Q&A: Battle for Kamehameha Schools


POSTED: Friday, May 22, 2009

Gavan Daws' impact on Hawaii goes back more than 40 years to the days when almost everyone who attended UH-Manoa took his “;Introduction to World Civilization”; class in Varsity Theater—more than 70,000 students between 1963 and 1973.





        “;Wayfinding Through the Storm: Speaking Truth to Power at Kamehameha Schools 1993-1999,”; by Gavan Daws

» Where: Kawaiahao Plaza, 567 S. King St.


» When: 5 p.m. today


» Cost: Free


» Call: 587-7766





        » 1 to 2 p.m. May 30 at Barnes & Noble Kahala

» 1 to 2 p.m. June 6 at Barnes & Noble Ala Moana


» 2 to 3 p.m. June 13 at Borders Ward Centre




His history of Hawaii, “;Shoal of Time,”; stands as one of the definitive references more than 40 years after he wrote it.

In 2008, he set a new standard for multicultural inclusiveness in local literature with “;Honolulu Stories,”; an anthology representing two centuries of written impressions of the city. It won the Samuel Kamakau Award for Book of the Year at the Po'okela Palapala Awards earlier this month.

With those credentials, it's no surprise to find him leading another landmark literary project, “;Wayfinding Through the Storm: Speaking Truth to Power at Kamehameha Schools 1993-1999,”; an oral history of the unprecedented commitment by students, alumni, parents, teachers and administrators in risking everything to challenge the Bishop Estate trustees for control of the future of the historic Kamehameha school ohana.

The Star-Bulletin sat down with Daws on Monday to ask a few questions about the book in anticipation of its official release this weekend:

QUESTION: Why now? Is there any significance or kaona in the timing ?

ANSWER: There's no particular significance. It's just how the project developed with the people at Kamehameha Schools. There was an editorial committee made up mostly of people who lived through (the struggle) and were active reformers.

It is the nature of committees (to move slowly), but that's OK. The value of the book—and books in general—is long term.

Q: Why an oral history?

A: Let me read two paragraphs that are from the introduction. This is a big point about how the book was done: “;Written history often comes out on the page sounding remote, dry (and) abstract. That was not the way that the crisis years were lived at Kamehameha. Those were terrible times. Things happened at Kamehameha Schools, and to the people at Kamehameha, that were so wrong as to be unbelievable. The schools have had a long and honorable life as an educational community with an invaluable social mission to serve Hawaiian children, but now the mass termination of staff, 170 in a single sweep of the scythe, parents rousted by campus security, teachers and staff threatened with interrogation and lie-detector tests, anonymous phone threats at home, rumors of phones being tapped on cameras, spy cameras, clandestine informants and black lists, distrust everywhere escalating to paranoia poisoning the atmosphere so that education could not live and breathe freely.

“;The crisis at Kamehameha threatened the death of good teaching and good learning.”;

That's a major point. The '90s should have been the best decade in Kamehameha's history.

Q: Why?

A: Bishop Estate was worth billions. The estate is supposed to give all the money to the schools. The schools are more Hawaiian than they've ever been. An all-Hawaiian board of trustees, (the) first Hawaiian president of the schools, Mike Chun, who's an alumnus, and you've got the Hawaiian Renaissance—that's the context, getting stronger and stronger all the time. By the '90s, clearly, the Renaissance is cresting.

Q: How many people participated in the project?

A: One hundred fifty-plus out of something like 250 interviews. With 150 voices, from standard English to pidgin with some Hawaiian thrown in, you get all kinds of storytelling. For this kind of book, that's way better than single-voice-third-person, and I am not in love with the sound of my own voice, either spoken or on the page.

Q: In the case of different versions or one event or another, how did you fact-check statements about who did what and when?

A: Chronology and other facts weren't in question. The blood and bone, the heart and soul of this book, is the human experience; the moral decisions people had to make, the reactions to the Lindsey reign of terror. Again, oral histories the best for this. People tell you in their own words.

Q: Were former trustees Richard Wong, Henry Peters, Lokelani Lindsey asked to participate?

A: No, no more than the reformers would have been invited to take part in Peters' or Wong's or Lindsey's memoirs, which they haven't written. This is a book of the experiences of the reformer/resisters.

Q: Did Oz Stender and Gerard Jervis participate?

A: Oz, yes, extremely usefully. ... Jervis, no, as for the other majority trustees.

Q: Weighed against “;Shoal of Time,”; “;Land and Power,”; “;Prisoners of the Japanese”; and “;Honolulu Stories,”; how difficult or time-consuming was this book?

A: ”;Shoal,”; “;Land”; (and) “;Prisoners”; were prolonged, industrial-strength research. “;Honolulu Stories”; was an edit, speed-reading through enormous numbers of pages but only looking for Honolulu-based things.

This book (contains) millions of words, but again, speed-reading (was) possible. The thing was to select and arrange and sequence material so as to tell a human story the best way.

Q: How do you describe this book?

A: The book was done for, and in collaboration with, Kamehameha Schools teachers and staff who were reformers/resisters, a few of them who really started the whole thing. Those few are the heroes, and it's a great story about standing up for the right and good against huge odds. ... If there are “;warriors”; in the story, that's who it is—and some of them are women.

Q: Anything else?

A: Everybody lives their life, and that's the truth of their life, so there is no reason to think that one book contains every human truth about a given experience. This is the human truth of the experiences of the people who had to live through those horrendous years. I would love to hear the human truth (of those years) as written by the majority trustees. I'd love to hear that, and everybody would love to do that. They haven't done that. This is a free country. They're free to write their book. They have not.