How do individuals or groups respond to social issues?
Do their values and perspectives influence what they say and do? What are the consequences for those unable to respond to a social issue that affects them?
Responding to social issues
In the social sciences, considering responses and decisions plays an important role in exploring social issues. Social issues tend to combine some or all these factors:
- a core problem or series of problems that impacts on people’s lives
- an ethical dilemma that invites students to explore values and perspectives
- a need for real-world solutions.
Social issues are complex. So are the responses and decisions people make about them. Students become critical, active, informed, and responsible citizens through engaging with social issues.
Place names as a social issue
The context used for the cultural interaction inquiry is the renaming of Matiu/Somes Island. The proposal to rename Wellington's Matiu/Somes Island elicited strong public responses, which makes this a social issue. It revealed the challenge Māori face when asserting their rights as tangata whenua. It also shows how some people in the dominant culture responded to these rights.
The renaming of Matiu/Somes Island took place over 20 years ago, but public reaction to creating or reusing Māori place names still occurs in Aotearoa. The case study is useful because people give the same reasons for opposing name changes today.
This raises the question of how we foster a society that is more embracing of the richness of Māori culture and heritage.
Why the Matiu/Somes Island context is useful
Reasons why the activity is useful for considering responses and decisions are as follows:
- Students learn about and critically examine the processes that the New Zealand Geographic Board uses to make decisions related to place names. They see how the Board defends their decision-making process at the time. The Board explains why they don't base their decisions on 'majority rules' and why evidence based on oral traditions is important and valid. The activity provides an opportunity to discuss whether the requirement to make submissions in writing is culturally appropriate.
- By acting as Board members, students become active decision-makers in deciding whether to change the island's name.
- The activity involves critically examining evidence, a skill important in an era of 'fake news'.
- Students are asked to justify their own decisions about naming the island.
- Using primary sources allows students to explore the authentic values and perspectives of people’s responses.
The impact of responses and decisions
When viewed through the lens of New Zealand's dominant culture, it may seem that the impact of renaming an island is minor. But for people whose heritage is often ignored or covered over, restoring the use of a traditional name is deeply significant, both locally and nationally.
With guidance, students could explore how the views and perspectives in the submissions to the Board might impact on people who do not identify as part of the dominant culture in New Zealand. Some students will have first-hand experiences of similar responses and attitudes. However, they shouldn’t be expected to discuss them with the class.
It’s important that the impacts of these 'low-level', under-the-radar attitudes are acknowledged. They can be powerfully felt, even if the attitudes themselves are hard to pinpoint.
Exploring other social issues
There are benefits when students can apply learning from one social issue context to other situations.
In the third part of the considering responses and decisions, students explore a 2017 change to the legal status of the Whanganui River. Students consider the impact of this decision nationally and globally.
Change-maker — the Whanganui River
Students could also consider responses to place names in their own area, including place name pronunciation. Many New Zealanders still pronounce Māori place names incorrectly or use corrupted versions of traditional names.
While the impact of this is often dismissed by people who are part of the dominant culture in Aotearoa, it certainly has an impact on other New Zealanders.
Another option is to consider issues about whether ‘majority rules’ is a fair approach to decision-making. One example could be Māori representation on district councils.
What is a social inquiry? Crafting questions that lead to deeper knowledge about society and citizenship — Bronwyn E. Wood (NZCER).
More than a name: the stories behind Marlborough's rivers and mountains — 'Marlborough Express'.
Ngā māngai – Māori local body representation — 'Te Ara'.