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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 Course of Study for Indian Schools. The adoption of a course of study is a step in advance for any educational enterprise. It means that objectives have been set up and that united effort is to be made to attain these objectives. The Indian Office is to be commended, therefore, for its effort to make a course of study for Indian schools. It should be understood, however, that this is only an intermediate step. No course of study should remain static; it should be constantly revised in terms of children's needs and aptitudes; and no course of study should be made uniform in details over a vast territory of widely differing conditions. These are the chief difficulties with the present course of study for Indian schools, which was originally prepared in 1915, and is now very much in need of revision.

Suggestion Rather Than Prescription. Present-day practice regards a course of study as mainly suggestive rather than prescriptive. It usually lays down certain minimum requirements, or may suggest minimum attainments; but it is careful to leave considerable latitude to the teacher and to local communities. It is doubtful if any state nowadays in compiling a course of study even for its comparatively limited territory would do what the national government has attempted to do, that is to adopt a uniform course of study for the entire Indian Service and require it to be carried out in detail. The Indian school course of study is clearly not adaptable to different tribes and different individuals; it is built mainly in imitation of a somewhat older type of public school curricula now recognized as unsatisfactory even for white schools, instead of being created out of the lives of Indian people, as it should be; and it is administered by a poorly equipped teaching force under inadequate professional direction.

Program Versus Actuality. Like most courses of study of this type, the Indian school course has many excellent statements. Justifiable emphasis is placed upon health, for example, but health education of the comprehensive character therein described can only be accomplished with a wealth of qualified personnel, which is almost wholly lacking. Vocational guidance is frequently stressed, but scarcely anybody in the Indian Service has any real conception of what guidance means, to say nothing of real training in this field. The Indian school course of study contains excellent statements about the " use and scope of the library," but there are in fact practically no libraries worthy of the name in the Indian Service, almost no provision for acquiring worthwhile new books, and few if any trained librarians or teacher-librarians to carry out the plans. Anyone who reads the statements in the course of study is bound to get a shock when he goes to the schools and sees the most elementary health principles violated and not even sufficient nourishing food supplied; when he finds that the industrial training provided often has very little to do with the future work of the boys who are taking it; when he finds that except in a few rare instances the library, where there is one, consists mainly of sets of old textbooks, a few books for teachers and some miscellaneous volumes, usually kept under lock and key in the principal's office and seldom used in the way a modern school library is used continuously by pupils in the school.

A Special Curriculum Opportunity. The special curriculum opportunity in Indian schools is for material based upon the ascertained needs of Indian boys and girls and adapted to their aptitudes and interests. Emphasis upon " community surveys " in the circulars of the general superintendent is a step in the right direction. There is so much that might, however, in the hands of curriculum specialists and wise teachers, make admirable content material for Indian schools. Such excellent opportunity exists for community civics based upon both Indian and white community life instead of the old-time " Civil Government," long since abandoned in better American public schools and especially meaningless for the Indian, who needs to have his own tribal, social and civic life used as the basis for an understanding of his place in modern society. Interesting opportunity abounds for Indian geography as a substitute approach for the formal geography of continents, oceans, and urban locations; for Indian history as a means of understanding other history and for its own importance in helping Indians understand the past and future of their own people. The possibilities of Indian arts would make a book in themselves; already in one or two places, notably among the Hopis, Indian children have given a convincing demonstration of what they can do with color and design when the school gives them a chance to create for themselves. There is such a chance to build up for the Indian schools reading material that shall have some relation to Indian interests, not merely Indian legends, which are good and susceptible of considerable development, but actual stories of modern Indian experiences, as, for example, the success or failure of this or that returned student; how this particular Indian handled his allotment; how So-and-So cleaned up his house, what he did in the " Five-Years' Program." These are real things that Indians are experiencing and that have everyday significance for them.

The Real Objectives of Education. Study of modern curriculum investigations will show that, while there are conflicting views as to whether the content of education shall be mainly quantities of subject matter transmitted or mainly experiences that will provide the child with means of development, yet there are certain principles hitherto disregarded that will have to be considered in any basic revision of the Indian school curriculum. One has already been referred to—the principle that emphasizes suggestion rather than prescription, and allows teachers to adapt content to the needs and aptitudes of the children. Still another has to do with the objectives of education. The present course of study, notwithstanding its preliminary statements, in reality accepts the old notion of the " three R's " as fundamental in education. It is historically a mistake to say, as the Indian school ,Course of Study does, that " from primitive times reading, writing, and arithmetic have formed the foundation of education." They have been the tools, undoubtedly, but long before they were used as tools there was education of the most important sort. The real goals of education are not) "reading, writing, and arithmetic "—not even teaching Indians to speak English, though that is important—but sound health, both mental and physical, good citizenship in the sense of an understanding participation in community life, ability to earn one's own living honestly and efficiently in a socially worthwhile vocation, comfortable and desirable home and family life, and good character. These are the real aims of education; reading, writing, numbers, geography, history, and other "subjects" or skills are only useful to the extent that they contribute directly or indirectly to these fundamental objectives. With a course of study such as that provided for the Indian Service, with the limited time in which to carry it out as compared with ordinary schools, with teachers below the level of standard professional preparation and with uniform old-type examinations at the end of the year as the only real goal at which to aim, the almost inevitable result is a highly mechanical content of education handled in a mechanical way.

Timeliness of Curriculum Revision. The present is a particularly good time to undertake the revision of the curriculum of the Indian schools on a fundamental basis, not only because such a revision is so urgently needed, but because curriculum revision is one of the most prominent features of current educational activity, and it would be more possible now than at any time previously to get the advantage of various national movements. These movements range from a simple practical interchange of courses of study and the more systematic attempts at enrichment and simplification, as recorded in recent yearbooks of the Department of Superintendence of the National Education Association, all the way to searching inquiries into the whole philosophy of curriculum construction, such as are reported in the 1927 Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. Some American cities have spent many thousands of dollars on special studies of the curriculum, and those in charge of educational . work for the Indians could easily utilize these studies in making their own curricula. " The teaching profession at work on its problems " is one of the mottoes of the largest organization of teachers in the United States; and the testimony of this body and of separate school systems working on curriculum revision is that nothing is quite so effective in educating the teachers themselves to the changes that are going on. Many of the teachers now in the Indian Service have, by reading, by attendance at summer sessions, and in other ways, obtained the kind of a professional start that would make a cooperative study of the curriculum practical and valuable. Such a study would be impossible, however, without staff specialists in education at the Washington office who are professionally equipped to direct such a study.

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Last modified April 24, 2008