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Colonizing the Mind: Hawaiian History, Americanization, and Manual Training in Hawaiʻi’s Public Schools, 1913–1940

by Derek Taira - 2021

Background/Context: Current historical understanding of Hawaiʻi’s territorial period celebrates American education as a crucial influence on the islands’ political development. In particular, the territory’s public school system represents an essential institution for spreading democratic freedom, fostering social mobility, and, more importantly, establishing America’s presence as a positive influence on Hawaiʻi’s political destiny. There has yet, however, to be a critical look at how White territorial school leaders used the public school system as a settler colonial institution with the intent of producing a compliant non-White population accepting of the nation’s racially stratified social, political, and economic systems of inequality.

Focus of Study: Making Hawaiʻi American was about controlling the islands’ past and determining its future. Cultivating consent, as this article contends, was a critical strategy to reach this end. White school officials used their uncontestable authority to uproot local history and social systems and replace them with narratives affirming American exceptionalism and racial segregation. Throughout the territorial period (1900–1959), they designed and supported formal and informal schooling practices and policies to inculcate Hawaiʻi’s majority nonwhite students with American values, norms of behavior, and political beliefs to socially engineer acceptance of White American authority and racial hierarchy. Through repetition and enforcement of these practices and policies, they sought to replace the unfavorable local memory of American involvement in the forced 1893 overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani and Native protests over U.S. annexation in 1898 with an affirmative, progressive narrative justifying America’s presence and jurisdiction as a beneficent enterprise.

Research Design: This article brings historical inquiry to this topic and uses archival materials from the University Archives and Pacific-Hawaiian Collections at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Those include the entire collection of the Hawaii Educational Review, correspondence and memos produced by schoolmen (White male school officials and administrators), and newspaper clippings. It also draws on secondary literature to help further contextualize this topic.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The history of White educators in territorial Hawaiʻi reveals how public education under their leadership constituted a colonizing project designed to limit student opportunities and determine their futures. The challenge for scholars and educators is not to consign such histories to mere reflections on past mistakes but to identify how forms of oppressive education continue to manifest in schools today and impact student lives.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 8, 2021, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23774, Date Accessed: 9/21/2021 10:46:35 AM

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About the Author
  • Derek Taira
    University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
    E-mail Author
    DEREK TAIRA, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of history in the Department of Educational Foundations in the College of Education at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. His research interests include the histories of American and Hawaiian education, settler colonialism, Indigenous education, and multiculturalism in education. Two of his recent publications—“Embracing Education and Contesting Americanization: A Reexamination of Native Hawaiian Student Engagement in Territorial Hawaiʻi’s Public Schools, 1920–1940” and “‘We Are Our History’: Reviewing the History of Education in Hawaiʻi and Oceania”—have been generously supported by the Spencer Foundation; both are available through the History of Education Quarterly.
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