EDUCATION TRANSMITS A CULTURE (plus a quick look at the separatist agenda of some Native Hawaiian education initiatives)

(c) Copyright 2002 - 2004, Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved

An education system is the reproductive organ of every culture. Education includes both formal schooling and informal transmission of knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Individual members of a society grow old and die, while new members are born and grow to maturity. Yet a society's culture is a living entity which transcends all the society's individual members. A society's culture can survive far longer than the lifespan of any of its members, because its educational system passes down the folkways and knowledge of one generation to subsequent generations. A culture changes over time, but has a recognizable continuity of basic values and behavioral patterns that distinguishes it from other cultures. That continuity is provided by the educational system.

Imagine a society of monarch butterflies. The problem is that all the butterflies go through their life cycles at about the same time. The adults lay their eggs and die before the caterpillars of the next generation hatch. The caterpillars come to maturity, go through a period of hibernation and metamorphosis, and emerge from chrysallis as butterflies. It is impossible for the society of butterflies to have any sort of advanced culture, because there is no overlapping of generations and hence no opportunity for education to transmit culture from one generation to the next. Even if some extremely clever butterflies were able to invent a written language and make a record of their successes and failures and advice, the next generation would have no way to decipher the meaning of those markings. Thus, whatever regularities we observe in the flight path of butterfly migration from year to year are due to instinct or pre-programmed behaviors, because there can be no accumulation of wisdom.

If an educational system is altered, its transmission of culture will be distorted. The deliberate alteration of an educational system can be a very effective way to change a culture. It is extremely difficult to make rapid, deliberate changes in the informal education that occurs on the streets and in the homes spontaneously from day to day. But mass media can be manipulated fairly quickly to influence short-term public opinion. Formal schooling can also be changed over time in order to bring about long-term changes in a culture. Curriculum writers and school administrators can have conferences, publish papers, and make decisions to change the curriculum, the teaching methods, or the administrative structures in order to guide the acquisition of student knowledge, skills, and attitudes into different outcomes.

If a dictator wants to make immediate short-term changes in a culture, he must take over the TV and radio stations and newspapers, and put soldiers and policemen everywhere to enforce his edicts. But if a dictator wants to make long-lasting pervasive changes in a culture over time, the best way to do that is to take over the school system, rewrite the textbooks, and force all the teachers to undergo re-education followed by rigorous screening.

If a school system provides a basic curriculum which is the same for all students, the adults who emerge will hold the same basic knowledge and attitudes as one another. Certainly there will be great differences of individual ability and outcome; but there will be an underlying cohesiveness. However, if some schools admit only certain kinds of students and give them an educational program significantly different from other schools, it can be expected that the emerging adults will hold fundamentally different attitudes and beliefs.

The easiest way to break apart a society long-term without using violence is to establish separate educational systems for the groups to be broken apart.

If it is believed that identifiable groups of people are already fundamentally different from each other in their cultures and attitudes, then they may eagerly pull apart and create separate educational systems reflecting their already-existing separate cultures and attitudes. However, if the people of a society are thoroughly integrated and share a basic common culture underlying their ethnic and cultural differences, then the only way to break them apart will be to arbitrarily establish separate school systems and herd children into them based on the small differences that someone wants to magnify in order to promote the breakup.

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. See:

Important questions must be raised about the meanings of terms that are central to Dr. Meyer's work. Words like "Hawaiian culture", "Native Hawaiian", and "oral history" are very hard to pin down. Even prior to the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778, there were vast differences in "Hawaiian culture" from one island to the next, and even in different ahupua'a on the same island. The language had significantly different dialects. The well-known two-volume book about Hawaiian culture "Nana I Ke Kumu" by Mary Kawena Pukui includes disclaimers that her description of "Hawaiian culture" is based on what she remembers from growing up in Ka'u, a remote district of the "big Island of Hawai'i" where the lifestyle was probably quite different from other areas. David Malo, a native historian whose parents grew up before Captain Cook arrived, wrote that the oral transmission of songs, chants, and genealogies resulted in great distortions and variations, some of which were probably done intentionally for political purposes. Increasingly today, terms like "Hawaiian culture," "Native Hawaiian," and "oral history" are being tossed around by people who do not define them or use them in any consistent way, and who intentionally capitalize on their vagueness to carry meanings from one context into other contexts where those meanings may be inappropriate. As an example, see an analysis by Honolulu attorney Paul Sullivan showing how the poor definition and possibly intentional misuse of these three concepts has affected a particularly important issue (a draft environmental impact statement for a NASA telescope project on Mauna Kea):

Are children with a drop of Hawaiian blood fundamentally different from other children? Do they have a culture whose basic values are fundamentally different from those of the general society? Or is there an agenda of ethnic nationalism or racial separatism which some adults want to promote by ruthlessly creating a race-based educational system and herding innocent children through that system in order to shape the attitudes of the next generation?

Now comes a bill introduced in the regular session of the Hawai'i State Legislature of 2002, to establish a separate school system for ethnic nationaist Hawaiians. Because of laws prohibiting racial discrimination, a few token non-Hawaiians will be allowed to enroll in these schools, under close observation to ensure that they do not deviate from the behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes expected of loyal ethnic nationalist Hawaiians.

This piece of legislation is the predictable result of a trend toward Hawaiian ethnic nationalism and racial separatism in the educational system of Hawai'i. The granddaddy of Hawaiian racial separatist schools is Kamehameha School, established more than a century ago. Kamehameha has followed a racially exclusionary policy throughout its history, even though it is not required to do so under the will of its founder. The next step happened more than a decade ago with the establishment of Hawaiian language immersion schools, operated privately at the preschool level (Punana Leo) and operating as public tax-supported schools at the elementary and secondary levels (Kula Kaiapuni). There is now also a college level Hawaiian language immersion program in teacher certification (The Kahuawaiola Program) which uses Hawaiian language as the medium of instruction to produce State Department of Education certification for teachers (all of whom will probably teach in the language or cultural immersion programs). In 2001, 25 "New Century" public charter schools were permitted to be established in Hawai'i. 12 of them are controlled by ethnic Hawaiian groups who are agressive about enforcing "Hawaiian cultural values" and a "Hawaiian curriculum." Their focus is primarily on indoctrinating children with "Hawaiian values" and "Hawaiian culture" as understood by the ethnic nationalist ideology. These 12 schools have now formed a consortium and, in February 2002, are seeking formal legal recognition to create a separate non-contiguous school system to include themselves and up to a total of 25 schools (the new entrants would be either existing DOE schools wishing to convert to the Hawaiian district or newly-created schools). The legislation includes explicit racial language requiring that a majority of the students and administrators of each "Hawaiian" school must be Native Hawaiian; and the schools must undergo an approval process that ensures appropriate ideological, religious, and racial commitments. This parochial school system is a "public" school system only in the sense that it would be funded by federal and state public tax dollars. The sequence of topics on this webpage is in roughly the same order as the topics were mentioned in this summary.

Whether or not the legislation passes, or is amended, the bill as introduced provides a fascinating look at the ethnic nationalist agenda. The issues are complex, but very interesting. The topics on this webpage flow smoothly from one to the next, but have been stored on individual sub-pages for easy reference.


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