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Newspapers – A Boon or Bust

November 30, 2008

When I was little, my mother would gather me upon her knee to read the newspaper with her. Not just the comics, but the whole paper. Hard news, features, recipes, the entire thing.

I learned to read this way. But, more importantly, I learned to think. Many of the beliefs I hold today were formed then – discussing with my mother the meaning of the words we sounded out. As we read about the gas crisis, she explained why it was important to care for our resources and how our actions impact not only ourselves but those around us. She spelled out for me that we live on a small island, and therefore need to be even more considerate of our ‘āina so that it can continue to provide food, clean water and shelter. I am an environmentalist today because of discussions we had when I was five.

As I grew older I learned that our practice of using the newspaper as a learning tool is a family tradition, dating back five generations to a time when Hawai‘i was the most literate nation in the world.

kekumu

In the late 1800s nearly every Hawai‘i adult could read and write. And, they were encouraged to write down everything – stories, myths, blessings and curses, as well as news – and to send them to one of the myriad of Hawaiian language newspapers. These papers were literally the nation’s history.

It was during this heyday of people’s journalism that one of my kupuna began assembling his children to discuss news items. Understanding that the Hawaiian culture and nation were under attack, he used the newspapers to teach his keiki who they were as Hawaiians and how they fit in both the ancient and modern worlds.

Therefore, it is with pride that I carry on this tradition with my child. Just as my mother did before me, I gather my son on my lap and we pour over the day’s news. Recently, we discussed what it means to vote, how to decide which candidate to support, what election topics are important to us and why.

newspaper-1

Imagine my satisfaction as my son made his own decisions on significant issues. When he learned that his teacher and I stood on different sides of the Honolulu rail transit debate, he questioned each of us on why we believe as we do. Taking the gathered input, he made up his own mind.

I couldn’t be more proud. My seven year-old has shown that he will not be a mindless voter. Instead, he will seek out information and deliberate upon it before deciding what is right for him.

If only every voter would follow his example.

Yes, the newspaper has been a wonderful tool, introducing my child to the broader world. But, it has also had its drawbacks.

Now that my son knows how to read, we can no longer skip over unpleasant stories. This weekend’s paper detailing the horrors of Mumbai and the senseless holiday shopping deaths have left both of us with larger questions of life and death and of right and wrong.

I’ve tried to teach my son that people are not bad, but sometimes they do bad things. We can hate actions, but not each other. These distinctions are becoming much harder to preserve as he reads and learns more. And, I’m wondering if I’m doing him a disservice by introducing him to too much too soon.

While I am grateful to my mother and kupuna for giving me the gift of loving newspapers, will my son see this as a gift or a curse?

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5 comments

  1. I’m a newspaper junkie too and I really like the idea of using them as learning tools.


  2. Is that true, that Hawaii was the most literate place in the world? How do you know?


  3. Aloha Melissa,
    Hawai‘i was formally recognized in 1842 as the most literate nation in the world, with an estimated percentage of literacy among Hawaiians to be greater than any other country in the world except Scotland (which had an equal literacy rate). Three out of four Hawaiians could read and write in their own language and record numbers of schools per capita; later, just prior to the opening of the native press, The New York Tribune reported that the literacy of the Hawaiian population had surpassed that of New England and that Hawai‘i had free public schools before the rest of America and that pioneers from Oregon and California sent their children here to be educated.


  4. What a great idea for using newspapers. I’m going to start with my kids. Just wish we had a better paper.


  5. Thanks for post from Australia

    Jozefin



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