Education in the Islands circa 1911

Education in the Islands circa 1911

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I came across a really interesting article in the newspaper a few days ago.  This article comes from the Garden Island newspaper of Kauai, 23 May 1911.  The article is titled “Our Schools Are Criticized”.  The article can be found at the Chronicling America website.

The article hopes to defend Hawaii’s education system against critics from the mainland.  I thought it interesting that one of the first points that the author makes is that many graduates won’t know how to write English properly when they graduate.  How familiar does that sound?

The author starts by explaining that the education system in Hawaii covers students aged 6 to 15.  He sees a problem where by the time a child graduates they are bored with education.

One of the issues was that many children were needed by their family to be wage earners.  Because many public school students came from the labor class, their parents’ wages were not very high.  As soon as a child reached an age where they could work, it was essential for them to start.  I suspect this was no different from middle and lower class children across the United States.  In 1911, getting food on the table was much more important than preparing a child for college.

The author did not believe that the public school system of 1911 in Hawaii prepared children for the real world.  At that time, most of these students would be working in agriculture on the plantation system.  While the goal of education is to help the student succeed and to help them move up the economic ladder, it wasn’t always a reality.  Most of these graduates were going out into the fields like their parents.

Another problem noted in the article was the way that schools were set up.  Many teachers did not teach a single grade but three or more grades.  This meant that children of different ages and education levels were all taught together.  The author feels that this left the younger students to get confused and the older students to be bored.  Given that class size was 30 to 40 students, it would be difficult for a teacher to give the individual instruction that was needed.

It is interesting to note that despite the things we read about how much more stringest early education in America was, there was very little classroom time devoted to each subject primarily because the teacher had to divide his or her time to thinly.  The students got 20 minutes a day for individual reading and 10 minutes for something called “morning exercises”.  The article isn’t clear on what that is but makes the point that some of the better school give these “exercises” many times a day and not just in the morning.  There was also an inconsistency in lesson plans that meant one fifth grader in one public school did not get the same instruction as another fifth grader in another school.  If a student switched schools mid year, they might be far ahead or a year behind.

Teachers were in short supply.  Why?  Budget problems.  No money, no teachers.

You know what, except for the problem that children must work early on in so that they can bring in a wage, it seems to me that no much has changed in the educational system in the United States, at least compared to Hawaii in 1911.  Students in poor areas often have less resources than students in more prosperous areas.  Teachers are laid off because state budgets have deficits.  Teaching methods and lesson plans can vary so that students can be at different levels for the same educational level.  Perhaps we have not improved as much as we think we have.

Anyway, here is the link to the article.  It makes for interesting reading and provides some food for thought as to what type of education your grandparents might have receive in early Hawaii.



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