“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

Education and an intelligent, critically thinking populous are essential to any form of democracy or social organization.

When education fails, significant danger arises. Fact becomes indistinguishable from fiction, lies become truth, anti-intellectualism runs amuck and the citizenry’s ability to govern itself and to hold its elected officials accountable is severely diminished.

The United States serves as an obvious example of the dangers a failed education system causes. Anti-intellectualism among the people has allowed greedy big business executives to take control of our civic institutions for their own ends. Under-education and miseducation have resulted in American citizens on both sides of the aisle voting against their own interests. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of hate simply do not seem to go away, even being emboldened under Donald Trump.

Teachers rally at the State Capitol in 2016. The fight for better wages has been going on for years. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

When done right education has the power to fight these evils and, as Madiba famously says, “to change the world.”

But what does it mean to do education so that it changes the world? I see two places where we can begin simultaneously to improve education in Hawaii.

The first area of change needed in education in Hawaii and the United States is an open conversation about the purpose of education itself. What is the purpose of education? Is it to create the next fodder for capitalism’s social order of economic elites, obedient workers, uncritical consumers and homeless people? Or is the purpose of education to instill a lifelong moral and intellectual growth, informed citizenship, critical thinking and students’ realization of their capacity to positively change society?

Obviously someone like Martin Luther King Jr. agrees with the latter when he says, “Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of a true education.” Along with building intelligence and character, the purpose of education should be liberation from oppression.

The second starting point toward improving education is to use our existing forms of education, namely institutionalized education systems — schools, to create the best graduates and members of society possible.

And this begins with resources. Our schools and everyone who is a part of these schools, including students, teachers, staff, and so on, desperately need resources. Our teachers are some of the most poorly paid teachers in the United States. The infrastructure of many of our public schools, especially in rural areas, is unacceptable. This must change.

Just as important to the infrastructure of our schools, if not more, are our teachers, the very people we entrust with our children and ultimately the future of society. The amount we pay our teachers is abysmal, especially considering Hawaii’s high cost of living.

We in Hawaii absolutely must pay our teachers better. Our teachers must have financial security beyond the level of barely, if at all, making ends meet.

The benefits for everyone of greater pay for our teachers are endless. Financial security for our teachers can help reduce their stress and anxiety, access to better foods can improve their health and an overall increase in our teachers’ quality of life will ultimately improve their ability to lead our children.

Better teacher pay will help reduce teacher turnover and attract new teachers, meaning children like that of Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee will not be forced to have a substitute teacher with no background in science be their science teacher for an entire year. More money in the pockets of working class people, like our teachers, means more spending (buy local!), stimulating our economy.

The plight of education in Hawaii, except for the times during the sovereign Kingdom of Hawaii when education and literacy were a priority, has been politically manufactured.

Too long have our politicians catered to the interests of the wealthy and corporations, allowing much of Hawaii, especially our education system, to suffer. And the recent response by the State of Hawaii, a state whose governor claimed recently had a $1 billion surplus, to give our teachers a mere 1 percent raise is disgusting. Such a hollow gesture by the state makes one wonder if our politicians, many of whose kids attend private schools, actually care about all of Hawaii’s children and our collective future.

Our politicians should be prioritizing education and work tirelessly, much like a teacher, to fund education in Hawaii. Our politicians must show they care through action and not rhetoric.

I am proud to support our teachers and the HSTA in their fight to fund our schools and pay our teachers, and ultimately improve our future. And you should support them, too!

I hope our politicians can find the courage to act on what is just. Our democracy, quality of life, environment and alliance with Native Hawaiians in their struggle for self-determined sovereignty depend on quality education.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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