Last week we were in Maui for spring vacation. To get off the busy Hana Highway, I went for a walk up Holomua Road – a beautiful tree lined road that runs through the sugar cane fields and eventually connects back to Baldwin Road after the pavement gives way to a rugged, potholed stretch of red dirt.
I had been for walks on Holomua years ago but never made it as far as the Old Maui High School. It always amazes me that the modern builders of public schools fail to consider the impact profound and despairing UGLINESS might have upon attending students. I have a deep fear of ugly, multi-roomed buildings. The ruins of the Old Maui School – designed by Hawaiian architect Charles W. Dickey, now home to birds and ghosts – stand out in stark contrast to the portable buildings, the acres of concrete, and the overall prison-like facades of many of the schools built during the last few decades in California.
Apparently, many of the former students of the beautiful Old Maui High School felt that what remained of the school, closed in 1973, was worth saving. Read more here.
I’m not convinced money is the only problem for California’s impoverished public schools; trying to get any new idea past most school administrations requires a Herculean effort or, more likely, a full blown revolution. Personally, I’d rather go to class in a ruin than a portable but I teach in the woods anyway. (It seems only fitting that the Old Maui High School is now home to an environmental education center.) But maybe that’s the point – treat students like prisoners by surrounding them with stark, inert walls, feeding them chemical laden, packaged non-food so that the school districts can skim the profits, squeeze every last drop of critical and creative thinking out of the curriculum, remove outdoor education programs from K-8, and prisoners are what they will grow up to be. Prisons are, after all, one of the largest industries in the state.
In his wonderful book The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton writes: “Bad architecture is in the end as much a failure of psychology as of design. It is an example expressed through materials of the same tendencies which in other domains will lead us to marry the wrong people, choose inappropriate jobs and book unsuccessful holidays: the tendency not to understand who we are and what will satisfy us.”