100 years ago, a 1920 ‘A Survey of Education in Hawaii’ addressed the Islands occupational needs and opportunities – the implementation of manual labor and vocational training was strongly suggested for Hawai‘i. The 1920 report concluded,
“From the foregoing analysis of the occupational needs and opportunities of the islands it is clear that a course of school study and training which is limited to the usual academic subjects would ignore almost entirely the very heart of the life and work of the islands. …”
“Nevertheless, outside of teaching, the islands offer comparatively few opportunities in the professions; therefore, the great mass of the children and young people now in the schools, if they are to become stable, self-supporting, worthy members of society must find their opportunities either in agriculture itself or in occupations directly related to agricultural enterprises. …”
“It should be required that every boy and girl going through school, no matter where headed, should spend some time each day on the farm in gaining through actual experience a firsthand knowledge of what it means to farm in Hawaii in a practical way. …”
“In connection with the public-school system of the islands there is no work in manual training, cooking, agriculture, industries, music, art, or in vocational activities beyond the meagerest beginnings. An exception to this statement, however, should be pointed out, in that many of the schools have accomplished satisfactory results in developing school gardens and also in encouraging the making of gardens in the homes. …”
“On account, therefore, of inadequate maintenance funds at the command of the educational authorities of the Territory, all those activities which are now generally accepted as being necessary parts of an all-round effective education have been impossible of accomplishment, and in this respect, again, as compared with progressive mainland communities, the educational authorities of the islands are badly handicapped.” (p. 45)
The term manual and industrial education refers to either the manual labor system and/or manual training system in vogue during the 19th century. Charles Bennett coined this term. (Beyer)
“If the term ‘manual training’ seems abrasive to the contemporary reader, it’s understandable. However, at the turn of the century, the term may not have had the connotation of semi-skilled, hard physical labor that it does at present.” (Broadbent)
Manual and industrial education emphasized a curriculum where learning was accomplished by both the hands and the mind. After becoming institutionalized in Europe, it next took root in the United States.
Since the primary sponsors of Western education for Hawaiians were either American Protestant missionaries or their children, who usually returned to the U.S. for their college education, it is apparent that Hawaiian education had an American influence. (Beyer)
Vocational education means “organized educational programs offering a sequence of courses which are directly related to the preparation of individuals in paid or unpaid employment in current or emerging occupations requiring other than a baccalaureate or advanced degree.” (Perkins Act 1990)
The Core of Traditional Native Hawaiian Education was Based on Vocation (that Included Appropriate Protocols)
“The ideals of Hawaiian education are the same throughout its many fields, from what Westerners would consider the most utilitarian to the most intellectual or religious.”
“Indeed, the utilitarian were considered ‘oihana ‘ike ‘professions of knowledge’, and the intellectual and religious always had a practical purpose. As in much Asian philosophy and religion, knowledge should lead to wisdom, competence, service for others, health, long life, and so on.” (Charlot)
Practicality or usefulness is a high ideal of Hawaiian education that is applied to all branches of learning. Knowledge and activity should have a waiwai ‘virtue, value, or benefit’. These ideas continued into post contact times. (Charlot)
Before the foreigners arrived, Hawaiians had a traditional vocational learning system, where everyone was taught a certain skill by the kahuna. Skills taught included canoe builder, medicine men, genealogists, navigators, farmers, house builders, priests, etc.
Learning was accompanied by prayers, kapus, rules, and regulations: Ma na oihana hana a pau o Hawaii nei, ua aoia me ke kapu wale no ‘In all the work occupations of Hawai‘i, they were taught only with the kapu’.
The student had to follow the kānāwai ‘laws’ of learning to achieve effective knowledge, especially in such fields as sorcery, but also in spear throwing, boxing, and wrestling. Laws had to be followed also in the practice of professions such as fishing, tapa making, and house building.
Joseph Emerson states that canoe making “became a religious rite all through.” Hula and other kinds of training demanded sexual abstinence. Kamakau (February 10, 1870) describes the strict kapus enjoined while educating children from chiefly, priestly, or professional families. Education was provided in temples for some occupations. (Charlot)
Post-Contact (after James Cook arrived (1778)), The King and Chiefs Sought Education in Western Vocational Skills
Post contact, this idea of functional education addressing specific skills is exemplified in a letter 15 Chiefs (including King Kamehameha III) signed on August 23, 1836, asking the missionaries to send more teachers. The Chiefs’ focus was on teachers to teach specific vocational skills. The letter (initially prepared and signed in Hawaiian is translated below):
“Regards to you, our friends in America,”
“Here is our hope for the improvement of the lands here in Hawaii. Give us more instructors like those you have in your land, America. These are the kinds of instructors we are considering: A carpenter, A tailor, A house builder, A cobbler, A wheelwright, A paper maker, A maker of lead printing type, Farmers who know the planting and care of cotton and silk, and sugar refining. A maker of fabric, and carts suitable for heavy work.”
“A teacher for the chiefs in matters of land, comparable to what is done in enlightened lands. And if there are other things appropriate for those endeavors, those as well.”
“If you agree and send these teachers, we will protect them when they arrive, provide the necessities to make their professions viable and give our support to these needed endeavors.”
(The letter is signed by 15-chiefs, including Kauikeaouli (King Kamehameha III.) Na Kauikeaouli, Nahiʻenaʻena, Na Hoapili Kane, Na Malia Hoapili (Hoapili Wahine?). Gov Adams (Kuakini), Na Kaahumanu 2 (Kīnaʻu), Kekāuluohi, Paki, Liliha, ʻAikanaka, Leleiōhoku, Kekūanāoʻa, Kanaʻina, Kekauōnohi and Keliʻiahonui” (Awaiaulu MHM Project 2016)
While missionaries with various skill sets had been in the islands since 1820, this letter identifies the kingdom’s need for teachers in new fields of industry and business.
Shortly after, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) sent the largest company of missionaries to the Islands; including a large number of teachers (19, including their wives). The Eighth Company arrived at Honolulu on April 9, 1837 on the Mary Frasier from Boston.
Manual Labor and Vocational Education in Hawai‘i
When the missionaries established schools and seminaries (i.e. the female seminaries, as well as Lahainaluna, Hilo Boarding School, Punahou,) the focus was educating the head, heart and hand.
In addition to the rigorous academic drills (Head), the schools provided religious/moral (Heart) and manual labor/vocational (Hand) training.
Post contact but prior to the arrival of the missionaries (1820), “no one bothered to create a formal school system that would teach the natives any of the skills they would need to compete in the international arena. Then, the missionaries came along.” (Broadbent)
The missionary educators in Hawai‘i began to use manual and industrial education in the 1830s as one of several curricular alternatives; after mid-century, they began to steer all of the schools they controlled or influenced towards some form of this educational system. “One of the first vocations to be taught was printing. The printed word was considered essential”. (Broadbent)
By the early years of the 20th century, manual labor/vocational training was the preferred curriculum in both the private and public schools of Hawai‘i. As a result, in terms of length of time and continuity, it was more preponderant than what was practiced in the US. (Beyer)
Lahainaluna was designed first, “to instruct young men that they may become assistant teachers of religion;” second, “to disseminate sound knowledge embracing literature and science;” third, to qualify native school teachers for their respective duties; fourth, “it is designated that a piece of land shall be connected with the institution and the manual labor system introduced as far as practicable.” (Westervelt)
Reverend William Brewster Oleson was hired from the Hilo Boarding School to become the first principal of the Kamehameha School for Boys. Hilo Boarding school was the first manual labor type school in the Pacific. It instituted a program of rural education based on the idea of learning by doing. (Moe) Oleson brought that philosophy and program to Kamehameha.
While the manual labor system involved the inclusion of working with the hands as part of the curriculum, the manual training system involved instruction of the hands through the specific use of tools. (Beyer)
Later, shortly after the University of Hawaiʻi started (1907,) short courses or ‘special lectures’ of education of “less than college grade” were offered in agriculture as ‘extension’ work.
Nationally, the Cooperative Extension Service was created in 1914 with the passage of the Smith-Lever Act (but it excluded Hawaiʻi.) UH developed its own version of an extension program, which was the basis of a successful appeal to Congress after several years of struggle for Hawai‘i’s inclusion in the Act in November 1928. (CTAHR)
Following adoption of the Smith-Hughes Act, 1917, two types of full-time day classes in vocational agriculture were organized in Hawaiʻi. ‘Type A’ classes (primarily for upper elementary and intermediate grades) are those in which pupils spend approximately half of their school time in the classroom where they receive Instruction in English, mathematics, hygiene, geography, vocational agriculture and other subjects.
The remaining time was spent in the field where the pupils do all of the work on a class project in sugar cane or in pineapple production. Field work was closely supervised by the teacher of vocational agriculture, but all money earned was divided among the boys in proportion to the time they work. They also had a home project.
Under the ‘Type B’ plan (typically for high school students,) pupils did not use a portion of the school time for field work. Practical experience was gained through extensive home project programs. Classroom instruction in agriculture is under the teacher of vocational agriculture, but academic subjects were taken with other pupils of the school under regular teachers of these subjects.
Some schools incorporated the program into their curriculum. Then, the 1967 session of the 4th Hawaii State Legislature resolved that “it is of great urgency to the citizens of this State, adults as well as youths, that there be developed a comprehensive state master plan for vocational education.” A ‘State Master Plan for Vocational Education’ was prepared the next year.
Occupational Needs and Opportunities of the Hawaiian Islands
The 1920 Survey of Education in Hawaii and note that the Commissioner of Education was considering/ implementing manual labor/ vocational training in the schools in Hawai‘i. Of note, the Commissioner of Education’s Survey stated,
“It must be clear that the vocational needs as well as the vocational opportunities of the islands are in large part connected directly or indirectly with the sugar industry, and in a less degree with pineapple growing.”
“Obviously, the educational system of Hawaii must take into account the specific opportunities for employment which the sugar industry affords in all its phases. It is pertinent, therefore, to inquire about the nature of the occupational opportunities which this great industry offers and the qualifications required for success therein.” (p. 32)
The 1920 report goes on to conclude,
“Such a course, beyond that general preparation through securing literacy which an academic course gives, would in nowise minister in any practical way either to the success of the individual in his attempts to find a vocation to which he is adapted and in which he would derive satisfaction, or to the needs of the industries themselves.”
“The schools of Hawaii must see to it that all the children of the islands shall grow up to be literate men and women, and to accomplish this the core of the work of the schools, as of schools wherever placed, must consist of academic studies of the usual type.”
“Furthermore, the schools must see to it that the way is open at the top so that those pupils developing an aptitude for teaching, for law, for medicine, for research work, for linguistics, for the ministry, for journalism, shall secure that broad educational foundation which success in such highly specialized professions demands. …”
“Aside, then, from the core of work running throughout the entire system from the kindergarten to the university which should properly make for literacy, for culture, for general information, for catholicity of view and of interest, the school, at every step of the way, should be laying a foundation for occupational success.”
“The elementary school in this connection, for example, should be devoting much attention to training in the various forms of handwork, manual work, cooking, simple sewing, the making of beds, and the care of the house, [When I was a kid, a lot of those we called ‘chores’ in our house.] the making of school and home gardens, the organizing of pig clubs and poultry clubs, and in the use of tools through making simple repairs and through making articles for use in the home.”
“Every junior and senior high school in the Territory should have near by a well-stocked farm in charge of a practical, progressive, scientific farmer and his wife who herself should be an expert in all those matters properly falling within the field of the duties of a housewife on a farm. …”
“In the classrooms of these schools, a portion of the time could well be devoted to a discussion of those theoretical and scientific considerations which lie back of the problems which naturally grow out of the activities of the farm.”
“The university, aside from offering courses on the campus at Honolulu in applied arts and sciences, could well have a branch set down in one of the islands among the plantations, where the university could send its young men who are looking forward to plantation service in a directive capacity.”
“At such a branch opportunity should be provided whereby a capable young man might spend one-half his time in actual field service and the other half in the college branch working under the direction of persons trained in plantation science. A training of such character, both scientific and practical would offer a satisfactory career to one who wishes to make preparation for it.” (p. 34-36)
The 1920 Survey further called for “for lengthening the school day to seven or eight hours, thereby making it possible effectively to organize agricultural, industrial, manual, and play activities for those children whose parents work in the fields and who but for such opportunities might be running the streets or roads.” (p. 142)
Manual Labor and Vocational Education on the Continent
What was happening at schools in Hawai‘i was consistent with what was happening at schools on the continent.
The rise of the American Education Society in 1815 helped promote the use of manual labor among the theological seminaries. Up to 1829, the most successful manual labor experiment was the one at the Andover Theological Seminary at Andover, Massachusetts. Its voluntary program based upon mechanical labor became the model for other seminaries. In many other schools, it was largely agricultural, and, in the most successful schools, it was compulsory. (Beyer)
The purpose was to help three classes of young men: the “worthy poor” who wanted an education; the “idle well-to-do” who needed proper motives to industry to keep them from dissipation; and the “especially talented” students who needed exercise for the good of their health. (Beyer)
In less than 10 years manual labor became a force as an educational movement. In certain schools, it left a type of work, which grew and became permanent. “In Fellenberg’s academy for the upper classes of society, manual labor was used as a means of physical training. In Fellenberg’s farm and trade school, manual labor was a means of paying for instruction and living expenses.” (Beyer)
“Perhaps the best expression of the need for educating students, who were inclined to favor technical subjects, can be found in the Fourth Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1870-1875, produced in California.”
“The State Superintendent wrote ‘We shall be a poor and dependent people so long as we import from abroad all of those articles of consumption which require the highest order of skilled labor in their manufacture….’” (Broadbent)
“[T]he history of Vocational Education in the United States can be traced back to 1906 with the creation of the National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education. … The National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education had as its two basic purposes the education of the lay population relative to the need for industrial education and the necessity of obtaining federal funding to support this effort.” (Broadbent)
The Need Continues to Be Evident
In Hawai‘i and on the continent (then and now), not every student wants to go or is destined to go to college.
“Vocational education wasn’t designed to prepare students for college. The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, the law that first authorized federal funding for vocational education in American schools, explicitly described vocational ed as preparation for careers not requiring a bachelor’s degree.” (Hanford)
“Congress, in passing the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, decided that there would be alternative opportunities available for children predicated on their personal proclivities and preferences in learning styles.”
“The Smith-Hughes Act was very specific regarding the intention of the legislation. It was designed to prepare a substantial portion of the workforce for skilled and well paid employment.” (Broadbent)
“‘The early vocational education was driven by a philosophy of fitting people to their probable destinies,’ says Jim Stone, director of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education.” (Hanford)
“Vocational education at the secondary level has traditionally had several objectives, including providing students with general employability skills and preparing them to enter paid and unpaid employment in specific occupations.” (National Center for Education Statistics)
“[O]ver the next 78 years Congress incrementally added to the legislation whenever it appeared that some national need existed that vocational educators could possibly solve. In 1929 it passed the George-Reed Act which provided money for agriculture and home economics.” (Broadbent)
“The interest in vocational education in the early 20th century was prompted in part by big economic and social changes. Factory owners were facing a shortage of skilled labor in a rapidly industrializing society. And public schools were seeing an influx of immigrants and farm kids.”
“Many of those kids would have learned farming or skilled trades from their parents in an earlier era. But with the rise of factories, it was no longer safe for kids to learn to work alongside their parents. So they went to high school instead.” (Hanford)
“‘And secondary schools didn’t know what to do with them,’ says Jeannie Oakes, author of Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality.”
“High schools ‘were used to dealing with this very small group of mostly quite privileged children of educated families and they gave them this nice liberal arts education in preparation for the university,’ she says. ‘Well that didn’t seem to be fitting at all for these kids who’d come in from the farms, or these new immigrants. So the idea was, let’s put vocational training into public education and we can solve all of these problems.’”
“By 1937 the enrollment of vocational education had reached 1,500,000 students. Clearly occupationally oriented education or, to use the increasingly archaic term “vocational,” was meeting the educational needs of a good number of students.” (Broadbent)
Today, Hawai‘i has about a 90% high school graduation rate. Pre-pandemic, “The college-going rate had been relatively steady at about 55% for the past several years” (Star Advertiser, March 24, 2021). Today, that puts about half of the post-high school students on the street looking for work. Hawai‘i needs vocational training just as much now, as it did a century ago.