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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
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MERIAM REPORT
EDUCATION SECTION
A SCANNED-DIGITIZED VERSION

Scanned-Digitized Version
By
Thomas (Tom) R. Hopkins

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

2008

Government Day Schools. Except for sections where good public school are open to Indians, the government day schools offer the best opportunity available at present to furnish schooling to Indian children and at the same time build up a needed home and community education. That this opportunity has only been partially realized is due to the usual deficiencies both in quantity and quality of personnel. Even under present conditions as to pay, qualifications, lack of trained home and community workers, some of the day schools, especially in the Southwest, have come closer to meeting the real requirements than any other types of educational enterprises for Indians. Some places still exist in the Indian Service where day schools would be better than the present boarding schools.

A Home and Community Enterprise. The chief advantage of the day school for Indians, whether maintained by the national government or the state, is that it leaves the child in the home environment, where he belongs. In this way not only does the home retain its rightful place in the whole educational process, but whatever worthwhile changes the school undertakes to make are soon reflected in the home. The boy or girl from boarding school goes back to a home often unchanged from what it was, and the resulting gulf between parents and children is usually more or less tragic. In the day school, on the other hand, the youngster is in the home and community far more than in the school. Some connection is bound to exist between the home and the school, frequently constant and close connection; ideas of cleanliness, better homekeeping, better standards of living, have their influence almost immediately in the home and community. Thus parents of children in the Hopi day schools help build roads to make it easier for the children to reach the school; they furnish labor for the school plant; they use the school as the center for community gatherings.

The process in the day school is the same as that by which the American public school has worked a transformation with millions of children from immigrant homes. To be sure, the same risks attend it. We have learned, in the case of children from foreign homes, that there are values in the customs of other peoples that ought to be preserved and not destroyed; so with Indians; there is a contribution from Indian life that likewise needs to be safeguarded and not sacrificed to unnecessary standardization. But even here the opportunity is better for the day school than for the boarding school. The day school principal and teacher have the parents close at hand, and can, if they will, get the interest and point of view of the parents in a way that would be almost out of the question for the boarding school. Thus at Oraibi, Arizona, the school has perpetuated, through the children, the remarkable art gifts of the Hopis. The Hopi day schools generally illustrate the value of schools close to the community; they are essentially community enterprises, involving health through hot lunches, care of teeth, and bathing; canning of fruits; parent-teacher meetings. The very plants themselves, involving from three to seven or eight buildings for from fifty to eighty children, indicate a recognition of the comprehensive nature of the educational program that is rare enough anywhere but is especially needed in the Indian work.

Needs of the Day Schools. The weaknesses of the government day schools are the usual weaknesses of the Indian Service: Low training standards and lack of qualified personnel to work with the families from which the pupils come. A few notably good teachers are found in government day schools for Indians, but the average is low. It has already been pointed out that with salaries and certification requirements as they are now in the public schools of most states, only those teachers as a rule will apply for the Indian Service who cannot meet the newer state requirements. This applies with special force to the day schools, which are usually in very remote places and lack the attractiveness of surroundings characteristic of some of the non-reservation boarding schools. There are exceptions, of course, including a few who by preference teach Indian children and a few others who go into the Indian Service in order to "see the country" or get the benefit of a certain climate, but for the most part the teachers in the day schools do not appear to reach even minimum accepted standards of education, professional training, and personality. Day school teachers should be at least graduates of good normal schools and preferably of colleges and universities.

Furthermore, the one chief opportunity of the day school, that of working with the homes, is missed if the teacher lacks social understanding and if qualified workers of the visiting teacher type are not provided. In the large majority of the hundred or more government day schools in operation the school is furnishing a limited three-R's type of schooling, with a poorly prepared teacher, with standards not noticeably better than those of country schools in the more backward sections, and with no notion of the modern way of bringing home and school together.

Even in sections where the schools are better, almost none of the home and community work that is so necessary a part of a program of education for Indians is provided. Some slight beginnings in community nurse work among the Pueblos, Hopis, and Zunis suggest what might be done. A practical plan would be to undertake in these localities, where the situation is favorable, a fairly complete program, including the family case worker, the visiting teacher and the public health nurse, and then to extend the service as rapidly as possible to other typical situations in California, in Arizona among the Pimas, on the Turtle Mountain Reservation, and among the Mississippi Choctaws—all places that are especially in need of work of this type.

Experimentation in the Day School. This and other types of experimentation are especially timely in the government day schools in view of the tendency to place Indian children in local public schools. With the four or five thousand children in government day schools in different parts of the country it would be possible, under the better qualified teachers and better professional leadership that are recommended, not only to try out workers of the visiting teacher and public health nurse type, but also to make changes in the course of study, in the methods of teaching and in the schoolrooms and equipment, that will be applicable when the Indian children go into the public schools. The Hopi day schools offer an especially good opportunity for experimental work. It is especially necessary to carry a step further some of the health and other work in the day schools, so that not merely group toothbrush drills, for example, will be done at school, but that care of the teeth and other features of personal hygiene will be carried out at home and checked up at school. The whole task of community participation, so important for the Indian, needs to be consciously worked at; for example, the Indians should be serving on school committees in the day school as a means of enlisting their general interest in all that involves the child's education and development, and also as a gradual preparation for service on boards of education. Instead of being behind the better public schools in these and other matters, as at present, the government day schools could then be ahead, making contributions to education as well as helping to solve the Indian problem.

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Last modified April 25, 2008