Derek Taira

Derek Taira, Assistant Professor of History and Educational Policy in the College of Education (COE) Department of Educational Foundations (EDEF), received a $45K grant from the Spencer Foundation for his research project, Forward Without Fear: Native Hawaiians Contesting Americanization in Territorial Hawaii’s Public Schools, 1900-1941. He is the first COE faculty member to receive an award from this foundation.

Since joining the COE faculty in January 2017, Taira has quickly established himself as an important researcher and social historian. He was awarded the 2017 Eggertsen Dissertation Prize by the History of Education Society of North America for his dissertation. His topic, the same one for which he received the grant award, covers the Native Hawaiian response in education during the decades after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

“I am deeply humbled by this award and the opportunity it represents for expanding our collective historical understanding of a challenging and turbulent time in Hawai‛i’s past,” Taira said. “I intend to use the grant during the next academic year to help support my research efforts in converting my dissertation into a book and completing an article that critically examines the educational policies and personal rhetoric of public education leadership between 1900-1940.”

His research examines Hawaiian language newspapers and petitions, Native Hawaiian student and teacher writings, and legislative journals to reveal a story of Native involvement in education as a pragmatic strategy designed to advance distinctly indigenous interests through the American education system. He explains that Native student stories, in particular, allow us to assess the impact of American educational polices and teaching practices.

“Their stories show how schooling has always been an interactive experience between students, their peers, faculty, the curriculum, and administrators,” Taira explained. “They also reveal schools as complex sites of negotiation where students regularly navigated socio-cultural pressure from their friends, parents, teachers, and the broader society while testing and exploring their own identities.”

Since 1962, the Spencer Foundation has been committed to supporting the high-quality investigation of education through its research programs and to strengthening and renewing the educational research community through its fellowship and training programs and related activities.

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