Author Education Matters

Mark Rosenbaum

Hawaii public ed
deserves more respect
-- and money

I arrived in Hawaii last July 4, ready to begin my career as a professor at the University of Hawaii. When I interviewed for the position, I saw wonderful faculty members and the natural beauty of the island. I saw a vibrant retail community that could benefit from my research in service marketing and I saw students whom I could mold into successful corporate managers.

What I see today is starkly different. Perhaps it is true that first in perception is often last in reality.

I see a society that has created a two-tiered education system in which those who desire a fine education must obtain it in the private realm. Public education in the United States should serve to equalize the backgrounds of all its citizens. As a professor in the College of Business Administration, my primary goal is to ensure that all of my students possess the ability to become respected managers, chief executives and entrepreneurs. In my classroom, the sons and daughters of prominent landowners and bankers receive the same education as those whose families arrived penniless in America.

The differences that tend to separate individuals in society -- such as socio-economic status, race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation -- become irrelevant in a public classroom. Yet in Hawaii, public education is not equalizing the academic ability of all of its citizens; therefore, this state does not adhere to the principles our country's forefathers established. A democracy cannot exist when only a handful of citizens can afford a good education.

I see public institutions of learning in Hawaii decaying. I see undergraduates who cannot speak and write proper English. I hear frightening combinations of words put together in a local dialect that people refer to as "pidgin." Do we aspire to nurture our children into a bird comparable to a pigeon? Or should we mold our children into eagles capable of soaring? By forsaking English in our classrooms, we are discounting our children's ability to obtain prominent careers. I see students in my upper-division classes who have never used computers and who lack basic, necessary technical skills. I see a university that cannot provide computer access to all of its students and can ill afford to maintain the computers it already has.

I see Hamilton Library, the pre-eminent research facility in the Pacific, not expanding its collections of books, journals and periodicals, but eliminating them due to budget cuts. The creation of knowledge commences in academic journals. By dispensing with entire collections, the state is supporting a diluted library, one that is incapable of being utilized by students and faculty engaged in primary research. I cannot find the words to express how depressing it is to watch a public library wither away.

I see buildings on campus crumbling. I sit in a building that has already partially collapsed due to shoddy construction. My students sit in classrooms that flood when it rains. I cringe when I walk into a bathroom that lacks ventilation and hot water. I am embarrassed to invite business leaders to my classrooms, as they would see cracked concrete, corrosion, exposed light bulbs and peeling paint throughout.

I see teachers and professors who are unappreciated by the state. On one hand, the proposed agreement between the state and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly is a step toward bridging the chasm in faculty salaries and may prevent a strike, but it is not a complete solution. By the end of the six-year contract, UH faculty salaries will still be at approximately 50 percent of their peers at comparable institutions. Are the people of Hawaii content with paying teachers and professors paltry wages that encourage academics to leave the state and to foster a "brain drain"?

I see a state that grants certain rights to youth not because they are citizens per se, but because they have Hawaiian blood. History has taught us that civilizations that employ the concept of "blood purity" encourage societal unrest and eventually the destruction of human lives. No human being possesses supreme human virtues merely because of blood. All the children of Hawaii deserve a fine education despite their purported blood. How can we, as a democratic society, bestow extraordinary rights on citizens based upon a formula of racial purity or calculable blood mixtures? Separation of peoples and of opportunities based upon blood are practices of fascist nations, not of democracies.

I see so many things that I wish I did not see. I desire to see the benefits of the aloha spirit that I have heard so much about. I long to see a state where the children of wealthy landowners and former plantation workers can all emerge from an institution of higher learning equally capable of succeeding. I want to see a state that views all of its citizens, regardless of their race or ethnicity, as equal.

Let us not try to point blame for past wrongs. Rather, let us all realize, from the governor to the layman, that public education must offer all of Hawaii's youth equal opportunities. We must all see the importance of creating and supporting public institutions that represent the best of Hawaii.

Mark Rosenbaum is an assistant professor of marketing in the College of Business Administration at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.


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