Tag Archives: Kamehameha Schools

On Ownership

This post is part of the continuing “On” series: others include On Capitalism, On Freedom, On Constitutionalism and On Privilege.

In Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Gordon Gecko – famous for the line that defined the 80s, “greed is good” – relates the secret of his success: “I own stuff.”

By acquiring ownership of appreciating assets, investors buy low and sell high, and real estate is a prime example of this. But as Iʻve come to own property, it has begun to dawn on me that one never really owns anything. There are many ways that a property can be foreclosed on, beyond simply failing to pay the “mortgage” (you actually pay the loan, the mortgage is the contract allowing foreclosure): failure to pay taxes (a tax lien), failure to pay maintenance fees, failure to pay any “mechanic” who does work on your house (a mechanic’s lien). Taxes in some high-value areas can be in the thousands per month, so even if you own your property free and clear, the cost of living there can be prohibitive, as much as a “mortgage.” Further, you donʻt really own property at the most fundamental level. The legal concept of “dominium” means that the sovereign owns all property at a level “beneath” your “ownership” – what you have is actually a bundle of protected rights to the property: the right to use and enjoy, exclude others, etc. (though this last right is abridged in Hawaiʻi due to Native Tenant Rights).

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 11.44.16 AM

At a conference on occupation at Cornell last May (my attendance was due to this article I wrote for The Nation), we looked at the term from various perspectives, including the simple occupation of land

As I write this, Hawaiʻi is in crisis. The basic necessity of a roof over oneʻs head is one of the most difficult “commodities” to afford, and hereʻs the thing: many of us are responsible for this state of affairs. Homeowners benefit from raises in housing prices, and have a vested interest in the continuation of this state of constant increase – that is, as individuals. Even this benefit is, in a sense, short term. When you sell your high priced property, you have to buy back in to an inflated market. Also, housing becomes much more expensive for your children, who youʻre trying to help get along in the world. It becomes a form of generational warfare. The situation is so extreme, that even renting is becoming a difficult proposition for many – credit checks, first and last monthʻs rent and/or deposits can make renting something only for the very well-off. (If you had great credit wouldn’t you be buying instead of renting?). According to an article in Civil Beat, thirty percent of renters are spending half of their income or more on rent, making them very vulnerable to shocks, like divorce, death in the family or medical problems.  Add this to the fact that most Americans donʻt have $1000 for emergency expenses, and the situation is dire indeed.

Ironically, some long-term studies show that property, when adjusted for inflation, has not had real increases in a century. Any exceptions to this are bubbles. So are we in the midst of a very protracted bubble? If so, we may want to change our long-term approach to wealth management. I wrote earlier that the wealthy are beginning to thinking about access rather than ownership, an this has begun to trickle toward the middle class and working poor. We need to begin to question the very fundamental assumption that the market is the best mechanism for allocating scarce resources, like real estate. There are some small moves in this direction: Kamehameha Schools (normally a very aggressive developer) is developing its Oʻahu North Shore lands in a way that takes some other factors into account. Priority for a new development in Haleʻiwa will be given to local (that is, North Shore, and often Hawaiian) families who fall into the “gap group” – imagine a teacher married to a fireman. They arenʻt in lucrative positions, but are a stable bet to pay their loan and stay in their house for decades, rather than sell at the first uptick in prices.

Perhaps we should try to return to traditional Hawaiian ways of thinking about ownership. According to a source I cite in my dissertation, Hawaiians had very few possessions. A man, for instance would own only a handful of items related to his trade. So the idea that one could own land was certainly foreign – even chiefs didnʻt own land – they controlled it for a period of time, until the next kālaiʻāina (land division).

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Globalization, Hawaiian history, Uncategorized

Reflective Practice #2: What is a “Teacher?”

gu·ru

 noun \ˈgr-(ˌ)ü, ˈgü-(ˌ)rü also gə-ˈrü\

: a religious teacher and spiritual guide in Hinduism

: a teacher or guide that you trust

: a person who has a lot of experience in or knowledge about a particular subject

– Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Teaching is a flatland. A dead end position. Unless one plans to go into administration, there are no promotions, only raises. You start out as a teacher and end up 30-plus years later as a “teacher.” But are you the same person 30 years later? This is one of those areas in which we as a society and a profession practice a kind of double think: we both know and do not know that a beginning teacher and a veteran teacher are not the same. A veteran teacher makes more money, but does not necessarily command more authority; in fact, they may have not the slightest amount of extra authority than a new teacher.

Itʻs an ironic situation in which the new teacher works very hard for little results, and the veteran produces large results with little effort: is it actually more money for less work? Because research shows that new teachers, on average, have no effect on student learning. On the other hand, I remember teachers who worked 45 years and seemed just as stressed, or even more so, than the new ones. Thereʻs also a very sharp learning curve in the first 5 years. Some improve rapidly and one can tell that they were meant to teach. Others do not improve and will remain mediocre their entire careers. So itʻs do-or-die in this period, and yes, the poor performers are often protected by unions and/or tenure, and hard to get rid of. But incentives to improve are very skewed. They assume the kind of motivation (external motivation) that people in business exhibit, when most teachers, even bad ones, are internally motivated – which is why they often donʻt mind the flat, dead end nature of the profession.

But it is more complicated: the question can become “more effective for whom?” In my first year teaching, I was not effective. I taught low performing students at a high-poverty school. Even though I was one of the only teachers who could pronounce their names – I remember a student named Ioakimi Seumanutafa who was shocked out of his mind that I could say his name on the first roll call – I did not speak, look or act like someone from their community (even though I was, sort of). The next year, I took a position at my alma mater and was able to make students engaged and excited about Hawaiian history. I was one of them. So there are intangible factors, such as a teacher’s own background, that help determine “effectiveness.” Itʻs more complicated still: having only teachers who are like the students creates a kind of incestuousness of ideas that harms learning. [It is precisely these teachers who are at risk of falling into the negative attributes associated with the “guru” above – cultivating a cult-like following.] And then there are some teachers manage to be effective no matter who they work with.

It is for these reasons and this diversity within the profession that I favor the “Master teacher” model. Most systems for choosing master teachers are likely flawed, but the concept at least recognizes that “teachers” are a diverse lot indeed: some are balancing kids, commutes and second (or third) jobs, others simply live to teach, with no other encumbrances on their time. Being in one category does not equate with being a poor or high quality teacher, but certainly it is harder to be effective in the first category. Again, perhaps ironically, veteran teachers tend to fall into the first category and younger teachers into the second, so there may be a kind of balancing out that occurs.

Criteria for master teachers could include: National Board certification, Doctoral degrees (in education and/or the subject area taught), observations and evaluations or some other, hybrid process. Either way, it is time for our “egalitarian” society and profession to recognize that all teachers are not the same, and effort is not the only factor explaining the differences.

Leave a comment

Filed under academia, Education, intellect, Uncategorized