on my mind . . . grading student papers

I am deep in grading essays and term projects. Since I am a constructivist in my approach to teaching, my students are taught to analyze, critique, and synthesize, rather than memorize (and promptly forget).

Students in my one-semester hula course were required to write a response paper after viewing the documentary film “American Aloha: Hula Beyond Hawai’i” by Lisette Flanary and Evann Siebans. The film profiles the contrasting approaches of nā kumu hula ‘ekolu in California:  Sissy Ka’io in Carson, Patrick Mākuakane in San Francisco, and Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu in San Leandro. Because the assignment is to reflect on the film in the context of what else they are learning in the classroom as well as their own lived experiences, the essays are original and often soul-searching–not to mention un-plagiarizeable!

It heartens me, as I read through 40 reflection essays, to see that students are seeing and grappling with fundamental issues that have vexed the hula and Hawaiian music community for ages. Here is one concise statement submitted by Matt:

This film lends itself to a very important and interesting question, a question that we have grappled with in class as well: Should hula stay committed to its roots, or should it adapt to the current day and change things up? Personnally, I believe, as with all things, that there should be a continuum. Hawaiians and hula lovers must have traditional and conservative hula instructors in order to keep the base, the foundations of the dance. It is important because those old styles and dances reflect the cultural conditions of that time. Each move was deliberate, and it gives people like myself an opportunity to learn about their past.

However, as we move into a new era, I think it is a great thing that certain hula instructors are taking the liberty to add new things to the dance that are meaningful to them right now. This is crucial because in 30 years or so, students of hula will learn about the instructors in hula and how they incorporated unique rhythms and even non-hula music to their dances. I think that as long as there is a continuum of teachers, both conservative and liberal, that hula will continue to evolve in a positive direction. The traditionalists will oppose radical changes to the dance that do not reflect their roots and ancient history, and the liberal teachers will make changes to create a new hula that is meaningful and relevant to the current generation.

Teachers like me thrive on light-bulb moments like these. I have the privilege of being able to make a difference, one insight at a time.

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