Not part of the Moʻolelo series – in this one we write our own tale. The first post in what is becoming a new series – The Hawaiian Future – could have been called “The Problems.” That’s a first step, but I’ve noticed that, as a movement, Hawaiians have gone beyond this first step into working on solutions and so should I in this series.
What should be done about all the problems raised in “ The Hawaiian Future?” Education, again, is a good place to begin.
When you look at societal problems, you’ll inevitably come back to education as both the root of the problem and the way out of it. But it’s not a panacea: we hear a lot nowadays about how young people are spending too much time in school, and more importantly, accumulating too much debt to do so, and I think there’s truth to that. When I say “education” I don’t necessarily mean on-campus school or degrees – though those undoubtedly have their place. Informal education is taking off – much of what one needs in terms of content is widely (and in many cases freely) available: EdX, Udemy, iTunesU are only a few of the many sources of educational content available. [See note below]. My favorite educational outlet is Alain de Botton’s School of Life on YouTube.
In “The Need for a Hawaiian College” I wrote of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), whose:
progressive approach was to create their own institutions, as much racism is institutional and therefore invisible. Similarly, Hawaiians are often discriminated against in institutions of higher education. These instances are hard to see when they happen, but clear when outcomes are examined; Hawaiians comprised at one point only 8% of students at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa and only 2% of the faculty. This needs to be compared to Hawaiians’ 19% in the general population and 40-50% in the prison population. One Hawaiian educator, now in his 60s, relates that when he was in elementary school and said he wanted to go to college, his teacher said “Hawaiians donʻt go to college.” We are a long way from that now, but many problems remain.
College costs have risen faster than anything else in the entire economy (I exclude UH from this, as it has remained relatively affordable), and so that rise is inexcusable because it canʻt be attributed to any increase in expenses. Least of all is the cost of labor, as 70% of college courses are now taught by lecturers, who make a fraction of the income of traditional tenure-track professors. It is my belief that university education can be delivered for much less than it is presently.
I’ve written and spoken before about how many institutions exist today in the Hawaiian community that didn’t exist in 1993, when we thought sovereignty was right around the corner. The building of these institutions – Kaiapuni and Hawaiian charter schools most notably – has been the unglamorous work of building the foundation of the pyramid that is the lāhui. It is, and will, pay off in the long run. Some of these schools (and this is an issue at Kamehameha to some extent as well) have trouble getting students to the next level – issues like taking care of younger siblings are actually a factor in preventing college attendance and slowing completion. This shows that the issue lies not only with the schools.
But formal university training is not the only way to gain skills. The libertarian entrepreneur Peter Thiel pays promising students to leave college and start businesses – his reasoning is that they pay a huge opportunity cost in the time they spend in college thatʻs better spent building an enterprise. This has been highly controversial, but one successful example of a Thiel Award recipient is Vitalik Buterin, who founded the cryptocurrency Ethereum (#2 after Bitcoin in value).
As important as it is, education is only part of the solution. I alluded in “The Hawaiian Future” to the need to build a network. While working on my uncle Peter Apo’s campaign for OHA in 2010, the committee met at the exclusive Pacific Club. Some of the committee asked “what are we doing here?” as the club has historical associations with the pro-overthrow sugar barons. But such sites are crucial in this second step of networking – it doesnʻt have to be the Pacific Club, but you canʻt meet people if you arenʻt in the right place at the right time.
The gaping hole in sovereignty discourse is economics. This is a daunting, and so understandably an avoided topic. What does Hawaiʻi have that the world wants? Tourism is the answer we always hear, and many Hawaiians oppose this. But is tourism really the problem, or is it that we donʻt own the hotels? Iʻve often thought that tourism doesnʻt bring money to Hawaiʻi, it brings money through Hawaiʻi – we receive a trickle and then immediately spend those pennies on the dollar at foreign-owned businesses! I’ve admired New Zealand’s approach to tourism, where it doesn’t overwhelm the society. But I also marvel at the third pillar of their economy – international education. All this means is that foreign students attending New Zealand universities (and some high schools) amounts to the third largest piece of their economy after agriculture and tourism. We could do this with a small network of world-class universities and colleges.
Before deciding on any of these issues, we have to know where we are going. I wrote in the first installment that the middle class American “ship has sailed.” The United Nations affirmed this view in a report that said to save the environment people globally have to reduce their consumption by 90%! Now we hear that the total of “man”-made material now equals the total amount of biomass on Earth. And the average product we buy has a useful life of 6 months before we throw it in a landfill. All this is to underscore the need for a new view of what it means to thrive as a lāhui that is part of a larger global community. It pains me to say this, but the American Dream is now untenable – we should look for the silver lining and pursue what Kehau Abad has called “The Hawaiian Dream.”
NOTE: You can now get a degree through “Massive Online Courses” from Antioch College (a prestigious liberal arts college in Ohio) for $10,000 per year, or $40,000 total. Not free but much less than most college cost today. You can also get a college degree reimbursed 100% through Arizona State University online if you work at Starbucks at least 20 hours per week. Disney, McDonalds and Walmart have similar programs.