Culture and Educational Policy in Hawai'i: The Silencing of Native Voices

Culture and Educational Policy in Hawai'i: The Silencing of Native Voices

Culture and Educational Policy in Hawai'i: The Silencing of Native Voices

Culture and Educational Policy in Hawai'i: The Silencing of Native Voices


This comprehensive educational history of public schools in Hawai'i shows and analyzes how dominant cultural and educational policy have affected the education experiences of Native Hawaiians. Drawing on institutional theory as a scholarly lens, the authors focus on four historical cases representing over 150 years of contact with the West. They carefully link historical events, significant people, educational policy, and law to cultural and social consequences for Native Hawaiian children and youth.

The authors argue that since the early 1800s, educational policy in Hawai'i emphasizing efficiency has resulted in institutional structures that have degenerated Hawaiian culture, self-image, and sovereignty. Native Hawaiians have often been denied equal access to quality schools and resulting increased economic and social status. These policies were often overtly, or covertly, racist and reflected wider cultural views prevalent across the United States regarding the assimilation of groups into the American mainstream culture.

The case of education in Hawai'i is used to initiate a broader discussion of similar historical trends in assimilating children of different backgrounds into the American system of education. The scholarly analysis presented in this book draws out historical, political, cultural, and organizational implications that can be employed to understand other Native and non-Native contexts. Given the increasing cultural diversity of the United States and the perceived failure of the American educational system in light of these changes, this book provides an exceptionally appropriate starting point to begin a discussion about past, present, and future schooling for our nation's children. Because it is written and comes from a Native perspective, the value of the "insider" view is illuminated. This underlying reminder of the Native eye is woven throughout the book in Ha'awina No'ono'o --the sharing of thoughts from the Native Hawaiian author.

With its primary focus on the education of native groups, this book is an extraordinary and useful work for scholars, thoughtful practitioners, policymakers, and those interested in Hawai'i, Hawaiian education, and educational policy and theory.


David N. Plank Michigan State University

Kwame Nkrumah told the story of colonialism this way:

When the colonialists arrived in Africa they had the Bible, and we had the land. They said, "Hallelujah! Let us pray," and suggested that we pray with our eyes closed. When we opened our eyes we had the Bible and they had the land. (Folklore)

Maenette Benham and Ronald Heck tell a similar story about the colonization of Hawai'i. They characterize the exchange between American colonists and Hawaiian natives as one of land for so-called "civilization." The missionaries who came to Hawai'i believed they were bringing progress and enlightenment to benighted savages; their secular counterparts believed that they could make better use of the islands than could their original inhabitants. What the native of Hawai'i believed was of little moment to either. As in Africa (and Australia, Canada, Mexico, and the mainland United States among other places) the natives ended up with the Bible, or worse-in the words of a popular Hawaiian song, "Plenty of Nutting." The colonizers ended up with the land. To secure their control, they engineered the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarch and an illegal takeover of the islands by the United States in 1893, for which the United States president has belatedly apologized.

As Benham and Heck make clear, the civilization brought by the missionaries encompassed not only the Bible but Western schooling as well. The two were closely linked; both devalued Hawaiian ways of living and knowing, and sought to replace them with values more familiar and congenial to Whites. Partly as a result of these curricular choices, the educational system in Hawaii perpetuated a racial hierarchy in which Whites predominated at the top and . . .

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