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Hawaiian Epistemology and Education -- A claim that anyone with a drop of Hawaiian native blood has genetically and culturally encoded unique ways of knowing and learning; and therefore ethnic Hawaiian children (and other ethnic minorities to a lesser degree) have special needs for uniquely tailored curriculum and instructional methods

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


"But will it also be thought strange that education and knowledge of the world have enabled us to perceive that as a race we have some special mental and physical requirements not shared by the other races which have come among us?" (ex-Queen Lili'uokalani, 1898)

A theory of Hawaiian epistemology has been developed. This theory was invented through a survey of Hawaiian culture-based ways of getting knowledge as told to a researcher by ethnic Hawaiian elders. The theory includes a classification of different kinds of knowledge and the different methods whereby such knowledge is obtained and validated. Although Hawaiian epistemology is a theory derived from a study of Hawaiian culture, it is also claimed to be more generally descriptive of all indigenous cultures. That's because all indigenous cultures share a closeness of relationship to their ancestral land and a belief in ancestral spirits and gods who are constantly present throughout all aspects of nature. The gods, the ancestral spirits, and the land itself speak to all living ethnic Hawaiians through racial memories encoded and passed down through genetic inheritance, and also through dreams and prayers. Thus, "ordinary" activities of daily life, as well as subject-matter knowledge and skill learned in school, are filtered through the lens of Hawaiian-ness and take on special meanings not available to those who lack a drop of native blood.

Ethnic Hawaiian elders, as the repositories of cultural wisdom and as people born in an earlier time when their upbringing was more culturally authentic, are regarded as authorities on Hawaiian ways of knowing. A survey of well-known and highly respected elders produced a list of ways of knowing, accompanied by illustrative examples given by the elders themselves. Unfortunately, words like "Hawaiian culture" are poorly defined. It's unclear whether the culture being described is the current one or the old culture prior to Captain Cook's arrival in 1778 -- "Hawaiian culture" seems to mean all the "good" stuff from all historical periods (as judged by present standards), and none of the bad. The vast variations in cultural practices among different islands and ahupua'a are set aside. Native historian David Malo, writing 175 years ago, complained that songs, chants, and genealogies were not being accurately handed down through the spoken language in the days before writing was created by the American missionaries and might be intentionally altered for political purposes.

Although the theory of Hawaiian epistemology is based on an empirical survey of today's cultural elders, it is put forward as being metaphysically true. Elements of this theory are explained by reference to the epistemological theories of well-known philosophers. Different philosophers' theories are more or less relevant to different aspects of the Hawaiian epistemology. But the empirically derived culture-based ways of knowing as revealed by the elders are the core of this theory; and the epistemologies of well-known mainstream philosophers are merely used to illustrate or explain what is meant so that Western-trained philosophers will understand what is being said and will give recognition to the Hawaiian theory as being philosophically plausible. Although the resulting theory of epistemology is obviously eclectic and lacks any coherence or credibility as would be judged by philosophers who specialize in epistemology, it is nevertheless defended as a valid epistemology for an (allegedly) indigenous people. That's because, in Hawaiian culture, true knowledge comes from action in the material world and inspiration from the spirit world, but not from idle speculation or abstract logic. Accordingly, any valid theory of knowledge must arise out of cultural experience, must be described by the elders who are the repositories of wisdom, and must be vaidated by the authority of the elders and the authority of being accepted within the culture itself. Hawaiian epistemology is a prime example of cultural relativism, and conventionalist descriptivism. It is cultural anthropology, not philosophical epistemology despite a veneer of references to various philosophers.

The theory is valid for individual ethnic Hawaiians only to the extent that those individuals follow a distinctively unique Hawaiian cultural upbringing in accord with the cultural patterns described by the elders who talked with Ms. Meyer; but very few ethnic Hawaiians today have that sort of upbringing exclusively. Indeed, there is a continuum of Hawaiian-style upbringing ranging from a small number of children brought up exclusively in traditional ways (minus human sacrifice and brother-sister incest), to a vast majority of ethnic Hawaiians whose upbringing might include some elements of traditional lifestyle. There are an increasing number of ethnic Hawaiians raised in foster homes or raised in families who simply don't care about tradition. There are also an increasing number of children with no native ancestry who are influenced by elements of traditional Hawaiian culture simply because those cultural elements are the core of Hawai'i's multiracial rainbow society -- things like hula, Hawaiian language, taro cultivation, and heiau restoration.

Professor Meyer's theory of Hawaiian epistemology might best be described as a dream or ideal for how ethnic Hawaiian children might have their minds and hearts shaped in the future if only they could "decolonize" their minds completely; and it can also be seen as a prediction for how ethnic Hawaiian children will indeed become molded into an artificially created, radically different subculture if an apartheid school system already under development is allowed to become independent from the standards and supervision of the State of Hawai'i. One might wonder whether only ethnic Hawaiian children can be molded to fit into such a subculture. If Meyer is correct that racial memories and spirit communication are passed through genealogy, then presumably only ethnic Hawaiians could be fully molded into the newly emergent sovereign culture. However, if we exclude any belief in genetic inheritance of cultural knowledge, then even non-indigenous people could be molded by the educational system to become fully indigenous culturally, spiritually, and morally.

A symposium on education held at UCLA in October 2004 raised the visibility of Hawaiian epistemology as a sort of ideal model or rationale for a liberatory pedagogy for ethnic minorities. Perhaps different minority groups could be seen as positioned along a continuum of assimilation to the dominant culture. Each ethnic group would have its own special needs for a distinctively different curriculum and teaching methodology. Indigenous people would have the greatest need for a radically different kind of education. Other minority groups, more or less assimilated into the mainstream, would have more or less need for a separate educational system to meet their unique needs. The example of Hawaiian epistemology thus serves as an ideal model or extreme example which makes it easier to understand the need for separate education for other ethnic groups whose differences from the mainstream may be more difficult to see or acknowledge. At the symposium John Dewey's theory of education is blended with Hawaiian epistemology (indeed, Dewey's theory plays a large role in Hawaiian epistemology) to support the concept that education must always begin with the felt needs of the child as moderated through that child's culture and experiences. Hence, each culture needs its own separate educational system; or at least, minority groups need some sort of education different from what the dominant culture provides. Thus begins a new trend away from multiethnic diversity in the classroom; away from a belief that education is a powerful force for enculturation of a rainbow society with a common core of fundamental values that transcend ethnicity. Thus begins a more virulent phase of the balkanization of America. As the (in)famous Rodney King once said, "Can't we all just get along?"

Now, let's start from scratch and explore the topics mentioned in the summary. There are three main parts to this essay: (1) Introduction: what's happening in public education in Hawai'i that makes the theory of Hawaiian epistemology important; (2) Hawaiian epistemology; (3) the symposium announcement that prompted creation of this webpage, and a brief review of John Dewey's educational theory as related to the special needs of indigenous people in a surrounding non-indigenous culture.



Some activists are demanding that the group of a dozen Hawaiian "host-culture" charter schools (perhaps also to be joined by the Hawaiian language immersion schools) should be able to pull out of the Department of Education and form their own separate school district. This ethnic-based school district would have the authority to set its own standards for curriculum and teacher certification, radically different from the standards applicable to all other public schools. This non-contiguous ethnic school district would also have authority to create more such "Hawaiian" schools at taxpayer expense.

Anyone who expects such a proposal to be passed by the Legislature knows they need to explain why it's necessary. A theory of "Hawaiian epistemology" provides a justification with an appearance of scholarliness. The theory says that ethnic Hawaiians have genetically and culturally encoded ways of learning that are so radically different from everyone else that they need a separate educational system. But before exploring that astounding theory, let's look at the separatist movement in Hawaiian education.

For decades America struggled to achieve racial desegration, even to the extent of court-ordered busing across district lines to produce racial mixing in the schools. Recent hard-fought Supreme Court cases gave state colleges the authority to engage in "affirmative action" so that ethnic minorities will achieve a "critical mass" of students to ensure diversity in college student populations. Why in the world would anyone want to re-segregate a public school system? Are we now wanting to endorse state-sponsored racial separatism? Even if it is voluntary for parents to choose to send their children to schools that are overwhelmingly populated by one ethnic group, where the curriculum is tightly focused on a single subculture -- is it a good thing for those children and for society as a whole? Would ethnic Japanese parents (plus a few non-Japanese who love sumo, ikebana, and kendo) living living in the State of California be legally permitted to create a group of Japanese-culture-focused public schools widely scattered throughout California and then create a separate non-contiguous "public" school district with its own standards? Society has a responsibility to protect children against parents who make spectacularly bad choices for their children, even when such choices are "voluntary" (for the parents). Society also has a right to set uniform minimum standards for the schools it supports with tax dollars, while parents who want radically different schools are expected to send children to private schools and pay tuition.

Recently Honolulu newspapers celebrated the fact that Hawai'i's charter schools are doing as well as the regular schools in achieving state standards, despite fewer resources. But school-by-school grade-level results are not publicly available for charter schools because there are so few students at each grade level that releasing the results might infringe the privacy rights of the children.

This lack of availability of charter school data borders on a political cover-up. Anyone familiar with the charter schools knows that the "host culture" schools are underperforming while the other half of the charter schools are doing extremely well and pull up the overall average. Supporters of the "host culture" schools like to say that their children formerly had low attendance rates, poor self-esteem, and disciplinary problems when attending regular schools; but now have high attendance rates and very little misbehavior. Yes indeed! If parents are allowed to freely choose their children's schools; and if schools demand that parents making such choices must participate actively in school activities; and if the children get to spend long hours playing in the mud (taro patch), building rock walls (fishpond and heiau restoration), and generally doing hands-on projects in Hawai'i's beautiful outdoors rather than reading books and writing term papers -- then the children will have high attendance and high morale. But they are not learning what they need for getting admitted to colleges and succeeding once they get there. They are learning ethnic pride and ethnic loyalty rather than pride and loyalty as Americans.

Children emerging from "host culture" charter schools will have low rates of success in the larger society of the State of Hawai'i or the United States. But that's OK with the parents, and especially with the leadership of the "movement." They see the schools educating children for a future sovereign nation of Hawai'i, either on the model of an Akaka tribe or on the model of an independent nation. "Success" for such children is defined very differently than for everyone else. Success means being able to speak Hawaiian, using Hawaiian to chant and pray to the old gods and when acknowledging each other and their guests, to plant and pull taro, to catch fish and gather limu, to know the meanings of place-names and the Hawaiian myths associated with them, etc.

To make such a radically different kind of education palatable to a skeptical public who pay the bills, there must be a scholarly theory explaining why it is necessary. The theory must show that radical education is NECESSARY -- not merely that it sounds really nifty, it keeps the kids drug-free and off the streets, and the school parents like it.

The hope for scholarly respectability comes from a newly invented theory of Hawaiian epistemology, blended with a discredited 90-year-old philosophy of education (John Dewey).

Professor Manulani Aluli Meyer of UH Hilo has developed a description of the culture-based ways ethnic Hawaiians learn, based on her interviews with Hawaiian elders. After describing her categories of ways of knowing, she then cites an eclectic hodgpodge of well-known mainstream philosophers, parts of whose theories support various categories of Hawaiian knowledge-sources. Underlying it all is Meyer's belief that anyone with a drop of Hawaiian native blood has genetically encoded unique ways of knowing and learning; and therefore ethnic Hawaiian children have special needs for uniquely tailored curriculum and instructional methods.

Meyer's theory has attracted the attention of radical educationists of other ethnic groups, who invited her to be the keynote speaker at a symposium at UCLA on October 16, 2004. Perhaps these activists recognize that the public will easily buy the concept that "indigenous" people are so vastly different from the general population that it is easy to concede they have a need for a radically different, racially/culturally separatist education. Other ethnic minorities, less obviously different from the "dominant culture," perhaps can hope to develop their own culture-based epistemologies in order to demand ethnically separate culture-based activity-centered education, using Hawaiian epistemology as a sort of ideal model or guiding beacon for how to develop such a rationale.



Dr. Manulani Aluli Meyer, teaches teacher-education at a branch campus of the University of Hawai'i in Hilo. Professor Meyer is a dynamic, inspirational speaker who easily impresses audiences with her use of academic jargon and her frequent naming of noted philosophers whose theories she cites. Her work is focused on epistemology: the branch of philosophy that examines how we get knowledge, and how we know whether our beliefs are true. That branch of philosophy has a special, very important relevance to the analysis of school curriculum and methods of teaching. Professor Meyer's first book was a mimeographed copy of portions of her Ed.D. dissertation, distributed through a bookstore in Honolulu owned by her sister. Her second book is also self-published, but very nicely produced, and includes portions of her dissertation as well as articles she wrote as student term-papers or for publication since then. Professor Meyer tries to synthesize an eclectic philosophical viewpoint mainly drawing from empiricism and the contextualist theories of Pragmatist philosopher John Dewey.

Meyer firmly believes that she and all other ethnic Hawaiians are "indigenous." That belief can be disputed; see:

Meyer believes that all indigenous peoples have a close, family relationship with the gods and the lands of their indigenous homelands. The Hawaiian creation legend "Kumulipo" describes how the gods mated and gave birth to the Hawaiian islands as living beings; later the gods mated and gave birth to the ancestor of all "Native Hawaiians." Thus the gods and the Hawaiian islands and the ethnic Hawaiians are all related as members of a family in a relationship of ongoing love and mutual support; but anyone lacking a drop of native ancestry is forever outside that family circle. The spirits of the ancestors, and the gods, are constantly present in the environment and provide help and inspiration to the current and future generations. This religious theory is used to justify a political claim to racial supremacy, that ethnic Hawaiians are the rightful "owners" of all the lands of Hawai'i and are also the rightful owners of political power in Hawai'i. Ethnic Hawaiians are the hosts, and everyone else is merely a guest with no legal or moral standing. For a further explanation of this religious theory and its implications for Hawaiian sovereignty, see:

In developing her theory of epistemology, Meyer did not follow the usual procedure of starting with the theories of historically recognized philosophers or inventing something on her own. Instead, she adopted what she considers an "indigenous" methodology. Knowledge is created in the context of relationships among individuals, the environment, and the social community. The elders in an indigenous society are regarded as the repository of cultural wisdom and the authorities on what is valid. Therefore Meyer begins by asking respected ethnic Hawaiian elders to describe how they get knowledge, where knowledge comes from, how they know whether something is true or false, etc. She develops a list of types of knowledge and authority, illustrated by examples given by specific elders. The end result is her theory of Hawaiian epistemology.

Since her work was done for a doctoral dissertation, she knows she must give her work a scholarly veneer; and also she wants to explain her Hawaiian epistemology to scholars who lack a background of "indigenous" experience. Therefore she cites various philosophers, not as authorities to prove her arguments but rather as examples to illustrate and explain what she means. In effect, she is weaving a Hawaiian "mo'olelo" -- an indigenous-style story which is a mix of fact and fiction intended to illustrate a moral principle or intellectual concept.

Her clear goal is to establish that ethnic Hawaiians have a unique style of experiencing the world through a lens of cultural practices and family relationships; and that ethnic Hawaiians have a unique style of learning which makes it essential that they have a unique educational system which only they can properly design and implement. Professor Meyer seems to believe that Hawaiian ancestral wisdom is somehow passed genetically and spiritually from the ancestors to today's Hawaiians, as well as being passed through cultural upbringing. Hawaiian religious beliefs are an important part of her theory.

Also important in Meyer's theory is the concept that indigenous knowledge is a product of the interactions among the members of the community living in close relationship with the land. Therefore, indigenous knowledge is owned by the group as a whole, and by the land and the gods. Individuals must seek group approval or validation for their knowledge, and must obtain group permission before sharing or giving away important knowledge. For a discussion of claims to indigenous intellectual property rights and collective ownership in the context of Hawai'i, see:

Meyer's theory of Hawaiian epistemology is valid for individual ethnic Hawaiians only to the extent that those individuals follow a distinctively unique Hawaiian cultural upbringing in accord with the cultural patterns described by the elders who talked with Ms. Meyer; but very few ethnic Hawaiians today have that sort of upbringing exclusively. Indeed, there is a continuum of Hawaiian-style upbringing ranging from a small number of children brought up exclusively in traditional ways (minus human sacrifice and brother-sister incest), to a vast majority of ethnic Hawaiians whose upbringing might include some elements of traditional lifestyle. There are an increasing number of ethnic Hawaiians raised in foster homes or raised in families who simply don't care about tradition. There are also an increasing number of children with no native ancestry who are influenced by elements of traditional Hawaiian culture simply because those cultural elements are the core of Hawai'i's multiracial rainbow society -- things like hula, Hawaiian language, taro cultivation, and heiau restoration. 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):

The State of Hawai'i has been providing taxpayer dollars for about 20 years to support a public school Hawaiian language immersion program. It was feared that Hawaiian language was dying out, because few elders remained alive who had grown up speaking Hawaiian as their first language and few children were learning the language. Therefore groups of dedicated volunteer families pledged that the parents would learn Hawaiian at night school while their children would grow up speaking Hawaiian at home and would attend schools where Hawaiian was the language of instruction for all subjects. Since year 2000 Hawai'i began experimenting with charter schools. Half of all the public charter schools are designated as "host culture" Hawaiian culture-immersion schools, where the curriculum and instructional methods are focused on Hawaiian culture and where the Hawaiian language is used perhaps most of the time. Since 2002 there has been a bill in the Legislature seeking to give official recognition to the consortium of "host culture" charter schools as a separate non-contiguous school district empowered to grant charters to additional schools and to certify teachers. Thus, an apartheid public school system is gradually being established, and is being used as a vehicle for ethnic nation-building. For an exploration of the Hawaiian language immersion program, the "Host culture" charter schools, and the use of education for ethnic nation-building in Hawai'i, see:

Dr. Meyer's theory of Hawaiian epistemology provides the "scholarly" justification for empowering ethnic Hawaiians to operate their own separate public school system. The appearance of scholarliness and intellectual depth in Dr. Meyer's work, and the receptiveness of Hawai'i's politicians, gives hope to other ethnic groups outside Hawai'i that they too might be able to dream up a rationale and create their own ethnocentric public school systems funded at taxpayer expense. Thus the balkanization of America increases. That's what the UCLA conference on October 16, 2004 is intended to facilitate.

It should not be surprising that the back cover of Professor Meyer's book says "All proceeds from the sale of this book will go to the Hawaiian Charter School movement" and provides contact information for sending donations to a 501-C3 tax exempt group dedicated to that cause. Manulani Aluli Meyer, "Ho'oulu -- Our Time of Becoming (Hawaiian Epistemology and Early Writings). 'Ai Pohaku Press, Native Books Inc. P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu HI, 96802,, (c) 2003. LCCN 2003110403. ISBN 1-883528-24-0.


Following are important excerpts from a lengthy article published by Professor Meyer, describing her theory of Hawaiian epistemology. The article was: "OUR OWN LIBERATION: REFLECTIONS ON HAWAIIAN EPISTEMOLOGY" The Contemporary Pacific 13.1 (2001) 124-148. Her article is available on the internet, but only by special subscription, at

------------- [begin quotes from Dr. Meyer] -------------

""But will it also be thought strange that education and knowledge of the world have enabled us to perceive that as a race we have some special mental and physical requirements not shared by the other races which have come among us?" (Queen Lili'uokalani, 1898)

"The truth is, Hawaiians were never like the people who colonized us. If we wish to understand what is unique and special about who we are as cultural people, we will see that our building blocks of understanding, our epistemology, and thus our empirical relationship to experience is fundamentally different. 3 We simply see, hear, feel, taste, and smell the world differently. As I shall show in this essay, these differences are neither subtle nor imaginary, but large and enduring. It continues to amaze me that we have survived the carbon monocultural poisoning of our back-seat schooling vehicle.

"Enter the discussion of epistemology. It is not a new discussion but because of the political times it has become the hotbed of academic discourse. It is the sword against anthropological arrogance and the shield against philosophical universalisms. How one knows, indeed, what one prioritizes with regard to this knowing, ends up being the stuffing of identity, the truth that links us to our distinct cosmologies, and the essence of who we are as Oceanic people. It is a discussion of place and genealogy. It is a way to navigate the shores of what is worth knowing and it is particularly important as we enter the new millennium where information will no longer be synonymous with knowledge, but rather how that information helps us maintain our sense of community in the daily chaos of access and information overload.

"Hawaiian epistemology is a long-term idea that is both ancient and modern, central and marginalized. It is a distinct feature of our culture that cannot easily be distinguished from the fabric it is sewn into. It shifts, it is metamorphosed, it is changed by time and influence. It is constant.

"Epistemological Theme 1: Spirituality and Knowledge
The Cultural Contexts of Knowledge

"Most of the Hawaiian educators I listened to spoke of where their inspiration of knowing something flowed from. This theme of spirituality was, by far, the largest of all seven categories. Inevitably, every mentor spoke of and lingered in this arena of how knowledge is affected, drawn from, and shaped by spiritual forces. These forces include environment, family members long passed, God, the many gods, and 'aumakua (ancestors).

""The domains of experience (body-centric) are conditioned by our relationship with gods. The spirituality and conduct between gods and humans is part of knowledge" (Rubellite Kawena Johnson, 11 April 1997). This theme culls from rich and varied examples to substantiate spirituality as a "domain of experience" that validates and strengthens a cultural understanding of how we know and experience the world. Knowledge, for some mentors, became a sinew that ran throughout the ages, an extension of what is respected and what is practiced. It has an origin, and history helps direct its future. Most spoke of themselves as links in this chain of cultural continuity.

""It extends all the way back to the beginning, so we remain connected. All the way back, and those spiritual forces are still with us!" (Kekuni Blaisdell, 3 February 1997)

"This knowledge-belief structure cannot possibly have a specific answer to how one approaches technology, for instance, but it sets the tone for how one handles technological influence and places it within a structure of values, priorities, and spiritual beliefs.

"Epistemological Theme 2: That Which Feeds

"'Aina as origin, 'aina as mother, 'aina as inspiration. In this essay, 'aina refers to the environment. How this shapes how one experiences the world is an important lens through which to view cultural epistemology. It was the place of birth ('aina hanau) where all mentors began their descriptions of who they were, and how it shaped their differences and values. It is where each one grew up that most shaped their worldview.

"Here it is again, the connection land has with spiritual and religious structure. The specificity of such deities teaches us how to behave, how to enter the ocean, what to notice. This fact points, again, to epistemological origins tied to cosmology and ontological realities shaped by environment. It leads now into a discussion of expanding empiricism, the third epistemological thread.

"Epistemology Theme 3: Cultural Nature of the Senses

"Because of the fluid nature of each of the themes, this one in particular connected and ran throughout spirituality, place, and morality. It became evident from the discussions with the Hawaiian educators that senses are developed by culture.

"Breathing into a chosen student's mouth is one way knowledge was given and is a metaphor for how Hawaiians engage in knowledge maintenance. It is deeply embedded in other, in elder, in spirit. It is linked with how Hawaiians view teachers, words, timing, and experience. This point will be further developed in the sixth epistemological theme--words and knowledge.

"The linking of experience with awareness is active. For example, surfing affects our knowledge about the ocean, and dreams affect our relationship to reality. The honor we hold for our kumu, our teachers, affects how we listen. If paying attention also invokes the god Lono, how does this affect our choice of what to share and when? While the genesis of Hawaiian knowledge is based on experience, and experience is grounded in our sensory rapport, how then do these senses themselves shape our knowing? "Everything is alive! You see that reflection of the sun? That's alive! It's saying something, it's sending a message! And we need to be able to receive and process that message and think and act accordingly" (Kekuni Blaisdell, 3 February 1997).

"Epistemology Theme 4: Relationship And Knowledge

"Relationship as the "cornerstone of Hawaiian experience which shaped knowledge" is also a key component for all Hawaiian educators. They acknowledged the idea that relationships mattered in profound ways. Relationships or interdependence offered Hawaiians opportunities to practice reciprocity, exhibit balance, develop harmony with land, and generosity with others. Mentors described the vital force of relationship in myriad forms and with clear vocabulary and imagery.

"Here it is again, this continuum with our 'ohana, except in this theme, the focus is now on "other" and how maintenance of relationships takes conscious and deliberate thought and action. Knowledge is the by-product of dialogue, or of something exchanged with others. Knowledge, for some mentors, is a gift that occurs when one is in balance with another.

"Having good rapport and listening to one's elders is not new and revelatory. It is how that rapport is sustained and the extent of its importance that is unique to Hawaiians. The fact that every educator spoke in relationship terms highlights the importance of knowledge that is shaped by such a priority. It is evident when discussions turned to issues of validation, responsibility, and humility that morality, again, crafted relationship.

"The idea of "function" was important to many mentors. In this way, all facets of the environment and every relationship became potential sites of function. Of course, this too is shaped by morality, by history, by genealogy, and by one's belief in continuity.

"Mentors spoke about naming children, knowing the environment, and understanding why places were named certain ways. They spoke in terms of function and purpose and did not separate intelligence from practice.

"Utilitarian expectations extend culture and strengthen family. The belief that meaning is tied to learning was not something hidden or subtle for the twenty Hawaiian mentors. It is a pivotal hope for the why, how, where, and what of lessons, understanding, and the creation of a meaningful life.

"Epistemology Theme 6: Words and Knowledge

"Here, hermeneutics helps to explain why it matters that the knowing who is talking and how what's being said gets incorporated into what is learned, or if it gets taught at all. And so, context plays another role when words, "dares," and lessons are shared. And of course, context is culturally situated.

"Epistemology Theme 7: The Body-Mind Question
The Illusion of Separation

"The separation of mind from body is not found in a Hawaiian worldview. Intelligence, for these twenty Hawaiian educators, was not separate from feeling. Indeed, intelligence is found in the core of our body system--in our viscera, the na'au. For mentors it is the feeling of something that constitutes part of knowing something.

"The idea of "comfort" is part of this discussion of intelligence, as if knowing something had to be embedded in feeling that it was okay. This is where mentors spoke in graphic and simple terms. If it did not feel right, it was not proper to proceed, or that knowledge was something to cast aside. Thus extends the discussion of how culture shapes sensory cues and how these cues shape how mentors develop rapport within their world.

"The question then arises: Why the stomach? Why not the brain? Why is intelligence housed in the viscera of a body system? These questions were approached and answered by some mentors in profound ways. The merging together of "head and heart," the dual system of knowing is akin to acknowledging that information and conscious practice are fundamental to common sense. Understanding how viscera connects to intelligence perhaps brings us back to "the cosmic center point" of how and when knowledge is experienced. It is a clear plain from which to view the many ways people judge intelligence, understanding, and knowledge.

"This discussion of na'au and na'auao is an intimate look into core Hawaiian beliefs that strongly identify with the idea of embodied knowing. It is "knowing" that is not divorced from awareness, from body, from spirit, from place. These descriptors personify what was most obvious to the mentors with regard to epistemology. Na'au and na'auao are complex ontological descriptors that fuse with all other epistemological themes and threads. They highlight the idea that cultural views of where intelligence is "housed" are also part of how intelligence is received. These emic terms reflect the spiritual, relationary, utilitarian, and moral pathways knowledge takes to get to a Hawaiian psyche.

"So here we are. We have stepped from the schooling vehicle that dismisses the idea that empiricism is culturally defined. We are walking toward the ocean again. How intelligence is viewed and respected can eventually return into our own minds as Native Hawaiians. Will we now develop a standardizing philosophy or step beyond the potential neocolonial trap of "universalism"? It has still to be seen. There are signs of the struggle everywhere in our Hawaiian communities. We are beginning to understand that Hawaiian education is not something in relation to a western norm, but something we must define in relation to our own understanding of ourselves, our past, and our potential. It is something more organic, more real, more tied to place. It is something that the Hawai'i Island Native Hawaiian Education Council members saw one unforgettable afternoon, almost without effort: "Native Hawaiian Education is more often experienced as community-based projects that are culturally driven" (Hawai'i Island Council Report to the Native Hawaiian Education Council, August 1997).

"There it is. How do we educate our youth for the challenges of the next millennium? We surround them with our community, we give them meaningful experiences that highlight their ability to be responsible, intelligent, and kind. We watch for their gifts, we shape assessment to reflect mastery that is accomplished in real time, not false. We laugh more, plant everything, and harvest the hope of aloha. We help each other, we listen more, we trust in one another again. We find our Hawaiian essence reflected in both process and product of our efforts. That is Hawaiian education, and understanding our Hawaiian epistemology is our foundation, our kumupa'a. So, let it be said and let it be known: We have what we need. We are who we need."

----------- [end of quotes from Dr. Meyer ] --------------

** Comment by Dr. Ken Conklin

One example of a claim to collective racial ownership of a concept is "Polynesian" voyaging. Hokule'a was created in 1975 primarily for the purpose of reasserting ethnic pride. But the project was conceived and headed by a white man; and numerous whites also participated in designing the canoe, constructing it, and serving as crew mwmbers. The result was ethnic Hawaiian prejudice and racial hate-crimes against the whites, to the extent that the head of the Polynesian Voyaging Society (a white man) resigned, along with the master Micronesian navigator who had trained a Hawaiian navigator. Several Hawaiian crew members endangered the entire crew by refusing to perform their assigned responsibilities on the open ocean. The second voyage was racially exclusionary, with none of the original leaders or crew being asked for advice or participation; the canoe capsized and a life was lost. Clearly, the ethnic Hawaiians felt then, as they feel now thirty years later, that ethnic Hawaiians must be the leaders of the organization, the captain and the steersman, and a majority of the crew. After all, it would be hard to claim that Polynesian voyaging is truly Polynesian unless Polynesians are in charge. One might say it's a matter of enforcing informal indigenous copyright over the concept of "Polynesian voyaging." Furthermore, there's the issue of authenticity of design, materials, and ceremony. In what sense can a canoe made of modern materials be called "Polynesian"? And how can modern people "remember" ancient ceremonies or designs which have been forgotten for centuries? The claim to authenticity is based a belief in a collective racial memory of a deep culture which is carried in the genes even when someone has only "one drop" of native blood. See:



** Excerpts **

The UCLA Asian American Studies Center, CSU Northridge Center for Academic Preparedness, and Amerasia Journal Cordially Invite You to Attend

October 16, 2004


9:00 AM to 4:30 PM Saturday
UCLA Faculty Center, California Room
480 Charles Young Drive (Hilgard off Westholme)

The event is free and open to the public.

Los Angeles-The UCLA Asian American Studies Center, CSU Northridge Center for Academic Preparedness, and Amerasia Journal are hosting an innovative national conference, "LEARN BY DOING: EDUCATION TOWARDS HUMANIZATION" for educators, students, and community activists on October 16, 2004 at UCLA's Faculty Center. The event is part of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center's yearlong celebration of its 35th anniversary.

The conference showcases new teaching and learning methods developed by California State University Northridge's Center for Academic Preparedness and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. These methods include:

Interactive, hands-on approaches to creative liberatory teaching to bring together college and community. How to change your ideas around learning, indigenous cultures, and community media and politics.

Cultural demonstrations, interactive group and individual activities, led by noted scholars and activists from a variety of communities--Asian, Latino, Hawaiian and Samoan, and multicultural communities.

The special guest for this event is Dr. Manu Aluli Meyer, an outdoor experiential educator and coach who entered the philosophy field and the Teacher Education field . She earned her doctorate from Harvard University. Her work is in Hawaiian epistemology and she is dedicated to changing education in Hawai'i to better address the needs and honor the unique contributions of our Native Hawaiian people. She has a life-long dedication to ho'oponopono, a Hawaiian mediation process and uses it in all facets of her work and home life.

Other featured activities include: Cultural Circles, Community Tutoring Models and Demonstrations, Political Fortune Telling, a Samoan Sunday School Lesson, a Bilingual reading of MULAN with Frank Chin and King Kok Cheung, and Community Documentary Filmmaking demonstrations.

According to Prof. Warren Furumoto of CSUN Center for Academic Preparedness : "While politicians and the public decry the poor state of education, the remedy provided is more of the same with increased punitive measures, as if this will motivate lazy students to better learning. The fact remains that over 50% of students of black, brown and red color do not graduate from high school and the prescribed remedy will only exacerbate this situation."

"Recent studies on how the brain learns indicate that the prevailing Euro-centric mind-set of education has to be trashed and replaced by a more nurturing and humanistic process. We have a glimpse of this process from the vestiges of what we know about indigenous learning, whose basic instructional strategy is to see and then to do in a balance of mind, body and spirit, respecting others and our environment."

Many of the speakers for this event are featured in a special issue of UCLA Asian American Studies Center's Amerasia Journal , "Pedagogy, Social Justice, and the State of Asian American Studies," Volume 29:2, 2003. Copies of the publication can be purchased at the event or by contacting the UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press, e-mail: or call (310) 825-2968.

To RSVP for the conference and reserve a free lunch (for the first 100 people) please contact: RSVP is required by email ( or phone (310.825.2974).

Conference Program
Activities, workshops, and presentations will include:

Community Tutoring Models / Prof. Warren Furumoto

CSUN students will model segments of their peer directed training workshops to demonstrate collaborative learning, developmental learning and emotionally compatible class-room management. The "we see - we do" peer training translates into "we do - you see - you do" with the middle and high school students. Although data seem to support the efficacy of the process, much more must be done to keep every student from falling between the cracks. And that means more work in reconnecting all students of color to their indigenous belief systems and ethics.


Triangulation of Meaning & Indigenous Epistemology with / Prof. Manulani Aluli Meyer, Associate Professor of Education, University of Hawaii A return to the trilogy of body/mind/spirit AND information/knowledge/understanding AND objective/subjective/cultural AND facts/logic/metaphor. We must outline the connection between intellect and wisdom and not be afraid to debate the social implications of a more enlightening epistemology.


*Political Fortune Telling with Glenn Omatsu
Discover how you are related to the ideas of Gandhi, Philip Vera Cruz, Yuri Kochiyama, Grace Lee Boggs, Malcolm X, Rigoberta Menchu, Martin Luther King, and Thich Nhat Hanh.

*Table Activities with Tony Osumi
Art, Education and teamwork (Little Tokyo Mural Painting)

Feast of Resistance

"1000 Paper Cranes with Li'i Furumoto
Paper cranes and supplies purchased with donations will be shipped to hospitalized Iraqi children. Monetary donations will be accepted to purchase urgently needed supplies."

-Samoan Sunday School Lesson of the Pi Tautau with Sefa Aina

The Pi Tautau was created by missionaries to teach Samoans how to read the Bible. Along with the introduction of written word and letters were the images used to re-organize and colonize Samoan minds.

Stories for Your Life with Profs. King Kok Cheung, Frank Chin, Jinqi Ling Acclaimed writer and UC Regents Lecturer Frank Chin will join critics King-kok Cheung and Jinqi Ling to talk about the importance of the oral tradition and vernacular in Asian American literature.

Capturing Community Images with EthnoCommunications
Vivian Wong and Prof. Robert Nakamura


** Comments by Dr. Ken Conklin **

First, let's consider the general conceptual theme of the conference: "Learn by Doing, Education towards Humanization." This conceptual theme brings to mind two Hawaiian ‘olelo no'eau (proverbs): (1) Ma ka hana ka ‘ike (loosely translated as "we learn by doing"); (2) ‘A'ohe pau ka ‘ike i ka halau ho'okahi (Not all knowledge is found in one school). So it is no surprise that Dr. Meyer and this symposium find much commonality with John Dewey.

For several decades American education suffered under the influence of John Dewey's "progressivist" and "Pragmatist" philosophy.

Dewey thought all knowledge comes from hands-on experience. "We learn by doing." Knowledge is not "out there" waiting for a learner to learn it; rather, knowledge is constructed by a two-way interaction between a learner and his environment, as interpreted through the context of the learner's cultural and experiential background. Therefore school curriculum should be activity-centered, with children engaged in practical problem-solving projects. The traditional academic disciplines artificially divide knowledge. Children will learn academic subject matter not through systematic lectures, but only as needed when solving problems that arise in working on practical projects. Dewey thought work and play are closely related; we work more effectively when our labor is imbued with a playful flexibility, and our enjoyment of play is enhanced when we work at it more thoughtfully. Therefore teachers should engage children's interest by offering projects which feel playful, while helping them develop the self-discipline needed to get the work accomplished. The curriculum is child-centered rather than subject-centered, meaning that the focus is on satisfying the momentary "felt needs" (desires or curiosity) of the child rather than mastering a predetermined set of knowledge and skills. Self-esteem is a more important goal than self-discipline or knowledge.

Dewey's theory downplays the importance of the hierarchical structure of knowledge. Since academic knowledge is to be explored only when it is needed for solving some practical problem, children will hardly ever get beyond a beginner's level of knowledge in any academic discipline. This shortcoming is especially clear in the area of mathematics. Students engaged in practical projects will certainly get practice with fractions, decimals, percents, estimation, measurement, and some of the topics in geometry and perhaps trigonometry. But they will never stay with one or more projects for a long enough time to learn algebra or calculus. It is doubtful they will ever learn how to prove a theorem, or to appreciate the axiomatic-deductive structure of mathematical knowledge which is so important as a model for organizing knowledge in other disciplines like physics, chemistry, economics, and law.

Dewey's theory appeals to those who favor vocational training over academics. It appeals to those who want education to be practical rather than theoretical; those who like comic books and newspapers rather than Shakespeare; those who like beer and pretzels rather than champaign and caviar. It appeals to lower socio-economic groups who lack the resources to pursue a lengthy program of education in a profession.

Of most importance to this particular conference agenda, Dewey's theory appeals to minority groups who want a rationale for developing an ethnocentric curriculum to "liberate" themselves from the knowledge and values of the dominant culture. Since the daily lifestyle and values of a minority group are likely to be different from those of the dominant culture; therefore problem-centered, project-centered, child-centered schools will have curriculum, instructional methodology, and administrative structure which differ significantly among different ethnic groups. Even the field of mathematics-education has developed a specialty known as "ethnomath" where traditional mathematical topics are taught through the use of culturally-centered objects or projects such as making a fishing net, building a rock wall, or creating decorative markings on bark-cloth. Dewey's theory provides a philosophical basis for claiming that different ethnic groups should each be empowered to have their own separate schools and school systems. Instead of education providing a melting pot of opportunities for children from different backgrounds to develop social cohesiveness and a common set of knowledge and values, education will become a tool for promoting ethnic balkanization of America. In a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, children whose education in an ethnocentric school leaves them incapable of competing in the larger society will then remain firmly rooted (i.e., trapped) in their own ethnic subculture.

The idea underlying this conference seems to be that each ethnic group should control its own education: Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Mexican, Puerto Rican, African, Arabic, and European groups could each perpetuate its own language and cultural values while mastering whatever vocational and academic knowledge is considered important by that group. But indigenous groups (American Indians and "Native Hawaiians") are of greatest interest to this conference, perhaps because their lifestyle and ways of learning are (allegedly) so radically different from all the other groups. Those radical differences make it easy to understand why a separate educational system is important for indigenous people. Presumably, once we see why separate education is needed for indigenous people, it might also seem more plausible that other ethnic groups should also be empowered to control their own education.


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