It is often assumed that the Education Act of 1877 signalled the beginning of State involvement in education in New Zealand. In fact, the State had begun a system of schooling for Maori children ten years before that, with the Native Schools Act in 1867. However, even this was not the beginning of State involvement in schooling in New Zealand. Twenty years earlier, in 1847, the Governor had begun giving subsidies to the schools run by the missionaries for Maori children. An important question we need to ask is: Why did the government make provisions for the schooling of Maori during this period? Many who know something about the early Maori schools might respond to this question by saying that schooling was provided for Maori in order to assimilate them to European culture. This is quite true but by itself is an inadequate explanation. It simply leads to another question: Why did the government want to assimilate Maori to European culture? To answer this we need to consider what the notion of assimilation involves and examine some of the implications it has as a social policy.