Executive Perspective

The Road to Hana

by Paul D. Houston

On a recent trip to the lush and beautiful island of Maui, I had the occasion to do a lot of the “touristy” things one does on vacation. One highlight was to watch the whales that come there in winter to mate and give birth. One can see a mother escorting her toddler — all 15 feet and 30,000 pounds of him — around in the water.

One also can see competition pods of males thrashing around, banging heads and tails trying to impress the female whale so they might have the opportunity to get to know her better. Meanwhile, she hovers on the side waiting to see whether the winner is interesting enough to take home. If nothing else, this demonstrates that some things don’t change much from specie to specie.

But one unique thing one can do on Maui is take the road to Hana. All the guidebooks insist the trip is something a visitor must do. So, of course, I did it. Now let me set the stage. The road to Hana is only about 50 miles in length. However, it has more than 600 curves and hundreds of one-lane bridges and other random one-lane spots where you can’t see oncoming traffic. This is just to keep you on your toes.

The road hugs the side of a volcanic mountain and overlooks stretches of the Pacific Ocean. The resulting trip there is about a three-hour tour, about the same as the fabled cruise to Gilligan’s Island — and I must confess there were moments when I thought the outcome would be about the same. Was it ever going to end?

A Torturous Trek
Now why would anyone want to go on the road to Hana beyond being able to say you did it? Well, the scenery is some of the most spectacular in the world. There are dozens of amazing waterfalls and quiet pools. There are vistas of ocean and mountains that come right out of “Tales of the South Pacific.” There are black sand beaches, lava tubes and blow holes, botanical gardens, side hiking trails and birds and other little critters to see all along the way. Of course the day we made the trip it poured rain so hard there were times we weren’t sure whether we were seeing a waterfall or standing under it, so it was a different kind of experience.

Now, what is interesting to me was Hana itself. Once we got there we circled several times looking for the town. We saw a few houses, a restaurant and a school. We thought we were on the outskirts, but once we drove through the cluster of houses back into countryside we realized that Hana didn’t have any skirts to speak of. To put it kindly, there was not much Hana to Hana.

We had just spent three hours of torturous driving to get to a place we really had no interest in seeing. That’s when it struck me. It wasn’t about beingin Hana, it was about getting to Hana. It was all about the journey. And that is when I knew there was a lesson there for all of us.

Educational leaders spend so much time focused on outcomes, results, goals and objectives. We tend to ignore the journey. And when we get there, we often find there isn’t much “there” there. We are so bent on getting to Hana, we miss the waterfalls along the way. I think most people tend to be so fixed on getting from point A to point B they don’t notice anything in between.

A few years ago when I was diagnosed with glaucoma and came to understand it might jeopardize my ability to see, I realized I hadn’t been seeing much all the years my eyesight was good. I made a vow to myself I would leave no sunset behind. I would no longer look out over an ocean or mountain vista or be confronted with a field of flowers and fail to see them. I vowed for as long as I could see, I would see. I would stop, look and appreciate. Now, do I always do that? Of course not. Do I do it more than I did before? You betcha. Now I really do stop and smell the flowers.

Defining Destinations
As I observe my colleagues across the country dealing with the pressures of your jobs and trying to make the world a better place for children, my heart goes out to you as I watch you run past the flowers and sunsets. I want you to know that when you get to Hana, there really isn’t that much there. In fact, it might not even be worth worrying about as a destination.

I have questioned repeatedly what we have established in this country as our educational goals. Are they the right goals and do they deserve the time and effort they are taking? Will our children be smarter just because their scores are higher? Are there other destinations like compassion and creativity that deserve attention?

Education must be more like the road to Hana — an experience of facing the unknown and the unexpected beauty of discovery along the way — not a forced march past all that which is worth seeing and doing.

The final great irony of my own trip to Hana was that after spending three hours weaving through the curves, looking at the waterfalls and pools, walking in the forests in the rain, and standing on the black sand beaches — after driving around trying to find more Hana in Hana, we still had the trip back from Hana to contend with. We still had the 600 curves and the narrow stretches to navigate. And even though it was the same road, the view was entirely different.

Our work is always going to be about the process — it always will be not about the “doing,” but about the “being.” We just have to allow ourselves to see what is around us and worry less about the final destination because there is no final destination — just lots of twists and turns and beautiful possibilities.

Paul Houston is AASA executive director.