(c) Copyright 2002 - 2004, Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved
The Hawaiian language immersion schools were, in effect, public charter schools long before that latter concept became popular.
The apparent purpose of the immersion schools was to revive a nearly extinct language, by creating native speakers. The speakers would be "native speakers" in two senses: they were growing up speaking the language in everyday use "from hanabata days" or "from small-kid time"; and nearly all of them were Native Hawaiians.
The question might be asked: why should taxpayer dollars be spent on public Hawaiian language immersion schools, but not on public Japanese language immersion schools or public Tagalog (Filipino) language immersion schools? If it is right to help one ethnic group preserve its culture, then it is right to help others do the same. Hawaiian sovereignty activists, of course, would say that Hawaiians are indigenous to Hawai'i and therefore have special rights in Hawai'i which other groups do not have. But that claim is open to serious challenge for two reasons. (1) Hawaiians are not indigenous. Hawaiians came here a few centuries earlier than other groups, but we are all immigrants. And Hawaiians are fully integrated and assimilated by both geneology and culture, not separate and apart from the rest of society. (2) Also, equality under law requires there should be no discrimination based on race or national origin. These concepts are discussed at length on other webpages, notably:
Hawaiians are not indigenous;
Hawaiians by their own choice are fully assimilated with non-Hawaiian full partners;
The Hawaiian Kingdom provided fully equal rights to all persons born or naturalized in Hawai'i, regardless of race;
No reparations are owed to Native Hawaiians for any historical events;
Unity and equality with aloha for all are fundamental values worth preserving.
The best reason for supporting publicly funded Hawaiian language immersion schools is that Hawaiian language is a great treasure for all the world, and especially for those of us lucky enough to live here. We support Hawaiian language for some of the same reasons we support the continued existence of the nene or the unobstructed view from the Pali overlook. So long as people of all racial and ethnic groups are truly welcome to learn Hawaiian language and even to attend school in a Hawaiian immersion program, without being stigmatized as culturally or racially inferior, there is no legal or moral reason to complain.
Most languages are best taught in cultural context, and that is especially important with Hawaiian. When studying German or Spanish, it helps to talk about eating sauerbraten or paella; and to sing "O Tannenbaum" or "Feliz Navidad." But with Hawaiian the cultural content is far more inherent than with other languages. Partly that's because Hawaiian words frequently have numerous different meanings, and all of those meanings might be intended either directly or symbolically in any particular utterance of a word. The primary meaning of a word, and whether other meanings are simultaneously intended, depends on context and situation, which is heavily dependent on understanding the culture. A word which means "older sister" when spoken by a girl means "older brother" when spoken by a boy, because girls in a family have a pecking order based on age (as do boys), but the opposite gender is not part of that pecking order. A word that means "flower" also means "child" and can also refer to female genitalia; and some songs or chants intend all three meanings simultaneously. (See below for another example of multiple meanings with a Hawaiian proverb)
The intimate relationship between Hawaiian language and Hawaiian culture makes it unavoidable that people who study the language -- especially impressionable young children in an immersion program -- will have their hearts and minds shaped through this process. Along with the language, students will also learn hula, chanting, religious mythology, how to cultivate taro, etc. They will learn that the gods are present throughout nature and natural phenomena, both living and non-living. They will learn that Hawaiians are descended from the gods, and are younger siblings of the taro plant. And at some point (actually, at many points) children who are not Native Hawaiian will learn that they do not belong to Hawai'i in the same intimate way as Native Hawaiians. Non Hawaiians will be told both directly and in numerous subtle ways that they are merely guests in the homeland of their Native Hawaiian hosts. Both ethnic Hawaiians and non Hawaiians will come to believe it is right and proper to have two classes of citizenship in Hawai'i: Native Hawaiians, and non Hawaiians; with very different political rights and social status.
This way of thinking, of seeing the world, can be interesting, informative, and inspirational -- BUT only if it is taken as mythological or metaphorical and not real. It is the same sort of thinking that inspired great works of music and literature in the German tradition, but also produced the devastation of Hitler's policies when applied to the real world.
An "immersion" program can be an effective way to understand a culture and language, or it can be an effective way to die by drowning (The Hawaiian word "kaiapuni," used for "immersion," literally means surrounded by the ocean, which is true of Hawai'i geographically; and it also evokes the concept of a fetus surrounded by nurturing amniotic fluid). The Hawaiian language immersion program is a wonderful way to rescue the Hawaiian language from extinction. It helps preserve a great treasure for the world and especially for all the people of Hawai'i.
The participants in the language immersion program are rescued from drowning by the fact that the program remains within the multiethnic public school system. Children are expected to meet the same standards of knowledge and skill imposed on all Hawai'i's children. Fundamental administrative policies are decided through a democratic process where all ethnic groups participate. Budgets, school policies, and curricula are open to public scrutiny. If ethnic nationalism or fascism become the focus, they will be found out and exposed to public criticism.
Since this webpage is about Hawaiian language immersion, a Hawaiian 'olelo no'eau (proverb) about language seems especially appropriate here: I ka 'olelo no ke ola, i ka 'olelo no ka make. Literally, it translates: In language there is life, in language there is death. There are, of course, several meanings or interpretations. Here are some, in order from obvious to subtle: (1) The words of a king can sentence someone to life or death. (2) Words are powerful, and once spoken they take on a life of their own and cannot be retracted. Precontact Hawaiians believed that speaking something might actually make it come true. Prayers were an essential component of medicinal healing. Sorcerers could allegedly pray someone to death. Even the Christian bible includes the concept that language can produce reality, as in the spectacular creation story in John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" or the statement in Hebrews 11:3 "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." (3) Here is another explanation: In (Hawaiian) language there is life (for the Hawaiian culture), in (absence of Hawaiian) language there is death (for the Hawaiian culture). (4) Previously it was stated that the Hawaiian language immersion program is a way to re-invigorate the Hawaiian culture because the language contains the culture inside it; thus, in the language there is life. And it was also stated that the Hawaiian language immersion program could cause children to drown -- they might get overwhelmed by the mythology of Hawaiian racial supremacy (the creation story of being descended from the gods), cultural primacy, and political entitlement based on race. In this way the language could produce the death of unity, democracy, and equality.
The Hawaiian language immersion program has been operating for more than a decade. Its primary purpose has been to make Hawaiian language survive and flourish. This is a goal that all citizens of Hawai'i endorse, because Hawaiian language is a great treasure for all the world and especially for the people of Hawai'i. The concomitant learning of culture and mythology can be inspirational, giving people a sense of justifiable pride in their cultural heritage. The language immersion classes also have a spiritual and political downside, when they sometimes brainwash the students to believe that Hawaiian language was made illegal, or was suppressed, by haoles trying to force Hawaiians to assimilate. The clear intent of such propaganda is to foster racial hatred and to fuel the fires of the Hawaiian grievance industry. For evidence that such brainwashing is actually occurring, see:
and for an extensive investigation into the historical facts on the alleged Hawaiian language ban, see:
But a new sort of Hawaiian immersion school got started in 2001. Hawaiian cultural immersion public charter schools are now established, where the primary purpose is to shape the minds, hearts, and attitudes of children to conform to an ideology of ethnic nationalism. Hawaiian language is part of the cultural immersion charter schools, but the focus is on cultural and political indoctrination. Any political acceptance of a belief in an unbridgeable chasm between ethnic Hawaiians and non Hawaiians would be contrary to the public interest. A democratic society cannot survive when one group of people sets itself apart from all other groups and declares itself to be inherently superior and therefore automatically deserving of political supremacy based on race.
That is the direction being taken by the new Hawaiian culture charter schools.
That is the ideology our Legislature is being asked to endorse in a bill to establish a separate Native Hawaiian school system to include the 12 existing Hawaiian cultural immersion charter schools and to be empowered to certify additional such schools.
For a more wide-ranging, general explanation of the theory of indigenous intellectual property rights, and how that theory is (mis)applied in Hawai'i, see
Indigenous Intellectual Property Rights -- The General Theory, and Why It Does Not Apply in Hawai'i
There is an ethnic Hawaiian professor of teacher education who has developed a "Hawaiian epistemology" now being used to justify a need for ethnocentric separatist education. Dr. Manulani Aluli Meyer developed a theory that ethnic Hawaiians have genetically and culturally encoded unique ways of knowing that make it necessary for them to have a separate school system. Although Meyer does not use psycholinguistic theories saying that a child's first language profoundly affects the way the brain gets hard-wired for thinking and knowing, such theories would clearly add fuel to her fire. To read about Dr. Meyer's theory of Hawaiian epistemology and the way it is being used to justify separatist education, see:
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