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Reflections of a teacher, writer and rebel

Born and raised in Pātea, Airana Ngarewa (Ngāti Ruanui) reflects on a question that helped shape his narrative in ‘Philosopher, Warrior, Chief’. Airana is a teacher at Spotswood College and a Master’s student with Ako Mātātupu: Teach First NZ. Both, as he puts it, revolutionary forces in the world of education. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Stand, Headland, Mayhem Literary Journal, Turbine, Takehē Magazine, Newsroom, Huia Short Stories, and more.

Reflections of a teacher, writer and rebel

Philosopher, Warrior, Chief’ was born of a single question. Where do the young seek out all that the adults will not teach them?

The longer I spent in the classroom the more I found myself possessed by this question. It seemed to me that high school had become hyper-focused on an incredibly narrow realm of knowledge, knowledge that many young people saw little value in. Knowledge that, if separated from any formal qualification, would lose what little grip it had. It seemed to me that education had practically surrendered what lofty goals it preached and resigned itself to a kind of surreptitious exchange whereby the young meekly accepted whatever was taught and in return were offered the undefined prospects of a future. A good job, whatever that is, which meant a good pay cheque, whatever that is, which meant a good life, whatever that is.

And so if not in this place, the school, I asked myself, then where did the young seek out the education they needed, their answers to the questions that all persons must ask? Questions of identity, of place and purpose. If not in this place, the classroom, I asked myself, then where do the young seek out the skills they need? Courage, self-belief, ingenuity, empathy, and vision. If not in this place, I asked myself, then where do the young go to satisfy their curiosity?

Thus I began doing what I do whenever I find myself with a question and no good answer. I looked and I listened and I read and I wrote. I watched my students in the moments between their work, and I heard their voices come alive when they to spoke to each other, and I read some Rousseau and some Dewey, and I began to work on ‘Philosopher, Warrior, Chief’, the story of a young boy possessed by the same question as myself. Where could he learn all that the grown-ups would not teach him?

It wasn’t long before this work culminated to reveal something peculiar and profound. I had been asking the wrong questions. It wasn’t a matter of where these things were taking place but with whom they were taking place. What schools were failing to explore, the young were exploring with each other. In the studio, on the rugby field, at the skatepark. And they liked it better this way. Uninhibited by the pretending-to-be-all-knowing adults who polluted their life. The space itself was decoration. What mattered most was the time they spent with each other, to think aloud and to talk and to share and to test what they were coming to know.

It was in the light of this new understanding that ‘Philosopher, Warrior, Chief’ took shape. A reminder for myself as a teacher to get out of our young people’s way. To give them space to collaborate, to begin to answer those lofty questions the institutions of education had long given up on. To let them stumble and fall and take their knocks and learn and grow and breathe life into their potential. These precocious philosophers, warriors, and chiefs.




Airana Ngarewa

Airana Ngarewa's (Ngāti Ruanui) work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Stand, Headland, Mayhem Literary Journal, Turbine, Takehē Magazine, Newsroom, Mātatuhi Taranaki, and Kaupeka.

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