Reflective Practice #4 – Hawaiian Education

This is part of my Reflective Practice series, which is part of my performance review at Kamehameha:

Some alarming statistics on Hawaiian education were brought to my attention recently:

1) Only 25% of Hawaiians graduating from Hawaiʻi schools are what the DOE considers “college and career ready” (that is, taking and passing the tests they need to enter college, the military or other fields, not having to take remedial courses if they enter Community Colleges), even worse, however, was:

2) Among Hawaiian graduates of public schools, 9% are completing college.

What is to be done about this? Or perhaps more importantly, how should we interpret these numbers? The standard response is to create programs that target the “weak” areas – for example, something is definitely happening in high school, because readiness numbers around middle school are comparatively good. So counselors may be deployed to intervene, which is exactly what Kamehameha Schools has done with its Kamehameha Scholars program, a “supplementary educational enrichment program with a focus on college and career guidance. Students will discover and assess their skills, interests, and values and explore matching post-high institutions and career options to develop plans for their future.”

But perhaps more important is questioning how and why we find ourselves in this predicament. It canʻt be that weʻre adapting to a new environment, as would be the case with immigrant groups; we’ve been here longest. Something not yet entirely measured is behind these gaps, perhaps a kind of existential terror of the brutally competitive system we have to navigate. Some research is supporting this seemingly far-fetched explanation.

Terror Management Theory holds that as we all have a deep-seated fear of death, the best way of coming to terms with it is to identify with cultural constructs that are larger than ourselves – if we are mortal, at least these cultural symbols (language, art, history) live on, and we are a part of that.

Hūlili journal, vol 3

In one of the most insightful recent articles on Hawaiian well-being, A. Kuʻulei Serna notes (in Hūlili journal, 2006, 133) that because “Hawaiians’ trauma [is] caused [by] disruption of culture,” we have few symbols through which to deflect this existential terror.

There are, of course other reasons. The emerging Native Hawaiian educational network, consisting of Kamehameha (7000 students), Hawaiian-focused Charter Schools (4000 students) and immersion schools (about 1500-2000 students), only touches a small fraction of the 150,000 Hawaiians learners today. Another 7000 Hawaiians are educated in other private schools. All of this adds up to something like W.E.B. DuBois’s “talented tenth,” who are supposedly tasked with bringing up the rest. And this group has done a lot, but not nearly  enough. While public schools “honor” Hawaiian history by requiring it in middle and high school, there is no system in place to ensure that teachers are prepared to deliver such a complex history. I’ve written (not flatteringly) about the state of Hawaiian history at the university level, and won’t repeat that here, except to say that in this case, it is a top-down process that’s not working well.

While we need more and better institutions of Hawaiian education, we also need to take a hard look at what the economic, political (read: military) systems do to us at a deep level.


Filed under academia, Hawaiian history, intellect

3 responses to “Reflective Practice #4 – Hawaiian Education

  1. Luana

    My sister has always been interested in the same questions and it became her field of research: social and cultural studies in education. And why she separately heads up UC Berkeley’s talent and development program which brings in under-served public elementary and high school kids to further learning in a university setting.

    I defer to her good mind in related matters, but I do think there’s merit in the idea that an environment in which family and culture are more than foundational values – but rather are the context – helps inur a kid from political, economical and societal onslaughts.

    Our own questions stem from witnessing inconsistencies as everyday Hawaiian kids with a set of cultural ideals (mana and aloha being expansive and empowering concepts).

    I am so glad there are academics examining these things – and fostering wider discussion and action in our own communities and respective roles. Thank you.


  2. Frank

    It goes without saying, I cannot thank you enough for your insights and articulation on the history of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Your findings allow us to see the forensics of the overwhelming invasion by numerous foreign elements. A view of the past, so we may clearly see in the present, our kuleana and how we can proceed to attain our H/K Restoration.
    Having said that, I had a question regarding ‘Schizmogenesis” which means “creation division” coined from the Greeks. Is it possible to define our Hawaiian Kingdom experience along these lines. The imposition of which was foisted upon our people by the illegal missionary-U.S. military led invasion.
    I know in Anthropology they use this term. Yet, I am curious to know whether this life decreasing and degrading of our culture is in fact a mechanism that has been used by these occupying elements to despoil our humanity for over a 120+years. If this is true, then could it be that these agencys have employed the insidious practice of “Schizmogenesis”.

    Mahalo nui


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