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Snapshot 8: Salem and the Dawn Raids

This snapshot describes how a teacher used a local context and community resources to help students get into the text and the themes of a play set in seventeenth century America.


Our small decile-2 school comprises primarily Māori and Pasifika students.

I like to use American playwright Arthur Miller’s 1952 play The Crucible with my level 8 students. To engage them and help develop the “discriminating and insightful understanding” called for in the curriculum, I encourage them to explore parallels with the Dawn Raids carried out in New Zealand in the mid-1970s.

The raids are an important chapter in our nation’s history: the memory of those turbulent times continues to have an impact on many of our people and on our collective conscience.

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Curriculum focus

Level 8

  • Creating and making meaning


Show a discriminating and insightful understanding of ideas within … texts.

Teacher action

First, I get the students to find out from members of their ‘aiga/whānau what they know about the Dawn Raids. Then we share what we have learned.

Next, I invite a retired police officer in our school community to come in and talk about his personal experiences during that time.

The following day, I invite a Pasifika member of the community to come and speak about the impact of the raids on Pasifika families and communities.

These different sources provide a range of perspectives and flesh out historical events that the students can easily relate to. This local context provides them with a window through which to view the hysteria that provoked the Salem witch hunts and the anti-communist purges of the 1950s that are the subject of Miller’s play. It also helps them understand the fear that hysteria can generate, and how hysteria can paralyse people, stopping them doing the right thing.

By using the community as a resource, this approach also validates the voices and experiences of the community and strengthens the partnership between school and home. As teacher, I also learn from the reports that my students bring from home, and from our visiting speakers.

What happened?

I have found that by engaging my students with real events in this way, they are able to understand and analyse the text and the themes of The Crucible more easily and in greater depth. They learn that history can repeat itself, that it takes a brave person to stand alone, and that maintaining personal integrity may be costly.


The anti-terrorism raids of 2007 provide another local context that could be used in conjunction with a study of The Crucible.

Last updated September 14, 2020