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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.


Industrial and Agricultural Education. The first need in industrial and agricultural education in Indian schools is a survey 383 to find out what Indian young people are doing when they get out of school and what the occupational opportunities for them are. This involves a study of new industries as well as the adaptation of old ones, and the establishment of a training program based upon the findings. The Course of Study and the literature generally of the Indian Office insist that Indian education is essentially "vocational," and "vocational guidance " is regarded as "of such great moment that each school is directed to establish a vocational guidance committee which shall consist of the superintendent as chairman and not less than three other members appointed by him." Actually, however, very little of the work provided in Indian boarding schools is directly vocational in the sense that it is aimed at a specific vocation which the youngster is to pursue, or based upon a study of known industrial opportunities, and vocational direction in the form of proper guidance, placement, and follow-up hardly exists at all.

Need for Industrial Survey. It is axiomatic in modern education that any industrial training program must be rooted in economic life. All the worth-while vocational programs which eventuated in the basic federal legislation of 1916, the Smith-Hughes Act, were preceded by vocational surveys of states and local communities to determine what the occupations were for which training could most profitably be given, and programs adopted since have been similarly based upon real economic situations. No such industrial inventory has preceded or accompanied the vocational training of the Indian schools. This is not because the field man of the service or the Washington office have failed to recognize the necessary tie-up between education and industry. Indeed, Commissioners of Indian Affairs have generally shown enlightenment on this point, and at the present time one of the supervisors in the field is deservedly known for his emphasis upon a practical economic basis for the whole education scheme. Failure to make the requisite industrial survey is due in part to the fact that the program was adopted before the practice of preliminary occupational study was established; in part to the fact that the present vocational program is inextricably tied up with institutional needs, and production in terms of the institution itself is all that can be considered; and in still larger part to the absence of properly equipped personnel that has been repeatedly referred to in this report.

Types of Training in the Schools. A glance at some of the work-activities of the boarding schools will illustrate the need for a more thorough understanding of vocational possibilities. Harness-making is still carried on in many of the schools; in at least one school visited there was harness-making but no automobile mechanics. It is true that recently shoe-repair machinery has been introduced into the harness shops in the effort to replace the vanishing trade of harness-making with that of shoe-repairing, but even here there will be little likelihood of vocational success unless careful preliminary study is made to determine what the actual opportunities are in shoe-repairing and unless supervision and direct help can be provided to the young Indian in setting up in business. Again, a good deal of excellent printing work is done at a few of the schools, in some cases under well-prepared printing instructors using modern material. In this case the weakness is not due so much to lack of proper instruction or materials, or even to excessive quantity production— though this is a difficulty in some instances—but to the fact that no efforts have been made to make the necessary contacts outside. The printing trades are highly organized, and, however good a craftsman the Indian printer may be, unless the way is paved for him to enter union ranks through regular apprenticeship, his way is made unnecessarily hard. The situation is particularly difficult because of the sensitive nature of the Indian, and his lack of the aggressive qualities that would make a certain type of white man fight for his place even against handicapping labor conditions. Very few of the many Indians trained in printing are found actually earning their living in the printing trades.

Vocational Agriculture. From some points of view agriculture is the most important vocation for which Indian schools could give vocational training. It is already the occupation of the majority of Indians; the schools usually have land, and the Indian himself generally has an opportunity to apply on his own land what he learns in school. On the other hand, agriculture at an Indian school is rarely taught in terms of what the Indian boy will need when he gets out. The old notion persists that farming is a desirable occupation into which more people should be sent, whereas the Department of Agriculture has recently issued warnings to the effect that there are already too many persons engaged in certain kinds of agriculture; but in Indian schools institutional needs for farm products are so immediately pressing that production becomes almost the only aim.

Even schools that have unusually good dairy herds and other stock are unable under present conditions to utilize them to the extent they should for agricultural instruction. Poultry-raising, for example, is almost always taught, not as a possible business or as a supplement to the usual farmer's resources, but as an enterprise directly necessary for the maintenance of the institution, the students merely doing the chores connected with it. At one school, Chilocco, the important step has been taken of furnishing a limited number of boys with enough land apiece to reproduce individual farm management conditions, but even here it has not been possible to press the opportunity to the point where this might become a thoroughly workable vocational agricultural project.

The fact that practically all the school farm, dairy, and poultry work is done as part of the common task with no visible financial return—so that the Indian boys and girls never get the fundamental relation of labor and ability to live—would further vitiate it as vocational training, even if other conditions were improved. Some plan of payment for services, with purchase by the student of at least clothes and food, would make the work much more real, though even here the risk of mere production rather than vocational training would have to be avoided.

The difficulty goes back once more to the question of personnel. One or two schools have managed to secure properly qualified agricultural teachers with agricultural college training, but on the whole the school farmers are seldom any better equipped than are agency farmers as teachers of agriculture. The legal requirement whereby presidents or deans of agricultural colleges are supposed to certify as to the ability of the candidate to teach " practical agriculture" is almost worthless as far as securing agricultural teachers is concerned.

Some of the supervisors and others in the Service have realized the necessity of making the agricultural instruction meet definitely the requirements of particular regions. General gardening crops, poultry, and milk cows are a few types of agriculture found almost universally, though instruction in them would necessarily vary somewhat from place to place. On the other hand, special regional opportunities exist that need to be studied for given schools and localities—fruits in California; cotton in Oklahoma and in the Yuma country; corn at Winnebago, Fort Peck, Fort Hall, and elsewhere; alfalfa in Oklahoma, at Winnebago, Pine Ridge and Rosebud, Fort Belknap, and Yakima; wheat among the Papagos, at Winnebago, and among the Crows; and cattle, sheep, and goats at numerous places. This is in no sense intended as a complete or even accurate listing of agricultural opportunities, but rather to indicate the necessity of careful study of each locality by agricultural experts as the basis for a training program at a particular school. In certain cases, notably at Sacaton, it is possible to secure directly the valuable aid of Department of Agriculture experimental farms. No general farm program of the sort at present attempted in most boarding schools will get very far in solving the problem of genuine vocational training in agriculture.

Vocational Training for Girls. The work opportunities of an Indian school offer few opportunities for specific vocational training for girls. In recent years the schools have wisely decided against individual laundry and kitchen methods in favor of machine methods for getting the institutional labor done, but this of necessity removes both vocational and home-use values from it. Home economics courses are beginning to approach good standards for home training, however, in some instances for work that may be regarded as specifically vocational. The contrast between the valuable home economics work in some of the better schools and the mere drudgery of the institution is often striking. An honest superintendent will show the visitor the excellent work done in sewing, for example, under the home economics department, and next take him to the room where garment-making and garment repair of the old-fashioned uneconomical type are going on at a great rate.5 He will say frankly that this is production only, with no educational value, and he will admit that he would throw it out of his school instantly if he had the chance.

In a few schools millinery has made something of a place as a type of vocational training. In one school embroidery of Indian designs suggests possibilities. In at least one school Navajo rug-weaving has been put on a real basis, with a qualified native weaver in charge, and the head of the school expressed himself as eager to do the same thing with pottery-making, if he could get a good pottery-maker as teacher. Study of women's opportunities as a basis for a training program by people who know the educational and marketing factors involved would undoubtedly lead to other types of vocational training for women. Nursing is recommended as a vocation by many physicians and others who have observed Indian girls in this type of work. The tendency to train Indian girls largely for domestic service has unfortunate features that are mentioned more particularly in the chapter dealing with women's work.6

Variety of Occupations Necessary. On the whole the range of vocational opportunities in Indian schools is singularly limited. In addition to those so far mentioned, carpentry and mason work find a place. Some of the work in building trades is creditable; a few good-looking buildings in the Indian service were built entirely by Indian school boys. The eight or ten occupations that are found at the very best schools, however, are only a small fraction of the hundreds or even thousands of distinctive vocations that are represented in modern industrial life. Indians themselves are represented in a surprisingly large number of gainful occupations. Data supplied by 16,534 pupils in Indian schools regarding the employment of their fathers showed that 10,011 of them are engaged in agriculture as "farmers" or "ranchers." The next largest group was laborers, 856, followed by carpenters, 151, railroad employees, 142, and lumbermen 138, with the rest scattered among some eighty-six distinctive occupations.

It is not expected, of course, that each Indian boarding school should have within its own campus training opportunities for all or even a large number of these various occupations. It is customary in modern vocational programs to do at the school certain basic work in wood and metal that is not itself vocational, but preliminary to vocation; and then to supplement the few vocations that can be trained for at the school with a cooperative training plan arranged with the adult world outside. As a recent writer on curriculum puts it:

This is often the easier method of the two, because of the frequent practical impossibility of transferring the actual responsibility to the schools. As a result of this recognition we are substituting home gardening for training purposes for the old ineffective school-gardening; the home-project type of agriculture for the school farm; and part-time work in shops, stores, offices, etc., for mere drill exercises in school shops and commercial rooms.7

Half-Time and Vocational Training. The claim is sometimes made that the half-time plan in use in Indian boarding schools is essentially the same as the" cooperative "part-time plan of vocational training just referred to. Admittedly an external resemblance exists between the Indian program and the plans in use at the University of Cincinnati and many technical colleges and secondary schools, in that students under this plan spend half their time at school and half at work on an alternating scheme. Fundamental differences, however, exist between this and the Indian program. In the first place, the plan is specific vocational training carried on with relatively mature secondary school or college students—never below ninth grade. The work under all these plans is, moreover, carried on outside the school under genuine employment conditions; and, above all, a careful plan of coordination has been worked out between the school and industry, whereby a well-trained educational official known as a "coordinator" sees to it that the "work" and the "education" are related to each other, and that the work opportunities are genuinely educational. Even in the Antioch plan, where the objective is "general" rather than " vocational" education, these three conditions are carefully met. They are almost never met in an Indian school, where the children are too young or too backward in school to have any general educational background, where occupational conditions are artificial, if not archaic, and where there is almost no effort at educational coordination.

Even under those conditions where an internal half-time plan has been most carefully worked out in an Indian school, as at Haskell, in the case of business training, nursing, and teacher- training, it has apparently proved necessary to operate it in such a way that vital features are missing: The business material on which the students practice is necessarily limited to the operations of the school or to artificial materials furnished for instructional purposes and with no real experience actually in outside business; the general education behind the nursing course is lower than standard requirements call for; and in the case of teacher-training young teachers from Haskell will find themselves eligible only for Indian schools or for other positions having low certificating requirements, unless the training can be erected definitely into something beyond secondary school grade. These forms of training hold out a very real promise, however, and it is to be hoped that they can be developed in the light of what has been said with regard to the necessity for higher standards.

In order to make the half-time program of the Indian boarding school approximate successful cooperative part-time plans of vocational training elsewhere it will be necessary to investigate outside occupations where Indian boys and girls might find a place; to confine the plan to older and more advanced students for whom a specific period of vocational training is clearly the next step; and to employ as directors and teachers of trades persons professionally trained for such work at least to the level of federally-aided public vocational schools of secondary grade. Employment in real adult situations outside would also bring payment for actual service, thereby giving part of the much-needed reality that is lacking in a school where pupils work but are not paid for working and cannot see the relation between labor and life.

The Outing System. The nearest approach in the Indian Service to the cooperative part-time plan is the so-called "outing system," which, originally established at the old Carlisle School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is still praised by graduates of that institution where-ever one finds them. Its possibilities for specific vocational training have hardly ever been given a fair trial. Whatever it may have been in the past, at present the outing system is mainly a plan for hiring out boys for odd jobs and girls for domestic service, seldom a plan for providing real vocational training.

Values for Indian boys and girls quite beyond those of ordinary vocational training might be found in some modification of the outing system, if it could be administered as part of a coordinated program of education and placement by trained vocational people. It might help materially to bridge the gap between school and life, in particular aiding the Indian to overcome the personality handicaps that interfere seriously with his employment possibilities. The old Carlisle plan, if the recollections of those who took part in it are to be trusted, was specially strong in this, that it brought Indian boys and girls into touch with better types of whites and gave them confidence in their ability to get--along with other people out in everyday life. It is certainly true that some of the most successful Indians met with are those who were on the outing system at Carlisle or had similar training at Hampton Institute.

Vocational Guidance, Placement, and Follow-Up. Vocational guidance needs are rightly stressed in the Indian Service course of study, but the one thing necessary to realize the aims there set forth, trained personnel, is lacking. The public school systems that have set up successful programs of guidance and placement have been particularly careful to put only trained people in charge of the work, university graduates with special preparation. The field is an unusually difficult and delicate one. Whatever is done in the Indian Service should not only be national in scope, under the direction of a staff technician who knows vocational opportunities nationally and can work with the various other federal agencies engaged in placement, but should also be carried out by subordinates in the field who have had the requisite training in occupations.

Indian Service experience in this type of work so far has been exceedingly unfortunate. For example, as a result of lack of professional handling of vocational guidance and placement Indian school children as young as 11 years of age have been sent to the beet fields of Colorado and Kansas. The official circular from the Phoenix office of the Indian Service, under date of March 24, 1927, describes this work in the beet fields as" light work, though tedious." The beet thinning, the circular explains," is all done in stooping over or on the hands and knees." " Small boys are very well adapted to this work and it can be done very nicely by the boy of from 13 to 14 years of age." " It is preferred to take boys of only school age." In some cases the date of beginning is several weeks before the close of school. No escorts are sent with the boys, experience having shown, says the circular, that the older Indian boys are better for this task than an employee. The piece-work system prevails. The boys have to pay one of their number as foreman, and another as cook; they are charged a dollar a season for the company hoes they use in thinning the beets and a dollar a month for hospital, and they have to "find" their own groceries, fuel and clothes. They are charged $20 for transportation to and from the fields in the Government Transportation Unit trucks, and precautions are taken to have good equipment and drivers so that "if an accident occurs it will be simply a matter of regret and not of remorse."8

No one familiar with employment conditions can read official statements like this without realizing the dangers of placement work for Indians in the hands of persons who, however excellent their intentions, have so little conception of the right relation between education and industry.

Education and Economic Wealth. One of the arguments that was most effective in securing the passage by Congress of the Smith-Hughes Vocational Educational Act of 1916 was that which indicated the definite relation between education and economic wealth. It has been shown repeatedly that effective development of economic resources is almost directly dependent upon programs of training. The Indian population of the United States is particularly in need of the kind of vocational training that will lead directly to increased wealth. As shown in the chapter on economic conditions of this report, the case of a very few well-to-do Indians has obscured the fact that on the whole Indians are in a bad economic situation. They need to have education applied to such resources as they have. A comprehensive program to this end would include, besides the school vocational training already suggested, a study of the special industrial opportunities in certain regions, similar to the sheep and goat enterprises recommended by Supervisor Faris; a marketing scheme for genuine Indian products, such as Navajo rugs and Hopi pottery, that will preserve the original craft values and yet give the Indians the full benefit of their skill and creative genius; a utilization of part of Indian capital resources, oil and lumber, in particular, for permanent support of education after tribal capital is gone; and especially the kind of community adult-education in agriculture that forms part of such efforts as the "Five-Year Program" described elsewhere in this report.

5 There is no individuality in clothes in most schools, and suits are apparently passed on interminably, necessitating repeated repair. Professor Dale of the survey staff has a record of one pair of trousers worn, according to the labels, by twelve Indian boys successively.

6 See pages 627 and 628, also 639 and 640.

7 Bobbitt; The Curriculum

8 For further details of this work, see the chapter on Economics, pages 524 to

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Last modified April 24, 2008