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Lessons from the Canoe, Part 2: Education is Intergenerational

Darienne Dey
October 8, 2021

This blog is the second of a series of three blogs focusing on themes related to Indigenous education and cultural heritage transmission in Pacific island communities, steeped in the context of the modern Pacific voyaging movement. Author Darienne Dey serves as a research associate for REL Pacific and volunteers as a crew member with the Polynesian Voyaging Society. For more about Darienne, check out her Polynesian Voyaging Society crewmember profile and her bio on the REL Pacific Meet Our Staff page.

“Those That Can Do More, Teach”

George Bernard Shaw infamously asserted in his play Man and Superman that “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches” (1903, p. 230). 1 Educators might agree more with fellow educator Liz Free's rephrasing of the second half of Shaw's sentiment: “...those that can, and can do more (can+), teach” (2016, n.p.). 2

While every teacher was once a student, not every student becomes a teacher. Of course, it is not necessary for every student to become a teacher, but just as in biological contexts, a minimum viable population size—in other words, a robust teacher workforce—needs to be maintained for education to continue. Meadows et al. (1993) define a “sustainable society” as “one that can persist over generations; one that is farseeing enough, flexible enough, and wise enough not to undermine either its physical or its social system of support.” 3 Teachers represent an essential societal support, and yet, the teacher shortage 4 in evidence prior to the COVID-19 pandemic has since been exacerbated. 5 Teachers are leaving the profession sooner, or would-be teachers are not entering the career field, as observed in decreases in teacher preparation program enrollment. Fewer people are choosing to become teachers, in part because of the low pay and lack of funding associated with the profession. 6 And for many, the risks of teaching, which are now increasingly health-related, may outweigh the rewards. One way to think of sustaining education as an integral part of society is to view education as intergenerational, value our intellectual genealogies, and recognize the importance of teachers in our communities.

In education and education research, intergenerational programs have been defined broadly as “social vehicles that create purposeful and ongoing exchange of resources and learning among older and younger generations” (2001, p. 4). 7 In Indigenous communities, doers are teachers, and those who have lived the longest and thus “done” the most are elders, making them among the most respected educators and sources of wisdom and knowledge within such communities. 8 Education is inherently intergenerational in Indigenous communities: knowledge transmission is linked to survival, and propagation of culture is propagation of life.

The Intellectual Genealogy of Hōkūleʻa

Stock image of silouettes of multi-generation family on beach at sunset

Along with cherishing and celebrating familial ancestors, members of Indigenous communities also value intellectual genealogies. Similar traditions exist in academia, where some trace their intellectual genealogies through advisors or doctoral committee chairs (and, in turn, their advisors' advisors or chairs' chairs) and/or their collaborative distance to prolific figures in their fields (for example, mathematicians knowing their Erdös number). 9, 10 In Hawaiian traditions, intellectual genealogies, or moʻokū'auhau ʻike, are traced most readily through one's hālau or pā and one's kumu. Hālau or pā, which can represent the literal structures of schools or the figurative structure of the collective patrons of schools, are contexts in which intergenerational learning of a cultural practice (such as hula) takes place. Kumu, a common title for teachers, can mean foundation or source but also trunk of a tree. Development of individuals' capacities not only as cultural practitioners but their identities as kumu is as crucial as it is in other education systems. 11

Voyaging practitioners in Hawaiʻi are usually affiliated with a certain waʻa (canoe), which functions as somewhat of a hālau or pā for their continuing education and practice of this cultural activity. The most notable exception is the waʻa kaulua (double-hulled voyaging canoe) Hōkūleʻa, who despite being under the care of the Polynesian Voyaging Society (a Honolulu-based non-profit organization), is recognized as everyone's canoe. In the 1970s, she was the only waʻa kaulua in Hawaiʻi, spawning the revival of knowledge about and pride in cultural practices previously thought to have been lost in Hawaiʻi and other Pacific island communities. She continues to serve as the matriarch of the more than 20 additional waʻa kaulua that have been constructed since then and which serve as hālau or pā for the now extensive ʻohana waʻa (family or network of voyaging practitioners) across the Pacific Ocean, if not the world. Hōkūle'a reminds us that, as widely dispersed or separated we may become (in mind, body, or spirit), we are still part of the same whole: her genealogy. This idea—that we belong to her more than she belongs to us—can be a useful way to think about how best to serve the children in our care. We can also apply the notion of being part of the same genealogy to the need to foster a positive school climate, which research has shown to be a major factor in teachers' sense of belonging within their professional contexts. 12

The kumu within the moʻokū ʻauhau ʻike of our ʻohana waʻa mostly consist of those who initially built or sailed Hōkūleʻa in the 1970s or other waʻa kaulua since then and who have taken on the kuleana (privilege and responsibility) of perpetuating the various types of ʻike (knowledge) associated with voyaging. They are our intellectual mākua (parents) or kūpuna (elders), and many of them still voyage with, or, at the very least, still teach us. Although we have lost many (even just this year), we are reminded of how fortunate we are to have had them in the first place. When Hōkūleʻa was initially being constructed, Hawaiʻi was experiencing a shortage of kumu, in multiple senses:

  • Trees of suitable length for hallowing out into hulls no longer grow in the forests. Nor are there navigators living in Hawaiʻi who, having apprenticed themselves to wayfinding at the age of six, are masters of the art a dozen years later, then capable of guiding a canoe to distant lands (p. 15). 13
Although a voyaging vessel was being built, no one within Hawaiʻi availed themselves to serve as a wayfinder for Hōkūleʻa. Pius “Mau” Piailug, from the atoll of Satawal in Yap State of the Federated States of Micronesia, was an active wayfinder and agreed to navigate Hōkūleʻa's maiden voyage from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti, despite never having sailed that route or even visited the southern hemisphere. Although Nainoa Thompson (the current president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society) had looked forward to sailing with and learning from Mau during Hōkūleʻa's return voyage to Hawaiʻi from Tahiti (which was his first deep sea voyage), he had to wait several years before Mau finally agreed to teach him and only after Hōkūleʻa experienced her first and only loss of a crew member during a voyage, Eddie Aikau. According to Nainoa, Mau said, “I will train you to find Tahiti because I don't want you to die” (Moag, 2019, n.p.). 14 By “you,” Mau had meant not only Nainoa and Hōkūleʻa's other crew members but also (more figuratively) the spirits of Hawaiians and other Pacific island peoples. By agreeing to take on the role of kumu for Hawaiʻi's voyaging community, Mau helped to initiate Hōkūleʻa's intellectual genealogy and restore the cultural practice of voyaging to Hawaiʻi and, with it, hope for Hawaiian and other Pacific island cultures.

By welcoming Nainoa and others within our ʻohana waʻa as intellectual progeny, Mau included his students' students in his moʻokūʻauhau ʻike, a relationship that he formalized in 2007 by inducting Nainoa and others from Hawaiʻi into Weriyeng (a Carolinian school of navigation) with the ranking of Pwo (master navigator). By the time of his passing, Mau had ascended from Pwo to the rankings of Rhepiniwok (the trunk of a mast or spear and the voyaging equivalent of having a Ph.D. in wayfinding) and subsequently Mwurhulap (a name for the hardest type of wood that burns slowly, comparable to a professor emeritus). 15 Thanks to Mau, who was continuing his own intergenerational education from his family's traditions, Hawaiʻi's voyaging community had firm roots from which its intellectual genealogy could grow.

Growing Our Own Teachers

Although Hawaiian and Carolinian cultures have many differences, both stay rooted through their kumu, that is, the kumu (trees) that are used to build waʻa that spatially and culturally connect us and the kumu (teachers) who include us in the moʻokūʻauhau ʻike of voyaging and wayfinding. Like some of their arboreal counterparts, teachers are becoming an endangered resource. According to one pre-pandemic report, the highest decline in teacher preparation program enrollment was in members of Indigenous populations, most notably by Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island community members, followed by American Indian and Alaska Native community members. 16 As was the case with Hōkūleʻa, without a kumu, cultures and communities are at risk of being lost. So what can we do to apply the lessons learned through voyaging and wayfinding to the education profession? One possibility is for communities and districts to consider growing their own teachers.

The “Grow Your Own” (GYO) teacher preparation strategy focuses on developing and retaining teachers from the local community. GYO programs in Mississippi were started to increase access to education programs and recruit educators from the community who are invested in staying in the community. 17 A similar program in Long Island, New York supported a diverse cohort of grade 11 low-income students in becoming math or science teachers in predominantly high-needs local school districts. 18 A study that followed seven teachers' progress through GYO programs and into teaching positions found them to have a more culturally contextualized, pedagogical approach to professional development and noted that GYO programs actively engage participants in restorative community building practices. 19 GYO teacher recruitment and retention initiatives are offered in Hawaiʻi through the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa's College of Education 20 and the University of Hawaiʻi—West Oʻahu's Hoʻopūliko Kumu Hou program. 21 In Indigenous and other communities, focusing on the intergenerational aspects of learning could serve as a potential tool for healing and reconciliation, help us examine reasons people may become educators, and suggest ways in which to compensate educators and treat them with the respect they deserve. 22, 23, 24 Teachers do more than sustain society—as kumu, they help us get to where we want and need to be and they help us find our way.



1 Shaw, G. B. (1903). Man and superman: A comedy and a philosophy. A. Constable. books/edition/_/GOldUsezzrsC?hl=en&gbpv=0

2 Free, L. (2016, September). ‘Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.’ International School Leader Network.

3 Meadows, D. H., Meadows, D. L., & Randers, J. (1993). Beyond the limits: An executive summary. Bulletin of Science, Technology, & Society, 13, 3–14.

4 García, E., & Weiss, E. (2019, March). The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought. Economic Policy Institute.

5 Buttner, A. (2021, April). The teacher shortage, 2021 edition. Frontline Education.

6 Akhtar, A. (2020, August). The number of Americans training to become teachers has dropped by a third since 2010, and it's creating a critical educator shortage that will affect every state. Insider.

7 Kaplan, M. S. (2001). School-based intergenerational programs. UNESCO Institute for Education.

8 Wilson, K. (2018). Pulling together: A guide for indigenization of post-secondary institutions. BCcampus.

9 Roediger, H. L., III. (2005, April). Intellectual genealogy. Association for Psychological Science. https://www.

10 Balaban, A. T., & Klein, D. J. (2002, September). Co-authorship, rational Erdös numbers, and resistance distances in graphs. Scientometrics, 55, 59–70.

11 Stolz, S. (2020, Spring). New pathways to the profession and teacher identity development. Teacher Education Quarterly, 47(2), 183–186.

12 Kachchhap, S. L., & Horo, W. (2021, October). Factors influencing school teachers' sense of belonging: An empirical evidence. International Journal of Instruction, 14(4), 775–790. 4_44.pdf

13 Kyselka, W. (1987). An ocean in mind. University of Hawai'i Press.

14 Moag, J. (2019, March). Mau Piailug, one of the last wayfinders, followed the stars to Tahiti. Adventure Journal.

15 Low, S. (2007). Pwo ceremony on Satawal, March 15–20, 2007. Polynesian Voyaging Society. http://www.hoku

16 Partelow, L. (2019, December). What to make of declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs. Center for American Progress.

17 García, A. & Muñiz, J. (2020). Mississippi's Multifaceted Approach to Tackling Teacher Shortages. New America.

18 Kamler, E. & Goubeaud, K. (2018). Forging developmental relationships in the Grow Your Own Teacher Program. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 26:2, 207–225,

19 Morales, A. R. (2018). Within and beyond a grow-your-own-teacher program: Documenting the contextualized preparation and professional development experiences of critically conscious Latina teachers. Teaching Education, 29:4, 357–369, DOI: 10.1080/10476210.2018.1510483

20 Secondary Education. (2021). “Grow our own” teachers initiative. College of Education, University of Hawaiʻi at Mãnoa.

21 University of Hawai'i—West O'ahu. (2021). Ho'opūliko Kumu Hou. student-success-initiatives/summer-programs/#ho%E2%80%98op%EF%BF%BDliko-kumu-hou

22 Cambridge, J., & Simandiraki, A. (2006, December). Interactive intergenerational learning in the context of CAS in the IB diploma programme: A UK case study. Journal of Research in International Education, 5(3), 347-366.

23 Rutten, L., & Badiali, B. (2020). Why they teach: Professional development school teacher candidates' initiating motivations to become teachers. School-University Partnerships, 13(1), 12–21. EJ1249340.pdf

24 Schwartz, S. (2019, February). We must restore respect to the teaching profession, nation's top teachers say. EducationWeek.