Posts Tagged ‘Bob Shimabukuro’

Let’s Catch a Breath, Then Keep Moving

Monday, January 5th, 2015

By Bob Shimabukuro, Retiree Advocate Associate Editor and a member of PSARA’s Executive Board

I can’t breathe #1: Getting personal with asthma.

1950-51: We drove up to a small hospital emergency entrance just outside Manoa Valley. I had a hard time breathing. Dad ran into the emergency ward. He came back to the car in a little while. I heard him mention “Childrens Hospital.” He talked with Mom a bit, and we drove to another hospital.

Someone carried me into the emergency room, placed me on a wheeled bed, took me to a room and laid me on a bed under a tent. I remember two words were spoken: “asthma,” “oxygen.”

For the first time in I don’t know how many hours, I didn’t have to struggle to breathe. Didn’t even have to breathe, it seemed. Thought this must be heaven. I was five at the time.

I can’t breathe #2: Social cost of asthma.

2014: The South Bronx, to cite just one example, has notoriously high asthma rates—and according to one study, a staggering 21.8 percent of children living in New York City public housing have asthma, three times higher than the rate for private housing. The choking of those children is not as immediately lethal as the kind of choking that stole Eric Garner’s life, but it is very real nonetheless. —Naomi Klein, The Nation, “Why #Black Lives Matter Should Transform the Climate Debate.”

I can’t breathe #3: Choking off the spirit.

1950-51 Manoa Valley near the the Chinese cemetery: I was upset and crying. Mom carried me outside into our yard, humming a tune as she gently rocked me. I learned quickly that the more I cried, the harder it was to breathe. I stopped crying. I have rarely cried since. In fact, I learned that any extreme motion or emotion makes it more difficult to breathe. Laughing, talking, singing, exercising, or getting angry, elated, and excited made it more difficult to breathe.

All that was left about being human to me, was thinking, listening, and daydreaming. And avoidance of extremes that could alter my breathing.

I can’t breathe #4: Those who can, teach. Those who can’t teach, make laws about teaching.

When we cut off one’s access to air, water, or food, we kill. When we choke off emotion, thoughts, ideas and dreams, we also kill. The spirit, that is. A spiritual death occurs. In elementary school, I taught, I learned, I skipped school because of asthma.

I can’t breathe #5: 1951, Miss Alapai’s first grade class: “Bob, go outside with K, A, and C, Go show ’em how fo’ read. Help them out, okay?”

1952, Miss Miyasaki’s second grade class, after I spent weeks at home, yet whizzed the Weekly Reader test which had placed me at 9th grade level reading comprehension: “Bob, can you help C, P, E and S.? Tutor them in their reading, okay?”

In a letter to my oldest brother Tom, Dad wrote, “As for Bob, his teacher always say, he so smart, he teach himself.”

That made me think I was really smart and started telling people what to do. Until one day, after school, I got a wake-up call. A classmate came up to me and said, “You think you’re smart? Well, think about this!” And he punched me in the gut. Hard. I went down; I couldn’t breathe. He laughed and walked away.

I concluded, “People don’t like being told what to do. That’s just not a good way to teach.”

I can’t breathe #6: 1950-51. Education is a lifelong proposition.

Dad: “Schools are for learning all kind stuff. But folks learn at home, outside, at friends house, at relatives house. All over get good teachers & bad teachers. Bad teachers no tell the truth, some don’t even know the truth. They no tell you about Opium War, Spice War, Banana War, Indian wars, slavery, unions, bosses, plantations.”

I can’t breathe #7: Even after retire, can make things bettah.

Dad: Can educate yourself. Read. Think. World crazy sometimes. People need think about changing world. Even if world okay, maybe still need change. Make things bettah. That’s what education for. Make things bettah fo’ everybody.

I can’t breathe #8: Raise the level of consciousness.

Zenwa Uncle: Everybody learn dis ‘n dat all the time, from baby time to die time.

Dad: When (you) stop learning, (you) die. Brain is for learning (how to continue the species). When no can think any more, die (physically).

But all we learn is passed on. That’s why important to have young folks, old folks together. Old folks at least know what doesn’t work.

I can’t breathe #9: The answer, my friend, is not blowing in the wind.

The 1960s: What was really blowing in the wind was just another punch in the gut that slowly sucked all the air out of us. We are in a worse position in social, economic, and racial equality.

We need to pick ourselves up and get ready to fight.

I can’t breathe #10: Education is the answer.

That’s what Dad (Zenshu) and Zenwa Uncle used to say. It wasn’t until I read Grace Lee Boggs that I realized that they were also referring to more personal and personalized education directed to the student. Start with what the child knows and wants to know and go from there. Make learning enjoyable. Work together with other children and adults. Other people.

Junior High time:

“Bob, can borrow your notes?”

“No, never take notes. Was sick. Had the book. Read the book.”

“Oh, man! Next time take notes when you read ’em. Den I can look at ’em, too.”

I can’t breathe #11. What would Arne Duncan say?

What would Arne & Bill Gates say? Or Common Core? Or Race to the Top?

They don’t know the truly important things about teaching, about learning and education. They haven’t a clue of what happens to a child who is eager to learn, only to find that he/she is punished for what he doesn’t know, rather than credited for what he knows about surviving a very challenging environment. Yet, they still are calling the shots for education. They are trying to replicate the extreme damage they have already done to the world and to the people who inhabit that world, and extend it to our last hope, our children and grandchildren

For Eric Garner, may you rest in peace.

For the rest of us choking, literally and spiritually, we know that we cannot rest in peace. We must remain cool, calm, and collected, and act only when we are strong, all of us, together. We know we must make allies. While we accept the fact that some of us will not see the “new world,” we also know that collectively we will overcome. Let’s catch a breath, then keep moving.

Rethinking Dad: Puzzles, Problems, and Proofs

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

By Bob Shimabukuro 

“You’re going to major in what? Philosophy? What kind of work can you do with that?” my mom asked when I called to tell her I was switching from a math to a philosophy major. “Public Relations?”

I was speechless. Then I almost laughed.

But she continued, “That’s not what dad was thinking.”

That got my attention. But I didn’t want to push the question.

My dad had always told me, “You weak, you sick all the time. Cannot do manual labor. You have to use your brains.”

After graduating from college, I picked up some cabinetmaking skills and worked at my own shop trying to prove my dad wrong. I also did some (volunteer) community organizing work in Portland.

When Mom was visiting me, I asked her, “What was dad thinking, Mom?”

She replied, “He wanted you to be a great social reformer. He thought maybe a lawyer would be good for that.” A lawyer?

* * *

“Why are you telling him all this stuff?” I overheard Mom ask.

“Well, he doesn’t understand me now, but he will when he grows up,” Dad answered.

I was in the third or fourth grade when I overheard that. I listened to a lot of Hegel and Marx stuff from Dad when I was a kid. And I didn’t understand any of it. But I thought, “Well, I have until when I grow up to understand.” So I just put the stuff out of my mind.

About the same time, Dad came to me with an old book called 100 Geometric Proofs. It was an old worn copy, so I think he had had it for a long time. I thought they were cool.

“Puzzles. Teach you how to solve puzzles.” That’s what he said. I don’t know why. Hegel and Marx and geometric proofs.

Dad was competitive. He would challenge me. And lord it over me if he got done before me. The Richard Sherman of his time. If he didn’t, he’d count how many steps I took. And say, “I did it in much less steps.”

“Yeah, but you’ve done this before.”

“You think you’re better than me? We’ll do five proofs. See who can do five better.”

And we would “play” some more.

But I didn’t care. It was fun. I didn’t care about being timed. Or how many steps it took. Sometimes, he could do these proofs in half the time, and half the steps and would get furious, because he was an impatient man, at how long I was taking. But I refused his requests to help me. I wanted to do it myself. And in most cases I did.

Later when we reached the end of the book, he asked, “How did you like that?”

“Good fun,” I answered.

“Good,” he said. “Help you solve problems with your head. That’s what you need to do. Not good trying to solve problems with body.”

After immigrating to Hawaii (the Big Island) from Okinawa, Dad enrolled in Hilo Boarding School to learn English (and have a place to stay I assume). He moved to Maui and continued his studies at Lahainaluna School, another boarding school, with a high school work study program.

There, he had a math teacher who was very impressed with Dad and thought Dad could go to college. He was also the teacher that introduced Dad to Marxism.

Unfortunately, Dad was expelled from the school in his junior year after knocking down a luna of the school’s work program during a dispute about how the luna was treating Dad and others.

Well, what has this story got to do with PSARA? PSARA, along with other more personal events which have occurred during the past year, have awakened thoughts about my relationship with my dad, mom and family and our collective memory. So I expect that many such thoughts will be awakened this next year also. Hope you find them interesting.

Bob is Associate Editor of the Retiree Advocate and a PSARA Executive Board member. He is also the author of the book Born in Seattle – The Campaign for Japanese-American Redress.

Weapons of Mass Destruction? How about Corporate Greed…

Monday, November 4th, 2013

By Bob Shimabukuro, PSARA Executive Board member and Associate Editor of the Retiree Advocate 

To U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: I’ve got some questions for you.

It is Monday: Mom has two cans of corned beef. One large head cabbage. Maybe a bottle of milk. Some fruit from our yard, and some vegetables, some tofu, shoyu, spices bought by increasing credit from a friendly family store across the street. We’ve already spent advances on my Dad’s pay, so there’s not much coming in the next payday. How she goin’ feed one family of nine for the rest of the week? 

Big Sister has a date. She forgets and eats some kim chee before her date. She is mortified. Number 4 boy goes to the store across the street, with a short shopping list, has 50 cents from his mom. He wants to get some Dentyne gum for Big Sister so that her breath won’t smell bad from the kim chee. Turns out the total will be more than 50 cents. What Numbah 4 boy goin’ do? 

Try hard for dis one, okay Arne? If no can understand, ask your boss. ‘Tink maybe he can help you, yah? He grew up Hawaii, you know.

Numbah tree boy wen get bit by scorpian. We wen live wit lotsa animals. Kakaroches. Lizards. Rats. But scorpian real bad. Was infected. Give Numbah tree boy lockjaw almost. My Faddah and Oncle take him emergency. Da guy say, “He’s in real serious condition, but we think we can save him. It’ll be real expensive. Can you afford it?” My Faddah have one meltdown.

Why faddah have meltdown? What choo tink faddah and oncle should do? 

This high stake test for you, Arne. You get one wrong, go back Harvard. You get two, go back high school. All three, I’m afraid you need to go back to intermediate school. Maybe all the way back to preschool. Hope you don’t flunk your preschool test.

* * *

While the Washington State news coverage about education and high stakes standardized testing has focused mostly on the Garfield High School parent/teacher/student boycott of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, there has been little reporting about Common Core, a curriculum guide for public schools to “ensure” that our “broken” public school system can once again be the best in the world. What may be surprising is the speed by which it has become the official education policy in over 45 states. But it’s easy to see why. We need to back up a bit.

The previous federal program, Bush’s No Child Left Behind, has created a nightmare. Teachers, even those who had been recognized as best teachers, have been ridiculed, fired, and in some cases, publicly humiliated into committing suicide because their students had not achieved higher test scores.

After No Child Left Behind fizzled, Arne had a much better idea. Let’s have a competition, he said. Race to the Top (RTTT), which pits school districts against each other for big federal dollars, had some conditions. Districts had to accept, among other things, Common Core, Charter Schools and Test-Based Teacher Evaluation. It didn’t guarantee any RTTT grant money, but districts received extra points in their application if it did. Most of the States fell in line.

Everyone knows competition breeds excellence. That’s what all coaches say. That’s what a lot of business leaders say. What do the rest of us say? Competition breeds nothing but a few winners (the 1%), a lot of cheaters, and many, many losers. What a waste of human potential. And it’s almost impossible to win, because the 1% winners control the rules of engagement.

Informed educators/teachers have been writing about the attack on the public school system, the corporate greed and the utter absurdity of it all. (If you want more comprehensive information check with Rethinking Schools, Wayne Au, Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error, Stan Karp, Jersey Jazzman. They can also lead you to more sources.)

But I don’t think enough has been written about “knowledge,” who controls the “knowledge bank” of the US and the whole world for that matter, and how that all connects to jobs, health, environment, quality of life.

The knowledge bank of a boy born to poverty in Hawaii is vastly different than the knowledge bank of a boy growing up in South Side Chicago. But both have knowledge banks equally as important as the child of a $70 billion man who is now telling us what we need to know in order to ”just maybe possibly” work for him.

When there is so much concentration of wealth and high unemployment in this country, it’s very tiring to hear the 1% continue to place the blame on the schools, or the teachers. They never hold themselves responsible, despite the great inequities which exist today. That they can dictate the terms of educating our children, 25% of whom are living in poverty, is really offensive.

That they can claim they will help us reach their status by doing what they want us to do is laughable, when they’ve been consolidating their wealth and power for the last 40 years. And when we ask that they pay a fraction of the wealth they have stolen from workers’ pension funds, obscene government contracts, and shutting down factories and schools so that they can build expensive high rises, they scorn and tell us, “tough sh.., learn our culture, only then can you join our country club.” I don’t want these robber barons deciding what should be taught, what should be tested and what the correct answers are.

We don’t want to live by silly words and remarks as “competition breeds excellence,” and “let’s teach the poor how to live like us by adding value to their lives.”

We know that corporate greed, left unchecked, will eventually destroy us. It is destroying us already. It’s time for the 1% to learn how the rest of us deal with our basic needs, and how poor folks (especially poor kids) can blossom, if given the opportunity.

* * *

So what does all this have to do with Arne’s test? Plenty. Those three vignettes happen to be true. They make a lot of sense to me. And to others who have had the privilege of growing up in Hawaii and/or as poor as my family was. As I said, our knowledge base is as important to our survival as is the knowledge base of the child of the “$70 billion man.” The common core approved by the $70 billion man discredits (or is the correct word “devalues”?) what it doesn’t understand, and elevates principles which dehumanize all.

If we allow the 1% to establish their standards and monocultures as the “correct” one, all of ours will die and, eventually, so will theirs. All humanity dies. It’s time to fight back. Embrace common sense, reject Common Core.

For those who, perhaps like Arne, don’t understand the stories or the questions, stay tuned. There’s more to come.

Bob Shimabukuro Appointed to Executive Board

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

The Executive Board voted to appoint Bob Shimabukuro to the PSARA Executive Board subject to a vote by the general membership. Bob retired from numerous occupations including freelance writer / editor, community organizer, woodworker, artist-craftsman and restaurateur / chef. He has been a volunteer in progressive change work for more than 50 years including farm worker rights, anti-Vietnam War, anti-apart- heid, and most recently in Asian / Pacific Islander(API) community-building work in Seattle.

Bob is the founding member / director of the Asian Pacific AIDS Council, an education and prevention group in the API community. He has written extensively on his brother’s bout with AIDS.

He authored the book Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress, published by the University of Washington Press. He constructed the award winning Wing Luke Museum exhibit “EO 9066: 50 years before and 50 years after” which covered the century of Japanese Americans in the U.S. Executive Order 9066 was the presidential order which allowed the military to “exclude” anyone they deemed a security threat from the west coast which led to the incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans.

We are privileged to have Bob join the PSARA Board.