JW, email, Sept, 29, 2014.
Dear Mr. Kawaharada;
Thank you for your wonderful book! I ran across it at Kaimuki Public Library recently and have been enjoying reading it immensely. Before I return it, I will make a list of all the titles you included in your essays, especially regarding Hawaiian studies. That small volume enlightened and educated me in a way that felt very satisfying. My family has lived on the islands since 1972 and I moved here in 2006 from California, (San Francisco born, third generation, UC Berkeley grad). You gave me a way to relate to the multicultural life here, that I couldn't find on my own. Feeling that I appreciated so much, culturally and historically, but didn't understand many aspects of life here, your words taught me, filled a void and gave me a needed friend-your voice and insight, enriched with your dedicated studies, humanitarian concerns and uninhibited expression. Once I complete reading the literature you cite, I know my feet will be planted more firmly on this island ground.!
HY, email, April 11, 2005.
You have removed a heavy cloud over my head. It's amazing how little I knew about Hawaii after all those years living there. It has taken me over 70 years to start really appreciating my local heritage. It doesn't matter that I now live in Portland. It's still amazing, because like the song says "I once was blind and now can see" seems to capture my moment (if it hasn't ruined it a bit). Anyway, a couple of years ago when I visited Haiku, I saw a dual community of old timers and new comers striving in disconnected modes. Now, as a result of Reunion-ing, I sense they're connecting better and facing a brighter future. But, I think there's still a lot of distance to go, and I'm encouraged by the new breed like you that can make that distance much shorter.
I suspect your pvs [Polynesian Voyaging Society] web page is already a prime source of information for Haiku School students. But your Local Geography and other sources cited in it should be made available to them. I will strongly recommend them to their library. Congratulations all around!
DR, letter, April 9, 2005
I just finished reading your recent book, Local Geography. I enjoyed it very much and noticed that I was the first person to check it out from the Waikiki library so wanted to send a quick note to you to tell you the impression you made on me.
I don't think I'm the typical reader you had in mind while writing. I'm a haole girl from Seattle who's been in Hawaii for a little over two years. Immediately after arriving I noticed how little I knew about Hawaii and it's culture, so I began checking out books at the library to learn more about my new "home." I came across your book on my latest trip to the library. I've read many books about various aspects of Hawaii (history, culture, fiction, non-fiction), but none have made the culture here as real and dynamic as yours. I felt like I was able to look through your eyes and see Hawaii's culture from a Kama'aina's perspective from childhood into adulthood. Your stories that taught me some new things as well as verified some feelings I had but couldn't confirm. Of course I understand that this was just one person's perspective, but I greatly appreciate your willingness to share it with your readers.
One of the things I really enjoyed was hearing about the sailing voyages that are still going on. I even think I saw a story involving the Hokule'a on TV the other day. This kind of concrete evidence helps reinforce the idea in my mind that the Hawaiian culture is still growing and changing, it's not a static picture that the history books I've read portray.
Another thing that touched me was your sense of belonging to this place. I do not have the same availability to know what my cultural roots are (which is sad), but many generations of my family have lived in Seattle and that is where I feel I belong. I will be returning there soon and you and Hawaii have helped me to be inspired to learn a little more about the history and culture of that place, the place that I call "home."
An exchange of emails between the author and a reader, TL
On Apr 16, 2005, TL wrote:
Dear Mr. Kawaharada, I am enjoying your book Local Geography. But I think you are making a serious mistake about the idea of a colonial education. There is nothing colonial about it: it is the sam education one would get in London, New York, or Tokyo. It is the kind of education one is expected to have once he leaves his islands and deals with people elsewhere.
I understand that you are rooted in the local culture and geography and you don't want to leave. But the parents who monitor the Hawaii school system want to give their children the opportunity to leave, the opportunity to go to Wiltshire if they like, or Vermont, or Ikaho.
They know their kids will gain confidence from what they do, not from who their ancestors were or what size island they come from.
These parents are paying you to teach their kids the same things the kids would learn if they lived in Oxford or Paris. You betray the parents and the kids when you teach an island-oriented point of view.
As for the people who feel small because they come from an island, the problem is in themselves, not in their education. Most people who have made great successes in life did not have those successes in the out-of-the-way places where they grew up. They grew out of their childhood and took their place in the wider world.
On Apr 16, 2005, DK responded:
Thanks for giving some thought to these issues.
Yes, this "same education" you refer to is my definition of a colonial education. However, a student in Tokyo doesn't get the same education as a student in New York. The student in Tokyo gets much more Japanese culture and history (from a Japanese perspective) than a student in New York. (Of course that perspective may not be shared by others: witness the protests in China today and yesterday about the Japanese Education Ministry's portrayal of WW II in Japanese history books approved for the public school system.) If the student in Tokyo got the same education as a student in New York, I would say that that would be a colonial education; and I doubt if the Japanese people would accept it. You might want to research this topic before assuming your statement is accurate: i.e., do some research on the cultural content of the school curricula in Tokyo with those of New York and London, and read some of the works that are assigned.
My argument is that there is room for learning general principles of science, math, composition, critical thinking, literature, history, art, etc, AND learning knowledge specific to Hawai'i. Not only that, I think knowledge and readings specific to Hawai'i can be used to teach and illustrate the general principles mentioned above. As I mention in my text, I don't see the world as "either this/or that", but as "both this/and that." As an English teacher I teach my students critical thinking and interpretative skill and strategies that they can use on anything that they read, whether it was written in Japanese or Hawaiian or English; my students read American literature, British literature and world literature; but they also read Hawaiian and local literature.
This may be true for some parents and families whose main concern is the upward (and outward mobility) of their children. But having gone through the public school system, I would say that this is not true of majority of parents and families of the children. About 25-30% of the student body go on to post-secondary education; a smaller percentage to four-year universities. What about the 70-75% of the other students? Should we ignore their interests or needs?
For some individuals and families, ancestry is an important factor in identity; for other individuals and families, it is not. It depends on how they were brought up and in which cultural traditions. I provide for both kinds of students in my courses. Students can study about the literature of their ancestors, to learn more about them, or they can read literature from other cultures to expand their horizons. Students are at different places in their personal and cultural growth at any given time, and should have a number of options open to them. What I'm against is NOT giving students who want to read Hawaiian literature the option to do so, either because of some mistaken notion that "it is not literature" or "it is inferior literature" or "it is limited because it is only taught in Hawai'i" or "we should only teach what is taught in New York and London." Believe me, there are students who love reading Hawaiian literature.
Again, I would be careful about generalizing about "parents"; for every parent that you could find who would tell me I am "betraying" their children by teaching them about "local geography," I could find a parent who wanted their children to learn about it--and students who loved what they were learned about "local geography" and wanted to learn more. Again, I am aware that there are all kinds of students and all kinds of needs, and I address as many of their needs as I can in my classes, not just the ones of those parents who want their children to go to Columbia or Oxford. And I have students in my classes who come from the mainland or Japan who want to learn local and Hawaiian culture. (I just got a letter from a woman from Seattle who borrowed Local Geography from the Waikiki public library and loved what she learned about the islands....)
I disagree with this statement. Perhaps if you had been educated in a school system that demeaned you not because of who you are as an individual, but because of your ancestry (i.e. because you were Hawaiian, or Chinese, or Haole), you might feel differently about this problem. While I wasn't educated in such a system, I can empathize with those who have ... mainly because I have read what they have written about their experiences and found their presentations quite convincing. I would recommend that you read some of these works (mentioned throughout my essays).
Again, you are assuming that the goal of most people in life is to be what you consider "successes" and therefore they need to be educated to live in the "wider world." I doubt this is true of most people. Many would like to be successful as a good teacher, a good police officer, a good med tech, a good dental hygienist in order to contribute to the community they grow up in and support their families. I consider the lives of people who set and achieve such goals fulfilled and successful. You, on the other hand, seem to think that we should ignore these students, and design schools to educate students to be Einsteins or Picassos and to live in New York or Paris. All I can say to that is "I doubt it."
On Apr 17, 2005, at 10:46 AM, TL wrote:
Aloha Dennis, Thanks for responding to my note about "colonial education".
Your book, and especially the quotation from the Hunger Artist, suggests that at least some local students will come to school if you feed them poi, but they don't want to have anything to do with spaghetti or miso soup. Let me call an all-poi diet a "coconut education" and say that I would find it demeaning.
I felt that your book also criticizes the teachers who tried to give you the same kind of education you would get at Punahou or Yale. I was defending them.
In practice though, you are teaching your students exactly the same things they could learn elsewhere, but in a local context. That sounds great to me, and I expect your students are lucky to have you as a professor.
On Apr 17, 2005, DK Responded:
Your either/or thinking is too simplistic to deal with the issues of education in Hawai'i I'm raising. I am not arguing for an all-poi diet; I am arguing for a diet with some poi in it. (And by using terms like "coconut education" you are demeaning sophisticated cultural traditions that some people consider essential to their identity. So you don't want to be demeaned, but it's okay for you to demean others?)
The ideal teacher tries to get all students to eat poi, pasta, potato, bread, AND rice.
The ideal student would be interested in finding out what all five taste like, though he or she might have a preference for one of them because of his or her culture or ancestry or upbringing. I like to eat poi at least once or twice a week, pasta sometimes, bread sometimes, potatoes less often, and rice the rest of the time.
But if some students want an all-poi diet for now, then that is what I would provide for them because it's better than them eating nothing. I suspect that the reason some of students feel that way is that they have not been given ANY poi, only spaghetti and miso soup under the mistaken notion that they should eat ONLY what is eaten in Italy and Japan. Or their cultural traditions are put down by people like you who label it "coconut education." When people are insulted and their cultures are excluded from schools, they get angry, resentful and want to be educated separately from other people. If I were them, I would be pissed off, too, so I can understand why some students and their parents have opted out of the public schools for charter schools. While that's not the best solution, it is the only solution if people like you continue to insist that students in the public schools can study, and teachers can teach ONLY what is studied and taught in New York, Paris, or Tokyo.
You find it demeaning to be forced to read what others might find interesting, but you don't find interesting; others find it demeaning to be forced to read what you think they should read, but they aren't interested in (though perhaps under a better-crafted curriculum they would be interested in). The best solution for education is to get people interested in learning by reading what they want to read; and once they feel strong and comfortable in their primary interests, they can apply the general principles of learning to the study of other subjects.
I am critical of the teachers not for what they taught me, but for what they weren't willing or able to teach me because it was considered "coconut education" or "all poi"; and what I therefore had to educate myself on. I'm not interested in making sure students get "the same kind of education [as] at Punahou or Yale" but the kind of education that will fulfill the needs of as many and diverse people in the community as possible, not just those who are already privileged or who could make it in any school system. My criticism is also aimed at the UHM College of Education which has failed to develop a vision and plan for public education that would inspire learning in Hawai'i and to train teachers to work with the multiethnic students and multicultural contexts in which they have to teach. I consider public education in Hawai'i seriously flawed. And the no-child-left-behind practices promoted by the federal government will be just another failed colonial attempt to “improve” public education in Hawai'i. Instead of building on the strengths and interests of the students, the DOE is now going to force many to learn what students in New York have to learn; and many are going to be turned off by that and simply abandon school.