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Scanned-Digitized Version
Thomas (Tom) R. Hopkins

Original Citation
Meriam, Lewis. THE PROBLEM OF INDIAN ADMINISTRATION. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1928, 872 pp.


The Amount of Schooling. One of the first tests of any educational enterprise is the number of children attending school in 355 proportion to the total number of children of school age. Modern educational systems put as their .first task that of finding out precisely how many children there are and of what ages. Unfortunately this simple test cannot be applied satisfactorily to Indian education, for the reason that there are no reliable statistics of Indian population of the United States.

Need for Indian School Census. The statement of a qualified observer that "probably the most accurate count that has ever been made of our Indian population can best be characterized as a reasonably good guess" applies to Indian school children. The official figures show a curious discrepancy between general population and population of school age. According to these figures the total Indian population increased from 318,209 in 1922 to 355,070 in 1926, but in the same period the number of Indian children of school age is reported to have decreased from 91,968 to 84,553. Recently government officers have been making special efforts to get an accurate census of Indian children. "We were able during the past year to cut down the number of children of which we had no record from approximately one hundred and fifty to twenty," says a typical 1926 statement by an agency superintendent whose total population is only a few thousands. "A further effort will be made this fall," he adds, "and I believe that one more clean-up will get an accurate record of our children." No really systematic attack upon the educational problem of the Indian can be made until a thorough school census is actually established.

Enrollment Below Normal Still. Such evidence as there is indicates real improvement in getting Indian children into school, though the figures still show that enrollment of Indian children is below that of the white population of the United States. Of the 84,553 children of school age reported in 1926 by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 69,892 are attending some kind of school. This percentage of 82.7 is creditable as compared with that found in other similar situations, but not as satisfactory as most of the states have been able to achieve. The Bureau of Education figures for the various states give the ratio of public school enrollment to population of school age; private school enrollment is omitted. The percentage of children in private schools for Indians is about the same as in the general population. If the Indian school figure is corrected accordingly, the figure for the Indian children for 1926 would be, in terms of a decimal, 0.736 as compared with 0.830 for the entire United States. This is an improvement over 1925 and 1924 when the figures would have been .695 and .655 respectively. Actually the federal government is now getting 83 per cent of the known Indian children 5 to 17 years of age into some kind of school, as compared with about go per cent for the general population. Of course the Indian figure does not equal the record of states like California and Washington, which, by making abundant provision at both ends of the educational program, kindergarten and high school, are enrolling practically all of their boys and girls of school age in school. Of the forty-eight states, forty-one had better records in 1925 (the last year for which general statistics are available) than the Indian school record of 1926.

In considering the present efforts to enroll children in school it is necessary to take into account the difficulties of overcoming the slump in attendance that accompanied the war. Up to very recently the lowest number of "eligible" children not in school, according to Indian Office records, was in 1913, when all but 14,743 of the known 82,470 children of school age were in school. The number not in school reached its peak in 1918, when nearly 23,000 Indian children were reported as not in any school, and it was not until 1924 that the number of absentees began perceptibly to diminish.

The essential weaknesses in the Indian situation are that the total number of children is really not known; that the government tolerates a far larger number of "ineligibles" than city and state school systems ordinarily have, especially of children physically unable to attend; and that these figures are probably unduly optimistic in that they report enrollment only and say nothing of the serious irregularities of attendance that are found among the full-bloods nearly everywhere. Day school inspectors have helped this situation very much, but they are handicapped by the enormous territory they have to cover, and there are some regions where Indian children, especially full-bloods, simply are not attending school.

"Over-Age" Children and Attendance. The heavy "over-ageness" among present Indian school children reflects the failure to get children into school during the past dozen years. Of 16,257 Indian pupils studied in detail in the present investigation, only 1043 were at the normal grade for their age, 2170 were one year retarded, 2951 two years, 3125 three years, 2491 four years, 1778 five years, 1160 six years, 665 seven years, and 810 eight years or more, with only 264 pupils ahead of their normal grade. That this over-ageness is not, however, due primarily to slow progress as much as it is to failure to get children into school is shown by the fact that 4192 have reached the grade appropriate for the number of years they have been in school, and 6199 others are only two years or less behind the point where their years of schooling would normally put them. This is almost exactly the discrepancy between attendance and grade that is normally found in state school systems.

Illiteracy Among Indians. Another customary measure of extent of schooling is the amount of illiteracy. Here again there are conflicting figures, but the census returns make possible some rather striking comparisons. Whereas the rate of illiteracy for the entire United States was 6 per cent in 1920 for Indians of sixteen states having large Indian populations it was nearly 36 per cent. In three of these sixteen states the Indian illiteracy rate exceeded 6o per cent, as compared with rates, only a fraction of this for other groups that usually show high illiteracy, namely, rural population and foreign-born whites. In Arizona, where the Indian illiteracy was 67.8 per cent, the rate among the rural population was 20.4 and among foreign-born whites 32.9; in Utah, with an Indian rate of 61.6 per cent, the rural illiteracy rate was but 2.5 and the foreign-born 8.3. In North Dakota rural illiteracy was only 2.2 per cent, but the Indians showed 29.6. In Oregon rural illiteracy of 1.4 per cent may be contrasted with nearly 23 per cent for Indians.

These are 1920 census figures, of course, and are now more than seven years old. Furthermore, they include all persons over io years of age. A more significant age-group from the point of view of recent schooling would be that between io and 20. The Indian rate for the sixteen states is 17 per cent. It reaches 52.5 per cent in Arizona, 40.8 in Utah, and 33.6 in New Mexico, but it goes as low as 1.8 in Oregon, 2.1 in Nebraska, and 2.6 in Washington and Wyoming. In South Dakota only 3.4 per cent of the Indians of this age-group were illiterate, as compared with 30.2 per cent for Indians 21 years and over. In California the corresponding figures are 9.1 per cent for the younger group and 46.2 per cent for the group over 21 years old. Montana shows a rate for Indians in the to- to 20-year group of only 6.8 per cent as compared with 48 per cent for persons over 21. The 17 per cent illiteracy for 1920 for Indians of this age-group represented improvement over 1910, when the census illiteracy rate for Indians in the same sixteen states 10 to 20 years of age was 25 per cent.10

Heavy Increases in Enrollment Likely. Those in charge of the education of Indians are looking forward to heavy increases in school attendance, particularly the more advanced grades, in the very near future, and such increases are sure to come. One may seriously question the building of new boarding schools as the means of caring for the increase, yet commend strongly the foresight shown in expecting heavy enrollment. It is bound to come. The old day of the two or three years of elementary schooling for Indian boys and girls, many of whom were 15 and i6 years of age before they even started to school, is past. To an increasing extent Indian children will be found going to school at the normal age for white children and remaining in school as long as whites. Up to within a few years ago it was unusual for Indian children to go on into high school, but now the figures show students in many jurisdictions not only attending high school but also completing the course and going on to college and university.

Better Attendance a Home and School Problem. As the government intensifies its efforts to get the Indian children into school and keep them there, it will more and more find it necessary to use other methods of securing full and regular attendance than those now in vogue. Merely using police methods may perhaps be defended as a necessary step at one stage, but long experience in city and rural school administration, with children situated very much as Indian children are, has shown that attendance officers of the school social worker type rather than of the police officer kind are needed for this work. It is, indeed, much more than a matter of mere school attendance. What has to be worked out is a home and school relation whereby the parents will be enlisted in having their children go to school regularly and the home in return will be directly affected by the school.

10 For detailed tables and discussion, see Schmeckebier, The Office of Indian Affairs, pp. 199-202.

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Last modified April 24, 2008