Putting Up With Shameful Schools

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - May 03, 2006
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This past week in one of the local daily newspapers there appeared a letter to the editor suggesting that our Democrat-controlled Legislature actually had a self-interest in maintaining an inferior education system so that our youngsters graduating from public schools may have skills and aspirations no higher than to work in the service sector of our economy (tourism), or the construction trades, or the numbing bureaucracy of our state government. Of course, as the theory plays out, this would continue to fuel the vitality of the unions - HGEA, building trades and hotel workers - the primary constituency that keeps the legislators in power.

Although there is a rational “cause-and-effect” foundation for such a conspiracy theory, I am reluctant to believe it - at least in the sense that our legislators would be doing it consciously. If I were to believe it, I would also have to believe the same mechanism is alive and well in our education system.

Three weeks ago I wrote about the importance of the passage of SB 3059, which would establish the concept of a standardized core knowledge curriculum for our public schools, a common denominator for successful schools across America, and locally for the few schools that have applied it. Frankly, I was surprised at the e-mail hue and cry I received against passage of the bill, some of it even quite emotional.

There is apparently a serious misunderstanding among some educators who should know better that a “standardized core knowledge curriculum” - in reading and math - is totally compatible with a “localized” or Hawaiian-oriented education. The two are not mutually exclusive. As obvious examples, a standardized curriculum could still include reading comprehension while studying Hawaiian history and culture. Math could be taught in the context of celestial or oceanographic navigation as perfected by the ancient Hawaiian navigators. Teaching of the arts as applied to local culture is even more obvious. We know that understanding a culture can best be taught by studying the language. It may be totally appropriate (given the prominence of the Hawaiian culture in our daily lives here) that a semester - or even a year - of the Hawaiian language become a part of the standard curriculum for all our public school students, Hawaiian or not.

I got the distinct impression from the feedback that part of the problem is the phrase “successful schools across America.”

Honestly, some of the rhetoric had that harsh ring we’ve come to know from Hawaiian activists who denounce anything “American” (except for the U.S. government handouts) and would rather live “sovereign” in the dark ages of tribalism ... as provided by the Akaka Bill.

More alarming was that much of the opposition to a standardized curriculum (or anything other than the status quo, it seems) came from sources - judging from their titles and degrees - associated with our University of Hawaii School of Education, the supposed source of educational enlightenment. We should hear from the formal leadership - the dean of the School of Education, for example - to find out what the heck is being taught up there: What educational philosophies are guiding the preparation of our teachers?

With the exception of Gov. Linda Lingle’s effort to effect significant change early in her current term (thwarted by the Legislature, of course), one has to wonder about the total educational hierarchy of our state: the self-serving Legislature, the equally self-serving leadership of the HSTA, the dysfunctional Board of Education, the bloated Department of Education, and the parochial (apparently) School of Education in Manoa. God knows we have children as bright and eager to learn as anywhere else. We have teachers as intelligent, professional, dedicated and as creative as anywhere else. We have parents who - despite both having to work to survive in our tax-heavy environment - care as much as anywhere else. How many more decades (I’ve seen three of them) do we have to put up with consistently low - I mean among the very lowest - national rankings in nearly every educational category?

Would someone - anyone - in this educational hierarchy please write an op-ed or a letter to the MidWeek editor explaining to us, instead of excuses, where is the embarrassment? Where is the shame for what we are doing to our kids?

Yes, in spite of its alleged negative impact upon self-esteem - as espoused in contemporary “enlightened” educational circles - there is still a place for shame.

There also is still a place for correcting the problem.

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