Museums and Planetariums: Bridging the Gap between Hawaiian Culture and Astronomy through Informal Education -- A Case Study
Behavioral research supports informal education as fundamental to lifelong learning and responsible for much of what we know. Such learning occurs outside of formal schooling through venues such as the Internet, libraries, museums and planetariums. Unrestricted by the regulations of formal institutions, informal education can respond more quickly, flexibly and innovatively to the needs of a rapidly changing society. This paper outlines one science center's approach to the cultural divide between research scientists and the Hawaiian community.
Hawai'i currently faces unresolved sovereignty issues and their resulting polarizing effects. One such case of growing discord involves a sacred and strategically important mountain named Mauna Kea -- the highest peak in the Pacific. Traditionalists regard this mountain as the altar of Wakea, the Polynesian sky god and father of all indigenous Hawaiians, while astronomers extol its lofty summit as a premier platform for astronomical observations. To address this conflict, the University of Hawai'i at Hilo together with congressional support established the 'Imiloa Astronomy Center, a cultural science museum and planetarium, whose mission includes bringing the Hawaiian community and astronomers together to discuss and mitigate their differences. This paper explores the background behind these issues and the unique attempt of informal education to resolve them.