My Turn: Education in Hawaii, Alaska a bad comparison

  • Monday, October 26, 2015 1:00am
  • Opinion

While it’s often fruitful to compare education systems of other states with Alaska’s, David Nees’ misrepresentation of two facts, the premises of his Oct. 19 My Turn, undermines rational, informed comparison.

Contrary to the claim that Hawaii had the first public school system west of the Mississippi, erroneously attributed to a Kamahama — apparently a misidentification of King Kamehameha — that part of Hawaii’s educational system was established by private/monarchic initiative, often referred to as the Bishop Estate legacy. Moreover, it specifically targeted students of Hawaiian lineage. To this day the Kamehameha School selects for Hawaiian descendants. Simultaneously, colonial/immigrant presence impelled establishment of private schools, notably backed by missionaries and the Big 5 corporations, e.g. Castle & Cook.

Nees’ second of the two facts equally distorts history, claiming at statehood Alaska established Department of Defense and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools along with state and independent schools. The federal schools already existed under territorial jurisdiction. Rightly, he states that the federally-founded schools were incorporated into Alaska’s education system.

Beyond these two facts, a number of unsubstantiated assertions are advanced. Among the more glaring distortions include: Hawaii’s better performance on standardized tests without mentioning the disproportionate contributions of elite, private schools like Punahou (in Honolulu); glossing over Hawaii’s long history of ethnic frictions involving Chinese, Japanese and Philippine communities; and failing to mention Hawaii’s cumbersome, single-district, Honolulu-centered administration that escapes local island accountability.

Summoning the essence of “Aloha” spirit has nothing to do with government/education. Pretending it can be instantly incorporated to address Alaska’s educational challenges reaches into a realm inimical to Hawaiian culture.

• Bill McCord is a Haines resident. He is a retired teacher certified in science and English and has taught at Hawaii’s Konawaena high school and middle school.

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