By In Hawaii

Black History Is Hawaii’s History

On the cover of Nitasha Tamar Sharma’s recent book, “Hawaiʻi Is My Haven,” is a striking image of Kamakakehau Fernandez wearing a pink bombax flower lei. The Na Hoku Hanohano award-winning falsetto singer and ukulele player was adopted from Arkansas by a Maui family when he was six weeks old, and was enrolled in Hawaiian language classes starting in kindergarten. He grew up in Hawaii and with Hawaii in him.

Fernandez is one of countless examples of Black locals who have contributed to Hawaiian culture and life for over 200 years, yet whose stories have largely gone unrecognized.

“Black people have been evacuated out of the narrative of who is in Hawaii,” Sharma says. “Historically we don’t think Black people were in Hawaii when they actually were…”

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By In education, Hawaii

I’m A Teacher And I’m A Babysitter. You’re Welcome

When schools were closed statewide in 2020, there was a distinct moment of clarity amid the chaos. Times were scary and stressful and delirious, but at least people started to see how difficult other people’s jobs were.

It felt like we were having a long-overdue reckoning about what is really important in society. It was refreshing to see people acknowledge that yes, it is hard to teach kids.

But now that things have returned to some facsimile of normal, gone are the days of widespread appreciation for the services that teachers provide, services that help kids grow and learn as well as help parents go to work without having to worry about looking after their kids.

Now, as schools scramble to provide coverage for teachers who are out, a familiar refrain has emerged: teachers are merely babysitters. The shortage of substitute teachers has only magnified its rationale. Having security guards, librarians and counselors watch cafeterias filled with students seems a lot more like “sitting” than “teaching.”

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By In education, Hawaii

Hawaii Needs Substitute Teachers To Help With The Pandemic

It’s hard to say that school was back in full swing last week. When classes resumed following winter break, somewhere between 10% to 20% of students in each of my classes were absent, roughly mirroring the amount of teachers who were also absent.

For students and teachers alike, many, though not all of the absences were related to the surge of the omicron variant. Some had either contracted or been exposed to Covid-19 and thus had to quarantine. Others who traveled for the holidays were left stranded when their flights were canceled due to airline staffing shortages – shortages caused by Covid.

The abundance of absences renewed the debate about how schools should operate. Should we march on with in-person learning, move to distance learning again or return to the blended model where students alternate between coming to school and staying home?

Each has advantages and disadvantages…

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By In Hawaii

Red Hill Should Change The Way We Think About The Military

…But even mild critiques of the military are often met with patriotic outrage, as if a specific institutional criticism is no different than spitting in the face of your uncle who took a bullet for his country. Military culture is particularly effective at subsuming the identities of those who are in it, so it’s easy to understand why criticism of the military is often received as criticism of military members.

This dissonance was on display when news broke of drinking water contamination apparently caused by a Red Hill fuel tank leak. As more details emerged, some people were shocked by the Navy’s negligence, dishonesty and casual disregard for the public they’re supposedly protecting – and another group of people was shocked that it took this long for the others to be shocked by any of this.

How we talk about the military — what it is and what it does — is still couched in wartime nostalgia and freedom-fighting cliches from a century ago…

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By In education, Hawaii

If You Want To Improve Schools, Help Parents

I still remember a meeting with a parent when I was a new teacher 10 years ago.

It was an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, meeting for a second grade boy during which his mother, myself, another teacher and a vice principal discussed how he was performing academically and behaviorally to come up with a plan to help him progress.

While we were discussing the boy’s challenges with reading and aggressive playground behavior, his mother interrupted with an exasperated and startlingly blunt question: “Isn’t this your job?”

She was only half correct. It is indeed the job of teachers to teach kids how to read and to not hit others because you don’t want to wait in line for the slide, but it is not only our job to do that.

What still surprises me about what she said was not that she said it, but that she said it out loud. In my experience since then, I’ve found her attitude to be fairly commonplace, but most people don’t say it directly to their child’s teachers.

Whether it’s looking for the next superintendent to come in and save the day or trying out new schemes to recruit and retain teachers, the public expectation seems to be that schools are solely responsible for all of our education woes. Few people will actually say that, but when news of low test scores from last year came out, the subsequent discussion was almost exclusively about what schools need to do and how schools need to change.

In a way that’s sensible. There are definitely reforms that will improve the education system, and we should absolutely implement them. But there’s more to it than that…

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