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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jim Dator

 

As a futurist, Jim Dator of Waikīkī has spent the last 50 years pondering and researching what the future might hold. He’s a pioneer in this academic field and is an internationally respected voice in futures studies. Learn how a series of family tragedies in his early life propelled him to always look forward, not back.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, July 14, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Jim Dator Audio

 

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Transcript

 

There is a little monument in Kapiolani Park that was placed there at the 100thanniversary, 1976, I think, that’s supposed to be opened a hundred years later.  I have something written in there which assumes it will be under water.  Now, this is 1976, I’m saying that the park’s gonna be under water.  I did television programs uh, that were used in the schools that talked about Waikīkī being under water.  I live in Waikīkī; I’m concerned about that.  We’re still debating it.

 

He offers educated forecasts of what the future may hold for the coming decades.  Jim Dator, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  What does the future hold?  It’s a question that we ask ourselves from time to time.  Jim Dator of Waikīkī has spent the last fifty years pondering and researching this very question.  Dr. Dator is professor emeritus and the director of the Hawaii Research Center for Future Studies at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. As a futurist, he studies a multitude of trends, ranging from social and environmental conditions to technology, and then develops forecasts, or alternative futures, for the next few decades and beyond.  He’s a pioneer in this academic field, and is an internationally respected voice in future studies.  While there are misconceptions about what futurists do, the field of future studies continues to grow, and has gained traction worldwide.

 

I think some people confuse futurists with psychics.  You get some jokes about: Why didn’t you predict this, Dr. Dator?

 

Yes. That’s right.  I used to have a statement: When all else fails, call a futurist.  But they call a futurist, and they want that futurist to predict the future, or to tell them what to do.  And there are futurists that do that; there are people that call themselves futurists that do that.  And they give a bad name to those of us that understand you can’t allow people to think that you know what the future is.  So, we have a code of ethics to make sure that we can’t predict what the future will be; we will engage you in a process of considering alternative futures, and you then decide to move in a certain direction.  It is more of a social science than it is of a natural science, but it is theoretically based.  That is to say, there are understandings the way the world works that allows you to make statements about forecast.  So, I distinguish between predicting the future, and forecasting alternative futures. And we still want to be able to be precise in the old scientific reductionist way.

 

When you’re familiarizing people with your alternative futures or future alternatives, it must sound pretty bizarre sometimes.

 

Well, yes.  Again, Dator’s second law of the future is, in a situation, in an environment of rapid social and environmental change.  In that environment, any useful idea about the future should appear to be ridiculous.  Because the things are changing, and things that are going to be important in the future are not things you’ve experienced before.  So, to be a futurist, you have to not only understand the trends from the past, but continue into the future of what are called emerging issues, new ideas, new technologies, new lifestyles, and you look for them just as they’re just popping out underground.  So, you don’t make it up, you see what could be a mighty oak if it grows in a certain way, or a cactus if it grows in a different way.  And therefore, you have to identify emerging issues, things that are not part of the past or the present, but which might be part of the future, and build scenarios around both the past and the emerging issues.

 

That’s right; you can’t rely on the same assumptions. You don’t even know if there are any assumptions you can make in some areas.

 

That’s true.  But we don’t throw it all away.  We do have categories; assume the categories will continue, at least for our foreseeable future.  But the content of those categories—so transportation, for example, has changed and might change.  Communication has changed tremendously over time.

 

As a futurist, Jim Dator studies the past and present to make forecasts about the future.  As he was growing up, he liked the idea of looking forward, rather than backward, because he and his family experienced many difficulties, starting with the death of his father even before Jim got to know him.

 

My mother did not intend to get pregnant.   She was anticipating a life as a musician or at least somehow related to music.  She was a student at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.  She got pregnant, they got married, and I was born. That was all fine, except my father drowned.

 

While you were still a baby?

 

I’m just about sixteen or eighteen months old.  Anyway, she had to come back to Florida, which is where she was originally from.  And we’re talking about 1933, 1934, which is the very depth of the Depression.  And so, my grandfather was the town undertaker.

 

This is her father?

 

Yes; that’s her father.  And was the town undertaker in a little town called DeLand, Florida.  His father had been one of the pioneers that had come and settled that part of Florida.  They were sort of fixtures in the town, having a furniture store and a funeral parlor, making coffins from the furniture store.

 

Well, that seems to bode well for the child who now has additional family.

 

Well, people die, but they don’t have money to pay for it.  So, he had the job of burying people, but not necessarily being paid, or not necessarily being paid in cash, but in kind.  So, we would get pieces of furniture or silverware, or other things like that.  Times were very, very tough.  And for me to show up, unwanted, and for his daughter, oldest daughter to return instead of going off to seek her fortune as he imagined.

 

It’s two more mouths to feed.

 

Yeah. That’s right, two more mouths to feed. And one of them a squalling brat, you know.

 

More tragedy struck Jim Dator’s family in DeLand, Florida during his youth.  Within a period of two years, all of the adult males in the family, including his great-grandfather, grandfather, and uncle, passed away suddenly.

 

Dying was not only the family profession in terms of the undertaker, but all the males in the family died all at once, leaving me as the only male with three females.  My grandmother, my mother, her sister—my aunt, were my family during the time I was young.

 

And what was your life like?  Was it a happy childhood?

 

No; it was not unhappy in the sense that I was well taken care of.  But no one felt really happy, and they didn’t show. So, I don’t ever recall being hugged and kissed, and being told I was a good boy, or anything like that.

 

Even when you were a young child?

 

No.

 

No?

 

I might have been, but that’s not the memory I have.  And I don’t recall feeling depressed.  That’s just the way it was.

 

Well, you don’t know what’s normal, I suppose.

 

No.

 

But you must have been a good student.

 

Well, but that was expected.  I was expected to succeed.  So, the things I did were never praised.  That was just what Jimmy did.  I had to overcome that, and to learn to love other people, and to love people who could love me back.  And so, I was sort of a driven kid.  I was extremely popular in terms of elections to things at various stages, but I never was a person that hung out with a lot of people.  I was friends with everybody, but not close friends with anyone.

 

Because you hadn’t had that intimate connection in your nuclear family.

 

No, I never had.  That’s right; exactly right.  I hated Christmas, let me put it that way, because all my friends got all these wonderful presents, which I never did.  I would get literally, an orange, or a walnut, or my uncle’s refurbished scooter. Something like that.  And also, the men died around Christmastime.  So, Christmas, which is supposed to be the big family joyous time, was always sort of the saddest time.  My aunt, she joined the military also during the war—SPAR, that’s the Coast Guard, which then gave her military preference, veteran’s preference for a really good job with the post office.  She never married, never had children.  She taught me how to be a man, and discovered at age eighty that she was lesbian.  But in between that, she’d never made the connection.  And so, I learned to be a man from this, again, not loving, but matter-of-fact, hardworking woman.  And my mother was off being a university professor, and didn’t pay much attention.  My grandmother had all this personal sorrow and hardship, because she had lived a fairly good middleclass life, and suddenly no money, no income, she had to do a lot of working on her own.  And so, we were just all expected to do our duty.

 

Did you ever go on a walkabout to find your father’s family?

 

Well, yes and no.  We were brought back, and I never wondered, I never felt the loss of a father.  In fact, if I may say before I get directly to that, in looking back, I was always glad I didn’t have a father, when I looked at other fathers and other families with fathers.  I was glad that I didn’t have somebody say: That’s not the way we do it in this family.  No one said that to me.  There was no one telling me that we have to behave a certain way, because this is the way the family does things.  I also like my name, Dator, because it’s a simple-sounding name, but there’s no ethnicity attached to it whatsoever.  And it turns out now in this day of the internet that there are Dators, Dator in the Philippines.  But I don’t think there’s any connection to that.  I suspect it was something like Dieter or Datorovich, or something that got shortened to it.  But at least I never had ethnicity, I never had a father, I never had a family history. And that’s one of the reasons I became a futurist, I think.

 

Because?

 

Because I didn’t have a past that was telling me how to behave.  I needed to find my own identity.

 

As a young adult, Jim Dator continued to look forward, while studying the past.  He graduated with a degree in ancient and medieval history and philosophy at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, where his mother was a professor. He then earned a PhD in political science at the American University in Washington, D.C., and briefly considered becoming a priest, before deciding to center his career on teaching.

 

My very first job as a teacher with a PhD was to go to Japan, where I taught in a Japanese university in a college of law and politics in Japanese for six years. I encountered a group of people from an established university in Japan called Rikkyo Daigaku in the Ikebukuro section of Tokyo, if you’re familiar with it.  And they had created a new college of law and politics in this old established university, one of the so-called Big Six Universities.  And they wanted a new political scientist, a young political scientist to come and bring the American style of politics to that university.  And they said: We’ll send you to Yale to learn intensive Japanese.  And so, for nine months, from eight in the morning ‘til five at night, every day for nine months, I studied oral Japanese.  I didn’t know how to read and write, I didn’t know how to read and write anything; I just knew how to speak.

 

Futurist Jim Dator says that his six years working and teaching in Japan was a profound experience, and sparked his interest in future studies.

 

And while I was there, I met a person who said: Jim, I want you to read this article I’ve written; it’s called The Senior Partner, and it analyzes Japan as a civilization.  And he concluded that Japan went through the same stages, in the same order that the West did, each one about the same length of time, and that Japan was two hundred years ahead of the West.  And I said: What?  This is 1963, 64.  Didn’t we just beat them in a war?  Aren’t they underdeveloped?  Aren’t we the crown of creation?  Well, I never argued or cared whether he was right about Japan.  It just said: Well, wait, we have these theories of moving from underdeveloped, to developing, to developed, but what’s next? Development—didn’t say it then, and it doesn’t say it now.  It makes it act as though we’re the end of history.  Well, that is what made me a futurist.  That episode in 1963, it happened to be on the day that John Kennedy was assassinated, which is another part of the story.  But I said: Okay, I’m now gonna ask what’s next.  And so, all of the work I subsequently did in future studies came from that day, and I oriented all my teaching towards the future from that.

 

After a half-dozen years in Japan, Jim Dator returned to the United Stated and started the first accredited future studies program in the country at Virginia Tech.  In 1969, Dr. Dator came to the University of Hawaii at Mānoa to teach future studies. When he arrived, he found that Hawaii was interested in futurism and had recently launched statewide activities called Hawaii 2000 that would examine the possible futures of Hawaii.

 

When I arrived, Governor Burns and Tadao Beppu, and David McClung, and the people in the business community, and the labor unions, and the University, had already started something called Hawaii 2000, which was an activity to look thirty years ahead.  I had nothing to do with it; it had already been created.  But Glenn Paige, remember, of the political science department, was sort of the secretary of that.  And he said: Well, you know, we got this futurist at the University; why don’t you join the group.  And that is what really, really, beyond anything else, turned me into a futurist. Because that activity, which has never been equaled anywhere in the world, never been equaled here in Hawaii—we’ve tried several times, but the powers that be don’t really want to have people thinking about alternative futures.  But at that point in 1970, statehood was good, the future was looking good, tourism was just beginning to blossom, they wanted to look ahead optimistically, and it was no holds barred.  We had incredible variety of people, all islands had their own—Maui 2000, Kauai 2000, and so forth.  There were student groups, youth groups, university groups, elderly groups, women’s groups, all sorts of different groups.  If you look at the number of lectures, the numerous talks I gave to groups during that time, thousands of them.  Honolulu Magazine in ’73 or so said I could have been elected governor, ‘cause I knew so many people.  It was an incredible opportunity, a deep dive into Hawaii culture and thinking about the future.  I’m obviously still excited about it.

 

Interesting that you say that people were excited about the future, and therefore, they wanted to peer into it.  Do you find they don’t really want to look too far if they suspect the worst?

 

Not anymore.  I mean, even at that time—if you read the book, Hawaii 2000, the book exists, and there is a list of people who attended, the who’s who of the future, as well as of the present.  But if you look at it, all of the married women are Mrs. John Doe.  None of them have their own first name there.

 

Ah …

 

Can you imagine how un-futuristic that was?  It’s embarrassing to look at that.  But in any event, the groups of people who participated in it made me very optimistic about being able to change things, and all sorts of ideas. There were a number of task forces, and if you read each one of the recommendations of the task forces in their area, there was a desire to have open land, and high-rises, and mass transit. So, the idea is, we would not do what actually happened, divide up the large estates and give everybody a little piece of land.  We would in fact have as few landholders as possible holding things in trust, and we would keep land open as much as possible, and use high-rises spread throughout each one of the islands, linked by mass transit.  That was one example.  The things that we got most right was, we basically predicted the cell phone, and the network, internet.  If you read it, that’s almost totally predicted.  And we basically understood the changes in genetic engineering, and so forth; all the things that are now very controversial.  We understood that those would be emerging issues. So, in the area of technology, we did a pretty good job.  Completely missed the entire Hawaiian renaissance.  The Hawaiians that we had on the committee, and we had a lot, were of that generation that assumed they would be lost, that there would instead be what Governor Burns called The Golden People of the Pacific.

 

Yeah.  So, they were probably older, because that was the Western generation.

 

And they didn’t speak Hawaiian, and they were forbidden to speak Hawaiian.

 

And yet, the Hawaiian Renaissance was knocking on the door at that time.

 

If was already existing.  So, on the one hand, we missed women’s liberation, if you will, and we missed the Hawaiian Renaissance, even though they were there.  So, the moral to that story, and it’s still true, it’s a lot easier to predict, if you will, technology than it is social changes. And that’s still a problem for futurists.

 

In 1971, the State Legislature established the Hawaii Research Center for Future Studies at UH Mānoa, and appointed Jim Dator as its director.  Dr. Dator has developed the program into a world-renowned institution for futures research, and helped to educate four decades of futurists.

 

In general, during your just very long and successful career in academics, have people taken what you’ve said to heart and made changes?

 

Well, everyone said at the end of Hawaii 2000 or other things, people will come up and tell me that such-and-such an event changed their life.  So, I think that individuals have acted on it, but in fact, there was a point in the late 70s, after the so-called Arab oil crisis, when suddenly we realized that Hawaii is not really independent, that it’s highly vulnerable, that if the oil stops coming, things don’t go well, in which it became forbidden to think about alternative futures.  Even though Governor Ariyoshi used that term, and he did a better job than almost anyone else in doing futures work, it was still relatively select.  And the thing that worked, tourism, he didn’t want anything to upset that.  And so, you couldn’t really begin to think about other alternatives.  And so, I’d say from that point on, this heavily citizen-based free expression of ideas about alternative futures has been pretty much discouraged.  But there are certain other things that I have harped on over, and over, and over, and over again, like climate change, sea level rise, and so forth, that we still are debating and figuring out what we ought to do about.  We say we’re gonna do something, but in fact, we’re not yet really doing anything.

 

How do you gauge your success as a futurist?

 

Well, when I deal with a client, the success is not whether they enjoyed the activity.  Often, they do, and will say what I said earlier; it really changed my thinking. If the organization then institutionalizes future studies as part of their planning and policymaking, if they hire a futurist or engage in a process of getting information from the future of building their strategic plan around a prior futures activity—most don’t; most just go back.

 

Even after recruiting you and getting the getting you to study something?

 

Yeah, and enjoying it.  They go back, but some don’t.  The State of Virginia, for example, did incorporate futures into their judicial planning.  And there are other examples here and there, but basically, that’s my definition.  Other futurists might have other criteria.  Did it make a difference in the way they did business?  Do they now routinely begin to try to look ahead or not?  And we haven’t learned to do that as people, yet.  And who can blame us.  We have millions of years of responding only to immediate pressures. It’s in our genes, it’s in our psychology, it’s in our stories.  Look backwards in order to understand what lies ahead.

 

In addition to leading future studies at the University of Hawaii, Jim Dator served as secretary general, and then president, of the World Future Studies Federation.  Even though he’s retired, he continues to travel, teach, and consult.  At the time of our conversation in late 2018, he was teaching Space Humanity courses at the International Space University in France and the Korea Institute for Future Studies.  Mahalo to Dr. Jim Dator of Waikīkī, Hawaii. And thank you for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on PBS Hawaii.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

Futurists who are being minted now at the PhD level; how do they differ from you?

 

Well, they’re a lot smarter.

 

No, really.

 

No, that’s really.  I have some fantastic students.  In fact, on Saturday, I will hood my last PhD student, since I’ve retired from the University of Hawaii.  And he’s an absolutely fantastic guy who is already doing so many wonderful things all around the world.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

[END]

 

 

 

 

The National Geographic Bee

The National Geographic Bee

 

The annual National Geographic Bee returns for the 29th consecutive year. The 2017 Bee features fourth-to-eighth-graders vying for the crown and the top prize of a $50,000 college scholarship and lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society.

 

INDEPENDENT LENS
The Bad Kids

 

Located in an impoverished Mojave Desert community, Black Rock Continuation High School is an alternative school for students at risk of dropping out; Black Rock is their last chance. Extraordinary educators believe that empathy and life skills, more than academics, give these underserved students command of their own futures.

 

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College students have always been the backbone of PBS Hawai‘i’s production crew. Many of them have gone on to successful media careers. See some of their stories here!

 

 

 

 


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UH law professor to appear on PBS show ‘Open Mind’

PBS Hawaii

 

Carole PetersonHONOLULU, HI – The national public television show “The Open Mind” will feature a conversation with Carole Petersen, a Professor of Law at the UH William S. Richardson School of Law, and Director of the Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution. The episode is scheduled to air Sunday at 6:00 pm on PBS Hawai‘i.

 

On the program, Petersen discusses the state of civil liberties in Hong Kong, where Petersen taught law for 17 years. She predicts that a small independence movement in Hong Kong will give Beijing incentive to further crack down on the territory.

 

Petersen has been researching challenges to civil liberties in Hong Kong since 1997, when it ceased to be a British colony and became a “Special Administrative Region” of China. In her 2006 co-authored book, Academic Freedom in Hong Kong, Petersen argued that the “One Country Two Systems” model had been largely successful in protecting academic freedom and civil liberties in Hong Kong. However, her latest research documents a dramatic decline in academic freedom in the past decade.

 

“The Open Mind,” hosted by Alexander Heffner, is a one-on-one conversational show that explores the world of ideas across politics, media, technology, the arts, news and public affairs. Designed to elicit insights into contemporary areas of national concern, “The Open Mind” explores challenges of the digital age, American politics and other emerging issues.

 

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The National Geographic Bee 2016

THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC : Bee 2016

 

The annual National Geographic Bee returns for the 28th consecutive year, with American humorist and journalist Mo Rocca serving as host and moderator. Taped in May, the competition features fourth- to eighth-graders vying for the Bee crown and the top prize of a $50,000 college scholarship. The finalists, all winners of their state-level geographic bees, have triumphed over a field of nearly 4 million students to earn a place in the national championships. They represent the 50 states, District of Columbia, Atlantic Territories, Pacific Territories and Department of Defense Dependents Schools.

 

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Education reform over the last decade has led to significant academic improvement for Hawai‘i’s public school students. But the state’s special education students haven’t enjoyed the same academic gains, despite the Department of Education devoting 23% of its budget to special education services for what is only about 10.5% of the Hawai‘i’s public school population. How can Hawai‘i’s special education services boost achievement for students with disabilities?

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Gail Awakuni

 

Original air date: Tues., Mar. 11, 2008

 

National High School Principal of the Year 2004

 

A veteran public school teacher and DOE administrator, Gail Awakuni became principal at Campbell High School just before the school year began in 2000. The school was known for gang and discipline problems. It posted some of the lowest test scores and highest drop-out rates in the state. Fewer than half its students were graduating.

 

This year? The school says 99% of its seniors will earn diplomas. Test scores are way up. And Campbell High School is earning academic awards and accolades. What happened? We’re about to meet a petite and powerful agent of change named Gail Awakuni.

 

Gail Awakuni Audio

 

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Transcript

 

Aloha and welcome to Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Something remarkable is taking place in Ewa Beach, at James Campbell High School. Seven years ago, the school was known for gang and discipline problems. It posted some of the lowest test scores and highest drop-out rates in the state. Fewer than half its students were graduating. This year? The school says 99% of its seniors will earn diplomas. Test scores are way up. And Campbell High School is earning academic awards and accolades. What happened? We’re about to meet a petite and powerful agent of change named Gail Awakuni.

 

A veteran public school teacher and DOE administrator, Gail Awakuni became principal at Campbell High School just before the school year began in 2000. Within four years, she’d been named State Principal of the Year and went on to top national honors.

 

Pat Hamamoto, Schools Superintendent (at Campbell High School, Sept. 24, 2004)

“I would like to announce that Dr. Awakuni is the Nat’l. High School Principal of the Year 2004. Her vision was to create a school in which students would be welcomed, students would be cared for and students would go out with the knowledge and skills that they would need to be successful. And Dr. Awakuni, your principal, started with a plan and she actually put all this to action.”

 

She says no need to call her Doctor. Many of the students simply call her Miz. Gail Awakuni’s plan and actions have led to tremendous changes in attitudes and achievement at Campbell High School. Ten years ago, the school says 10% of its students went on to college. Now, more than 70% do. Seven years ago, 30 students took College Board Advanced Placement exams. This year, nearly 400 will. Let’s meet Gail Awakuni, the principal – and principal mover and shaker – of Campbell High School.

 

This is amazing, isn’t it? It’s like this explosion of success and achievement at Campbell in the last few years.

 

Few years; right.

 

Since you’ve been there. I need to explore this more with you. Because I know that there are lots of committed principals and other educators in our schools, and I know they’re knowledgeable, and I know they make use of opportunities. But you’ve been able to marshal so many things together to make this happen. What is it about you?

 

I don’t think it’s about me. It really is about the students and people at the school level who are willing to just put forth a lot of work and effort, and make the school better. And I think that’s the rallying point that we have, you know, going for us, where you take a negative reputation, and you turn that into something positive. And that has been, you know, our mantra. So whenever we have a setback, then we just—Okay, let’s move forward and move forward in how we’re gonna fix this to make it better. And we’re by no way a perfect school. You know, we have our share of problems, and we haven’t we haven’t fixed all of the problems in the community there, and I don’t think we ever will. But we do try to take one child at a time and try to help each child, or try to better the situation for them.

 

So what’s—

 

And we’re still working at it.

 

What’s the limit? Where does the gate on the achievement clang down?

 

I don’t think it ever ends. I think it’s a continuous, spiraling effect of continually trying to be better and improve. Once—I think like all civilizations, where they reach a point where they feel like they, they’ve reached it or, you know, have reached the point where they can just sit back and relax; and I think that’s when civilizations crumble again.

 

So you see no limits?

 

So there’s no limit. We just keep on moving forward, and keep on you know, improving what we’re doing.

 

What’s the toughest thing to change?

 

I think the toughest thing to change is changing mindsets and attitudes.

 

On the part of?

 

People.

 

Any person involved in the school?

 

Any person. I think that is the most difficult. Also, having people believe in themselves, and having confidence, developing the confidence to excel and to be the best that they can be. So everybody is their own worst enemy. Changing mindsets; that’s the most difficult.

 

Changing mindsets.

 

Mindsets. But you know, it’s possible when we see the successes. So everybody likes to see success and build on positive, positive results. And I think that’s the key; to look at the results, and keep on climbing and keep on working at those results, to see that we can better ourselves.

 

For students in the academic middle, Principal Gail Awakuni spearheaded the AVID program – offering Advancement Via Individual Determination. She also established Small Learning Communities – academies within the school which educate students along the pathways of their chosen careers.

 

We all talk about metrics, in business. The metrics, the measurements, the quantification of education; there are a lot of really encouraging signs and transformations at Campbell High School. What are some of them?

 

Well, we use the data to actually start our work. Because was our assessment and to see where we’re at, and how we’re gonna go, and where. And every time we the reason why I measured the growth was to encourage and motivate everybody to keep on going. Because when they say success breeds success, that really is true. Because with our little successes, that is how we grew, and it got bigger and bigger. And each time we were pleasantly surprised.

 

What caused that? What happened?

 

School wide reform. We decided to focus on the ninth grade, and we contracted Johns Hopkins University to help us.

 

Where’d you get the money to do that?

 

We used our school money from our Federal funds, as well as the State funding, and we wrote grants. Lots of grants, those beginning years. So we did start off with a planning grant, which was a Federal grant. And it took us a year to plan and make our plan what we were gonna do. And then the second year was implementation; then we went out and we got a small learning community implementation grant. So those monies helped to quick start us. We also had donations from the community; James Campbell Estate, for example, was you know, very much behind of us. They gave us a check for $150,000 to get started.

 

So you organized the school into small learning communities.

 

M-hm.

 

And what else?

 

And so we started the ninth grade, then we replicated the tenth grade academy. And the upperclassmen were the small learning communities into their electives. And we measured, and we watched the growth of our students. Also too, competitions help. So from the community there, as well as the Department of Education where there are State and National contests. Then we started preparing our students for these contests. And then when they started winning, that was an extremely strong motivator. For example, in 2004, when our math team won the statewide math bowl—

 

The first time a Leeward Oahu school had ever won the math bowl.

 

And also, first time for Campbell. And so that was you know, I think, one of the greatest incentives. It helped the students and the whole school to see, we can do it, and to forge forward, and each time they’re seeking you know, greater success or do better. It’s the measurement.

 

I want to know where this came from because clearly, there was your leadership at work. Where did you get this stuff? How did you set this transformation in place?

 

Well, it’s a lot of things going on, and I think we take a team of teachers as well as administrators to the mainland, where we go to national conferences, network with people. You know, outside of Hawaii.

 

So looking for ideas.

 

Looking for ideas, looking for research based models. Journals. Do a lot of reading.

 

‘Cause you only want something that’s proven.

 

Exactly. And then go on the internet and um, communicate through internet, find out more, and research these programs. We also do site visits. And so we visit schools and we see. And we go to schools of similar demographics as Campbell. And then we see how it’s operationalized, and we get a lot of help from people who have done it. For example, our international baccalaureate; we visited many schools, and we had curriculum leaders who had been doing it for twenty years successfully. And so they shared their curriculum, as well as their program and studies, and everything with us.

 

The transformative efforts at Campbell High are paying off – literally – for students. Over the last seven years, graduating seniors have brought in more and more scholarship money to fulfill dreams of college. Last year, scholarships amounted to $7.5 million. The school is introducing innovative programs like the International Baccalaureate Diploma. It’s an elite, college-prep program with an international focus. It’s designed to help students compete in a global society. And Gail Awakuni has every reason to be proud.

 

This is, you know, an accomplishment for us, because it’s your highest level of rigor. And so the teachers had to work really hard. And you have their lessons that are approved, as well as they’re given feedback from an international board. So when you look at standards and global education, it’s not limited to just Hawaii or not just, you know, the Department of Education in Hawaii. Whereas it’s international. And education is global today. So for the teachers to see what’s out there, as well as for our students; and we say, you know, there’s life beyond Renton Road, there’s life beyond Ewa Beach, there’s life beyond Hawaii, as well as even the United States now. They’re saying that you know, it’s international.

 

So you’ve raised the expectations for students and faculty.

 

And that’s really the bar. And so what it’s done was for the teachers to receive training as well as input, and feedback into the curriculum; then we backward map with the underclassmen and the other subject teachers, and everything else becomes aligned. So that now leads the staff development in the school, because they know what is the goal that they’re really trying to obtain, which is an international goal.

 

Okay, now; there’s something you’re leaving out here. Just implementing new programs doesn’t cause a rejuvenation, and it doesn’t get people excited. What else have you done?

 

I think for basically for the teachers, it’s you have to show them and prove to them that it can be done. So gradually, when we had the successes of our students, then more and more people get folded into and they want to be part of the excitement and the learning. For example, our incredible college and career counselor, as well as the setup that we have at our school with the aides and the helpers that she had too, each year, the scholarship amount doubled or tripled. It’s the first year, we had a goal of $1 million. And then we thought this was crazy; you know, that it would never happen. Because prior to that, we had scholarships of about $600,000. But each year, you know, they went out and they competed, and they—last year, the scholarship amount was $7.5 million.

 

So first, your staff competed to get scholarship money, and then your students—

 

The students—

 

–amped it up to get the scholarships.

 

Preparing the students for the scholarships as well as—there you go; competition, what’s out there. And so, looking and seeing what was needed. And then it was basically looking at the coursework, as well as the colleges now; what is it that students will need to be globally competitive.

 

So some of these students, they’ve never had anybody in their family go to college.

 

Right.

 

They don’t really know that they can succeed. But they are believers now that they can?

 

Absolutely. And we have a lot of first generation students going to college. And I think that’s you know, really the excitement that we see. And we have graduates coming back and telling us that—they’ll tell the parents that they’re earning more than their parents. That’s exciting.

 

And the parents like that to an extent, right?

 

The parents are you know, surprised too that they’ve done so well. And we’re very proud; very proud that they’ve done so well and gone on you know, to be successful.

 

So, great feeling of pride from your students.

 

So great feeling of pride. And they did want to, you know, turn the school around and help the—to them, it was we reached out into the community. So pride in the community, pride for themselves as the school.

 

How did you reach out into the community?

 

We had a Kellogg’s grant, and we reached out into the community by forming a nucleus committee, and we branched out and interviewed people in the community, asking them and getting feedback. What is it that you expected and wanted of the school? And so we had lists and lists of things that we grouped them. And that did not vary from what we had interviewed our teachers, as well as the support staff at our school. And so after we gathered that data, then we put it together, and then we made our plans and programs.

 

So you found that everybody really wanted the same thing.

 

Exactly. And so really, through the Kellogg’s grant and the National Network of Educational Renewal, through University of Washington, that helped us formalize—the mantra was, you know, the responsibility for education is everybody.

 

Team-oriented, results-oriented and positive. What motivates Gail Awakuni? Where do her ideas come from? Where did she come from?

 

You’re a product of the public schools?

 

Yes, I am. I’m a proud graduate of Kalani High School. I always tell the students that I’m from east side of Honolulu, and now I’m on the west side of Oahu.

 

Do they say they can’t relate to you ‘cause you’re an eastsider?

 

They call me a townie. Everybody teases me, and they call me a townie. But I said, Well, the way that Ewa is developing, that’s gonna be the future town of Oahu.

 

True. Well, what was your public school experience?

 

Well, I think that, as I recollect, and I compare past to now, I know that the public school is doing far more than what I’ve experienced. But it was always a very positive experience for me. I attended Kahala Elementary, then Kaimuki Intermediate, then Kalani, and UH system. So it’s been public education all the way.

 

And you never felt, Oh, gee, other folks have the chance to go to private school, but not me, I gotta go public?

 

Well, for us, it was not even a choice, because my parents couldn’t afford it, and they made it real clear that you know, they couldn’t afford it. So we just had to make the best of whatever we had. But I never felt.

 

But did you feel you were losing something?

 

No, I never felt that I was being shortchanged or anything. I still remember my teachers; they were you know, extremely caring. And I learned.

 

Although inspired by her teachers, Gail Awakuni didn’t plan on becoming one – until after she had finished college and started a family.

 

My mother told me to go into teaching. And of course, you know, being in college, I said, No, I’m not gonna listen to her, and then I majored in arts and science, and then it was, now what are you gonna do with this job. Because it’s either nursing or teaching. So I went back to school for teaching,

 

You not only went to school; you got a PhD.

 

Well, that just happened along the way. And it was just a matter of my daughter was going through chemotherapy; she was a leukemia patient at that time. So my friend had told me, I’ve got a wonderful program, just for you, to help you through this. And at that time, I got interested in public health. But at the same time, when I saw the impact of education with children, as well as families, where really, education is the key to even good health.

 

To even good health?

 

Good health. And so that’s when I felt that I needed to get back into teaching, and spread the word in that sense, where education really is the key to life.

 

So the hospital could have been aha moment for you to go into nursing, but instead, it sent you right back into education.

 

In teaching, you see hope and joy. And I think the hospital does that also. But at the same time, you see a lot of people go there when they have illness. Whereas in teaching, you see children, and you see bright smiles every day. And that’s what I felt. You know, I needed to be there, where I like to see bright smiles every day, and help people have hope and dreams, and be a part of creating that dream for them.

 

Did your daughter recover from leukemia?

 

My daughter recovered; she’s a leukemia survivor. And she’s planning to go into nursing today.

 

Oh, that’s interesting.

 

I had some great, great moments as a teacher. And when I moved into administration, I felt that here would be a way that I probably could impact more, and really do what I felt that we could help more students. And it goes back to what I had felt at the hospital; that it’s bringing access to people, and opening more doors, because really, education is the key. Being able to read and write, compute, think, ask questions, you know, those were key. And again, it’s how to reach a larger group of individuals, so that they—we always tell parents, you know, Education here, this is your life. And what we want for you and your child would be the best opportunity, so that you go out and have a good quality of life. And really, we’re here to help and to do.

 

Gotta ask you a question that you might not like. You’re a graduate of the public school system. You have been employed by the public system. And yet, you chose to send a couple of your children to private school.

 

M-hm. I think I’ve sent two to private and one went through the public school system. And I would say that, you know, I’ve learned from sending them to private school, as well as I think that I’ve brought some of those ideas with me, to the public sector, so that we can make our school just as good as a private school. ‘Cause I believe that access, you know, that everybody should have access. And I’d like to make Campbell, you know, just as good as a private school, so that parents will have a choice. And those who can’t afford a private education can have just as good an education at Campbell High School or in a public school. And I think, you know, it’s a lot of guidance from home that is necessary, and again, looking at the needs of the individual and finding the best fit.

 

You’ve seen some of the private schools, you’ve seen the public schools. You really think you can even things out?

 

I think we can. And that’s what we’re trying to do at Campbell. It’s really networking, and taking that and trying to make things, you know, better. And even when we were interviewed at Campbell with the international baccalaureate committee, you know, the question was, Why Campbell? And Superintendent Hamamoto said, Why not Campbell? You know, and that’s what it is; why not? And so we could have just as much, and do just as well as any private school.

 

Indeed. Why not? Here at PBS Hawaii, we get to share stories of discovery and diversity, of local, community interest. Like this one – of Campbell High School’s growing culture of high expectations and achievement. Mahalo to Gail Awakuni, and to you, for joining me for another Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Until next week, a hui hou kakou!

 

Pat Hamamoto / Schools Superintendent (at Campbell High School, Sept. 24, 2004)

“Dr. Awakuni has brought recognition to the school through you. So you helped her realize her vision. And you are her vision. In addition to that, this past year, Dr. Awakuni also received the Tokioka Award for outstanding school principal. When they asked her, What are you going to do if we give you $15,000? Her answer was, she would give it to the school to start the AVID Program. So whatever she gets it goes back to the school. So your principal has been not only a person with vision, but she’s also a person who made that vision come alive. And she made that vision a reality.”

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Gavan Daws

 

Original air date: Tues., June 10, 2008

 

Best-Selling Hawaii Author

 

Gavan Daws, the best-selling author of Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands, Land and Power in Hawaii, Holy Man: Father Damien of Moloka‘i and many other books, plays, songs and documentary films, has just collaborated on an 1,120-page anthology, Honolulu Stories: Two Centuries of Writing.

 

Join Leslie Wilcox as she sits down to share stories that reveal this Australian transplant’s deep interest in, knowledge of and love for Hawai‘i, Asia and the Pacific.

 

Gavan Daws Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha no and welcome to Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. Today, on Long Story Short, we get to share stories with a professional storyteller – best known as an author, Gavan Daws.

 

Australian transplant Gavan Daws was the first person to earn a PhD in Pacific history at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. The academic and teacher became the bestselling author of Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands, Land and Power in Hawaii, Holy Man: Father Damien of Molokai and many other books. Now he’s collaborated on an 1,100-page anthology, Honolulu Stories: Two Centuries of Writing – full of voices of Hawai‘i.

 

You’re a storyteller in so many forms. Your latest form is this very hefty book with Bennett Hymer. What other ways have you told stories in your life?

 

Well, if it comes down to twenty-four words or less, I suppose that all of my life has really been about words and audiences.

 

Words is all I have; I have no other skills of any kind, either creative or financial. So it’s words; words are my currency. And I kinda grew up on the edge of the Outback in Australia, where when I was a kid, there was no radio, and where for a long time, there was no TV. And storytelling was what everybody did. And when you got old enough, which is around sixteen, you’d go into the pub two or three years below drinking age; and that was storytelling territory as well. And on top of that, I’m about five- eighths Irish, and there’s genetic storytelling in the Irish. I’ve done it in books and in stage plays and in song lyrics. And I’ve done the libretto for an opera, and I’ve done documentary films, which are not my talking, but other people’s talking. And I’m ahuge admirer of standup comedy; I just love standup comedy. So words are the way that things come to me; and on a good day, they’re the way that things come out of me.

 

In this anthology, Two Centuries of Writing, Honolulu Stories, among the things you include is a comedy sketch by Rap

Reiplinger.

 

Yeah. When we were setting up the anthology, Bennett and I made a decision that we wouldn’t limit storytelling to what most people think of as, you know, short stories or bits out of novels. We’d have scenes from plays and musicals, and operas, and we’d have Hawaiian chant, we’d have poems, we’d have song lyrics, we’d have cartoons, and we’d have standup comedy, and we’d have slam. And the all-time great standup comic of my life, and I’ve seen a lot in a lot of different places, is Rap. A genius; absolutely genius. And as I say in the introduction, he’s the youngest standup comedian who ever made me, A, fall off my chair laughing, and B, snort beer through my nose.

 

[chuckle]

 

Nobody else has ever done that, and he could. And of all his, I think Room Service is the best; Mr. Frogtree trying to get his cheeseburger. So in Honolulu Stories, in the section about modern Waikiki, that was, of course, you know, had to have that. And so, Jon DeMello of Mountain Apple very kindly gave us permission, and it’s just a joy to have that in there. One of my big things about living here, and having hopes, my own private hopes for the place, is that more quality stuff from here can become exportable. You know, think of Iz, Brudda Iz; think of that. There’s the most local musician imaginable; who could be more local than Iz?

 

Going global.

 

And he sings a Hollywood classic from the 1930s, Over the Rainbow, and he’s got the first platinum CD from Hawai‘i, with half the sales outside Hawai‘i. And he’s in six movie soundtracks, he’s in commercials all over the world, and he’s a ring tone. The ultimate exportable, right. And that’s good quality, okay. Let’s have more of that; let’s have more of that.

 

Well, thank you for putting regular people in this book. I love several of them.

 

This particular short little essay has been the subject of a newspaper story in which you and the reporter said, Where is this writer, we’d love to know more; Mark, who was a student at Makaha Elementary School in 1981. And if I may, he wrote, My mother lives in Las Vegas, my father lives in Hawaii. I am my father’s son, and my sister is icky. Our family has small noses and soft faces. If you ask me one day, I will soar like an eagle to visit my mother.

 

M-m. I came across that in a collection by Eric Chock, of Bamboo Ridge, who’s been running Poetry in the Schools for a long, long time. And the poetry that he gets from little kids, you know, from Makaha or wherever; wonderful. And so, again, one of the decisions Bennett and I made was to have stuff by kids. You know, most anthologies, even the big ones, don’t do that; they don’t think kids can tell stories, you know. Kids can tell stories. So we have a couple of dozen kid poets in there from the second grade on up. And wonderful stuff from Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s learning school, Na‘au; she’s got a half a dozen poems from little kids in the book.

 

I like the haiku. I mean, here’s a seventeen-syllable one.

 

Yeah.

 

Bus from Manoa, always the same hair and dress; Japanese tutus.

 

Yeah. That’s part of one of the chapters that goes all around Oahu in poetry. Every district we picked up on that would take you like on a round the island tour; and that’s one of the Manoa poems.

 

Holoholo through writing.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

As a UH Manoa history professor, Gavan Daws was known for holding the attention of large lecture halls of students. And this consummate storyteller weaves an entertaining, seafaring tale of how he came to land on our sunny shores.

 

The Reader’s Digest version of the story, which is a combination of Romeo and Juliet, and Ivan the Terrible and—

Ooh. [chuckle] Do tell.

 

–all sorts of things. I was escaping from Australia, rather than going to Hawai‘i. And I came on a freighter, which crossed the Pacific at five miles an hour. It was by no means a Hokule‘a voyage, you know. And I kinda fell off the ship here. And my entire preparation for Hawai‘i was to have read on the freighter, the book, From Here to Eternity. That’s what I knew about Hawai‘i.

 

Wow.

 

And everything from then on, has the appearance of being intended, but in fact, was just sleepwalking and bumping into things. And that’s been my whole life. So the ship was going to Hawai‘i. If it had been going to Bulgaria, you know—

 

[chuckle]

 

—I would have been in Bulgaria.

 

Bulgarian Stories.

 

Yeah. Right; right.

 

So you accidentally came here, in a sense. And then you accidentally got a PhD in Pacific History?

 

It was like breaking the balls on a pool table. You know, things just went everywhere. And one of ‘em went into a pocket, and that was the academic life. It could have been anything else. And it just kinda grew from there; I got offered a job, I kept the job, I got tenure, I wrote a book, and so on and so on. But I’ve also done other things outside Hawai‘i and other things other than academic work, you know, so

 

You—within just what, a decade or so of coming here, you’re writing a history of the Hawaiian Islands, Shoal of Time, which is it still a local bestseller after all these years?

 

Yeah, it is; it’s forty years in print. And still—which is amazing. Eighty percent of books disappear after a year. They’re like restaurants, you know; they fold. And I had no idea, doing that, what kind of life it would have, or even it would get published. Which you never know. And just a little bit of the history of that. Honolulu Book Shops, which was the only book shop in town in those days; they ordered twenty-four copies. And when they sold them, they didn’t reorder; they thought that was about the demand. But here it is, forty years later, and—

 

Its required reading in many courses.

 

Which I don’t want; I don’t want to be required reading. I want to be read by, my phrase, consenting adults; I want them to choose to read it.

 

Have you heard that in the intervening decades after the book came out, there has been some perception on the part of native Hawaiians that there’s a colonial tone here—

 

Oh, sure.

 

–in the book?

 

Yeah. I think every writer writes as someone of his or her own time. I certainly had no great ability beyond anybody else’s to look backward or forward, or sideways. I breathed the air that was here to breathe at that time, and wrote that. Now, in the forty years since then, and almost fifty years since the research, there’s two generations. That’s half the people living here now, A, weren’t born then, and B, weren’t born here. So the change in everything here is huge, since I started doing that. Okay. Any general history written now would be written by somebody now, looking back at then, through the eyes of now. Totally different. There wouldn’t be a sentence in this book that would be the same, if I were doing it now.

 

Is that right?

 

Oh, yeah. Or if anybody were doing it now. Now, in that forty to fifty years, we’ve now got more than thirty years of the Hawaiian renaissance. You know, think what a difference that’s made in the air that everybody breathes. Okay. The next book that’ll be done, and I wish done soon, will breathe that air. Fine; there’s always—Thomas Jefferson says, History needs to be rewritten every generation. And there’s been two generations since this; long overdue.

 

Author Gavan Daws has a deep connection with his adopted home. But it’s certainly not all warm and fuzzy; he knew some of his writing would be profoundly uncomfortable to some.

 

What do you love about Hawai‘i?

 

Just that it exists. I love getting up in the morning here, and going to bed here. We, my wife and I, traveled a lot, and we live in the zip code where we want to live. We’ve seen a lot of zip codes. We live exactly where we want to live; and that’s a blessing. Not a whole lot of people are fortunate enough to be able to say that. I like the food, I like the climate, I like the life. We’ve been in Paris, the City of Light, we’ve been in Tahiti, Polynesia. The light here is just magical, and so is the air. So why would you not want to live in 96822?

 

When you were researching Shoal of Time, how did you put yourself in mind of what, say, native Hawaiians were doing at that time, and how’d you learn to characterize certain things?

 

With difficulty. What I try to do with writing, and it’s not just for Shoal of Time, but anything at all. I try to keep people interested in turning the page. If you’re not readable, then what? If I put you to sleep by page ten, even if I’ve got something interesting to say on page fifty, and you don’t get there, what have I done? So first thing; be readable. And then you’ve gotta dance with nonfiction. With fiction, you can say anything to be readable; you can have, you know, sex every three pages or a mighty explosion every five, or whatever. But with nonfiction, you can’t really take those liberties. So what you’ve gotta be able to do is do that dance between readability and reliability. And that’s a dance. And it’s a solo dance; only one person’s name is on book. And everybody’s dance with readability and reliability will be different. And that’s why they’re my books; that is to say, that’s my name on the title page. But they’re only my books; there’s always room for another book, and for a better book, always. Land and Power in Hawaii. The story of power brokers and the struggle for land, from the ‘50s through the ‘80s. That was a lightning rod for discussion.

 

I always wondered; what kind of heat did you take from doing that book with George Cooper?

 

Well, George and I have now known each other for more than half George’s life, and half my life. And we collaborated on this book, and we’re still friends. And collaboration is a sometime thing; you know, a bad collaboration is worse than a bad marriage, you know. So we dreamed up Land and Power in Kuhio Grill on King Street in Mo‘ili‘ili over a beer. And we used to sit there and drink; it was one of the cheap grad student drinking places. And two things about George. One, he is one of the few people to whom I would trust my moral life; he’s an absolute straight shooter, just absolutely genuine. Secondly is, he’s the best researcher I’ve ever met in thirty-five years in academic work. No academic I’ve ever met has touched George for factual research. George is a truth-seeking missile. You aim George, and he hits the truth all the time, brings it back not blown up, but absolutely intact. So perfect collaborator. And what we wanted to do was simply describe land politics in Hawai‘i in those thirty years, and offer no judgments, just facts. And there are no factual errors in Land and Power; and there better not be, because you can get sued. Okay. If you’re gonna get sued, you get sued in the first six months. The book’s been out twenty-three years, and we haven’t been sued. So those are facts.

 

What do you think was the most remarkable fact that emerged from the book?

 

In the totality, the nonpartisan approach to land development, where you get Democratic senators and Republican businessmen, and a couple of Supreme Court justices, and two guys from organized crime, and their wives and civil servants in the same hui; that’s the big fact, the big overriding fact. And there are thousands of cases there. When we did the index, we had three thousand names in the index, two thousand nine hundred and ninety-five of whom were probably not pleased to be in the book.

 

Were you suggesting that there’s a big conspiracy going on?

 

No. It’s not a conspiracy; it’s how business and politics were done. That’s not conspiratorial.

 

You said were; so not done that way anymore?

 

If this were done again, if Land and Power were done again—and I wish it would be—there would be different players. The names would be different, but the game is very much the same. Because land is power.

 

And anyone who didn’t know the word “hui” knew it when your book was published.

 

Yes; I imagine so.

Land huis and people—

 

M-hm.

 

–pulling together to use advantage of some kind to acquire land.

 

Well, that’s not the only meaning of hui. Hui just is “together.” There are honest huis; of course, there are. You know, eighty percent of the huis in that period would have been just business.

 

Mhm.

 

But the edge that power gave to business is what the book is really about.

 

Yeah; there are a lot of people who do feel that they were made out to be money-grubbing, advantage-taking, you know, arrogant, misusing folks.

 

M-hm.

 

Well, this is a free country, with a free press. They are free to write their books.

 

You never got a serious challenge to Land and Power?

 

Not factual.

 

What kind of challenge did you get?

 

Well, the usual. A big drop-off in invitations. [chuckle]

 

People didn’t want to be seen with you?

 

Like that; like that, yeah. I know when I’ve read accounts of what the book presents, there’s always a reference to, This is what happened in the Democratic years.

 

But you’re suggesting it wasn’t a function of the party. Or the—

 

Oh, by no means.

 

or the belief.

 

By no means.

 

Its just they were the ones who were in power at the time.

 

Yeah. As we way in the introduction, land has always been power in Hawai‘i. Go back to the ancient times, the chiefs. The first things they did when they won a war, redistribute the land. And then you know, the Great Mahele, and all that followed that, and the missionaries coming to do good and doing well, and then the Big Five. Land has always been power, and it always will be. As Mark Twain said, you know, Invest in land, they’re not making anymore of it. Land is prestige, land is power; and therefore, land is politics.

 

Gavan Daws, in the introduction to his latest work, writes, “It takes a great deal of history to make a little literature,” which he quotes from Henry James. And, he says, he starts with history first.

 

One of the books you wrote was about Father Damien.

 

M-m.

 

And I think I’ve heard you say in the past that he was an ordinary man who made some moral decisions right every time, again and again. Does that mean you don’t think he was a saint?

 

Yeah. Again, doing Holy Man was interesting, because I’m not a Christian. I’m not a practicing Christian, and I’m by definition not a Catholic. And I’m no more than morally average. So what would I be doing, writing a biography of a man who I came to believe is a saint? And my answer to that is simply write the best book I could. You know. But time and time again he was a really ordinary guy. He wasn’t real smart; he certainly wasn’t sophisticated. He couldn’t write very well, he wasn’t cultured. He wasn’t sensible. He didn’t—

 

Why do you say he wasn’t sensible?

 

Well, look what he did with his life. He could have risen in the church.

 

Mhm.

 

He could have been the Bishop in Honolulu. But look what he did. Time and time again, he does things that nobody else is prepared to do, at the risk of his physical life, in the interest of what he always called the imitation of Christ. That’s what he did. And if he isn’t a saint—I’m not an authority on the Vatican’s procedures, but if that isn’t a saint, and to die of the disease that he was looking after by me, that qualifies him, and it’s a delight to me to see that the canonization of Damien is further along than it’s ever been. And there’s quite a possibility that he will be canonized. So as I said, I just tried to write the best book I could about him. And I read in preparation every biography of Damien that there had been before, and I was amazed to find there were hundreds. He’s a world figure; he really is.

 

Why did you decide to write another one?

 

Well, again, one of my stories. All my books start in absolute ignorance; I’ve got no idea what’s gonna happen. And that one happened because of the Damien statue that stands outside the Legislature. They had a competition for that statue, and there were six finalists, and they had models of all those six in the public library. And I went and looked at them. And they didn’t look like Damien particularly, they didn’t feel like him; they could be anybody. Just as the biographies were standard, plaster biographies of a saint; they weren’t books about a person. But the last statue was the one that was chosen, astonishingly, which is Marisol’s, which is quite frightening in a kind of a way. I mean, here’s this diseased face and this black, boxy body. And I thought, my goodness. So I began to read about him. And that’s when I started reading the biographies; and none of them seemed to me to be about a human being. So at that point, for the first time in Hawai‘i’s history, the governor was Catholic, John Burns; the Speaker of the House was Catholic, Elmer Cravalho; the Chairman of the Senate was Catholic, John Hulten; and that’s when Damien was chosen to be the second great man of Hawai‘i. And I thought the second great man of Hawai‘i was worth a book. And that was the start of that. So again, it’s thirty-five years in print, now in six languages. Including Korean.

 

Does that give me an idea of how you’ve chosen to write the fourteen books you’ve written?

 

Yeah. It’s ignorance and curiosity. Another book I did—half my books have been about things other than Hawai‘i. Another book

is called Prisoners of the Japanese, and it’s about allied POWs taken by the Japanese in World War II. And that was a horrifying book to do; just dreadful. But that started—I was in a bar in Waikiki, where I sometimes am, and down the bar was a guy talking about being a prisoner of the Japanese. And what he was saying was unbelievable to me; I just couldn’t believe it. So I went down and talked to him. And he talked, and I talked with him for a long time. And he introduced me to others, and others, and others, and others, and you know, ten years later and couple of hundred interviews later on four continents and about two thousand cubic feet of archival material, you know, there’s a book. So they all start like that.

 

Seems like two you’ve mentioned started over alcohol.

 

[chuckle] I said I was mostly Irish.

 

[chuckle] You’ve been on bestseller lists, and you’re an academic whose books have been reviewed by the New York Times, which doesn’t happen to most academics, because they like to point that out. Would you talk about that a bit? You’ve drawn the attention of major reviewers and major audiences and readerships.

 

 

I did a calculation a couple years back. Someone, somewhere in the world has bought a book of mine every forty minutes since 1968. And you used the word academic about me; I am a recovering academic. Put it that way. I never wanted to write like an academic.

 

And you didn’t.

 

No; and for cause. Because bless them; for all their virtues, most academics do not write to be read. They write to demonstrate that they know something. That’s a very different thing. And they write for other academics.

 

Does that mean other academics might consider your work lighter than others, because it is, quote, commercial?

 

They’re welcome to. Perfectly welcome to. But I don’t see any necessary contradiction between writing responsibly and readably.

 

You received the first ever Regents Medal for excellence in teaching at the University of Hawai‘i. I know, because I was around at the time that students lined up for your classes; your classes got filled really quickly. What do you think it was about your teaching that drew them?

 

Well, back off a little bit. I taught in Varsity Theater in Mo‘ili‘ili, which has just been torn down, you know. And what I taught was a compulsory course; it was freshman history. And so that course was given the lowest person on the totem pole, ‘cause nobody wanted to do it.

 

But there were several sections of it.

 

True. But I got the heaviest load, because I was the lowest. And I was immigrant labor, and so I could be given the lowest paid, worst job. And teaching freshpersons in Varsity Theater, compulsory course, was the worst job. So I taught four sections of eight hundred and fifty-two freshpersons at a time. That’s thirty-four hundred a semester; that’s sixty-eight hundred a year, with summer school and night school.

 

And I taught that for ten years; so that’s more than seventy thousand students. And that’s how I got the first medal; it was for quantity, doing volume.

 

You don’t think it was for doing an ordinary job extraordinarily well?

 

Well, I wouldn’t say that. I don’t know of a teacher that says that. But yeah; again, it goes back to the same thing as writing. When you’re talking to a certain kind of audience, know who you’re talking to and talk to them. Don’t talk to them the way you would talk to a different kind of audience. And above all, don’t talk to yourself. When you’re in front of eight hundred and fifty people with a microphone, talk to who’s out there. I think that had something to do with it.

 

Gavan Daws does everything he can to know his subject and his audience. I’d like to thank you and author and historian Gavan Daws for joining me for another Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. Thank you also for your logging on to www.pbshawaii.org and sending us your comments and suggestions. We enjoy hearing from you. Please join me again next week for another Long Story Short. A hui hou kakou!

 

I’m really interested in history, and I’ve read all the quotes that I know you’re familiar with, as far as history. George Bernard Shaw; We learn from history that we learn nothing from history. Kurt Vonnegut; History is merely a lot of surprises, it can only prepare us to be surprised, yet again. And you’ve dedicated much of your life to history.

 

George Santayana, the philosopher; Those who do not understand history are condemned to repeat it. I kinda believe that. But I also believe that there’s no such thing as definitive history. No matter how complete something is, it’s not definitive; it changes with perception, with time. And that’s why it needs to be rewritten all the time.

 

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