Critical Literacy: Theories and Practices, Vol 2, No 1 (2008)

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Critical engagement with the historical and contemporary deficit construction of Māori children

Fleur Harris


In this volume Cook (2008) and Jefferess (2008) use post-colonial theory to show how seemingly benevolent interventions to ‘rescue’, ‘save’ or ‘help’ others may mask unexamined assumptions about cultural superiority. In an attempt to bring a different perspective to the table, Cooper (2008), speaking as a Māori researcher, challenges the employment of western epistemologies to define and ‘deficitise’ (my term) Māori children as indigenous learners in the education system. My paper supports Cooper’s challenge by illuminating the varying deficit constructs that have played out since the early 1800’s European settlement to the present day. Māori children have continually been defined by the parameters of a colonial lens magnifying a range of deficits including: race, genetically inferior intelligence, environmental, cultural deprivation related to intelligence and language, poverty, cultural and accumulated environmental, and ‘at-risk’. These will be discussed with an interweaving of global and local contexts, to illuminate the power relations between the coloniser and colonised.

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Critical Literacy: Theories and Practices is a non-commercial initiative committed to the ethical dissemination of academic research and educational thinking. CLTP acknowledges the thoughtful dedication of authors, editors and reviewers to develop and promote this open journal initiative. The journal receives copy-editing sponsorship from the Faculty of Education at the University of Oulu, Finland. CLTP has previously received  copy editing support from the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice at the University of Nottingham, UK.