I applaud the Hawaii Department and Board of Education for establishing much more rigorous high school graduation requirements in 2012. These new requirements focus on truly ensuring that every high school graduate is ready to succeed in college and career in this rapidly-changing, highly globalized economy.
However, I believe that there is one more “c” word (at least) that should define the goal of our educational system, and that is citizenship. We are an island state and an island people, living in a special place of great beauty—and with that privilege come some heavy responsibilities—responsibilities to the land and water that nourish us and to the generations that will come after us. Although it is important for our graduates to be global citizens well versed in all the 21st century skills that are needed to thrive in Ka’u as much as in Karachi or Khartoum, we also must ground our students in the time-honored ways of knowing, doing, and adapting that are so important to Hawaii’s ability to navigate its future.
Therefore, I propose a new high school graduation requirement: each senior must catch a fish or plant and harvest a plant, and cook that fish or plant. While serving this food to their family, to one teacher, and to the kupuna adviser from their neighborhood, the student should explain the life cycle of the plant or fish and present his or her proposal for reducing the threats to the habitat in which that plant or fish lives. Furthermore, every high school student should be able to identify the historic uses of the land on which their home and school sit, name the streams and mountaintops in their ahupua’a, and recite at least one mo’olelo that has helped to influence their personal philosophy.
We must do much more than this to restore our island ecosystems to full health. But I believe that if we all work together, we can ensure that our grandchildren’s grandchildren can enjoy the bounty of Hawaii’s land and its fisheries and can continue our island way of life that is so essential to the health of our communities.
Terrence George is Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, whose grantmaking mission in Hawaii is to close the achievement and preparation gaps in public education, restore nearshore marine ecosystems, and strengthen the vibrancy of Windward Oahu communities.