Thursday, February 25, 2016

Clif Stratton's "Education for Empire"

Clif Stratton is Clinical Assistant Professor of History and Assistant Director of the Roots of Contemporary Issues program at Washington State University. He is the 2014 recipient of the American Historical Association's Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching Award.

Stratton applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Education for Empire: American Schools, Race, and the Paths of Good Citizenship, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In the century’s second decade, the legacies of Richard and Samuel Chapman Armstrong loomed large as the board of education hoped that domestic and agricultural training would increase the “value” of non-white students “as a community asset for good citizenship.” The vocational committee assured board members that it remained proactive, “rather than commit the unpardonable sin of doing nothing.” More importantly, if Hawaiian parents and children objected to industrial agricultural training at Lahainaluna, the DPI [Department of Public Instruction] already had other means at their disposal through which to institutionalize manual work for at least a portion of the territory’s youth. Yet this program too, which relied on the criminalization of nonwhite children and adolescents and the parsimony to spend as little public money as possible on basic health and sanitary needs, met forceful resistance from those most affected by the structures of reform school and the subordinate paths to citizenship allotted them.
The page continues with a new section titled “Work and Criminality at Waiale‘e Boys’ Industrial School.” In April 1912, seven boys escaped the school grounds, taking cover in the sugar cane fields of the surrounding Kahuku plantation. Three of the boys made their way to nearby Waialua plantation camp before capture. The reform school’s superintendent Hugh Tucker could not fathom why the inmates (as he often referred to them in official correspondence), “…want to run off when their time is so near out…” (quoted from page 100). Waiale‘e embodied what public schooling in Hawai‘i had largely become by the early twentieth century – a project by which to normalize the territory’s youth to lives of manual labor, poverty, and disenfranchisement. But the escapes of Joseph Huli, Mike Hapai, Peter Pacheco, George Telles, Martin Telles, Palea Poe in the spring of 1912 signaled a groundswell of resistance to such subordination.

Page 99 encapsulates nicely Education for Empire’s central premise: that in the decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth century, American public schools became central to the nation’s imperial projects both at home and abroad. The chapter in which page 99 appears addresses the role of territorial school governance in Hawai‘i – a colonial crossroads in which America’s imperial ambitions for Asian markets and Pacific military dominance collided with Big Sugar’s demands for cheap Hawaiian, Chinese, and Japanese labor and haole visions of a white settlers’ paradise. But rather than the successful establishment of a white majority suited – in the minds of most haole – for republic government, the territory became a de facto oligarchy dominated by sugar. And the Department of Public Instruction increasingly focused on preparing natives and immigrants alike for cane work. Industrial training became the clarion call for uplifting the islands’ darker races, and by the turn of the century, its practitioners had successfully imported the manual training model to the mainland, where white school boards targeted Native Americans, blacks, Mexicans, and some European immigrants for industrial education and futures in menial drudgery. This, many white school administrators, teachers, and textbook authors argued, offered the best “path of good citizenship” for non-whites, foreign-born, and colonial subjects. But those affected fought back, demanding adequate facilities, their fair share of municipal and state educational funding, and a rigorous academic curriculum that would prepare them to participate in the American political economy as equals.
Learn more about Education for Empire at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue