Sylvia Ashton-Warner, novelist and educationist, was extraordinarily famous in the 1960s. She maintained that young children best learn to read and write when they produce their own vocabulary, especially sex words – like ‘kiss’, and fear words – like ‘ghost’. Educators lauded her.
Her autobiographical novels about teaching in remote schools, and being culturally abandoned in a remote country, New Zealand, attained enormous international popularity in both literary and educational circles.
But she had an intensely ambivalent relationship with the land of her birth. Despite receiving many accolades in New Zealand, she claimed to have been rejected and persecuted by her homeland. In her darkest moments, she railed against New Zealand and New Zealanders, even stating in one television interview: “I’m not a New Zealander!”
This is the first book to make Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s passionately difficult relationship with New Zealand its central focus. Its contributors argue that, rather than stultifying her, the country she decried produced Sylvia and her work. In addition, infant schooling in New Zealand in the post-war years was relatively radical and progressive, and education officials seemed to welcome Sylvia’s ideas about literacy.
The edited collection includes chapters by Mäori teachers and others who worked with Sylvia, as well as recollections of her son, Elliot Henderson. It reprints her Teaching Scheme that was originally published in New Zealand in the 1950s. And it celebrates her novels as brilliant and angry evocations of life in the wildness of New Zealand.
Alison Jones is a professor of education at The University of Auckland. She is author or editor of several books including: “At School I’ve Got a Chance” Culture/privilege: Pacific Islands and Pakeha girls at school; Touchy Subject: Teachers Touching Children; Bitter Sweet: Indigenous Women in the Pacific.
Sue Middleton is a professor of education at the University of Waikato. Her books include: Disciplining Sexuality: Foucault, Life-histories and Education; Teachers Talk Teaching 1915–1995: Early Childhood, Schools, and Teacher's College; Women and Education in Aotearoa.
Podcast 1: Hear one of the editors of the book, Alison Jones, talk about the title, and the impact of Sylvia Ashton-Warner's key vocabulary:
Alison Jones on Ashton-Warner
Podcast 2: Hear the co-editor of The Kiss and the Ghost, Sue Middleton, talk about how New Zealand of the 1950s and 60s responded to Sylvia Ashton-Warner and her ideas:
Sue Middleton on Ashton-Warner