(c) Copyright 2002 - 2005, Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved

For the reasons described previously, it is contrary to the public interest to have a separate ethnic Hawaiian tax supported public school system. But such a system is already growing. The well intentioned charter school experiment has spawned a nightmarish distortion. At the moment a monster is only dimly visible, making its appearance as an informal consortium of 12 charter schools all based on similar ethnic Hawaiian activist ideology. But that monster will roar to life if a bill now in the Legislature is passed.

As described earlier, the charter school movement was very slow to arrive in Hawai'i. But during the year 2001, the State of Hawai'i finally permitted a total of 25 charter schools to be established. All 25 slots were filled. It turned out that 12 of those 25 charter schools were established by ethnic Hawaiian groups specifically for the purpose of having "native" educational programs and learning styles, focusing on hands-on work with the environment, Hawaiian culture, Hawaiian history, Hawaiian language, etc. Those 12 ethnic Hawaiian charter schools have now formed a consortium to share materials and ideas, and to lobby on behalf of a bill they are proposing that would create a separate "public" school system with complete independence for curriculum design and an ability to certify up to 25 ethnic Hawaiian schools for its "district" -- a parochial school system scattered throughout the islands but unified by race and culture. The only thing making it a "public" school district is that all its funds would come from federal and state tax dollars.

The 12 Hawaiian culture public charter schools operating in February 2002 are technically open to children of all races -- indeed, by law they cannot be racially exclusionary. But in practice nearly all the children are ethnic Hawaiians or "wannabe" Hawaiians. A few token nonnatives are accepted into these schools primarily to satisfy the legal requirement that they not be racially exclusionary. However, the schools make it clear that the nonnative children are more or less on permanent attitudinal and behavioral probation. They are required to think and behave like the ethnic nationalist sort of Native Hawaiians even though ultimately they cannot become Native Hawaiians for lack of that precious drop of native blood. Language copied below from the website of the school operated by the leader of this consortium (Ms. Ku Kahakalau) makes chillingly clear the racial and cultural intent of the school. Language copied further below, from the legislative bill, is even more clear in its explicit purpose to establish an apartheid school system at taxpayer expense.

The charter school Kanu O Ka 'Aina has a website at

On that website the school's fundamental commitments are described at

Here are some portions of what can be found there as of February, 2002. It all sounds wonderfully inspiring, until you think carefully about the racism of what is being said. As a "thought experiment" when reading this material, replace "Hawaiian" or "native" or "indigenous" with "white"; and then imagine how African Americans or people of Asian ancestry would fit into this "public school." Judge whether such a school is Constitutionally permissible or morally desirable, even if it were entirely funded by private donations. And then consider that this school is entirely funded by tax dollars as part of the government public school system. Putting aside the racial issue, the final section called "Liberatory Pedagogy" is blatantly Anti-American, sucking up government money to brainwash children to hate the government that provides it. It's bad enough to find kind-hearted, liberal people who think this sort of philosophy is acceptable because of grievances the Hawaiians claim to have against the U.S. and against people without Hawaiian blood. But it's shocking to find elected members of the Legislature such as Senator Colleen Hanabusa repeatedly sponsoring and supporting institutions and attitudes like this when they have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.

Philosophical Framework

As a Hawaiian model of education, Kanu is tailored towards the distinctive cultural wants and needs of Hawai'i's indigenous student population. Utilizing our natives values handed down to us in thousands of proverbs as a philosophical basis, Kanu is designed to assist students to achieve their highest level, while at the same time giving them the skills to perpetuate Hawaiian language and traditions. Based on a unique, culturally driven pedagogy, developed over nearly a decade of action research, Kanu involves not only students, teachers and staff but also parents, community partners and native stake holders from throughout the islands in the educational process. The long-term goal of Kanu is to create a native designed and controlled system of Hawaiian education that will empower native communities throughout the archipelago to achieve political, cultural and economic self-determination.


The name "Kanu o ka 'Aina" evolved from of a Hawaiian proverb that refers to natives of the land from generations back as "kalo kanu o ka 'aina" literally "taro planted on the land". This name was chosen because this model wants to give native Hawaiians of all ages the opportunity and the choice to remain natives of their kulaiwi and to perpetuate Hawai'i's native language, culture and traditions into the future. In addition, Kanu wants to empower Hawai'i's native people, who are direct descendents of earthmother Papa and skyfather Wakea, to once again assume our rightful stewardship over our archipelago.

Purpose and Focus of Kanu

The purpose of Kanu is to provide students of Hawaiian ancestry residing in the Hamakua and Kohala area of Hawai'i Island with an equal opportunity to quality education that addresses their distinctive cultural learning styles and allows them to successfully walk in two worlds. Presently students of Hawaiian ancestry, one fourth of Hawai'i's entire public school population, make up not only the largest, but also the most undereducated major ethnic group in the State. Providing culturally driven education, that is specifically designed to meet the unique wants and needs of native students, is Kanu's primary focus. While we accept students that do not have Hawaiian blood, these students and their families, like their native counterparts, must make a commitment to be actively involved in the perpetuation of native Hawaiian language, culture and traditions. In addition, they must consent to being taught according to native Hawaiian values and teaching strategies and behave in a culturally consistent manner.

The inclusion of non-natives in Kanu, not just as students but also as teachers, staff, parents, local school board members and community partners even though they make up only a small percentage - has important implications for our program. Initiated because of the fact that as a public school, Kanu is prohibited from discriminating against race, having non-native representation in all stakeholder groups has provided a vital balance to our program. It has validated our contention that to be pro-Hawaiian does not necessitate being anti-haole, anti-Japanese or anti-any-other-ethnic group. It also provides continuous opportunities to learn about diversity and to practice tolerance. Furthermore, it allows us to continue the Hawaiian traditions of aloha and ho'okipa, as we welcome people from all ethnicities into our learning 'ohana - as long as they make a commitment to Kanu's two goals to kulia i ka nu'u and to perpetuate Hawaiian ways. And finally, having non-natives participate in Kanu implies that our model is at least equal if not superior to nearby public schools.


The vision of KANU is to become part of the first of many native Hawaiian community designed and controlled comprehensive learning centers or kauhale... Besides serving as an educational venue for learners of all ages, this kauhale will also function as a Hawaiian multi-agency, multi-service center and cultural meeting place. As such we envision this kauhale to become a prototype for Hawaiian cooperation and empowerment throughout the archipelago.


Collectively, KANU's various stake holders join other indigenous peoples throughout the world in supporting the following philosophies and principles: We believe that Hawaiian knowledge structure differs significantly from the Western system of education. We believe that as an indigenous people, Hawaiians have the right to design and control our own education.

Pedagogical Features

Three major components make up the educational foundations and the resulting instructional framework of Kanu. For one, Kanu is based on a pedagogy of liberation and in that respect Kanu as an educational model is liberatory. Secondly, Kanu is culturally-driven, that is the native culture of Hawai'i provides the underlying foundation of Kanu 's structure, educational philosophy and point of departure.

Liberatory Pedagogy

Probably the most unique and critical aspect of Kanu's educational foundations is the fact that Kanu wants to actively prepare native students to participate in - and perhaps even lead - Hawai'i's indigenous sovereignty movement. Initially I was sort of hesitant to claim that Kanu represents a liberatory pedagogy. However, the more I reflected on the true purpose of my model the more I realized that my model is definitely designed to liberate. Specifically, Kanu wants to encourage Hawaiian students to become politically conscious, and individually and collectively tackle the problem of Hawaiian oppression by the United States and our subjugation to American law and a Western way of life. In that vein, Kanu has the potential of significantly contributing to the Hawaiian sovereignty effort.

Utilizing problem-posing as an instructional technique, Kanu hopes to make our students realize that the occupation of Hawai'i by the United States of America is not fatal and unalterable, but merely limiting and therefore challenging. Additionally, Kanu wants to empower our students to accept this challenge and find solutions to this and the many other dilemma, that face Hawai'i's native people in their homeland today. By actively participating in finding solutions to native problems, it is envisioned that Kanu students will become an intricate part of the process of native liberation from American domination that nearly caused the demise of our native people and our way of life.


** AUGUST 2005 UPDATE: The following article was published in the Honolulu Advertiser of August 11, 2005. It is clearly intended to be a "puff piece" about how wonderful a job Kanu O Ka 'Aina is doing with limited resources. However, those limited resources are the same as available to all other public charter schools whose test results are far superior, and this school's resources have been augmented with substantial grants from Bishop Estate (Kamehameha Schools). The actual scores of students on the state achievement test, reported in this article, are horrible. The school tries to deflect the blame by pointing out that the students have only been with this school for a few years, so (they say) the blame should go to the public schools from whence they came. That's baloney. The reason for the low test scores is that this school, like all the "host culture" charter schools, focuses on "Hawaiian" studies and a politically-driven curriculum rather than the basic subject matter that all students in Hawai'i are supposed to learn. Attendance rates are high, and student enthusiasm is great, because students and parents are engaged in hands-on environmental activities and political activism as opposed to reading, writing, and arithmetic. Students have far greater access to computers that in other schools, and use those computers to create multimedia productions focusing on Hawaiian culture and their particular view of Hawaiian history. **
Honolulu Advertiser, Thursday, August 11, 2005

'Pedagogy of aloha' drives charter school's success

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

WAIMEA, Hawai'i Kanu o ka 'Aina's library and its cramped space for language arts instruction were fashioned out of two old shipping containers.

Some of the charter school's main campus classrooms are in tents, and the rest are housed in half of a warehouse loaned to the school by the University of Hawai'i's College of Tropical Agriculture. The main campus is on space at the college's Lalamilo Research Station, and Kanu's administration operates from an old three-bedroom caretaker's house.

The humble facilities forced the school to cap enrollment at 125, and now there is a waiting list of about a dozen students trying to get in.

Something is happening here, and Big Island parents are hearing about it.

Students who were left far behind in more conventional schools have leaped ahead by multiple grade levels in their reading abilities, said school director Ku Kahakalau. All seven of the school's spring graduates went on to college or other higher education, she said.

She also points to other accomplishments such as the three children's books that were written by current or former students and are being published by Kamehameha Schools' Press, and an annual hula drama so powerful it leaves some spectators in tears.

Between 92 percent and 94 percent of the students are part Hawaiian, and Kahakalau said instruction is driven by the "pedagogy of aloha," a term coined by school staff to describe an approach to education based on Hawaiian traditions.

For example, expectations for student behavior are reinforced through Hawaiian proverbs. Group work is stressed over individual work, acknowledging the "affiliation orientation" in Hawaiian culture that differs from the "achievement orientation" of Western culture, she said.

Kanu also is helped along by millions of dollars in research and educational grants the school has been able to tap, and a partnership with Kamehameha Schools under which Kamehameha provides technical support and a dollar of funding for every $4 provided by the state Department of Education.

"What the kids say is the difference is aloha. They say for the first time, somebody cares about them, and that's the part that's so exciting," Kahakalau said. "The magic bullet is a really, really easy thing in some ways. It's really the personal attention grounded in a cultural way of interacting, giving them their culture, make them proud of who they are."

Standardized test scores are not stellar, but they are steadily improving, she said. But Kahakalau worries the school is being judged on the performance of students who have just arrived at Kanu after years of struggling in conventional public schools.

"We thought our measuring stick would be the students that started with us in kindergarten in 2000," she said. "That should be what we should be accountable for, not a 10th-grader who comes to us from the DOE with third-grade reading levels and then takes the test, and (then the system concludes that) it's our fault that he's not reading at 10th grade. And that's happening right now. "We just feel that we need more time."

The school is preparing for a $25 million capital drive to pay for construction of new facilities on 30 acres of Hawaiian Home Lands in Waimea.

What are you most proud of? Ongoing growth of students and staff academically and culturally as a result of a research-based "pedagogy of aloha."

Best-kept secret: Kahakalau said Kanu is home to the only Hawai'i public school students to be published professionally. School projects enable students to write and illustrate bilingual books about Hawai'i using the expertise of local artists and writers.

Everybody at our school knows: Everybody, and we relate to each other as an 'ohana.

Our biggest challenge: Procuring funding to finish our multimedia laboratory.

What we need: Tutors and volunteers to help us get struggling readers up to grade level.

Special events: Annual Hula Drama in May, involving all students in grades K-12. This comprehensive ho'ike shares with parents and the public what students have learned throughout the school year as part of their assessment.



Where: 65-1170 'Opelo Road, Waimea, Hawai'i
Phone: (808) 887-8147
Principal: Ku Kahakalau
School nickname: Kanu
School colors: Red and yellow
Web address:

History: Kanu o ka 'ina New Century Public Charter School started in August 2000

Testing: Here's how Kanu 'O Ka 'Aina students fared on the most recent standardized tests.

Stanford Achievement Test: Listed is the combined percentage of students scoring average and above average,

compared with the national combined average of 77 percent.

Third-grade reading, 46 percent; math, 60 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 67 percent; math, 67 percent. Eighth-grade reading, 67 percent; math, 33 percent. Tenth-grade reading, 86 percent; math, 29 percent.

Hawai'i Content and Performance Standards tests: Listed is the combined percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards, compared with the state average.

Third-grade math, 7 percent; state average, 26.7 percent.

Eighth-grade math, 11 percent; state average, 20 percent.

Tenth-grade math, 0 percent; state average, 19.4 percent. (No math scores available for fifth grade.)

Third-grade reading, 13 percent; state average, 46.7 percent.

Fifth-grade reading, 33 percent; state average, 49.9 percent.

Eighth-grade reading, 11 percent; state average, 38.7 percent.

Tenth-grade reading, 0 percent; state average, 40.2 percent.

Enrollment: Capped at 125 students, distributed over two main campus sites; students learn in a warehouse, shipping containers, tents and modular units, as well as in the environment. Students-to-computer ratio: High school 1:1, intermediate: 3:1, elementary 4:1, all wireless laptops

Reach Kevin Dayton at


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


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