We are grateful to the editor of ‘Education’ a magazine issued to schools, for permission to reprint his interview with Mr Ball.
If I Only Knew Then
What I Know Now
Douglas Ball began teaching in 1914, and was appointed Inspector of Maori Schools in 1929, becoming Senior Inspector of Maori Schools eight years later. In 1950 he was appointed Assistant Director of Education, a position he held until his retirement in 1955. From 1961 to 1971 he was Chairman of the Maori Education Foundation.
Mr Ball, one of your first tasks as an administrator in the thirties was to make an appraisal of the effectiveness of fifty years of European schooling on Maoris. What were your findings at that time?
Well, when we think back to that time, we've got to think of what State education was like in New Zealand and, even more, we've got to think of the position of the Maori population at the beginning of the century; because, that was the time when the population was declining so fast that there was very little hope felt for the future of the Maori. Then you've got to remember that nearly all the Maori people in New Zealand in those days lived in isolated areas, and very few Europeans knew anything about them.
Another condition in those early times was, of course, the formal nature of education. It was the English type of education and one of the most difficult things in those days was to make sure that you passed from standard to standard. In 1929, when I started inspecting the native schools, I had two years when I had to examine every child in every subject and, as an inspector, pass or fail them. That'll give you some idea of the sort of education it was.
Thinking back now to 1930, would you say that the sort of education that the Maori children had been having was serving their needs?
Partly. Looking back again from this position with the knowledge that we have in social sciences and so on, we're inclined to wonder why Pope* and Mr W. W. Bird insisted on our European and English education for Maori people. And they didn't only insist on it, it was a belief with them—it was a philosophy. Now, they'd acquired it from the Colonial Office; one of our earliest Governors, Governor Fitroy, laid down a policy of assimilation—that the only salvation of the Maori was to become a European—and these men really believed this.
But never under-estimate the great work they did, because with Maori co-operation
* James H. Pope, the first Organising Inspector of Native Schools. It was from this name that Maoris came to refer to all inspectors as ‘Te Popi’. W. W. Bird was Pope's successor.
(Maoris very often had to provide the land for the schools) they set up Maori schools all over the North Island, particularly in those most isolated areas. They staffed them with two teachers, a married couple, whose main function was to try and put hope into the Maori people, to bring health to the Maori children, and to teach them English. These village teachers were also the nurses—and they ran the post office. They became part of the tribe itself; well accepted. They were so isolated that very often they could only get their provisions in twice a year—by boat from Auckland or something like that. The work they did on the health side and the social side was tremendous. Many a time I've seen the children lined up with their heads back and their mouths open like cuckoos, while the teachers went down and poured in a teaspoonful of cod liver oil. The district nurses co-operated tremendously and they and the teachers had to fight all the skin diseases, impetigo and scabies and so on. But these teachers, most were up certificated—they knew nothing about teaching. And of course they tried to meet the requirements of the annual examination So it was all written work. So from the social and the health side the children got a lot; from the academic side they got nothing because the English they got had no meaning.
Although they were Maori schools, did the schools adapt in any way to suit the Maori way of living?
In no way at all. Maori children were not even allowed to speak Maori in the playground. If they did they would probably be punished. The purpose was quick assimilation—forget your Maori side and get our side. This was the recognised philosphy of the western world, because I went to a big Pacific conference in Honolulu in 1936 and there were educationalists working in the native schools in all these areas, from Japan, from the Philippines and other countries round the Pacific, and they all accepted the same thing. You see, social sciences were in their very beginning. We knew nothing of anthropology, we knew nothing of the importance of a culture, of the development of a personality. We imagined that you could drop a culture, pick up another one, just like you can buy a loaf of bead and then throw it away. Well, you just can't do that sort of thing; we know that now but we didn't know it then.
Maori children would come to school, they'd stay there for five or six years trying to pick up a little bit of our English language and way of life. For five hours a day, five days a week, they would try to do that, but all the rest of the time they lived in their tribe in their homes, speaking Maori and living Maori and when they left their school they just undid the cloak of a little bit of English and dropped it on the ground. They were completely out of touch and completely unable to confront the civilisation that was overwhelming them.
In your first year as an inspector, from 1929, what was the type of inspection you carried out?
Well, I would go from Wellington, say to Opotiki the best way I could, and there I'd hire a horse—there might be two of us and we'd set off and we'd ride six or eight miles to the first school, Omarumutu. We'd throw our sleeping bags onto the verandah of the teachers—ninety-nine percent—didn't we'd stay with the teacher. Then we'd go over to the school and hope to get through the main part of the inspection in the morning.
At the school there'd be all the people of the pa—men and women—all of them watching ‘Te Popi’ get on with the job. In those days the children themselves had to do all the cleaning and the school got paid for that. Well, the Chief, who would also be head of the school committee, would take me round the classrooms and look at every desk, and if there was a spot of ink on the desk he'd give those children what oh! I mean it just had to be perfect, and the floors were perfect; on that side the teachers did a marvellous job.
We'd finish the inspection, then out to a hangi. Everybody was there. We'd have a wonderful time and then the speech-making
which would last until 5.00, say; then we'd ride another six or eight miles to the next school, throw our bags on the teacher's verandah and go over the whole process all over again. On our first trip it took six weeks to get from Opotiki round to Ruatoria, and when I got to Ruatoria I wrote to my wife and said ‘never again’. Because not only was it a daily grind but the teachers were hungry for information about what was going on. They knew nothing. They were completely isolated and could sit up till three in the morning talking education. Marvellous, but I can't think of anything more tiring.
Now, two or three years after I started that stopped. It simply stopped because the roads began to be opened. The men were grabbed for the Ministry of Works and so on; the men went away and the interest went away.
One of the things that was done in your time was to try to put more emphasis upon Maori things, to try to restore in the Maori people themselves a pride in their Maoridom—in their own ways of behaving and believing. What steps did you take in the schools to try to do this?
Well, I often think back to those days; because this meant a tremendous change in policy and I was able to persuade the director and the department that some change in policy was desirable. I felt that we should make these schools Maori schools as far as we could. If I only knew then what I know
Getting back to the language aspect, I wonder if you, or the department, gave any thought in the thirties to bilingual schools, or even starting off the teaching in Maori rather than in English?
It's been thought of, right from the very beginning, right from 1879. But in my time there was very little desire for it from the Maoris—that the Maori language should be taught in school. Ngata himself said that Maori children had got to learn English. So there was not a great deal of pressure there. I may say there was exactly the same thing in Samoa when I was inspecting over there. They wanted English because the English language brought everything the Englishman had; all these wonderful things they'd never seen before. Secondly, as far as I was concerned, I didn't speak Maori. Let's admit it—that probably had some influence; how much I don't know. The great majority of the teacher's residence because that night speak Maori. The training colleges were not interested in the Maori in those days at all. I don't think thye knew the Maoris existed. I say this flatly and I mean it, and it wasn't their fault because the Maoris were not in their sight, they were so isolated.
Up till now we've been talking about primary education for Maori children. Would I be right in saying that at this time (1930) very few Maoris went on to secondary school?
Yes, but very few European children went either. Only those who passed Proficiency could go on, and great numbers of children never even passed Standard 4—that's when they left school. It was a real tussle for parents to get children to pass the Proficiency.
But, there's another side to the secondary education and this is the Government's support of the mission schools in the early days, and that support went on to St Stephen's and Te Aute and St Joseph's and all other denominational schools. But they were not post-primary schools in those days—they were primary schools (and of course out of Te Aute came the Young Maori Party and Ngata himself and Pomare). However, these schools slowly developed into secondary schools, and the scholarship system, which had been provided by the Government right from the very beginning, was steadily increased in numbers and in value.
But apart from these private denominational schools, very few Maoris went to state secondary schools. And even later, when Proficiency was abolished in 1936 and Maoris did go to secondary schools, they went with inadequate language and with no background. Don't forget, the secondary schools were staffed by secondary teachers with classical training and at that time they considered these kids just a nuisance.
I wonder if you could tell us just a little bit about the bringing of the Maori district high schools to the East Coast?
Well, this was the effort the department made to fill this gap. Now, maybe we made a mistake there, too, looking back on it. But Dr Beeby and I went right up the East Coast to open the first one—at Te Araroa—and we met the Maoris. Now, again, when I told you earlier that the Maoris didn't want the Maori language taught, but English, [ unclear: ] secondary education they didn't want what we thought they needed. They wanted exams and they wanted their children to progress and perhaps go on to university. We started
How easy was it, Mr Ball, to find out just what the Maoris did want for their children in those days?
As far as I know, there was no way of finding out except by talking to the Maoris themselves. There was no organisation you see, no unity. I can illustrate that. Say we wanted to appoint a Maori junior assistant to the Kaikohe native school; we wouldn't dare send a girl from the Ngati Porou. She was from another tribal area or probably their enemies from the past. That's gone today, thank goodness. But there was really no one voice for the Maori people. They were all so very polite and if you did discuss matters with them they were more than likely to agree with you anyhow, whether they wanted to or not. One of the great weakness in Maori education in New Zea-
land has been that, right from the beginning. Until 1955, when the National Committee on Maori Education was set up, there was no organised way of getting Maori opinion in this country.
What it meant, of course, was that the European, the department, the Pakeha, was giving the Maori what it or they thought the Maori needed and they believed this implicity. They were genuine. It was a real effort made by the Pakeha, but in essence it was patronising. It assumed the old idea that went right back to Bird and Pope and earlier that our way of life was superior and theirs was not worth worrying about. Once you've adopted that attitude you've had it. It's only in recent years that real progress has been made.
How important was the movement of Maoris from the isolated areas to the more populated areas?
Very important. This is what really made the European teachers see there was a problem. You see, until then they just didn't realise. For example, I was an organising teacher in Taranaki in '27 and '28, going into all these back country schools (there were no native schools in Taranaki, the Maoris refused to have them) and the Maoris would be in these one-teacher and two-teacher schools. Where did you find them always? In the back row, nobody taking any notice of them. They were nothing—forget ‘em! And the same attitude was applied to me—the organising teacher.
But weren't there, in the thirties, a large number of Maoris being trained as teachers?
Yes, and I thought with Maori teachers we'd really get Maori spirit into the schools. But again, I forgot the pressure of tradition and ritual and so on. These young Maoris had gone through our schools and they'd been taught our English education. They went to the training college and they were trained as English teachers. They went back to their schools and they taught the English way. Most of them might just as well have been white!
You've had a whole life in this field—where do you think we should be focussing our attention now, and where should we be focussing it in the next ten years?
Our teachers have got to understand what makes the Maori personality, which is totally different from ours, and until teachers do that they won't really be very successful. So the first thing is that the teachers' colleges have got to amend their training programmes.
Now, the second thing also concerns training. Teachers have got to learn that the language that the Maori children speak when they come to school, whether it's Maori or so-called English, is not their English—it's a vernacular type of English. The children don't understand the teachers, the teachers don't understand them. They can't get together and communicate. This impediment in the language and attitudes of the Maori child could partly be overcome by good pre-school education. This means, I think, that we've got to develop, and I hope the Government will develop fully, a pre-school system. Now, whether they do it through the voluntary associations as they are doing now, or do it any other way—I don't care, but, from the Maori point of view, these Maori children want a really good pre-school education. Now I'm further convinced that the play centres have got to increase the time they give to these children—it's got to be more often. Somebody's got to do a bit of solid thinking about pre-school education, and then introduce it into this country for every child who needs it, not only Maoris.
The other thing is (and we've ignored this) adult or parental education for the Maori. A lot was done in the early days through district nurses, who were really educating the parents while they were fixing up the children. But there's been no real attempt to get adult education to the Maori people. You see the result with young Maoris getting into trouble. Many of them are highly intelligent; they've left school and they've nothing to do to really absorb their interests and their energy. We've got to find out the sort of things they want and provide them through adult education. We could do this so easily because we have Maori organisations now to do it. Not tell them what they ought to have—this is the point. And having found it out then provide it, and provide
it is a Maori setting—in a meeting house or other acceptable Maori setting and pay for it out of the free place regulations. It could be done so easily. If I was still running this thing. I'd set up a pilot project in one area. I'd get a very good Maori with a very real understanding of Maori needs and interests and set up these classes, and it wouldn't matter how silly they sounded to us as Europeans—I would back them.