Ikaika Hussey

Preschoolers teach us about becoming active citizens

My son’s class is working on a project this year that teaches ‘big people’ many lessons, including how to become better-engaged citizens.

His Mid-Pacific Elementary class uses Kahala Beach as an outdoor ‘atelier,’ or workshop. Once a week, he dons a shark-marked surf shirt under his green pueo school shirt, and runs ahead of his parents to the preschool playground, a mixed metaphor of ocean and avian predators. Sometime after we wish him a good day, he boards a yellow school bus to go to Kahala beach, where he, his crew of fellow explorers, and a team of teachers unleash the students in a sandy laboratory. The object of investigation: swirlies, waves, and other oceanic features.

In September, several students noted that the water was dark and foreboding – “yucky” and “poisonous,” they said. That observation led to a months-long investigation into the cause of the dirty water, and its impact on beachgoers big and small.

To address these safety concerns, the students developed signage warning about the dirty water. They worked in groups, devising a visual language to explain their concerns, and then decided amongst themselves which sign should be seen.

The students discussed who to talk to about getting the sign put up. Obama? God? The Principal?

The Principal suggested they see The Mayor.

In March, after months of preparation, the students got a meeting with Chrystn Eads, the city’s deputy managing director. And in a rare victory for this kind of organizing, Ms. Eads said that a sign would indeed be put up.

A student of Paulo Freire, Marx, or John Kelly would recognize this process: recognition of a problem; analysis of causes; discussion about a solution, and collective action to achieve the solution.

One child expressed a concern that “big people” don’t listen to “little people.” Speaking on behalf of all Big People, this may be true. But in some settings, Little People have an advantage, if they have a cohort of fellow like-heighted people, and very supportive teachers. It’s certainly an advantage over their parents, who are often isolated from each other by day jobs and automobiles, unable to find a dozen other friends who will come along to visit the Mayor.

Mind you, their work is not complete. The sign is still not up, so the students are taking their issue to the press. The strongest voice, I believe, is their own – so I’m excited to note that the class is working on a video message to vocalize their concerns. I think that’ll be a big success, and I look forward to posting it in these pages. Keep on organizing!