Settler colonial history as a minefield: Elizabeth Russell, ‘Crossing the Minefield of Anxiety, Guilt, and Shame: Working With and Through Pākehā Emotional Discomfort in Aotearoa New Zealand Histories Education’, New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 2021


Abstract: Compulsory teaching of Aotearoa New Zealand histories has potential to change how this country’s young people think and feel about themselves. However, achieving the new curriculum’s vision of a more thoughtful and responsible citizenry is unlikely to be straightforward. For Pākehā secondary school students, descendants of European settlers, the emphasis on te ao Māori could challenge a sense of centredness within the nation, and learning about colonial violence and injustice may be a source of emotional discomfort. For the new teaching framework to reach its transformative potential, these moments must be harnessed rather than allowed to block learning and engagement. This paper analyses three possible emotional responses of Pākehā students when monoculturalism is confronted and conflictual local histories are remembered: anxiety, guilt, and shame. While these emotions are usually framed as unnecessary or immobilising, I argue that they signal important starting points for Pākehā in responding to the complexity of colonialism and their complicity within it. Anxiety draws Pākehā attention to the constructed nature of the ‘New Zealander’ identity, and thus possibilities to de- and re-construct it, guilt pinpoints injustices that Pākehā must collectively address and monitor, and shame alerts Pākehā to their moral ideals. Yet, I also propose that if such feelings are to be harnessed constructively, they must be supplemented with a sense of mutual vulnerability and critical hope. Ultimately, this paper aims to show how discomforting emotions can either thwart or enrich learning and are therefore worth working with and through.

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