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The New Kihei High School of Science and Technology

September 17, 2012 - Ray Tsuchiyama

Maui has the distinction of having the oldest post-secondary school/college west of the Rocky Mountains: Lahainaluna* Seminary (now evolved to Lahainaluna High School), in the northwest corner of Maui island.

The school was established in 1831 by Lorrin Andrews, a member of the “third” missionary group (arriving in 1828, eight years after the first group sent to Hawaii from New England by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions). His ship’s group included the famous Dr. Gerrit P. Judd, a physician and later diplomat and minister of various portfolios under King Kamehameha III (and also one of the founders of Punahou School) and Theodosia Arnold and Rev. Jonathan Smith Green, both who founded Makawao Union Church in cool up-country Maui.

Amazingly, in three short years after his arrival on Maui from cold New England, Lorrin Andrews had started a school and a year later his students had built a stone building. The first classes were reading and writing, both English and 'olelo Hawai'i, then mathematics and geography courses were added. Think about the educational revolution that suddenly occurred – Hawaiian students were studying at the same level as students back in Williams College in western Massachusetts.

Moreover, Hawaiian students would conduct experiments in newspaper publishing (in 'olelo Hawai’i). In a couple of years, 85 Hawaiian students were studying the latest in the American “applied” educational style. In comparison, far-off Japan was still mired in a feudal society unchanged from the 17th century, still two decades away from the arrival of Commodore Perry and the technology innovations of steamships, telegraph, hand-held watches, cameras, and railroads.**

Lahainaluna’s notable early students include David Malo (class of 1835), a translator, Christian church leader, Hawaiian historian and pioneer in writing about Hawaiian religion and culture (and a elected member of the House of Representatives of the Hawaiian Kingdom), and Samuel Kamakau (class of 1837), one of the founders of the Royal Hawaiian Historical Society, and a judge and legislator (his seminal work entitled Ruling Chiefs of Hawai'i is an unbelievably rich history of the early Kamehameha royal period, based on oral traditions that he was recording like an investigative journalist in the mid-19th century).

So Maui was quite advanced in educational innovation before progressive American citizens built colleges in civilized California or Washington State. Through this school, comparative language studies, translation, histories, mass media (Maui-based newspapers spread literacy quickly throughout the Kingdom, accelerating even more local ’olelo Hawai’i newspapers), and the rise of Christianity, assemblies, Bible readings.

Coincidently, I live near a church (originally called Kilolani) in Kihei that was built under the leadership of David Malo in 1852 – now called Trinity-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. After his graduation the Lahainaluna graduate must have journeyed down to south Maui and liked the area.

However, nearly 180 years later the David Malo would not recognize contemporary Kihei (the name, along with Makena, would be well-known to him, but “Wailea” was a PR name that was promoted only in the early 1970s) – now an area of nearly 25,000 population. Old-timers revel in stories of the “paved road” that ended at Azeka Market and even as late as 1980 a Kihei resident would be met with wild-eyed stares at a Wailuku party and the question: “Why would anybody want to live there?”

Also, the 2010 two census areas of Wailea and Makena would add nearly 9,000 more people, and looking at the dense condominium blocks, leafy Maui Meadows, and the master-planned Wailea development, historian, translator and government leader David Malo would be surprised if he was told that the population center lacks a high school. Yet a progressive individual like him would also look to the future – why plan for “just” a high school, but a high school of science and technology, for the future Maui economy, and as a center of excellence for the entire State of Hawai’i?

Although Mauians mention the robust R & D atop Haleakala, almost no one can name any three leading Hawai’i scientists or engineers. Unlike Brazil, where I rode on streets named after top Brazilian engineers, Hawai’i should place more emphasis on science learning and a homage to talented technologists, like a holiday named after a Hawai’i inventor or researcher.

Raise the bar higher, just as David Malo did in his leadership positions in his life.

A school devoted to students studying advanced math, biology, chemistry, physics, software engineering – these courses would spark a life-long interest in young people to solve problems, like how to create electricity in a sustainable way from ocean currents or unlocking the mysteries of the brain (cognitive science) or finally freeing us from the old paradigm of the internal combustion engine – the list is endless.

The proponents and dialogue on the school have to switch from one stage to another: in other words, move the justification of the project from just constructing a high school for a growing sun-drenched population center, but rather launch an effort to build a showcase for the entire state, even the nation, so educators and community leaders from throughout the United States would flock to south Maui to take notes on the new Kihei High School of Science and Technology.

After all, Maui had a college long before the education-obsessed American citizens of San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle ever thought of copying what Maui did.

*Simply, Lahainaluna means “upper or north of Lahaina”.

**I have written before of two energetic cousins Henry Alexander Baldwin and C.W. Dickey -- both born and raised on Maui -- who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1894. There were already two Japanese M.I.T. graduates before them: in 1878 a student named Takuma Dan would do extensive research on steel-making, and soon factories, shipyards, skyscrapers, ships, printing presses, cars, trains would be built by his new conglomerate, the famous Mitsui industrial group of companies. So although many people look at Japanese work ethic as the basis of the Japanese economic transformation, a small technology-focused school in Cambridge, Massachusetts played a not-so-minor-role jump-starting Japan into a new industrial paradigm.


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