Saturday, November 30, 2019

Going native

I had a half-baked blog a few weeks ago that for whatever reason wouldn't save nor publish. Then when I came back, the window was open, which I closed, and thus lost half of what I wrote. Such is life. Reading the saved portion now, part of what I had written was again relevant to something in the immediate world. So instead of hiffing it into the trash can or trying to resurrect my past content, or recreate it with my present mind, I thought I'd quote myself and relate it to something new. So without further delay, here is October:

"If there were a collection of terms which represent most of the heat, vigour and violence of the world, they could be national identity, immigration, race, statehood and identity politics. Not surprisingly they are all aspects of the same elephant, in varying states of distress, in the room of almost every developed country.

They're also the hardest to talk about because there are so many beliefs linked to them. You can ask simple questions like "What is New Zealand?" "What is a New Zealander?" and the kiwi feathers could fly in between people across generations and even within generations. Ask my father those questions and he'd probably, with conviction, view New Zealand as a country that belongs more to the white people than the Maori people, and that European values are superior to those of not just the Maori, but any immigrant. It's a bunch of sentiment that really doesn't bear much scrutiny but he is not alone. I feel there are several forces at play: rejection of the native; denial of one's own historical immigration; ignorance of the vicissitudes, circumstance and flux of history; and a status-quo-ism in the intolerance of the immigration of others.

Rejection of the native is an interesting phenomenon but bears some analysis of terms. Native in New Zealand is generally regarded as the pre-European state, but that in itself is not such a long history and pretty easy to follow. Discounting immediately hypothetical visits or chance arrivals of other civilisations, Polynesian voyagers came across New Zealand perhaps as much as 1000 years ago, the main migration of people and settlement probably happened in the 1300s. It was over three centuries later that Abel Tasman cruised fatefully into Murderers Bay and left without setting foot. And then over another 100 years for Cook to cruise into Poverty Bay. Then there was the Treaty. Though there were battles between Kingitanga tribes and Treaty-breach related land wars, there was no invasion or occupation by another state. There were two melding cultures under a broken and de facto voided contract. What was native was Treaty-guaranteed so there can't be much rejection, unless you're advocating that nothing means anything and might makes right. Maori were here first and even in this modern era, being first matters and they're still here."

In my draft I went into the other terms but native is the push-button word here. So the main sacred maunga of Auckland have one-by-one come under the control of a Maori authority. They have deemed that Mt Albert (the hill, Owairaka) should have its exotic trees removed and native trees planted. And that was enough to set the Pakeha of the central suburbs to the hills to protect trees their heritage, both globally and from their and their family's memories on these hills, perhaps taking the symbolism of the natives expelling the foreigners to heart. One of my staff members has been pulled into it as her community group has gotten involved in the protest against the felling. The trees in a way have become proxies for a cultural clash.

I'm very dispassionate about the issue in that I think the Maori authority should have the right to do it and they're regenerating vegetation and I have no issue with it. The Maori authority was also behind the banning of most vehicles from Mt Eden (Maungawhau) and One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie). All in all a good thing.

The Cheat

I remember when I saw Larry (not his real name) for the first time. He was in the third row of my first encounter with the New Zealand-bound students I was meeting for the first time on my business trip to China earlier this year. He said a few routine greetings well and for a short moment I thought he might be fluent. Probably one question later I realised he didn't understand much. Larry was memorable though and I remembered his name well enough to be able to call his name to elicit answers. 

This first meeting with the students was a surprise for my boss. She was shocked how low level the students were and Larry in particular was one sitting in the middle of the room not understanding questions asked of him. After another session, Larry approached me and asked whether he should go to New Zealand to take this course. I didn't lie: I told him it'd be very difficult and he would have to work very hard. Or perhaps I did lie. I didn't think he would be able to be strong enough to do it. He'd fail. 

The next thing I was greeting him and others as they emerged from the lift at our school in Auckland, a little jetlagged. They started their course the following week but Larry and another student found it tough-going and asked to re-start their course in a subsequent cohort, which we approved. He attracted the attention of his teacher: "He doesn't understand anything." "He's a child." His teacher might have been on the judgemental side. He did seem sincere though and was working hard to improve himself. He didn't shy away from trying to communicate. He generally presented as an earnest but naïve learner.

Then there was the bizarre first incident. He was sending a girl in his class odd messages. He was probably besotted by her and when she ignored him he started saying increasingly intimidating language. She complained to her teacher who relayed it to me. Confronting him he squirmed a little and tried to downplay what happened, but also said he wouldn't speak to her any more. And thankfully he did.

Then there was the video of the cheating. Now, we had a spate of cheating from the same class and though student ethics was clearly an issue, I would still point the finger at the teacher who didn't implement test conditions in being the key factor in them happening to such a degree. The teacher left the room with the students still holding pens and exam scripts. Larry asked his much stronger friend Roy to show him his assessment answers which he photographed (because the teacher had not taken their phones off them). Other students videoed them cheating (because the teacher not taken their phones off them). And then the video came to me. 

The meeting following that was almost enjoyable. I've watched too many courtroom dramas to know that you leave the big "reveal" to the end. I started off with the simple questions of what happened in the end and whether he changed his answers. He switched into a vitriolic mode asking who was saying bad things about him. I showed him the particular answer for him and Roy that were the same and he deflected that it was what the speaker during the listening test said. (Not true, by the way.) So I confirmed with him that this was his answer and that he hadn't copied. That was when I showed him the video of him clearly working on that question with that photo on his phone. Yet he persisted, insisting he was just making his answer clearer and hadn't changed his meaning. I told him that it was definite cheating and his continued resistance showed he does not understand the rules and would be likely to cheat again. I told him his whole test would be void and that he and Roy would be subject to a strict study agreement that says that they would have their names recorded as cheats and any further instance would result in expulsion. He had the temerity to ask whether it was only the question he cheated on, or whether it was the whole test. To write the study agreement I had to record the student response and I told him that he must be honest in these things and told him that New Zealand is a trust-based society and that dishonesty was hard to repair. He was one of four students in a class of twenty who had done improper things during this particular test. I handled them all with meetings and study agreements. 

Then on the last day of the course after another test, one of his classmates brought me a torn up pile of paper, found in a bin, that was clearly notes that he must have had brought into the test. His handwriting was unmistakeable. Because it wasn't provable that he used them, nor did the writing on the notes match the content of his essay, I didn't approach him about it but kept them for another moment.

And then he had to do it again, didn't he. He was doing one of the final listening tests, where all students listen to an audio twice and answer set questions. After the first listening he told the invigilator that he had to go to the restroom as he was feeling unwell. She was suspicious, so much so that she spotted that he tried to take his phone (which was put on a table at the start of the test). She stopped him and he went out. They waited and waited and it took him 20 minutes to emerge from the rest-room. During this time, the test monitor was so concerned that she messaged me and also stood by the door watching the restrooms for any sign of movement. When the toilet door opened out came Larry with a phone in his hand. Spotted, he quickly detoured into another classroom and came out with no phone.

When I arrived on the scene, he was back in the test room, and I yanked him out. "I want to explain," "You can explain in my office," we parleyed down the hallway. In my office, he said the test monitor was mistaken about seeing a phone, that he'd had hotpot the previous night and had diarrhoea. I told him once more that dishonesty was the worst thing you can do in these situations, but he insisted he had been wronged. At that stage I told him that because of the previous instance and the suspicion in this case that this test would be voided and that we had to investigate. I brought him up to the Chinese counsellor and asked him to tell her what has happened honestly. I told them that I'd leave them to talk but that we'd have a meeting the following day. I quickly went to the classroom he dropped the phone in and asked the teacher who related how he got the phone and indicated the student he'd got the phone from. I spoke to the student who let me check the YouTube history to show his phone had been used by Larry to listen to the exact audio that was being used. 

Larry is a terrible cheat. Terrible in both senses of the word. Clearly with a bit more subtlety he would have gotten away with it. He also clearly hasn't learned that other people don't like cheats and generally tell on them; either that or he doubts my powers of investigation because in the meeting the following day he again decided to not tell the whole truth again. But when he "revealed" my first piece of evidence that he was lying, I reminded him again that honesty was his only way to improve this situation. He then admitted to it all of it. Fortunately, he also filled in another way that he has been preparing that, though not cheating, was a very grey area. 

Besides being a huge disappointment, these incidents have been a black hole of precious time. The student is from a key collaborative partner, which cases like this really strain. There is a penalty. It is not expulsion but enough to have huge implications for him. The way I rationalise it is that we did accept an obviously weak student into the programme, who was pressured to achieve. That's no excuse for cheating, but justification enough to soften the penalty from the extreme to what we are giving him.