The details of how the initiative will be rolled out in the state’s public schools are still being ironed out.

Punahou School unveiled a K-12 program Tuesday to create a non-partisan educational environment involving civic engagement and public service across public and private schools and universities. 

The Davis Democracy Initiative aims to get students more involved in political and non-political processes. That includes learning to think critically about varying political views and respectfully disagree with opposing views while developing empathy. 

The core themes of the initiative include examining politics and democratic participation, media bias, the legal system and social justice, public policy, community engagement and social responsibility. 

“At a time when democratic institutions are being challenged on multiple fronts, schools have a profound responsibility to raise important questions about equity, justice, civil discourse, and the challenge of finding common ground and common undertaking,” according to Punahou’s website.

More than 200 people attended the launch of the Davis Democracy Initiative.
More than 200 people attended the launch of the Davis Democracy Initiative at Punahou School. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

More than 200 people attended the launch of the program at Punahou School including local, state and national officials.

The initiatives will include a fellows program for high school students seeking internships that use their understanding of government. The program also includes a series of lectures, debates and presentations for the community from policymakers, scholars and activists. In addition, the program will include faculty seminars to engage visitors with democracy expertise.

That initiative is underway with Jeff Chang, an American historian, journalist, and music critic on hip-hop music and culture, speaking to students March 1.

Punahou School President Michael Latham said it’s essential for students to be involved in civic engagement. He noted that the school brought gubernatorial candidates Duke Aiona and Gov. Josh Green last year to speak to the school about why they were running. 

“The students asked them thoughtful questions, and they learned a lot from two politicians with different perspectives,” Latham said. 

Punahou President Michael Latham
Punahou President Michael Latham at the launch of the Davis Democracy Initiative. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

“Our goal is to help students bridge their academic study with applied practical experience in professional and public life,” Latham said.

Punahou School will collaborate with the Hawaii Department of Education on how to implement the program at its 258 schools.

Superintendent Keith Hayashi said he’s supportive of the initiative, but the department and the private school are still working on the details for programs in public schools.

“It’s an opportunity for our educators to be able to network with each other and build a common understanding,” Hayashi said. “To really get to know each other in developing and discussing democratic principle and all that’s involved in ensuring that we have a valuable democratic society and a strong future for Hawaii’s students,” he said.

Punahou is Hawaii’s largest private school with an enrollment of more than 3,750 students.

The program was funded $2.5 million from prominent local attorney Mark Davis and his wife, Janie.

Civil Beat’s education reporting is supported by a grant from Chamberlin Family Philanthropy.

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