New Zealand Historian Dr Vincent O'Malley believes that as a nation we need to embrace our country's history and teach it to our children.

In doing so, we should not just "cherry-pick" the good parts but acknowledge the bad as well, he said during an address in Hamilton last week.

Dr O'Malley was guest speaker at a meeting of the Hamilton Press Club where he spoke strongly about the need for the New Zealand Wars to be taught in schools.

Dr O'Malley has published widely on Crown and Māori historical relationships, and on the history of Māori and Pākehā interactions.


He is the author of The Great War for New Zealand, Waikato 1800-2000, an account of the Waikato wars between British forces and Māori in 1863-64.

Historian James Belich has said about the book: "The Waikato War was the most decisive in New Zealand's history, but has long been overshadowed by bigger wars overseas.

"Now Vincent O'Malley gives the traumatic conflict its due."

He is currently campaigning for better outcomes in teaching history at school.

In his Hamilton Press Club address, Dr O'Malley said that at least 70 per cent of students leave school without any introduction to New Zealand history in general.

"I'm not an expert on the history curriculum of schools, I'm just somebody who thinks that a basic knowledge of the history of one's own country is an outcome that any decent education system around the world should deliver. Ours is currently failing to do that," he said.

As a nation no one should be happy with that, he says.

"The Ministry of Education does not keep statistics on the number of students studying the New Zealand Wars in school Dr O'Malley said.

"No one has a clue. Again, this just staggers me."

In New Zealand, schools basically choose what they teach based on a "very broad" set of achievement objectives, he says.

"That's the only framework.

"There's no requirement to teach any New Zealand history let alone Māori [history]," he said.

Dr O'Malley said the Ministry of Education's response has been that the system doesn't allow for it. "That's a pretty lame excuse as far as things go."

While Dr O'Malley acknowledges that some schools and passionate teachers go to lengths to teach students their national history his concern is for the other schools.

He said that some schools choose to teach about the less contentious or "safer" conflicts such as Tudor history instead, while others teach inaccurate or incomplete content due to a lack of any set guidelines.

"I'd suggest that this is too important to leave to a lottery system where the whims of individual schools or teachers determine what kids learn," he said.

He does not say that New Zealand history should be a compulsory NCEA subject but does have a suggestion.

"Why don't we decide what's important and then design a system that delivers that desired outcome rather than the other way around?"

Dr O'Malley said that as a nation we need to embrace this history, not to just "cherry-pick" the good parts but acknowledge the bad as well.

"Teach this stuff," he says.

Dr O'Malley acknowledged the Ōtorohanga College students who, in 2014, petitioned the government to commemorate the 19th century New Zealand Wars and campaigned for a national day of remembrance.

"As the Ōtorohanga College petition suggested, our rangatahi are actually pleading to learn this.

"Let's take our lead from the kids.

"They seem to have a better sense of the kind of country they want to live in: one that doesn't turn its back on its own past," Dr O'Malley said.