By Rose Blackett.
As a minority culture in New Zealand, the Māori perspectives of giftedness have a lot to offer the majority culture … if only we would listen. It is all too easy for a majority culture within a nation to judge a minority culture harshly. The majority culture holds the power and therefore often acts like “big brother” … without valuing “little brother.” By sitting in “judgement” we fail to listen and miss some valuable lessons.
Dr Jill Bevan-Brown, an academic from New Zealand, who is of Māori heritage (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Wehiwehi, Ngāi te Rangi and Ngāti Awa ki Waikanae) has researched and written on the Māori perspectives of giftedness. Her work offers a unique viewpoint and relevant ideas for educators working with gifted students from other minority groups around the globe.
Bevan-Brown (2011) emphasizes that Māori, like any ethnic group, are a diverse people. A single all-inclusive “Māori” concept of giftedness does not exist; rather, we find a set of components based on traditional and contemporary concepts of giftedness/special abilities. Within Māoridom, it is necessary to look at what has come previously (the past), before we can gain a true understanding of the present.
These are the eight distinctive components identified by Bevan-Brown (2011):
1. Giftedness is widely distributed in Māori society. It is not bound by social class, economic status, lineage or gender.
2. Giftedness can be exhibited in both individual and group contexts. Also, an individual’s gifts and talents can be “owned” by a group.
3. The areas of giftedness and talent recognised are broad and wide ranging.
4. Importance is placed on both “qualities” and “abilities.”
5. The concept of giftedness is holistic in nature and inextricably intertwined with the other Māori concepts.
6. There is an inherent expectation that a person’s gifts and talents will be used to benefit others.
7. The Māori culture provides a firm foundation on which giftedness is grounded, nurtured, exhibited and developed.
8. Mana tangata (power and status accrued through one’s leadership talents, human rights, mana of people) is frequently accorded to gifted and talented people, especially in the areas of traditional knowledge and service to others.
Within the New Zealand education system, as with other education systems around the globe, students from minority groups are underrepresented in our gifted programmes. This makes one reflect on whether the programming options we are offering as a majority culture meet the needs of the minority cultures.
Bevan-Brown (2011) offers a number of suggestions for improving the situation for gifted Māori students:
1. Educators should consult with Māori and work in partnership with them to identify and develop the potential of gifted and talented Māori learners.
2. Strong early childhood centre/school – whānau (family) networks should be developed and utilised to support and encourage gifted Māori learners.
3. Methods and programmes used to identify and provide for gifted and talented Māori learners must be culturally appropriate, challenging and delivered in a culturally responsive environment.
4. Teachers, parents and whānau (family) should work together to raise aspirations and self-esteem of all Māori children.
5. Gifted Māori learners should be encouraged and developed in their Māoritanga (Māori culture, practices, and beliefs).
6. Teachers and other professionals who work with Māori learners need to be better trained to provide appropriately for Māori learners in general and gifted Māori learners in particular.
In recent correspondence, Bevan-Brown shared a quote with me that “Commandment number one of a truly civilised society is this: let people be different” – David Grayson, b. 1870 (Journalist). She acknowledged the wisdom within these words and added “Commandment number two is to value and learn from that difference!”
Nāu rourou, nāku rourou ka ora ai te iwi – With your food basket and my food basket the people will thrive. If all cultures are to share an inclusive meal around the table of Gifted Education, then big brother may need to share what is in his food basket and taste what is in little brother’s basket … even if he does not like the look of it! After all, little brother may not have much in his food basket, but what he offers is “quality” not “quantity.” We will not know until we sit together as equals at this table.
My challenge to you as educators is to reflect on whether you are offering a gifted programme that is truly open to diversity and accepting of differences, or are you offering an exclusive gifted programme that suits the majority culture?
Bevan-Brown, J. (2011). Gifted and talented Māori learners. In R. Moltzen (ed), Gifted and talented New Zealand perspectives (3rd ed.) (pp. 82-110). New Zealand: Pearson.
SENG Director Rose Blackett is a registered educational psychologist with over twenty years of experience in the education system. Rose is the current president of the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children (NZAGC), founding president of Christchurch Explorers and a committee member for the Canterbury Association for Gifted Education (CAGE). Rose and her husband Rob parent two gifted children and live in Christchurch.