Tag Archives: Hawaiian education

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.


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Moʻolelo Refigured – TEDx Mānoa

The comment about cheesecake at the beginning refers to an earlier talk by Brandon Ledward, in which he described how his Hawaiian History class in public school was so pathetic that the “teacher,” who was actually the gym coach, gave passing grades if students brought him a cheesecake at the end of the semester – no other work required.
I like to think weʻve come a long way..

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TEDx Manoa Recap

ImageI donʻt want to give away too much about my talk at TEDx Manoa “Moʻolelo Refigured” – Iʻll save that for when the video comes out – but my theme of moʻolelo (myth, history, legend, story) seemed to be one that ran through most of the talks, as Naʻalehu Anthony noted. Anthony himself explained how ʻOiwi TV was not really about technology, or even the telling of stories exactly, but about the question of who gets to tell the stories. In her talk  Ola (i) nā Mo’olelo: Living Mo’olelo, Brandy Nalani McDougall read poetry framed by vivid commentary on stories and colonialism – her “On Cooking Captain Cook” got a rise out of the crowd, and it was hard to say whether they all really got it. One person who blogged on my talk didnʻt seem to get it – I noticed his comment that I “made an argument on annexation” – the strategy of continually calling history an opinion has been used by those who still control the story.

Lissette Flannary, a mainland born and raised Hawaiian filmmaker, focused on the stories of the Hawaiian diaspora, hula, music and their intersections. Her American Aloha, on mainland halau hula, epitomizes this focus, and many of her films are on hula, like Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula, but she also made One Voice about the Kamehameha song contest, which Iʻm in for one nanosecond.  Manu Boyd skillfully delivered a story that connected the gods of Manoa to the “robust retail environment” he heads in Waikiki -Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center – in a surprisingly captivating and funny moʻolelo. In Hawaiʻi’s Legacy of Literacy, Puakea Nogelmeier focused on the means of telling the story itself – Hawaiian language newspapers, from which I dutifully transcribed my pages for his Awaiaulu/ʻIke Kuʻokoʻa project. His project is directly relevant to mine (a Hawaiian history textbook) in that it could make my project immediately out of date as new voices from the past emerge, and thatʻs OK.

Kealoha, the singularly named State Poet Laureate recited The Poetry Of Us, connecting his background in nuclear physics and poetry in a poetic examination of Hawaiian origins (and all origins). His poem “What are the chances?” spoke of the contingency and irony of existence in a way that was timely and in a contemporary style. And this summed up the TED theme “New Old Wisdom” – new frameworks for old knowledge, or as Vicky Holt Takamine put it, It’s Na’au or Newa.

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