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County passes resolution in support of Filipino social studies course

Following the announcement that two high schools on O‘ahu are set to become the first public schools in the country to offer a course on Filipino history and culture, Kaua‘i County Council member Addison Bulosan introduced a resolution last week in hopes of getting a course started on Kaua‘i.

Resolution 2023-65 joins the Hawai‘i Legislature in requesting the state Department of Education to implement a Filipino history, culture and identity social studies course for high school students.

The resolution is identical to House Concurrent Resolution 56, which was unanimously passed in the Hawai‘i House and Senate on May 21, 2022, during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

It also follows news from the Hawai‘i Department of Education late last month that O‘ahu’s Farrington High School and Waipahu High School are set to become the first schools in the country to offer social studies on Filipino history in fall 2024.

The course, officially titled CHR 2300 Filipino History Culture, was approved in July and is the result of more than two years of work from the Filipino Curriculum Project, a student-led initiative to create a curriculum about Filipino history, culture and identity to increase representation in education.

At a Wednesday, Nov. 1, council meeting, Bulosan stated the resolution aimed to help make the course available at schools on Kaua‘i.

“This resolution could help our local schools here on Kaua‘i to look at adding this elective, or allowing this elective to be chosen by students,” he said.

The resolution notes Filipinos are the largest Asian and non-white group in the state, with 23 percent of students in Hawai‘i’s public schools being Filipino.

Student-led initiative

Bulosan introduced the resolution at the meeting with a video made by the student advocacy group. The group was founded by Marissa Halagao, a then-sophomore at O‘ahu’s private Punahou School in 2021.

“As a sophomore, I realized that my required Asian history class didn’t include the Philippines. This communicated that my history and culture weren’t worth being represented despite Filipinos being Hawaii’s largest Asian ethnic group,” said Halagao in the video.

Halagao, who is now a freshman at Yale University, was one of several students to speak on the importance of the course during the video.

Her efforts to create the course were assisted by her mother, Patricia Halagao, a professor and chair with the Department of Curriculum Studies at the University of Hawai‘i Manoa’s College of Education.

Patricia Halagao, who attended the Wednesday meeting, called herself an adviser, mentor and part of the education design team on the Filipino Curriculum Project.

“While the initiative was spearheaded by students and inspired by students, it’s really important also that they went in hand with educators, who also knew about curriculum development and navigating through the system,” she said to council members.

Amendment sparks debate

Halagao was responding to a proposed amendment to the resolution from council member Bill DeCosta, which said the state Department of Education (DOE) should consider other cultures, not just Filipino in creating the course.

He read the amendment aloud, which stated, in addition to the emphasis on Filipino culture, “many other groups have also had a profound impact on the communities throughout Hawai‘i, especially during the plantation era, including Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Puerto Rican, Portuguese, Spanish, and other European, Asian and other groups,” DeCosta said.

Bulosan was in support of the amendment to include other cultures, saying the course does not intend to exclude anyone.

“When we can include the whole of our community in these discussions, I think it’s great,” he said.

Patricia Halagao was also in support of the amendment, but proposed making it broader by not “pigeonholing it to the plantation era.”

“Filipinos were here during the sovereign time of when Hawai‘i was its own kingdom. So they didn’t just start coming when they were in the plantation era,” she said.

The amendment sparked a more than one-hour discussion between the Kaua‘i County Council and members of the public — Lonnie Sykos, Sherry Cummings and Bruce Hart — over whether the course should include other cultures.

But Council Chair Mel Rapozo said he needed to inform everyone that the county is not designing any curriculum or creating its own resolution.

“Let me just remind you, this resolution was introduced to support the House Concurrent Resolution that came out of the Legislature. We’re not creating a new resolution,” he said.

“This is a resolution not specifying the curriculum for the DOE. We are jumping on board with HCR 56 from the Legislature, and it’s either to support it or not.”

Minutes later, DeCosta proposed an amended resolution, removing references to the plantation era and specific ethnic groups. Instead, his amendment said the Filipino social studies course should “include all different cultural community members, who contributed to the historical and contemporary development of Hawai‘i.”

All council members, except for KipuKai Kuali‘i, voted in support of the amendment resolution.

“I was the sole no vote, and I hope that means something to the students,” Kuali‘i said.

Kuali‘i, as well as council member Felicia Cowden, pointed out the course is intended to be a one semester social studies elective, which could make it difficult to focus on multiple other cultures.

“I think the students did intend for it to be solely focused on their Filipino culture. So, I do believe we diluted it when we mentioned these other cultures, which are all important to me,” Kuali‘i said.

DeCosta responded that he wouldn’t have been able to support the resolution if he had not amended it to include other ethnicities, backgrounds and cultures.

“I will be supporting this (amended) resolution because I believe that the Filipino community needs to be recognized and/or other communities need to be recognized. Thank you,” said DeCosta in closing discussion of the topic.

Culture and connection

However, the inclusion of the amendment will not change anything about the direction of the course, which already has plans to include themes of culture and connection, said Patricia Halagao in an interview with The Garden Island after the meeting.

“No, it doesn’t (change the curriculum),” she said. “If anything, it just continued to highlight and reinforce that the students want to study and learn about their histories, and also in connection with other groups as well … So the conversation today just reinforced what the course is all about.”

Although the course will be available at the two O‘ahu high schools in Fall 2024, it’s not yet known when the course may expand to Kaua‘i high schools.

Patricia Halagao said they were concentrating on the two initial high schools with the hope of expanding to Kaua‘i after getting teachers and other logistical pieces in place.

She noted being grateful to Bulosan for introducing the resolution to bring local community awareness to the initiative.

Bulosan, who said he became involved in the project about two months ago, was excited to introduce a resolution that embraced his own Filipino culture and heritage.

“Oftentimes, it was shunned to learn your culture and speak your language,” said Bulosan, adding he was proud to see a group of students work with the DOE to implement the elective course.

“To see a group of students, who went through the whole process of figuring out how to add an elective in the Department of Education and work with everyone, it makes me feel so proud.”

Bulosan emphasized his hope for the course to help young people learn about, and embrace, their heritage and backgrounds.

“It also creates a pathway for other cultures and other backgrounds to look at how we can teach about those histories. And make sure that our whole community can have a fair way to understand their past so they can move forward,” he said.


Emma Grunwald, reporter, can be reached 808-652-0638 or
Source: The Garden Island

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