University of Southern California

Brown v. Kamehameha Schools: An Instrumental Critique of Remedial Self-Segregation in Private Education

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Note by Donald A. Thompson
From Volume 81, Number 4 (May, 2008)

The Kamehameha Schools are a series of private, nonprofit, nonsectarian campuses interspersed throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Founded in the late nineteenth century, they have operated continuously ever since, fulfilling their mission to provide a “good education in the common English branches, and also instruction in morals and in such useful knowledge as may tend to make good and industrious men and women.” With over five thousand students enrolled in kindergarten through grade twelve, the Kamehameha Schools are collectively among the largest independent primary and secondary educational institutions in the United States. Otherwise—apart from their strong academic reputation and champion athletic teams—they might be perceived as fairly typical schools. This perception is deceiving. To the contrary, they are anything but.

Administered by the Bishop Trust, a charitable testamentary trust established by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last direct descendant of King Kamehameha I, the Kamehameha Schools are exceptional in at least three ways. First, the schools subscribe to a “Leadership Model” of education that intends to “restore self-identity” to Native Hawaiian students, to “integrate Native Hawaiian culture, heritage, language, and traditions into the educational process,” and to “provide a first-rate educational experience for Native Hawaiians.” By offering a curriculum that intends to respond to the particular educational disadvantages of Native Hawaiians, the schools aspire to raise the scores of Native Hawaiians on standardized tests, to increase their attendance at institutions of higher education, and to improve their representation in professional, academic, and managerial positions. In addition, the schools strive to “cultivate, nurture, and perpetuate Hawaiian culture, values, history, and language,” as well as to develop a community of future leaders to the Native Hawaiian people.

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