Category Archives: Education

The International Commission of Inquiry at the Permanent Court of Arbitration

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The Clarity of History

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

― Marcus Tullius Cicero

Yesterday, we had a training up at Kamehameha that at one point discussed the concept of Aloha ‘Åina, and used Kaho’olawe as an example. While there are some with varying opinions on the bombing of Kaho’olawe, most people today would agree, I think, that stopping the bombing was the right thing to do. And often, such matters are clear in hindsight – the Kamehameha trustee scandal comes to mind, the consensus about the result of which is rather stunning.


Forty years after the Kaho’olawe landings, even a fairly mainstream organization like OHA can see who was in the right

But there are issues going on today, about which there is a lot of debate – Mauna Kea is the most obvious example. In my view, a historical analysis of these contemporary issues can provide a lot of clarity as to how we should act in the present. Some of these issues (maybe not Mauna Kea, but certainly Makua Valley), become quite clear with just a little historical reflection.

While George Santayana’s quote about repeating history is a cliche at this point, the message doesn’t seem to have been received by most. But as Maya Angelou has put it:

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.

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My Remarks at the Panel on the International Inquiry – Permanent Court of Arbitration (at Kamehameha Schools)

On Monday, January 30th, Kamehameha Schools hosted a panel discussion on the Fact Finding proceedings taking place at the PCA. The panelists were Dr. Keanu Sai, agent for the Hawaiian Kingdom, and Professor Federico Lenzerini, counsel and advocate for the Hawaiian Kingdom, and professor of International law at the University of Sienna, Italy. I was the moderator, and below are my opening remarks:

Aloha ahiahi kākou and to all those who made this quite unique event possible, Mahalo nui iā ʻōukou.

The writer Thomas Pynchon wrote “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they donʻt have to worry about the answers.” This is a challenging idea that should make us think deeply about how we engage with, among other things, history, and make us ask ourselves if we have indeed been asking the right questions.


Iʻm ʻUmi Perkins and I teach Hawaiian history here at Kamehameha and Political Science at UH, so Iʻm no stranger to controversial topics. Iʻve been teaching many of the concepts weʻll be discussing tonight for nearly 15 years, and Iʻve managed somehow never to get in trouble. But I think thatʻs why I was asked to open tonight’s event. In fact, I was asked by another teacher recently who often gets in trouble for talking about the same things, how I do it – how I stay out of trouble. Which got me thinking – how do I do it? And I started to realize there are ways to discuss tonight’s issues without creating controversy, and one of them is to keep it more about law and less about politics. So for example, I was part of a student organization founded by Dr. Keanu Sai, one of tonightʻs distinguished panelists, when we were both PhD students at UH, it was called The Hawaiian Society of Law and Politics or HSLP, which was about discussing both politics and law, but in a way that was mindful of the separation between them. The Society sought, and to a large extent, succeeded, in integrating the idea of Hawaiʻi as a nation-state into curricula across the UH system and even beyond, so that now, for example, I teach a course on military occupation at UH Mānoa, which serves as a kind of testing ground for the idea of Hawaiʻi as an occupied country by comparing it with other occupations historically. This course was originally created by yet another member of HSLP.

More recently, I wrote an article on this topic in The Nation magazine, which is the oldest weekly magazine in the US, and I was hired to rewrite the Hawaiian history standards for the Hawaiʻi Department of Education, Dr. Sai has written a Hawaiian history textbook called Ua Mau ke Ea, Kamana Beamer (another HSLP member) wrote an award-winning book incorporating this view, No Mākou ka Mana, and several PhD dissertations and Master’s theses have been produced that have furthered this line of research, including one thesis by Donovan Preza (again of HSLP), which was named the best MA thesis in the entire Pacific Rim.

So a lot has happened since 2000 and I think it’s very significant and important that as this case returns to the PCA, this time for fact-finding, the level of understanding locally on this topic has been greatly expanded from the time of the original Larsen case.

One of the questions I’m often asked when I talk to people about these issues is :Is there really a World Court? Many think that law is a matter that is strictly domestic, that is, limited to [being] within countries. But yes, in fact, there is a world court, which has a few organs if you will. According to their website:

The Permanent Court of Arbitration, established by treaty in 1899, is an intergovernmental organization providing … dispute resolution services to the international community.

In the same building, The Peace Palace, in The Hague, Netherlands, where the proceedings weʻll be discussing tonight will take place, is the International Court of Justice, which, according to their website:

is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the UN and began work in April 1946.

Now the Courtʻs proceedings donʻt often make major headlines, theyʻre often about fairly obscure trade disputes. But one case that has made headlines is the case of the South China Sea, that region being a major global geopolitical hotspot right now. And in the ruling for that case, they cited the first Larsen v. Hawaiian Kingdom case from the year 2000.

So how did it come to be that I began teaching these ideas at a fairly traditional institution like KS. There is, in fact, a genealogy there.

Hawaiian history began to be offered at Kamehameha in 1971 but wasnʻt required until the 1980s. In 1987, when Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi was formed, the former Hawaiian history teacher Kawika Makanani resolved to make Hawaiian history a course on Hawaiian sovereignty as it was understood at that time. In 1993, KS faculty, including Kawika Makanani, former principal Julian Ako, current English department head Kaʻimipono Kaiwi and others conducted a research project to discover and expose more about the 1893 overthrow. In the late 1990s, my predecessor, Kehau Abad, incorporated many of the concepts weʻll discuss tonight into her curriculum, which I subsequently inherited and continued to develop.

Just for comparison, the Hawaiʻi Department of Education began requiring courses in Hawaiian history in response to the 1978 Constitutional Convention, and the Departmentʻs Hawaiian Studies program began in 1980.

Tonight’s event is not about taking positions or taking sides. Tonight is really about educating people, and to that purpose, Iʻd like to conclude my remarks by suggesting what might be done in terms of educating a group of people we all care about – that is Hawaiian youth and the youth of Hawaiʻi more generally. There are serious structural problems in the delivery of Hawaiian history in schools. To name only one example, to become a certified Social Studies teacher, youʻd have to pass the Praxis test, which is very demanding in a number of topics, none of which is Hawaiian history. So if you were able to pass that test, itʻs unlikely – not impossible, but unlikely – that youʻd have a deep knowledge of Hawaiian history and vice versa. If you spent your time learning Hawaiian history, as a young teacher youʻd be hard-pressed to pass that test. This is only one of many such structural problems that result, in the end, in a society that really doesn’t know, and thus has not come to terms, with its own history. Seen in this context, tonight’s event can be thought of as part of a larger community effort to educate ourselves about these critical historical issues and their ramifications today by beginning to understand the international commission of inquiry at the Permanent Court of Arbitration.


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Reflective Practice 7: Performance and Development

I once saw a video from the Waldorf schools that has stuck with me ever since. In the video, one of the teachers says “People press down an adult consciousness on children in the name of performance.” That line has stuck with me ever since – focusing on performance rather than development is creating a generation of sociopaths- all so we can brag about our kids to our “friends.”

An article in Big Think entitled “Elementary Children are not Little High School Students,” makes the case for stopping the madness:

Public schools, terrified of losing funding due to low test scores, have moved to “teaching to the test,” where the goal is passing exams, not mastery of a subject. (In Michigan last month it was announced that 100 schools were to be shut down because their students fell short on these exams.)


The article goes on to say that homework for elementary school students is harmful to students, damages family relationships (cutting in to essential family time – drug use is inversely correlated with family dinners), kids need rest after long school days and they need time to be kids. Thereʻs no evidence homework, at least in lower grades, works – countries that pour on the homework, like Iran and South Korea, donʻt score very well on international comparisons, for example, compared to Finland, which assigns little to no homework even in the older grades.

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Reflective Practice # 6: The Rhetoric of Ed Reform

Back in the late 1990s, I did research that led to a report (co-authored with Paul Dunphy) on the privatization of public services in Massachusetts, Privatizing the Common Wealth, in which I looked at “privatization” of public education. The trend, which was still unclear at the time, was that the Right would slowly begin a process of dismantling public education using this sequence: 1) high stakes testing to discredit public schools, 2) charter schools to loosen DOE controls over education, 3) vouchers to redirect public funds to private schools. At some point in the future, when public education is throughly discredited, public schools could begin to be dismantled, replaced by private schools. Whether everyone would be able to attend these schools is unclear at best. Connected to this has been an attack on the teaching profession, which is well under way, and nearly complete in its success (Arkansas has begun hiring uncertified teachers due to lack in interest in the profession). It’s important to understand that this movement is driven by the business community, not educators primarily.

Some of this rhetoric has begun to be taken up by Kamehameha Schools, which has followed the Hawaiʻi DOE in many ways, beginning with standards development (which other private schools like Punahou do not do), so I thought it would be useful to get a sense of what ed reform (or ed deform as opponents have begun to call it) is, and what it isnʻt. To that purpose, I asked HSTA Treasurer, Mililani High School Social Studies department head and 2012 History Teacher of the Year, Dr. Amy Perruso to define ed reform. Here was her concise response:

I would say that the ed deform [yes, sheʻs “biased,” that is to say, has a position on this critical topic – welcome to the real world], properly understood, is a attempt to privatize public education primarily through an attack on teachers and teachers’ unions. It began with a manufactured crisis of low performance (Milton Friedman and Reagan’s “Nation at Risk”), for which teachers are blamed and scapegoated, and will end when the profession of teaching is destroyed, there are no more strong public schools, and access to education is limited to the social, political and economic elite.


Amy Perruso, PhD

In the 90s, I had to admit that I could not point to a “smoking gun” – solid proof that the elimination of public ed was the goal of the nascent ed reform movement. But now the evidence is beginning to be abundant, starting with the pending appointment of Betsy DeVos (wife of an heir to the Amway fortune), whose desire to end public education is well-known, as Education Secretary.*

I began this series, Reflective Practice, as a way of being contemplative of my own teaching practice, but it is equally important to be cognizant of the context in which oneʻs practice is taking place, rather than trudging along oblivious of the forces that create the conditions within which we work with students.

* Contemplating her nomination, the Washington Post published this “scenario” regarding DeVos’s ensuing push for school vouchers:

The shift of funds away from public school districts creates further stresses on traditional public schools. They are deprived of longstanding resources that compensate for the unwillingness of most states to provide adequate levels of funding for those districts that lack the capacity to raise enough money from local property tax revenues.

As traditional public schools wither and close, more and more families are drawn to the unregulated private sector.

The loss of funds for traditional public schools makes teaching less attractive, and existing teachers leave the field in droves. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs plummets; these programs are unable to provide a sufficient supply of replacement teachers for local school districts, even as fewer teachers are needed.

The unregulated charter and private school sectors hire individuals with no formal preparation or commitment to teaching, and these schools function as revolving doors. Lacking a stable teaching force, even those private and charter schools aspiring to help their teachers develop professionally are stymied.

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The Meaning of 2016

Iʻve ranted in the past about how Hawaiʻi voters voted away their own right to choose the members of the Board of Education. The 2016 Presidential election may be the same process, but increased by many orders of magnitude. Trump may not turn out to be a fascist – he could be too busy with the 3500 lawsuits he is involved in, or focused on his 50 businesses, which he will somehow continue to run while governing the most powerful country on Earth. But the warnings have been issued. There have been enough caricatures of Trump in Nazi garb so that anyone paying attention would at least have come across the idea. So the 2016 vote may indeed be one in which voters – proudly, I would add – voted away their own freedoms.

It’s a fact that we often neglect that corporations are, in fact, dictatorships. Thatʻs so much a given that itʻs become invisible. But the US has now handed its reigns to someone who has only known that paradigm.

The term “non-college educated” was repeatedly used on election night to describe Trump’s base, and these are the same voters for whom a hatred of Obama has been simmering for eight years. It was easy to dismiss these people, with their crazy ideas and support of Sarah Palin, but we – the “club members,” the college educated – have done so at our own peril. We have failed to fight hard enough for an education system that would reduce bigotry. When we say we are interested in education, we mainly have meant our own educations, and that of our children. This is evidenced by the flight to private and charter schools and by tacit support of “school choice.”True, there are many exceptions to this, and it was, and would have been a hard fight. Ed reform has focused so tightly on math and English, it’s led to some neglect of the social science/social studies and humanities fields that could promote empathy.

On an abstract lèvel, this is what weʻve been lacking. There has been a tendency to blame people for things they cannot help – citizenship on the right, lack of education on the left.

Later, reports began to come in that the vote fell not so much along educational lines, but along racial lines. In other words, educated white males had voted for Trump as well. This was not as counter-intuitive as it might seem. Many who go through college study business or “practical,” skill-oriented fields and they, like their non-club counterparts, do not really pick up the social science/humanities orientation – think of conservative fraternities in liberal colleges.

Hit the books - specifically those that build empathy

Hit the books – specifically those that build empathy

One thing that last eight years has perhaps made us forget is that it has always been very difficult for the Democrats to assemble a winning coalition. As the electoral votes began to run out on election night, and California, Oregon and Washington were done being counted for Clinton, it occurred to me how few pockets of left-wing sentiment there are in America. It was a sea of red after that.

Calls were already coming out for Progressive organizing before the election. My sense is that whatʻs needed is Progressive education in empathy.


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Response to Kaʻiulani Milham’s “A Game Changer for Kanaka Maoli”

Kaʻiulani Milham, a writer and participant in the Naʻi Aupuni constitutional convention, published a thoughtful editorial in Civil Beat about a topic very relevant to the readers of this blog, so I thought Iʻd give my line-by-line two cents. She often hits the mark, but sometimes, in my view, misses it.

With the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, Kānaka Maoli face a vastly altered landscape in our pathway to self-determination and the question of whether or not to accept the Department of Interior’s final rule, for federal recognition.

Probably the main point that Milham misses for Fed-Rec, which is that itʻs dead. It was to be done by executive order, so even if Obama signs on Jan. 19th, Trump will unsign on the 20th.

The country we contemplated a nation-to-nation relationship with, is not the same nation we imagined last week.

But it is.The ill-will toward Hawaiians was always visible in Congress, which refused to consider the Akaka Bill for a dozen years (1999-2012). Anti-affirmative action sentiment (73%) was always going to be against us (if the Akaka Bill and Fed-Rec were something you wanted).

The aloha we uphold — kindness, welcoming and inclusion — are the polar opposite of Trump’s xenophobic essence and the underlying national spirit of exclusion his election revealed.

Yes and no. America is an incredibly divided country – thatʻs been clear for a while now.

His race-driven hatred for people of color, from Muslims to Mexicans, will be felt by Kānaka Maoli, too. Guaranteed.

I basically said this in my post “Hawaiians in Trump’s America.”

What’s worse is that the hatred he represents reflects the values of his share of U.S. voters who voted in this election.

Those who think as Trump does — as well as those willing to look the other way when he repeatedly showed himself to be a rampant racist and misogynist — have been empowered by his fascist rhetoric. They won’t be backing down from their bully pulpit any time soon.

The economic, health and social conditions of Hawaiians will not improve under a Trump presidency.

Probably true.

Nor can we afford to delude ourselves that federal recognition will protect our cultural and natural resources.

When I was on John Kane’s radio show, Letʻs Talk Native (WBAI, New York City), I read the litany of Hawaiian socio-economic ills, and he said “We have all those things with Federal Recognition!” Heʻs one Native American who gets it.

The shocking images from the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, flooding our social media pages for weeks now, has shown just how far America’s corporatocracy will go to rape the natural resources, culture and sacred places of native people.

If Barack Obama has not had the moral courage to stop the atrocities being committed there in the name of Big Oil and Energy Transfer Partner’s Dakota Access Pipeline, we would be insane to believe Trump will do better.

And you were about to celebrate “Thanksgiving,” created to thank Native Americans who helped pilgrims survive their first winter, while Standing Rock was going on? Thereʻs another holiday on Monday, Nov. 28 – Lā Kuʻokoʻa, Hawaiian Independence Day – no guilt required in its celebration.

But the “status quo” also looms like a bogey man — with impossibly high-priced housing, a failing state education system, high incarceration rates and low graduation rates and countless other chronic social and health issues for Hawaiians.

Under the specter of Rice v. Cayetano and other anti-Hawaiian U.S. Supreme Court rulings, federal recognition advocates fret over the anticipated loss of federal funds Hawaiians have become dependent on to revive our still threatened ʻŌlelo Hawaii and other foundational pillars of our culture.

See above comments on affirmative action.

Fear of losing these programs and funds drove our trustees at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to invest an estimated $43 million, on various attempts at federal recognition, that we now see has been spent for naught.

Gambling on a tag-team effort by back-to-back Obama and Hillary Clinton administrations to carry their federal recognition dream into reality, our trustees have been caught with their pants down.

How foolish to think tying our futures to the vagary of American politics was the safest course.

Yet Milham participated in Naʻi Aupuni. Is this an admission?

We are not safe.

Not on any level.

More importantly, as Haunani K. Trask famously declared on the 100th anniversary observance of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1993, “We are not Americans!”

In a larger, pragmatic sense, none of us here are “Americans.”

Possibly true, but it misses the point that some really arenʻt Americans – oneʻs citizenship is not a matter of opinion. Some Hawaiians have no American ancestry and thus retain only Hawaiian citizenship.

Now, because of this election, and what it portends for American politics in the foreseeable future, we all must honestly consider how maintaining ties to America impacts all of us in Hawaii.

These islands are 2,471 miles away from the nearest American soil, a world a way culturally from Washington, D.C.

With a climate change denier entering the Oval Office, and scientists concluding that climate change-induced sea level rise will hit Hawaii harder than anywhere on Earth, we have to ask ourselves:

When did the deciders in Washington, D.C. ever prioritize the well being of Pacific Islanders?

I asked myself a similar question when I was looking for graduate programs – in university departments itʻs as if the Pacific does not exist.

Not in post WWII Hawaii when America used Kahoʻolawe for a half-century-long bombing campaign that broke the island’s water table and left it uninhabitable, littered with unexploded ordinance that largely remain below the surface after $400 million spent on clean up.

And only got 70% of the surface and 10% of the subsurface.

Not in 1946 when America began its 56-year bombing run on Bikini Atoll, or when it dropped a hydrogen bomb there in 1954, leaving the Marshall Islands toxic to this day.

Not for the last 45 years as America invited half the world’s armed forces to use Hawaiian waters for RIMPAC’s biennial exercises with their devastation of our marine resources.

Not in 1997 when America rejected the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, turning its back on sea-level rise impacts to Pacific peoples.

Not when Tuvalu began its evacuations, as sea-level rise inundated their islands, or when Kiribati bought land in Fiji in preparation for evacuations to come.

Not in 2014 when Obama announced the Pacific Pivot, further militarizing the Pacific and putting Pacific peoples firmly in the scatter-gun pattern of collateral damage from America’s future wars.

Not today when America’s reluctant signature to the Paris Climate Accord is threatened with abrogation by Trump.

If America puts this little value on protecting the Pacific, our Hawaiians Islands and Pacific Islanders in general, how can any of us here in Hawaii feel safe?

Does Trump think of Hawaii when he says he’s going to “Make America Great Again?”

More likely he’ll put Hawaii in the crosshairs of America’s enemies.

The reality for Hawaii is, this unbalanced, undisciplined, inexperienced American president will have unprecedented potential to fatally bungle foreign relations with North Korea, China or some other American enemy.

Hawaii, being the nearest target, will be attacked just like it was on Dec. 7, 1941.

Hawaiians, unquestionably, have suffered most from the imposition of American rule over our islands, but we’re NOT the only ones who will suffer if it continues.

Brown or white, we in Hawaii are all Pacific islanders.

Not exactly. Some people here think weʻre an annex of Southern California.

Whether Hawaii will survive for our future generations will depend on our resolve to form a unified independent Hawaiian government.

We can confront the challenges of restoring Hawaiian Independence together, wait to see what American politics will bring, or slowly sink beneath the waves of sea-level rise, climate change induced mass extinctions and the myriad other environmental threats that stand before us.

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