'French adds to its owner’s culture and general intelligence’. The politics of subject languages in New Zealand schools: the first fifty years
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In publicly monolingual, English dominant countries like New Zealand, why, how, when, where, which and for whom subject languages are taught in schools, are important questions. Unfortunately these questions rarely receive the breadth of engagement and discussion they deserve. They have become even more salient as New Zealand and like jurisdictions experience unprecedented levels of linguistic and cultural diversity due to migration. In addition globalisation has meant a greater need for citizens of all nations to be able to interact sensitively and productively with people from cultures that are quite different from their own. Learning additional languages (including indigenous languages) can be a key vehicle for promoting plurilingualism and intercultural competency in young people who will need these expanded communicative repertoires at home and abroad, in the future. New Zealand, however, has been slow to embrace the wider debates and demands of quality teaching of subject languages in schools. In order to better understand the situation this paper presents a Foucauldian ‘tracing back’ to examine why things are the way they are and to think about how they might be different. The research is part of a wider historical language policy project investigating the constitution of subject languages in schools in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Here, I draw on early New Zealand governmental and departmental policy records to examine how subject languages were discursively constructed in the fifty years after the Education Act of 1877 and what the key policy drivers were. Policy frames of colonisation, migration, indigeneity, class and geopolitics will be taken into account in the analysis. It is hoped that in describing the discursive construction of subject languages over time it will be possible to understand how contingent and open to change current policies and practices are.