No Need Then

What is school for, if kids graduate unprepared for either work or college?

photo: Linny Morris

Since our 2001 article “The Death of Public School,” HONOLULU Magazine has devoted every May issue to public education. Often, these examinations—if you’ll pardon the pun—take a narrow focus on what happens within and around the state Department of Education. We have explored everything from the DOE’s management structure, to its budgets, to labor issues and more. Our “Grading the Public Schools” charts rely heavily on math and reading test scores to see how well Hawaii students are doing.

But, as everyone knows, there is school and then there is the real world—the ultimate test. For this month’s public school feature, senior editor Ronna Bolante takes us outside of the classrooms and into the real world, to see what happens when public school students arrive there.

It turns out that a lot of people are working very hard to bring Hawaii’s kids up to speed after graduation day. From remedial classes at the University of Hawaii to basic math classes sponsored by labor unions, programs are attempting to impart the skills and knowledge you would think the schools should have provided. Graduates of Hawaii’s government-run public school system seem equally unprepared for either college or work.

So what, exactly, is school for? I don’t mean to be glib. I really want to know. School was so important to us that, at some point in the past, we declared it mandatory for everyone to both attend and pay for it. Parents are not at liberty to opt out from sending their kids to school, or from paying taxes to cover the cost. The compulsory education lasts for 12 years, the taxes never end.

It’s a big deal.

But if students don’t come out of public school with the skills to either continue their education or get a job, then what is it for?

Is it just socialized day care, so parents are free to work during the day? Maybe. I can’t see any other social function being served when kids are given passing grades in subjects they clearly haven’t mastered (see Bolante’s story, Ready for the Real World?).

And just maybe, we’re all fine with that. Bolante points to a locally conducted People’s Pulse survey, in which only 41 percent of respondents considered a college education “absolutely necessary.” Fifty-one percent said it was “helpful but not necessary.” The Islands still have a deep-seated, blue-collar, plantation-era anti-intellectual attitude, best summed up in the often heard parental admonition, “No ack smaht!”

Judging from the DOE’s poor performance, and the way we’ve accepted it decade after decade, we don’t want kids to actually be smart, let alone act smart. No need for the schools to succeed at college prep—college isn’t important anyway. No need to prepare kids for jobs—they’re only going to work at the hotels anyway. Why else would we tolerate government schools that consistently rank among the worst in the nation, as they have again this year? Succeed? No need.

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