Colonizing the Mind: Hawaiian History, Americanization, and Manual Training in Hawaiʻiís Public Schools, 1913Ė1940

by Derek Taira - 2021

Background/Context: Current historical understanding of Hawaiʻiís territorial period celebrates American education as a crucial influence on the islandsí political development. In particular, the territoryís public school system represents an essential institution for spreading democratic freedom, fostering social mobility, and, more importantly, establishing Americaís presence as a positive influence on Hawaiʻiís 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 nationís racially stratified social, political, and economic systems of inequality.

Focus of Study: Making Hawaiʻi American was about controlling the islandsí 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 (1900Ė1959), they designed and supported formal and informal schooling practices and policies to inculcate Hawaiʻiís 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 Americaís 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.

In the fall of 1959, at two elementary schools in the newly admitted state of Hawai‘i, Walton Gordon, the first state superintendent, witnessed an amusing pair of student exchanges. At one school, a little Hawaiian boy asked his teacher, “Now that we have statehood, when will we get snow?” At another, “two little native Hawaiians” discussed among themselves the differences between mainland Haole (White) and the people of Hawai‘i with one of them remarking in pidgin English, “You no can say ‘mainland haoles’ now. Us all mainland haoles!” (Gordon, 1960, p. 51). Published in the June 1960 issue of The Nation’s Schools, Gordon sought to showcase to the country the power of American schools in bringing “true democracy” to “diverse people” (Gordon, 1960, p. 51). His anecdote depicting “little native Hawaiians” as quaintly naïve, linguistically inept, and excited to be full U.S. citizens, underscored his conviction that Hawaiʻi’s public schools were hard at work making Americans.

At first glance, Gordon’s observation warrants little intrigue. By 1960, Hawaiʻi had successfully emerged from its territorial period, the transitional era between annexation in 1898 and statehood in 1959, to join the federal union of American states with full and equal political status for its citizens. Hawaiʻi’s public schools were a key institution in this process. During this long apprenticeship, local White educators and administrators endeavored to make Hawaiʻi American by creating educational environments that promoted the proper use of the English language, American patriotism, and White middle-class values of consumerism and social mobility. They did so hoping to assuage a skeptical continental White audience, worried over the elevation of a majority non-White population to full citizenship and the ability of Hawaiʻi’s public schools to Americanize the islands’ majority “brown-skinned and slant-eyed” students (Basson, 2005; Fuchs, 1961, p. 282; Love, 2004; Osborne, 1981; Skwiot, 2010; Ziker, 2007). To these Haole schoolmen (White male school officials and administrators), public schools were the great “melting pots” of the nation, capable of making Americans out of all people, regardless of their background. As a result, they believed the new state of Hawaiʻi owed its status to its American public education system, convinced it vanquished racial conflict and affirmed the inherent colorblindness and egalitarianism of American citizenship. Yet, all was not what it seemed.

As White, middle-class males born and raised on the continent, educated at elite universities, and socialized to continental attitudes of White supremacy, these schoolmen were not interested in re-creating their same paths to success for Hawaiʻi’s children or promoting racial equality. Instead, throughout the territorial period, making Hawaiʻi American meant re-creating and institutionalizing the same types of White privilege they enjoyed on the continent. They crafted curricula and policies that aggressively promoted manual training programs, Americanization, and progressive narratives celebrating America’s “benevolent” role in “civilizing” the islands to manufacture an accommodating population accepting of the nation’s racially stratified social and economic system of inequality. Their goal: to produce a politically passive, dependable non-White workforce that satisfied the labor needs of local White planters, supported the territory’s White minority government, and embraced American citizenship over their cultural identity.

The role of White supremacist public education in the process of making Hawaiʻi American, however, remains unfamiliar in the literature. Scholars of American empire and colonialism have demonstrated how White settlers applied principals of capitalism and blood quantum to undermine Indigenous sovereignty, identity, and claims to land (“A Public Meeting,” 1880; Dahl, 2015; Kauanui, 2008; Thurston, 1897). Historians of education examining the Americanization process in Hawaiʻi’s territorial schools have highlighted educational policies of assimilation and acculturation as coercive efforts in preparing non-White students for different and unequal forms of citizenship and demonstrated the ways in which immigrant and Native students and teachers disputed unfavorable programs (Hyams, 1985; Morgan, 2014; Stratton, 2016; Tamura, 1993; Ueda, 1999). Scholars of race relations in Hawaiʻi have added to this historical understanding of racial tension by exploring the various ways Haole in power attempted to enforce continental societal norms of White supremacy through either vigilante violence or the legal system (Okamura, 2019; Stannard, 2006).

This attention to White settler colonialism, racism, and American education in Hawaiʻi emphasizes how these three systems affected Native Hawaiian political sovereignty and the cultural identities and educational opportunities of immigrant and Indigenous students in the 19th and early 20th centuries (Beyer, 2007; Chang, 2016; Stratton, 2016). However, scholars have not gone far enough to bring all three together in order to examine the Americanization efforts of Hawaiʻi’s 20th-century White school officials and administrators as a colonial system of White supremacy. Several have critically examined the ways in which school policies and curriculum promoted vocational education to funnel immigrant and Indigenous student populations towards employment on sugar plantations, transformed public schools into English-only zones, suppressed the cultural identities of students, and constructed a segregated school system based on English-language proficiency that largely privileged White students. But none have studied and located these efforts within larger continental discourses involving settler colonialism and White supremacy. Missing is an understanding of how the Americanization of Hawaiʻi during the territorial period constitutes an era of colonization during which White schoolmen used the public education system to socially engineer consent among the islands’ Asian immigrant and Indigenous student populations for U.S. occupation and limited educational and employment opportunities in order to establish and maintain a rigid racial social hierarchy. When we recognize Haole schoolmen as agents of settler colonialism and White supremacy, we can see how they attempted to use schools to systematize inequality and institutionalize domination.

This article explores how the making of Hawaiʻi American between 1913 and 1940 was a colonial enterprise that relied on education as a “key ingredient” in transforming foreign “others” into industrious laborers and loyal American citizen-subjects (Steinbock-Pratt, 2019, p. 17). It examines 11 Haole schoolmen—a combination of administrators and faculty at the University of Hawaiʻi (UH), territorial superintendents and politicians, and public-school principals and teachers—as key actors in colonizing the minds of Hawaiʻi’s majority non-White population as they transitioned from life under a sovereign Indigenous nation to an American state during the territorial period. More specifically, these schoolmen used their positions of authority and influence over the public-school system to prepare the islands’ multiethnic students for life as second-class citizens employed as laborers in the islands’ agricultural economy properly socialized to the racialized hierarchy of White supremacy.

To advance this argument, this article examines these 11 White schoolmen as settler colonials and places their efforts to use public education to “cultivate compliance and consent” for colonization within the broader historical context of American colonialism and White supremacy (Go, 2008, pp. 6–7). In doing so, it uses what Julian Go calls “cultural power—exercises by colonial rulers to marginalize, manipulate, or control meanings while also imposing preferred cultural forms and practices”—to explain how schoolmen revised Hawaiian history to legitimize U.S. occupation as an act of benevolence, promoted racial accommodationism through “colorblind” Americanization policies and rhetoric, and dignified manual labor to endorse plantation employment in order to naturalize U.S. occupation of Hawaiʻi and institutionalize White privilege (Go, 2008, pp. 6–7). It also builds upon the work of Sally Engle Merry, who emphasizes the role of American law and institutions in facilitating the colonization of Hawaiʻi during the nineteenth century, to explore how public education during the territorial years attempted to convince Hawaiʻi’s people they held equal status as citizens, while also demanding that they undergo radical transformations in their cultural identity and acceptance of White supremacy (Merry, 2000).

This article also discusses the power of memory (who creates it, who controls it, and to what end it is used) and its “social dimensions” (the dependence we place on others to help us interpret our experiences as well as determine which experiences to forget and remember) to explain how American educators attempted to construct, narrate, and control memories in order to establish a historical precedence of White paternalism (Thelen, 1989). This strategy involved Haole schoolmen weaving a complex narrative of American progress channeling continental social attitudes and policies on race, immigration, and imperialism into the territory’s curriculum with the hope of naturalizing Hawaiʻi’s diverse student populations to nearly a century of Anglo-American intervention. Their goal was to demonstrate that U.S. incorporation represented a benevolent, progressive, and inevitable development for the islands. In doing so, White educators and policymakers sought to soften the lingering memories of Native sovereignty and nationalism following the American-led overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani in 1893 and the dubious process of annexation in 1898 by redefining them as “obstacles to settlement” that threatened America’s nation-building efforts and challenged the progressive view of American expansionism (Jacobs, 2011, pp. xxx–7). In addition, they sought to present those events not as violating American values of freedom and democracy, but as the “necessary and fitting sequel to the chain of events” supporting the “incorporation of the Hawaiian Islands into the body politic of the United States” (Musick, 1898, pp. 487, 488). Or, as President William McKinley succinctly put it, Hawaiian “annexation is not a change; it is a consummation” (Musick, 1898, p. 489).

This conviction in American benevolence at the turn of the 20th century stemmed from the popular belief in the nation’s “progressivist exceptionalism.” Americans of this time believed the country represented a “new goal for mankind” and a template of success for the future of “less fortunate peoples and less developed cultures” (Adas, 2001, p. 1696). This highly ethnocentric national perception included racist assumptions of the superiority and universal applicability of Euro-American ways that informed American policies toward American Indians and were increasingly deployed in encounters with overseas peoples and cultures (Paulet, 2007, p. 175). These presuppositions were worked into a distinctive American version of the civilizing mission that extended through the first decades of the 20th century. Such ideologies were used to justify social engineering projects designed to transform foreign, and again mainly non-Western, societies whose cultures were essentialized as tradition-bound, materially underdeveloped, and hopelessly backward (Adas, 2001, pp. 1695–1696).

In territorial Hawaiʻi, schools represented the perfect reorganizational tool for such “hopeless” peoples. They legitimized America’s civilizing mission by rewriting Native Hawaiian history and removing students’ cultural identity through assimilation into the broader settler society. As one of several strategies, assimilation represented a more efficient and effective mode of elimination, avoiding a “disruptive affront to the rule of law” (Wolfe, 2006, p. 402). Rather than frontier homicide or official apartheid policies, schooling promoted the “resocialization” of Natives and the incorporation of immigrants by guiding their loyalties to the “egalitarian credentials” of American society. By touting the benefits of citizenship, suffrage, and the universalism of American democracy, White educators promoted a message of inclusion to replace Native and immigrant students’ cultural identities with a racially restrictive membership into the “progressive individualism of the American dream” (Wolfe, 2006, p. 400).

This article situates the Americanization of Hawaiʻi during the territorial period within the broader history of U.S. colonialism. The essay’s first section examines the revisionist process used by Haole schoolmen to rewrite the history of America’s influence and presence during the 19th century in order to justify occupation. The second section explores the public statements and policy initiatives of various schoolmen concerning Americanization as attempts to naturalize White supremacy and racial accommodationism while espousing the greatness of America’s “colorblind” citizenship. The third and final section explores the “dignity of labor” campaign employed by school officials and local politicians to promote vocational training and popularize plantation employment. Collectively, these sections demonstrate one cannot understand the American colonization of Hawaiʻi without considering public education and educators’ efforts to colonize the minds of the islands’ multiethnic youth.


Hawaiʻi’s White schoolmen saw nothing wrong with their Americanizing efforts. In their eyes, they constituted a progressive crusade of public-school administrators, education bureaucrats, local politicians, and university faculty members who relied on social scientific theories of progress, race, reproduction, and degeneration to promote a centralized public system of instruction that touted educational improvement but ensured the subservience of non-White groups. This discrepancy was no oversight. Although Haole were an extreme minority in Hawaiʻi throughout the first half of the 20th century, these schoolmen maintained ideas of White supremacy that eschewed social equality for non-Whites while also fearing their political ascendancy. To maintain and justify their positions of power and privilege, Haole educators employed “selectionist” logic that celebrated the abilities of educated White leaders to choose the “proper aspects of society” worthy of reproduction in order to ensure social progress and avoid “degeneration” (Downs, 2009, p. 268). These rhetorical nuances allowed them to distance themselves from the extreme cases of extralegal violence and disenfranchisement associated with the Jim Crow South while implementing “comparatively sanitary” socially efficient policies of racial accommodation and segregation designed to ensure social cohesion by promoting the smooth and quiet acceptance of subordinate roles by Hawaiʻi’s non-White majority (Dennis, 1998, p. 144; Highsmith & Erickson, 2015, pp. 564–565).

To Haole schoolmen, there was nothing inconsistent in maintaining these positions. They envisioned their Americanization campaign as an intellectual endeavor created and implemented by smart, sensible individuals committed to the promotion of progressive social development (Downs, 2009, p. 279). In their minds, they were ensuring the stability of territorial society by promoting a form of racial harmony that affirmed the racialized social order that White America expected and demanded. To them, it was well known and accepted that the nation’s freedom-loving ancestors were Anglo-Saxons who arrived in the New World as the last hope of preserving human liberty from the tyrannical and corrupt English. These “first” Americans identified their participation in this new political community as originating with the cultural and political customs of northern Europeans. This equating of Americanism with the nation’s predominantly European heritage represented a White-normative civic ideology that labeled non-White groups as both unfit for self-government and incapable of appreciating democratic principles (Smith, 1988, pp. 233–234).

Inspired by this history and confident in their fitness to govern, territorial schoolmen committed themselves to ensuring Hawaiʻi and its people fulfilled their destiny under American leadership. Accomplishing this required implementing a pedagogical “strategy of exclusion” promoting limited educational opportunities framed within race-neutral language of social mobility and rugged individualism (Dahl, 2015, p. 12). Ignoring the realities of White privilege and supremacy that structured American society and regulated race relations, Haole educators wanted to show the nation’s identity as political, bound to the higher ideals of universal democratic principles, progress, and success they associated with the United States. To achieve student acceptance of these values, schoolmen inserted the language of color-blind constitutionalism into their policies as an impartial means to demonstrate that anyone who studied, practiced, and believed in the values of freedom and liberty qualified for American citizenship (Anderson, 2007). In their minds, Hawaiʻi was American, and the territory’s public-school system was perfect for eliminating race as an identity marker and showing the nation anyone could become a citizen.

Despite their grandiloquence, White schoolmen’s colorblindness only extended as far as political, not social, equality. Nothing appeared inconsistent to them about their social attitudes on race and their larger political objective of making Hawaiʻi American. Much like White teachers and administrators in schools located in the post–Civil War South, on Native American reservations, and in the Philippines, Hawaiʻi’s Haole educators adopted and applied their civic sense of White duty to shape the destinies of other races for the “future good of the world” (Smith, 1988, p. 233). This was no simple task. Uplifting people of color required cooperation and coordination between policymakers and educators in constructing, publicizing, and enforcing school laws and curriculum. Hawai‘i’s Organic Act (1900) aided White schoolmen’s quest by empowering the superintendent and the territorial school board at the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) with complete control over Hawaiʻi’s public schools. These government officials went on to partner with the presidents of the Territorial Normal School (TNS) and the UH to produce a cabal of unelected White elites who asserted absolute control over school policy (Tyack et al., 1991, pp. 115–116).

Creating policies, however, represented only half the battle. In order to ensure direct delivery of their vision and strategy, the DPI began publishing the Hawaii Educational Review (HER) in 1913 as a “professional paper” designed to “be of distinct service” in helping teachers “keep abreast with educational progress on the mainland.” The intention of this “official organ” of the DPI was to promote pedagogical proficiency and standardization with all teachers through a monthly periodical espousing the “best and latest” in educational thought, free of “propaganda” and political affiliations. In reality, schoolmen relied on the HER as an indispensable tool of “especial forcefulness” for relaying the “gospel” of Americanization. To make sure no teacher missed out, territorial officials regularly directed faculty to read each month’s issue (Gibson & MacCaughey, 1913, p. 8; MacCaughey, 1921, p. 2; “The Mission of the Review,” 1913, p. 1).

A White, male-dominated publication such as this is a limited source for historians, particularly when used for understanding how Americanization policies manifested in actual classroom practices (Fuchs, 1961, p. 283; Office of Hawaiian Affairs, 2011; “Teachers by Racial Descent, School Year 1930–1931,” 1931, p. 262). Yet, as a journal that reflected the educational discourse of the territory’s most influential group of educators, the HER represents a critical source for understanding the White supremacist and settler colonial attitudes of successive schoolmen and how they attempted to use public education to legitimize White minority rule, American occupation, and racial inequality. The periodical’s content therefore offers an intriguing glimpse into the ways schoolmen promoted the celebratory view of the United States as the most progressive and civilized nation in the world, thereby revealing a previously indiscernible “shadow narrative” of American benevolence and exceptionalism (Fear-Segal, 2006, p. 101). This narrative describes America’s presence as gracious and its influence as “civilizing” and delivers evidence deepening our understanding of how White schoolmen shaped public education to justify these ideas.

Using the pretense of a “professional paper,” schoolmen took full advantage of the journal’s captive territory-wide audience to regularly emphasize the critical nature of “good English” as necessary for students’ success in learning American democracy, citizenship, and culture. They presented articles that debated the pros and cons of progressive education, the importance of hygiene, the results of meetings at local (Hawaii Education Association) and national (National Education Association) educational organizations, and stressed the magnitude of a teacher’s role in building a stable society. Authors were as diverse as the topics discussed. From American presidents, territorial governors, and national intellectuals to local faculty, parents, and students, each contributed their own distinct and unique belief in the power of American education to create meaningful change.

Schoolmen also utilized the HER to cultivate consent among readers by naturalizing them to the ways Hawaiʻi was and always had been American. It represented an efficient means through which education elite spread their compassionate message of American schools promoting harmony and equality in the islands. They also used it to advance patriotism and appreciation for the nation’s generosity and goodwill among the territory’s racially diverse teachers. Its credibility as the “official organ” of the DPI assured editors the consistent circulation of their ideas and elevated their sense of importance to the Americanization project. If doubts existed from teachers over the veracity of the DPI’s message concerning racial harmony and inclusion, they were not readily apparent in the HER.

Closer examination of the journal’s contents between the years 1913 and 1940 reveal the deep racial anxiety of White authors. Embedded within their writings were strong beliefs on race that conflicted with their larger mission of creating an egalitarian and harmonious society. Prior to U.S. annexation, the Hawaiian nation maintained no institutional practices that promoted “social, reproductive, or civic exclusivity” based on race. All of that changed in 1900 with the arrival of U.S. Census officials classifying “raceless” Hawaiʻi’s population by ethnicity and skin color (Dominguez, 1998 pp. 372, 374, 375). Familiar only with the White/Black binary of race relations, White schoolmen were simultaneously fascinated and disturbed by Hawaiʻi’s racial mixing. To make sense of how such diversity peacefully existed prior to annexation, they credited the efforts of American missionaries with constructing a public-school system that promoted racial harmony and equal opportunity for all. With such a framework in place, Haole schoolmen explained they were simply continuing and expanding the missionaries’ legacy by preparing Hawaiʻi’s population for citizenship. Yet, embedded within their rhetoric were racial stereotypes, support for segregationist policies, and expressions of White supremacist attitudes that belied their lofty, noble claims. Thus, making Hawaiʻi American involved more than just cultivating national allegiance by rewriting the past; it required socially engineering acceptance of America’s racial taxonomy and system of paternalistic White supremacy. The HER was the perfect tool for the job.

From 1913 to 1940, White editors at the HER published a steady stream of content repeating the same simple message: Hawaiʻi was American. In its first year of publication (1913), editors Thomas Gibson (territorial superintendent, 1913–1914) and Vaughan MacCaughey (UH-Mānoa professor and future territorial superintendent, 1919–1923) regularly reminded their readers that Hawaiʻi was not an “insular possession” but a “complete autonomous Territory.” Reprinting the same paragraph throughout 1913 under the “Status of Hawaii,” the editors revealed their displeasure at Hawaiʻi being associated with other U.S. colonial possessions.

It is unfair to class Hawaii with Porto Rico (sic), the Philippines, Guam, etc., as our “Insular Possessions.” This Territory is neither by method of acquisition nor in a political sense a “possession.” Hawaii was annexed by its own free consent, as was Texas, by a treaty or diplomatic bargain. It had a good system of laws, well administered, few of which needed any change to bring it into accord with the United States constitution. Hawaii is now a complete autonomous Territory, making and administering its own laws, and having as good or better government than most of the States of the mainland. The people of Hawaii are satisfied with nothing less. (Gibson & MacCaughey, 1913, p. 8)

MacCaughey and Gibson sought to assure their audience that Hawaiʻi was not a colony; rather, it was a U.S. territory with a path to statehood, legally acquired and reflecting the mutual desires of the people of Hawaiʻi and America. The editors aimed to cultivate acceptance of this view by presenting the islands as ready for incorporation prior to 1898 and ignoring American duplicity in supporting the 1893 overthrow and Native protests to annexation five years later.

MacCaughey and Gibson extended their revisionist campaign affirming American power and marginalizing violations of Native Hawaiian sovereignty through the 1910s. They repeated bold headlines, such as “The schools of Hawaii Stand Foremost Among the Many Agencies at Work for the Americanization and Uplift of This Important Part of the United States” (Hawaii Educational Review, 1914, p. 16) and “The Territory of Hawaii Is an Integral Part of the United States of America” (Hawaii Educational Review, 1919b, p. 1), to project certainty and confidence in America’s occupation. Hawaiʻi was America, they argued, its people just needed reminding. However, headlines alone were not enough; Haole schoolmen believed people needed to understand how and why Hawaiʻi became American. Accomplishing this required rewriting the islands’ past to convince readers that their new and fortunate status was due to America’s benevolent leadership. Numerous articles supported this perspective and contributed to a growing literature of pro-American views justifying occupation.

Former territorial superintendent (1910–1913), and future UH-Mānoa professor, Willis T. Pope joined other White schoolmen in crediting the early educational efforts of American missionaries for civilizing the islands and preparing them for annexation. In his article, “A Brief Explanation of the Public Schools System of Hawaii,” he explained how “sturdy missionaries” “instilled a strong moral influence” that led to the development of a morally sound public-school system responsible for converting an “almost savage people” to a “highly civilized state” (Pope, 1913, p. 8). MacCaughey relied on a similar evolutionary binary of civilization versus barbarism to credit American education for modernizing the islands. In his article, “The Future of Hawaii and Its Schools,” MacCaughey claimed, “[n]o other race so quickly and so peacefully achieved the tremendous change from feudalism to modern industrial society” as Native Hawaiians. The reason: “[n]o other nation or race has [had] a more notable record in the domain of public education” than the Hawaiian people who have always been “generous and enthusiastic patrons of education” since the first public schools opened in the 1830s (MacCaughey, 1919, p. 4). As a result, they had “remarkable opportunities” awaiting them as they joined America’s “Twentieth Century march toward real civilization.” He shunned those who wanted to return to the old ways, exclaiming how “[e]veryone is looking toward the future.” In a veiled reference to the overthrow and annexation, he explained that the “gigantic mistakes and evils of the past cannot be undone.” Instead, “we can use our best knowledge in building for the future” as the “future of Hawaii is inseparably bound up with her public schools” (MacCaughey, 1919, p. 4).

Successive superintendents continued to assert the inherent Americanness of Hawaiʻi’s identity and extol the benefits of U.S. rule. Using “idealized visions of the United States’ past” (Crawford, 1929, p. 151), Superintendent Will C. Crawford (1925–1934) pointed to the importance of studying the biographies of American historical figures as an effective means of “character training.” He believed studying the lives of U.S. Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Wilson revealed crucial “ideals which led them to struggle and persevere in the face of great difficulties” (Crawford, 1929, p. 151). He highlighted courage, honesty, vigor, sacrifice, humility, and optimism as key character traits he wanted Hawaiʻi’s students to model. These inherent features of America’s famous leaders formed a “criteria for judging great men” that Crawford extended to include heroes from Greek and English literature while ignoring equally great Indigenous examples of wisdom, courage, and determination exemplified by the exploits of various aliʻi (chiefs) (ʻUmialiloa, Kaʻahumanu, and Kamehameha I) and cultural heroes (Maui and Pelehonuamea). Instead, Crawford offered Robin Hood, Hercules, William Tell, and even “stories from Aesop and Brer Rabbit” as prime examples on the proper “philosophy of life” dedicated to self-sacrifice and perseverance, effectively marginalizing Native Hawaiian models (Crawford, 1929, p. 151).

Superintendent Oren E. Long (1934–1946) continued the discussion on character training as an “objective of education” by examining 19th-century school reports from Richard Armstrong, Congregationalist missionary and Hawaiʻi’s minister of education (1847–1860) (Long, 1928, p. 8). Like Pope and MacCaughey, Long credited American missionaries for developing and instilling moral education in Hawaiʻi, defining their efforts as critical to the advancement of Native Hawaiians and foundational for the territory’s public schools. Relying on Armstrong’s reports to describe the “domestic conditions” of Native Hawaiians as “deplorable” and explain how Native “indolence” represented one of their “great master evils” hindering their moral development, Long presented missionary-led schooling as a compassionate but necessary intervention. (Long, 1928, p. 87) To him, the kingdom’s free common schools provided structure and order for Native Hawaiians. They promoted “civic consciousness,” taught there was “such a thing as law,” and prepared them to become “law-abiding people.” Long, 1928, p. 88) He also praised Armstrong for leading the “one great, good and noble cause of moral, physical and intellectual education” by emphasizing how his efforts to implement Christian teachings, manual training, and English-language instruction into public education were critical for saving Native Hawaiians from themselves (Long, 1928, p. 88; Long, 1938, p. 13).

Territorial schoolmen were not alone in their evangelical views. Similar themes emerged from the writings of Governor Wallace R. Farrington (1921–1928), a regular contributor to the HER while in office and, later, as editor of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Despite no formal training or experience in teaching, he was a strong proponent of the public schools, retaining a strong respect for the teaching profession and its role in Americanizing Hawaiʻi (Nellist, 1925, pp. 434–435; Siddall & Nellist, 1921, pp. 181, 183). Regularly extolling public school teachers as “volunteers,” “leaders,” and “toilers,” Farrington tried to connect their positions to a romanticized vision of discoverers settling the great unknown. He repeated themes of moral education similar to those espoused by Crawford and Long regarding how schools needed to instill into students “our best ideals—loyalty, loyalty to God and Country, self-respect, self-control, and service to their fellows” (Farrington, 1926, p. 1). His conviction in public education as the “greatest destiny controlling institution” extended to his staunch belief in the righteous legacy of America shaping the “destiny of the people of this crossroads of the Pacific” (Farrington, 1924, p. 2).

Much like Pope, MacCaughey, Crawford, and Long, Farrington also underscored Hawaiʻi as inextricably linked to the United States since the arrival of American missionaries in 1820. He bluntly praised them as “pioneers,” “American men and women who established American culture, education, morals and free government in Hawaii” (Farrington, 1922, p. 20). In 1924, Farrington pressed graduates of the TNS to remember that Hawaiʻi had an “American background covering more than one hundred years of its history” (Farrington, 1924, p. 2). Two years later he reiterated the same message stating, “American ideals and practice were in full swing in Hawaii when the present great states of the Pacific Coast were barbaric wilds” (Farrington, 1926, p. 1). To Farrington, the cumulative effects of such a deep historical tradition in “American ideals” had civilized the Indigenous population to the point that Americans now had “ceased to worry over the Hawaiians” (“School Aid to Hawaii Is Told by Farrington,” 1932, p. 2).

During the 1930s, UH professor of Hawaiian history Ralph S. Kuykendall channeled the same pro-missionary, progressivist narrative in his four-part series of articles in the HER titled, “Some Early School Men” (Kuykendall, 1933). Dedicated to “dealing with outstanding developments and educational leaders in the early history of Hawaii,” Kuykendall focused on the impact and legacy of particular missionaries on the development of Hawaiʻi’s educational system. The last article in his series examined Richard Armstrong, crediting him for centralizing and organizing the governing structure of schools and introducing English-language instruction (Kuykendall, 1933, p. 223). To Kuykendall, Armstrong offered strong leadership at a time when Hawaiian schools remained organized among various Christian faiths, including Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons. He established unity and order by overhauling the school system and making all public schools strictly secular and centrally managed by a governing board of education. Yet, it was Armstrong’s support for English-language instruction that Kuykendall emphasized as the missionary’s greatest achievement.

Kuykendall praised Armstrong for introducing English-language study and expanding the number of public schools where English was the medium of instruction. He stressed that these policies were not imposed by Armstrong but, rather, were in response to the “desire in the native community to support English schools.” He was also critical of Native “radicals” in the Hawaiian government who threatened to halt the expansion of English schools and emphasized Armstrong’s rollout of English-language policies as calm, rational, and wise (Kuykendall, 1933, p. 223). Despite the former missionary’s private contempt for the “native character, so deficient in point of intelligence,” Kuykendall applauded Armstrong as a reluctant but benevolent father figure selflessly acting on behalf of the Hawaiian people (Sahlins, 2000, p. 189).

Haole educators understood the importance of narratives to nation-building. They used their authority to publish “official stories” in the HER defining and promoting a “recognizable” American cultural identity that celebrated all “plural ethnic and racial peoples” in Hawaiʻi. These stories were to be “authorizing narratives” intended to construct a positive collective memory around the “forgotten origins” of Hawaiʻi’s deep progressive American roots (Wald, 1995, pp. 1–2). Schoolmen wanted these writings to inspire national pride and belonging in order to cultivate public consent and support for U.S. occupation. With authorial license over America’s origin stories in Hawaiʻi, Haole educators believed they possessed the political power to not just construct Americanization policies homogenizing the diverse cultural identities of Hawaiʻi’s students, but also shape public discourse on what constituted an American “us” and an un-American “them.”

Ultimately, what represented an American to schoolmen in territorial Hawaiʻi was rooted in their connection of Whiteness to power and privilege adapted to their minority status in the islands. In other words, Haole were “true” Americans, and everyone else were either foreigners trying to become Americans (first-generation immigrants) or Americans simply by default (Native Hawaiians and second-generation immigrants). As a result, this “us” and “them” dichotomy proved a useful scaffold for Haole educators in channeling their attitudes of White supremacy and saviorism into school policies. By expanding their “us” and “them” framework to include racialized understandings of those whom they considered “redeemers” (Whites) and those who needed to be “redeemed” (non-Whites), schoolmen dovetailed definitions of American cultural identity and White paternalism into a guileful racial pedagogy based in the supremacy of Whiteness. This race-based educational philosophy emboldened White schoolmen not just to design segregationist school programs and policies, but also to reconstruct American race relations and White privilege in Hawaiʻi.


Whether they attempted to provide guidance and advice over the “proper” behavior of teachers or express their staunch support for manual education, many White schoolmen revealed their comfort and familiarity with racial segregation. Indeed, race and skin color remained central to how White policymakers and administrators viewed and addressed the needs of the territory’s diverse student population. As we will see, the casual use of racial stereotypes and demeaning references about African Americans by HER contributors and editors reveals not just their ease in using simplistic, racist characterizations and terms, but also how their racial biases informed schooling practices and policies.

Principal Thomas B. Vance of Kalākaua Junior High School sought to impress upon readers how the thriftiness of teachers represented their highest level of commitment to modeling humility and healthy self-esteem to students. For example, if a teacher wanted to watch a movie, “she could then purchase a seat in ‘nigger heaven’ and sit there throughout the entire program in perfect mental ease” despite being able to afford full admission. Originally from Tennessee, Vance explained how teachers needed to demonstrate thrift and simplicity to effectively model American middle-class humbleness and self-confidence. He believed choosing to sit in “nigger heaven” ought to be a conscious decision rooted in social and professional modesty, “rather than compulsion” resulting from economic necessity (Vance, 1928, p. 62; Siddall & Nellist, 1921, pp. 3, 497).

Channeling similar racial attitudes, an instructor at McKinley High School, Norman C. Smith, conducted a study on the school life of students living on sugar plantations and attending rural schools. Through data collected from questionnaires and school observations, he attempted to reconstruct a typical school day of plantation children in order to ascertain their educational needs. He expressed surprise during his research at the rigor of students’ daily routine dictated by constant study and household responsibilities. Smith also casually shared his disdain for students’ use of “atrocious pidgin English,” an attitude commonly voiced by Haole educators, and nonchalantly referred to students playing a form of tag as “nigger baby” (Smith, 1931, p. 116). A game played by “children from all over the civilized world,” the obvious initial goal of the game was to not get hit by the ball. However, players referred to the ball as a “baby” and the larger objective was to avoid “collecting” five “babies,” resulting from each time either a thrower missed an opponent or an opponent was struck (Miller, 1911, pp. 381–382). It is impossible to know whether his subjects actually played the same specific form of game Smith referenced or, even if they had, whether they understood the racial complexities behind such a playground activity. Nonetheless, Smith’s description of “nigger baby” shows how race remained a powerful lens through which he observed and documented Hawaiʻi’s schoolchildren.

Such heedless use of derogatory references even extended up to the highest office of public education in the territory. In his monthly message to teachers, Superintendent Willard E. Givens (1923–1925) chose the following story to stress humility as part of a teacher’s “sterling character”:

A colored boy was once found asleep in a watermelon patch, beside a half-eaten melon. The owner of the patch, after having awakened the boy, said to him: “What is the matter, son, too much watermelon?” The boy replied, “No, too little nigger.” (Givens, 1924b, p. 9)

Although Given’s intention was for teachers to avoid failure by knowing their limits, his implied message emphasized a White paternalistic lesson in subservience and obedience rooted in a racialized caricature of African Americans as simple-minded children who needed constant guidance.

Vance, Smith, and Givens knew a large constituency of their readership was not White. They also would have been well aware that Haole constituted only a small fraction of Hawaiʻi’s population, representing less than 10% in 1920. Yet, despite their minority status, all three schoolmen felt comfortable in relaying their White normative thinking on race and race relations. In doing so, they imparted ideas that affirmed racial discrimination and use of racist epithets, thereby exposing readers to the same attitudes underwriting the governing principles that regulated and defined American racial segregation and White privilege on the continent. Although race relations in Hawaiʻi did not equate to the social conventions in the Jim Crow South, which demanded regular performance of Black inferiority, as Vance, Smith, and Givens demonstrate, several White schoolmen did harbor and publicize their racialized attitudes and social expectations of dark-skinned peoples. Their writings reveal how they maintained fixed and demeaning understandings of African Americans that were easily prompted by the reality of Hawaiʻi’s multicultural, multiethnic population. Although they may not have expected the same daily demonstrative performances of deference and humility from Native Hawaiian and Asian immigrant students and teachers as with African Americans, Vance, Smith, and Givens revealed how racial hierarchy, White supremacy, and paternalism governed their views on race relations.

Understanding the racial attitudes of Haole educators and their various efforts to rewrite Hawaiian history helps establish their mindset in advance of discussing their education policies. Throughout the territorial period, they struggled to promote their rhetoric of progressive idealism, democracy, and equal opportunity to inspire and assimilate students with the realities of American imperialism, racial segregation, and the labor needs of Hawaiʻi’s oligarchy of White sugar planters. Specifically, Americanization and vocational education, two major educational initiatives of the period, reveal how the social reality of racial segregation in America remained foremost in the minds of schoolmen, trumping the principles and rhetoric of colorblind constitutionalism and egalitarianism. These macro programs, designed with the intent of modernizing Hawaiʻi’s schools, instead promoted a racially divided school system offering limited educational opportunities reminiscent of the American South.

Haole schoolmen were incapable of viewing schools in Hawaiʻi any other way. Their White supremacist views blurred the progressive effects of their fervent beliefs in academic professionalism, social efficiency, and scientific management of schools. Instead, they were “true believers” of “Anglo-conformity” and White middle-class standards, which instilled in them a conservative ethnocentric birthright and produced an indifference to cultural pluralism in some and outright racial intolerance in others. Secure in their identity and sense of purpose, these schoolmen designed a series of policies to make Hawaiʻi’s non-White majority “learn how to fit” into the nation’s racialized social hierarchy (Tyack, 1974, pp. 233–237).

Similar to assimilationist crusades on the continent, Haole schoolmen in Hawaiʻi sought to remove the native customs, languages, and culture of their students and replace them with “100 percent Americanism” (Tamura, 1993, p. 54). Their efforts established the contours and meaning of American political and social life through English-language training, instruction on American democratic ideals, and exposure to White American middle-class ways of life (e.g., diet, aesthetics, hygiene, dress, gender norms). This highly complex system of “becoming American” was intended to “modernize” students’ behaviors and beliefs away from their “backward” and “substandard” home environments (Olneck, 1989, p. 409; Tyack & Cuban, 1997, p. 234). To many White educators, the alien origins of their immigrant and Native students sharply contrasted with their belief that the American way of life was progressive, socially advanced, and well ordered. Unsatisfied with simply achieving individual cultural compliance, they sought a multilayered intervention to restructure and “harmonize” their students’ communities into the “substance of American life.” Only then, schoolmen believed, could their students overcome their Native and “immigrant ignorance” and become American (Olneck, 1989, pp. 409–410).

This attitude informed White schoolmen’s assimilation strategy to meld the islands’ multiethnic population into a unitary American identity. Inspired by the unidirectional process of acculturating European immigrants to “Anglo-conformity” and fusing them into an “indigenous American type,” educators in Hawaiʻi turned to the public schools as “social centers” to rapidly assimilate and convert the identities of their students (Olneck, 1989, p. 412; Tamura, 1993, pp. 49, 56). For them, schools formed a key part of their “larger symbolic scheme” to publicly showcase Americanization as a nonthreatening process of dissolving ethnic allegiances and replacing them with a collective national identity of autonomous individualism. Achieving this required securing “cultural and ideological hegemony” over America’s “configuration of the symbolic order.” (Olneck, 1989, p. 399) As Michael Olneck explains, the symbolic order constituted the “realm of rhetoric and ritual in which collective identity is depicted, status recognized, and normative orthodoxy expressed and sanctioned” (Olneck, 1989, p. 399). The power of the symbolic order rested not only in its ability to endorse normality, but also in its capacity to define what constituted normal and acceptable rituals, behavior, and practices.

In the hands of Hawaiʻi’s White educational elite, authority over the symbolic order converted them into gatekeepers and tutors of essential knowledge necessary for entry and acceptance into American life. Despite their minority status, White educators possessed the ability to publicly validate the social practices, behaviors, and beliefs of native-born White Americans as normative and insert them into the public-school system. Their power over the symbolic order further reinforced assertions of the progressivist narrative that Hawaiʻi had always been American. As a result, the spirit of e pluribus unum saturated the language and imagery in the HER and formed a core message of both the publication and the educational strategy for making Hawaiʻi American.

To garner acceptance, schoolmen directed teachers to use patriotic programs and exercises to instill American pride in their students. Morning rituals involving flag salutes, reciting the pledge and the Lord’s Prayer, singing nationalistic songs, and “other things of a patriotic nature” (Wist, 1919, p. 5) all demonstrated “tangible and effective means of establishing the ethical ideas and ideals of the American commonwealth” in Hawaiʻi’s schoolchildren (“Americanization and the Course of Study,” 1919, p. 26). Some even elaborated on the symbolic power of the flag, equating it and the nation to higher ideals of civilization. Superintendent Givens envisioned the “Flag Drill” as not just instilling the “proper respect for the American Flag” but also for teaching “children to love justice, hate evil, and to do good” (Givens, 1924c, p. 181).

On the U.S. continent, such practices ritualizing expressions of patriotism in schools took shape in the 1890s and peaked in the immediate postwar years of World War I. These movements began with White nativists’ fears of new immigrants, associating them with radical political ideology (socialism), ignorance, poverty, and disloyalty. Their worries expanded during the war to include homegrown terrorism and armed violence led by a “fifth column.” Later paranoia over “Bolshevism” and the Red Scare fueled a strong conservative backlash against potential subversive alien elements and led to calls for the public schools to provide “correct patriotic instruction.” Proper socialization through the teaching of “100 percent Americanism” to the next generation represented a crucial educational solution for eliminating the perceived threat of immigrants (Tyack et al., 1991, pp. 169–171, 176).

In Hawaiʻi, it was the concerns of White migrants over the islands’ racial diversity that shaped Americanization policies throughout the early decades of the 20th century. As Eileen Tamura points out, Hawaiʻi’s Americanization campaign relied on a combination of “ignorance, fear, xenophobia, and racism” (Tamura, 1993, pp. 56–61). While mirroring similar continental strategies of “modernizing” students so they rejected their old traditions and conformed to American values, Hawaiʻi’s crusade diverged in two fundamental ways: the targeted immigrants were Japanese, and the crusade to Americanize them lasted nearly 40 years. Between 1900 and 1940, people of Japanese ancestry in Hawaiʻi comprised roughly 40% of the islands’ population. Their sizeable presence, coupled with Japan’s growing military strength and aggressive foreign policy, worried Americanizers that Hawaiʻi would soon “Japanize.”

Such factors made Americans’ anxiety understandable, Tamura (1993) explains, but, ironically, aggressive efforts to Americanize Hawaiʻi’s Japanese immigrants—demanding both undivided loyalty to the United States and rejection of all vestiges of their culture—often were counterproductive. White paranoia over Japan often resulted in prejudice against Japanese immigrants, encouraging many to maintain allegiances to their country of origin. Such public animosity contributed to growing Japanese distrust of Americanization efforts. Their suspicion only heightened as the local controversy of banning the Japanese language press mixed with the Immigration Act of 1924, excluding Issei (first-generation Japanese immigrants) from the naturalization process, thus revealing systematic discrimination against ethnic Japanese, both alien and American-born (Tamura, 1993, pp. 56–61).

These policies placed Hawaiʻi’s White schoolmen in a quandary: how to stay true to the broader Americanization message of equality and democracy in their public schools while assuaging White continental fears about Hawaiʻi’s “race problem” and avoiding openly advocating national segregationist policies. Their eventual solution was quite simple: Rather than directly address the conflict between universalism and discrimination, education elites sidestepped the issue by choosing to highlight Hawaiʻi’s schools as promotional sites of “racial harmony.” Haole educators applied this strategy to focus the public’s attention on schools as the institutional panacea to the nation’s sociopolitical fears over race. In doing so, they sought to calm continental White anxieties over Hawaiʻi’s multiracial majority by demonstrating that the same processes of assimilation in the islands’ schools modeled the successful legacy of Americanization in the United States. They also meant to reassure the islands’ non-White majority that patience, perseverance, and belief in the Americanization process through the public schools would demonstrate their commitment to becoming Americans, thus winning over White skeptics.

In true progressive fashion, Hawaiʻi’s schoolmen asserted that their education system represented the “chief agency in harmonizing and developing the citizenship of the future.” Schools were to be sites of mediation and equability allowing Americanization to mold the “minds and bodies and hearts of these thousands of young people of many bloods into men and women…proud of an American citizenship broad enough to include the children of all bloods” (Allen, 1922, p. 8). School leaders also embarked on an aggressive campaign to remind teachers of the benevolent role they, too, played in developing an all-inclusive American identity. Motivational headlines in the HER, such as “Hawaii’s Public School Teachers and Pupils Are All Americans” (Hawaii Educational Review, 1919a) and “Hawaii’s Schools Are the World’s Most Significant Manifestations of Inter-racial Goodwill” (Hawaii Educational Review, 1920), complemented a range of articles by various administrators and educators describing their Americanization efforts. Submissions covered numerous topics including the importance of home economics in providing students of “alien races” proper American “character-forming habits,” promotion of correct English-language usage for successful lives as full citizens, and monthly reminders to teachers that they represented the “best in American manners and morals” and to exercise patience in their efforts to assimilate their heterogeneous students (Davidson, 1927, p. 144; Givens, 1924a, p. 101; Kamaaina, 1919, p. 18).

By far the most prolific and vocal proponent of this “racial harmony” strategy was Governor Farrington. Many administrators and educators supported the ideas of “racial harmony” but only addressed it through ambiguous terms and vague plans. The governor, on the other hand, clearly outlined the importance of Americanization in Hawaiʻi’s schools as a means to not just create U.S. citizens, but also eliminate the cultural identities of students. Farrington described schools as the “greatest destiny controlling institution of our country” and pressed educators and students to “dwell on the positive character of our Americanism” (Farrington, 1924, p. 2). He constantly relied on inclusive pronouns such as “us” and “our” to reiterate the importance of a collective identity around a shared adherence to American freedoms and rights. Like so many other schoolmen, the governor framed his efforts as a “quest…for like-mindedness, shared belief, and cultural homogeneity” (Olneck, 1989, p. 408). Establishing a common character cultivated the “perception that society is constructed by the actions of cooperating individuals” requiring “agreement and uniformity…to hold otherwise separated people together” (Olneck, 1989, p. 408). He deplored ethnic group identities, labeling them “alien grouping.” Such affiliations, he believed, inhibited the development of a collective understanding and instead promoted “thinking in terms of foreigners [and] aliens” that placed “too great an emphasis on the hyphen in our citizenship” (Farrington, 1924, p. 2). Speaking to the Territorial Normal School’s graduating class of 1924, he charged them with the “special duty of eliminating from their [students’] lives the hyphen” as they were all “overwhelmingly American citizens” (Farrington, 1924, p. 3).

Farrington believed that sharp race lines and group identities only led to “growing suspicion” of Hawaiʻi’s American character. To dispel this doubt, he stressed the territory’s school system as the “best medium for leveling the prejudices of race” and in maintaining Hawaiʻi’s freedom from racial antagonism (Farrington, 1926, p. 122). He remained adamant that the public schools provide programs “so intensively and aggressively American” that “children growing to manhood and womanhood [would] be fired and inspired with the loyalty to home and nation that an assumption…to protect that home and nation…[would] be a natural human response” (“School Aid to Hawaii Is Told by Farrington,” 1932). Doing so, according to Farrington, would send a clear message of how Hawai‘i was actively involved in making America “the most contented and unified and stable country in the world” (Farrington, 1928, p. 59).

Haole schoolmen, like Farrington, were messianic and unwavering in their belief that racial harmony and the Americanization of Hawaiʻi was right around the corner. All they needed to do was stay committed to promoting the universal values of color-blind nationalism and equal opportunity. This rhetoric, however, was soon tested when confronted with the agricultural labor demands of the islands’ Haole oligarchy.


In the eyes of Hawaiʻi’s sugar planters, the territory’s education system led students away from a productive career on the plantations and sabotaged the future of the islands’ economy (Logan, 1989, pp. 185–186). Schoolmen agreed and quickly cooperated with the islands’ job creators. They still remained committed to achieving their goals of Americanization, but they needed to do so while fulfilling the needs and wants of those who “paid the bills.” To meet both their objectives and industry’s expectations, schoolmen implemented a strategy of persuasion rather than coercion to convince students to select a career on the plantations (Logan, 1989, pp. 155–158). Central to their plan was promoting the “dignity of labor.”

The “dignity of labor” was the umbrella slogan used by Haole educators throughout the 1920s and 1930s in their public relations campaign to garner support from students, their families, teachers, and, most importantly, the sugar industry. Rooted in the educational philosophy of Samuel C. Armstrong at the Hampton Institute in Virginia that linked moral uplift to manual training, schoolmen instituted their pro-industry campaign to make students “recognize the dignity and value of manual labor” (Anderson, 1988, p. 34) and realize that they would not “lose face” by working on the plantations (Allen, 1922, p. 11). They argued that a practical education better prepared students for a successful future through adult occupational roles that effectively served their personal needs for employment and advanced the smooth operation of society. They used the language of vocationalism to highlight manual training and agricultural education as tangible, technical skills and to devalue a comprehensive, liberal education as impractical for success in the labor market (Kliebard, 1999, 2004).

This vocational strategy was well recognized on the continent. As James D. Anderson (1988, p. 55) notes, many White school reformers in the post–Civil War South viewed industrial education as the most suitable means for Black advancement. They emphasized the moral value of hard labor over technical skills and academic instruction in manual training schools, such as the Hampton Institute, to promote African American economic adjustment to a new subservient role as laborers (Jones, 2012, pp. 48–49). Unconcerned with Black desires for social mobility, southern White education leaders and, especially, the planter class wanted to keep ex-slaves tied to the region as wage laborers, sharecroppers, and domestic workers. They looked to schooling to impress upon African Americans the “idea of an inseparable relation” between Black education and the southern agricultural economy (Anderson, 1988, p. 88).

In Hawaiʻi, schoolmen and sugar plantation owners viewed schools in a similar fashion. They believed students avoided careers in agriculture simply because they failed to receive training “toward the plantation.” Schools needed to instruct Hawaiʻi’s students about the “idea of an inseparable relation” (Anderson, 1988, p. 88) between manual education and the islands’ agricultural economy and how to become “better workers” and “not educate them away from work” (Wist, 1920, p. 2). School leaders often agreed with the criticisms made by plantation owners that the educational system was “so overwhelmingly intellectual” that it produced a “wholesale misdirection of brains” (Crawford, 1933, p. 217) “bound to mislead the undiscerning mind into the conviction that the important and lucrative professions of life” must be white-collar and lead to social mobility (Lydgate, 1919, p. 16). The “dignity of labor” (MacCaughey, 1919, p. 14) attempted to rebrand plantation employment as “profitable and enjoyable” and idealize manual training as unearthing the “creative power of all labor” (Crawford, 1931, p. 17). White school leaders still believed in academic instruction committed to Americanization but stressed that such learning ought to complement vocational training as part of a broader “universal education.” Otherwise, as Farrington exclaimed, “[e]ducation is a farce if it does not glorify the dignity of labor” (Farrington, 1926, p. 122).

White schoolmen could not spread this message alone. As “guides and leaders,” teachers held the “grave responsibility” of properly advising their students. (Crawford, 1931, p. 177) They needed to instill the “dignity of labor” consistently in the classroom and convince students of the numerous opportunities agriculture offered (Farrington, 1926, pp. 122–123). They also wanted teachers to emphasize that “many jobs without a white collar” paid better and society considered such employment “more important than…so called white collar jobs” (Crawford, 1925, p. 9). Teachers were responsible for persuading students to embrace “training for Hawaii’s daily work” and “be educated as good workmen—toward the job not away from it” (MacCaughey, 1919, p. 5). Always with a flair for the dramatic, Farrington emphasized this point by imploring schoolteachers to present commercial agriculture in “such a manner that it will touch the same wells of enthusiasm that gush forth for a horse race” (Farrington, 1928, p. 60).

Convinced in their reasoning, school leaders pushed forward with their pro-plantation campaign while looking to the sugar industry to do their part in popularizing agricultural work. They hoped owners would “woo” laborers by humanizing labor conditions through incentives and benefits designed to entice students into entering plantation employment. Constructing self-sufficient “village communities,” complete with “community affairs of various kinds—entertainments, games, social events, athletics, clubs, classes, lectures, concerts, moving pictures”; improvement in wages; and financial rewards for “superior effort” represented concrete ways sugar planters could incentivize plantation employment (Crawford, 1933, p. 243; Logan, 1989, pp. 156–157; Lydgate, 1919, p. 16). Schoolmen also wanted plantation owners to provide internship opportunities for students to “develop a wholesome attitude towards work” through direct experience in “productive labor” (Crawford, 1933, pp. 245–247). To them, vocational education represented the best means of collaboration between the school and plantation in building a socially efficient school system (Wist, 1920, p. 2). They remained convinced that their “dignity of labor” movement represented the perfect synergy of democratic principles involving individual free choice and the benevolent expertise of industry and schools working together to build a better Hawaiʻi. Yet their vision of constructing unity through public education rooted in allegiance to a “shared worldview” soon gave way to a “pedagogical conglomerate” of White planters and schoolmen (Tyack et al., 1991, p. 117).

Unable to see beyond their idealism to understand the needs of their students, the education elite continued to view Hawaiʻi’s youths as “in need of expert intervention.” Restructuring schools to make vocational training the central function of the educational system reflected, in their minds, their “nonpartisan,” “benevolent” commitment to harmonizing industry and schools for the common good of the islands. Their professional concept of school governance mixed with advice and support from industry experts allowed Hawaiʻi’s educational elite to claim they knew what most benefitted children and society. They believed that proper education on local working conditions and opportunities framed within the plantation system provided students with the best means to “select for themselves that which will give them the greatest economic independence” (Crawford, 1925, p. 9). Collaboration between education and industry represented an “intelligent American plan” that put “boys and girls on the land” allowing “them to seek this career from choice” (Farrington, 1919, p. 7). However, their strategy merely offered an illusion of choice couched within the “dignity of labor” movement that disguised administrative efforts at tracking students through a school-to-plantation pipeline. Students deserved the opportunity to choose their occupation, Farrington argued, and the public schools needed to prepare students to make the right choice, as long as it involved agriculture (Fuchs, 1961, p. 280).


Making Hawaiʻi American was about controlling the islands’ past and determining their future. Cultivating consent, as this article contends, was a critical strategy to reach this end. Haole authorities wielded their American “cultural power” to uproot local history and practices and replace them with their own political conceptions, racial order, and fabricated pasts (Go, 2008, p. 7). Throughout the territorial period, they designed and supported formal and informal school practices and policies to inculcate Hawaiʻi’s majority non-White 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 public memory of American involvement in the 1893 overthrow and annexation to the United States in 1898 with an affirmative, progressive narrative justifying America’s presence and jurisdiction as a “beneficent enterprise” (Paulet, 2007, 179). They also peddled the constructed tradition of America as an inclusive, egalitarian nation, rather than an exclusive White republic, by employing an aggressive Americanization campaign designed to obfuscate the realities of racism, White supremacy, and settler colonialism and elevate colorblind citizenship, freedom of opportunity, and the “dignity of labor” as fundamental values of the country’s character. These efforts suggest that continental attitudes on race and segregation were more salient than the liberal, republican ideas that Haole educators embedded in their colorblind, “cosmopolitan” brand of citizenship in crafting school policies.

In the end, however, results were mixed. Recent scholarship highlights how local teachers, parents, and students engaged public education during the territorial period in ways unintended by DPI officials. Many teachers transformed their classrooms into “spaces of negotiation,” modifying the meanings and methods of Americanization in order to uphold the civic ideals of equal opportunity and democracy in public education (Morgan, 2014, pp. 165–167). Nisei (second-generation Japanese American) students rejected vocational training and held onto their aspirations for a middle-class life while also appropriating the political language of equal rights and universal citizenship from their Americanization training to politically transform Hawaiʻi into a pluralistic democratic community in the post–World War II era (Tamura, 1993). With the support of their families and communities, many Native Hawaiian students maintained their cultural identity while they pursued academic skills and credentials for achieving social and economic advancement (Taira, 2018).

Despite these developments, schoolmen remained undeterred. They were convinced that as Hawaiʻi’s population came to think and believe like Americans, they would forget about their past and easily adopt White American civilization and its racial hierarchy to fit within their proscribed subservient place in territorial society. They sought to institutionalize their altruistic version of colorblind citizenship in order to emphasize the advantageous nature of American rule and downplay violations of American ideals of freedom and equality resulting from policies that affirmed racial segregation and accommodation. Public schooling represented the best means to achieve their goals. Fulfilling these objectives thus meant re-educating the islands’ multicultural and multiethnic population to abandon their native language, culture, identity, and history and embrace a new American way of life. History showed Hawaiʻi was always destined to become American; its people just did not know that yet.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 8, 2021, p. - ID Number: 23774, Date Accessed: 10/24/2021 6:25:27 PM

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