The relative strength and power of these non-profit private philanthropic organizations in Hawai‘i is rooted in the historical context of cultural imperialism and illegal occupation (Kame'elehiwa; Osorio; Goodyear-Ka’opua; Kaomea). The deep and dramatic divide between public and private education in Hawai‘i originated in the relations of production shaped by sugar and pineapple plantations from the late nineteenth century. American sugar planters, most of whom were the sons of American Protestant missionaries who had come to Hawai‘i to proselytize, benefitted both from the Mahele and from a later 1872 non-judicial foreclosure law and had acquired vast swathes of the most productive land by the late nineteen century (Kame'elehiwa; Perkins).
Importing laborers largely from China, Japan, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, these white plantation owners used race-based wage rates, language and cultural barriers, and differential access to perquisites within the plantation system to divide the plantation workers and successfully control them as sources of cheap labor power (Glenn). Although Kamehameha II had established the first public schools in Hawai‘i as part of his constitutional nation-state building, the American missionaries established the first private school in Hawai‘i (Punahou) so that their children would not have to go to school with Hawaiian children (Hughes). The illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom by American forces in 1893 and subsequent American occupation of Hawai‘i under pretext of annexation had important implications for public education (Sai; Perkins). Under American occupation, public schools became a more explicit site of assimilation and cultural imperialism, especially as the children of plantation workers came of school age and were required to attend public school. Hawai‘i became ‘Americanized’ as a territory, in the first half of the twentieth century, in part through the work of American educators who helped to create two-tiered public school system (English Standard and Common Schools). The Common Schools were institutionalized for plantation workers and English Standard Schools were developed for white “middle level plantation management and technicians, physicians, teachers, social workers, shop keepers, skilled craftsmen, and members of the American military” (Hughes, 67). For most of the twentieth century, public schools in Hawai‘i served the children of workers and lower middle class, while the social and political elite sent their children into a substantial and well-funded private school system.
The philanthropic foundations most active in neoliberal education reform in Hawai‘i, including Bishop Estate, Harold Y.L. Castle Foundation, and the various foundations coordinated by the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, are precisely those founded by ‘sugar money,’ the governing boards of which are dominated by descendants of American missionary and plantation families who graduated from elite Hawai‘i private schools. The Hawai‘i Community Foundation, which coordinates the funding activities of most of the smaller philanthropic foundations in Hawai‘i, exhibits funding proclivities and patterns similar to those of the other dominant foundations. To more firmly establish their role as a player in the neoliberal educational reform game, they also are solidifying and deepening investments into Hawai‘i’s private schools, to serve as exemplars, through the heavily funded Schools of the Future initiative: “a handful of schools in Hawai‘i are emerging as role models of what learning should be like for both teachers and students in the 21st century...they all share... the desire to create an environment where learning together is the norm” (HCF). This initiative provided funding for private schools teachers’ “professional development, for educators to devote time to planning for school change, for technology infrastructure upgrades in the classroom, and more” (Ibid). It involved a five year, five million dollar “investment in education transformation,” funded by the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, managed by the Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools, and as intended, “recognized by local and national education and funder groups as an example of effective collaboration” (Ibid).