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Native Pathways to Education
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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.


Fundamental Needs. The most fundamental need in Indian education is a change in point of view. Whatever may have been the official governmental attitude, education for the Indian in the past has proceeded largely on the theory that it is necessary to remove the Indian child as far as possible from his home environment; whereas the modern point of view in education and social work lays stress on upbringing in the natural setting of home and family life. The Indian educational enterprise is peculiarly in need of the kind of approach that recognizes this principle; that is, less concerned with a conventional school system and more with the understanding of human beings. It is impossible to visit Indian schools without feeling that on the whole they have been less touched than have better public schools by the newer knowledge of human behavior; that they reflect, for the most part, an attitude toward children characteristic of older city schools or of rural schools in backward sections; that they are distinctly below the accepted social and educational standards of school systems in most cities and the better rural communities.

Recognition of the Individual. It is true in all education, but especially in the education of people situated as are the American Indians, that methods must be adapted to individual abilities, interests, and needs. A standard course of study, routine classroom methods, traditional types of schools, even if they were adequately supplied—and they are - not—would not solve the problem. The methods of the average public school in the United States cannot safely be taken over bodily and applied to Indian education. Indian tribes and individual Indians within the tribes vary so much that a standard content and method of education, no matter how carefully they might be prepared, would be worse than futile. Moreover, the standard course of study for Indian schools and the system of uniform examinations based upon it represent a procedure now no longer accepted by schools throughout the United States.9

A Better Personnel. The standards that are worth while in education are minimum standards, and the most successful American experience has made these apply, not primarily to courses of study and examination, but to qualifications of personnel. The surest way to achieve the change in point of view that is imperative in Indian education is to raise the qualifications of teachers and other employees. After all is said that can be said about the skill and devotion of some employees, the fact remains that the government of the United States regularly takes into the instructional staff of its Indian schools teachers whose credentials would not be accepted in good public school systems, and into the institutional side of these schools key employees—matrons and the like—who could not meet the standards set up by modern social agencies. A modernly equipped personnel would do more than any other one thing to bring necessary improvement.

Salary Schedules. Better personnel cannot be obtained at present salaries, which are lower than for any comparable positions in or out of the government service. In many of the positions, however, it is not so much higher entrance salaries that are needed as high qualifications and a real salary schedule based upon training and successful experience. Public school systems long ago learned that good teachers could be attracted partly by good entrance salaries, but even more by salary schedules assuring increases to the capable—a principle already written into law by Congress, but apparently never made effective in the Indian Service.

The Question of Cost. Although high entrance salaries are not the essential factor in getting and keeping better employees, it would be idle to expect that a better educational program will not cost money. It will cost more money than the present program, for the reason that the present cost is too low for safety. The real choice before the government is between doing a mediocre job thereby piling up for the future serious problems in poverty, disease, and crime, and spending more money for an acceptable social and educational program that will make the Indian cease to be a special case in a comparatively short time. At a time when states and cities everywhere and the national government likewise have found it necessary to adjust expenditures to a new price scale, the Indian school service has been kept as near as possible to the old level, with very unfortunate effects. Cheapness in education is expensive. Boarding schools that are operated on a per capita cost for all purposes of something over two hundred dollars a year and feed their children from eleven to eighteen cents worth of food a day may fairly be said to be operated below any reasonable standard of health and decency. From the point of view of education the Indian Service is almost literally a "starved" service.

9 Recent recognition of this principle by the Indian Office has led to action looking toward fundamental revision of the course of study. For the past two summers teachers in Indian schools have been required to take courses in curriculum-building, the curriculum was the principal topic of employees' meetings during the past year, and some material has already been gathered for the proposed revision.

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Last modified April 24, 2008