.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Education; Sociology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Education


Kidman, Joanna; Chu-Fuluifaga, Cherie