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Native Pathways to Education
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Delton R. Cox
Choctaw Educational Planner

Educational researchers concerned with culturally different groups of people should consider their history since history is an integral part of cultures. 3ecause of conditions brought about by policies in the past, the educator who works with Native Americans should inquire into the cultural attitudes and practices, into both the ancient and the prevailing value structures, into he present situation, and into the historical background of the particular group se is working with since there are almost as many different situations as there ire tribes and bands (9: 339-40). Numerous writers have ably expounded rationales for the study of history. George Homans in The Nature of Social Science says that a group's past history combined with present circumstances determines behavior (7: 90-92). Morris R. Cohen in The Meaning of Human History takes the position that "threads of identity" exist between present events and prior history (2: 107) but that the variable of irrationality and impulsive behavior must be considered when investigating the actions of human beings (2: 131). Tamotsu Shibutani and Kian M. Kwan in Ethnic Stratification states that for a person who identifies with an ethnic group, its history provides i backdrop before which to review his own conduct (12: 43). Another view of history is that taken by R. G. Collingwood in The Idea of History in which he states, "The value of history, then, is that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is (3: 9-10)."

This study is an investigation into the formal and/or informal educational systems utilized by a group of Native Americans within a tri-racial setting for in eighty-six year period of time. The particular group being studied is the Choctaw Indians of Mississippi after 1834 and before the initiation of their ?resent non-public Bureau of Indian Affairs School System in 1920.

A church-related school system, supported primarily by the Choctaw Nation, was begun in Mississippi for this tribe in 1818 and by 1829 consisted of eight mission schools and several neighborhood schools. After the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed in 1830 and the majority of the Choctaws were moved to the present State of Oklahoma in 1831-33, the schools were closed and most of them were moved westward also.

One could readily assume from most of the literature written about this ;coup of people that they had no educational system again until a "public" school system was begun for them in Choctaw neighborhood churches in the 1890's. Both Margaret Mead in Growing Up In New Guinea and Jean Dresden Grambs, in Schools, Scholars and Society insist that the term education should include much more than schools and classrooms. It is the contention of this researcher that education is and has been an integral part of all cultures but that the form it takes depends upon the circumstances within which the culture exist.

The researcher is primarily utilizing a historical methodology in collecting and analyzing the data which is being gathered from both oral and written sources. The ideal toward which the researcher is striving in his analysis of the data is the methodology described by R. G. Collingwood in The Idea of History as the "inside and outside of an event" in which the researcher goes beyond merely discovering the events of history to attempting to discern the thought of the agent or agents that made them (3: 212-14). Nevertheless, the researcher recognizes that he is a product of his environment and that he may tend to view the past through the eyes of the present, if not openly, then between the lines (13: 42-43). An effort is being made, however, to apply the standards of the time period being investigated and to attempt to view the events through the eyes of the people involved in spite of how time may have affected their memories. One of the ways being used to accomplish this is the gathering of oral history which may contain inaccurate accounts but the way in which a group remembers its past is more important than what actually happened (12: 43). The written sources may also contain inaccurate or culturally biased accounts since the person who wrote down the "facts" as they occurred could have been guilty of being influenced by the standards of his own culture.

The researcher is using a combination of the sustained and transitory approaches described by Scott in March's book, Handbook of Organizations, (10: 266-67) in his collection of oral history. The interviews that are being investigated are unstructured and open-ended. The interviewees will be visited several times as the study progresses and they are being encouraged to speak in their native language. The researcher plans to interview a minimum of twelve "informants," Choctaw and non-Choctaw, above the age of sixty who can remember the life style of the Choctaw Indians in Mississippi before 1920 and each of the interviews will be recorded on a tape recorder, whenever the situation will allow it. Due to the Choctaw communities being traditionally boundary maintaining systems and the fact that dialectical differences exist, a member of the local community is being used in the interview with the older Choctaw "informants."

Even though the methodology being utilized in this study is very similar to that used by Charles M. Hudson in The Catawba Nation in which the researcher investigated the written history of the Catawba Indians, Catawba history as remembered by the non-Indians, and Catawba history as remembered by the Catawba Indians, there are many dissimilarities. The major characteristics of the methodology being used by the researcher in this study can be briefly summarized in the following manner:

  1. Native American language is being used, when necessary, as a tool for investigation.
  2. The researcher has limited group membership. He is of Choctaw (Oklahoma) descent and his wife is a Mississippi Choctaw. He is a former history teacher in the local Choctaw high school and is presently employed by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (the official name of the Tribe since 1945) as the Tribal Educational Planner until June 30, 1973.
  3. A combination of the "transitory" and "sustained" approaches is being used to gather the oral history segment of the study.
  4. The data that are being collected are being analyzed historically, as described by Collingwood.
  5. Oral history or "folk history" is being used to supplement written sources and a comparison is being made between the two, whenever the versions vary greatly.
  6. In order to better understand the genesis of the attitude of the local whites toward the group being studied and the ideology of "white supremacy," the researcher has enrolled in a course titled, "A History of the Old South," at a local university. This ideology was an important factor in determining the type of educational system used by the Mississippi Choctaws for not only the time period being investigated but in more recent years.


1. CARR, E. H. What Is History? New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963.

2. COHEN, Morris R. The Meaning of Human History. La Salle, Illinois: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1947.

3. COLLINGWOOD, R. G. The Idea of History. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1946.

4. GALBRAITH, V. H. An Introduction to the Study of History. London: C. A. Watts and Company, Ltd., 1964.

5. GOTTSCHALK, Louis. Understanding History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1950.

6. GRAMBS, Jean Dresden. Schools, Scholars and Society. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965.

7. HUMANS, George C. The Nature of Social Science. New York: Harcourt Brace and World, Inc., 1967.

8. HUDSON, Charles M. The Catawba Nation. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1970.

9. KLUCKHOLN, Clyde. Culture and Behavior. New York: The Free Press, 1962.

10. MARCH, James G., ED. Handbook of Organizations. Chicago: Rand McNally and Company, 1965.

11. MEAD, Margaret. Growing Up in New Guinea. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1930.

12. SHIBUTANI, Tamotsu and Kwan, Kiam M. Ethnic Stratification. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1965.

13. WEDGWOOD, C. V. Truth and Opinion. New York: The MacMIllan Company, 1960.

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Last modified March 12, 2008