In the late 50’s, Ausubel came over from America as a scholar primarily to study New Zealand Pakeha and Māori youth. He found that despite New Zealand’s apparent social progress in terms of welfare state, cultural relations and general friendliness; all was not quite what he expected.
Although this book was written over half a century ago, it uncovers many of the attitudes and social discourses still apparent today. Kiwis generally despising anyone who uses the welfare system. A hypersensitivity to criticism. Quickness to point out the faults of others. Jealousy and suspicion of foul play towards racial minorities regarding vocational endeavors. Constrained anger and tension which let loose after a couple of beers. Adults not showing the same discipline they expect of their children.
One of the most disturbing parts of reading this book occurred when I went to watch the final installment of the Hobbit. I had just read a part in the book where he explains that New Zealanders are overly-sensitive to criticism and need to be constantly reassured by foreigners that we are the friendliest, most generous, and intelligent nation on the planet. Before the movie started, a short clip played, where Peter Jackson pushed cameras in the faces of various actors and asked them to thank our country for hosting them during the shooting of the movies. The result is embarrassing, but certainly reenforced some of the points David Ausubel made fifty years ago.