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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.


Mission Schools. From the earliest times the national government has accepted the cooperation of private citizens and private agencies in many of its activities, and there is no reason why it should not continue to do so in the Indian education enterprise. Without attempting to review the long history of missionary efforts for Indians, it would seem that at the present time mission schools might be justified on at least four different grounds; first, as needed supplementary aid to existing facilities; second, to do pioneer work not so likely to be done by public or government schools; third, to furnish school facilities under denominational auspices for those who prefer this; and fourth, to furnish leadership, especially religious leadership, for the Indian people.

Mission Schools as Pioneers. It should not be necessary to depend much longer upon mission schools for the mere purpose of supplementing public facilities for Indians, whether of the state or nation. The total Indian group is so small, in fact less than one-third of 1 per cent of the total population of the United States, and the total cost of maintaining school facilities for Indians is so slight in comparison with the total for the nation, that there would seem to be little excuse for failure to provide ordinary school facilities for all. The national government and the states ought to take the necessary steps to do this at once without having to depend upon religious denominations. For the nation as a nation to depend upon weak little denominational schools to bear the burden of elementary schooling, as on some jurisdictions, seems inexcusable.

The pioneering function will remain as the best justification for mission schools and other private educational enterprises. Abundance of opportunity exists for a needed experimentation that would be of direct benefit to the Indians and to other groups as well. Privately maintained schools are usually credited with a certain amount of freedom that sometimes makes it possible to develop experimentation more readily than in public schools. A few mission schools, for example, are already ahead of other schools in methods of handling boys and girls; in making agriculture and other activities more directly applicable to the life of the surrounding region, and in utilizing the work-opportunities of the school as a means of developing financial responsibility and independence. The fact that mission schools and other private educational agencies have a special opportunity in this direction should not, however, bar the possibility of experimentation in government and public schools.

Government Supervision. In general the principle has been accepted in the United States that parents may if they prefer have their children schooled under private or denominational auspices. There is no reason why Indian parents should not have the same privilege. Equally definite, however, is the principle that in return for the right of parents to educate their children in private and denominational schools of their own choosing, the community shall hold these schools to certain minimum standards. In the case of Indian mission schools the national government should exert its right, as most of the states now do, to supervise denominational and other private schools. It is important, however, that this supervision be of the tolerant and cooperative sort rather than inspectional in character. Furthermore, the surest way to see to it that private schools are kept on a high plane is for the government to set a standard to which only the best private schools can attain, and to have as its educational representatives persons whose char- acter and professional attainments necessarily command respect.

Leadership and Mission Education. Furnishing leadership, especially religious leadership, for the Indian people is a legitimate aim of the mission schools. Under ordinary conditions leadership of any type is more likely to develop out of schools that are operated with the loftiest religious ideals. This is part of the pioneering function already referred to and needs to be recognized. It was the motive for the work of such schools as that at Santee, Nebraska, which remains one of the best illustrations of what can be done in Indian education.

If the pioneering function of mission schools is to be capitalized it would seem highly desirable that there be frequent friendly contacts between government schools, both federal and state, and mission schools. At the present time government schools and mission schools are likely to exist side by side without knowing anything of each other's work. Under the right kind of an arrangement teachers of government and mission schools should be seeing each other frequently; should be attending summer sessions and extension courses together; should be conferring regularly on common problems. Wherever a mission school has undertaken an essential pioneering task it should be eager to show its experiment to teachers in the government schools; and mission school teachers of the backward type should have a chance to see work of any neighboring government school that happens to be better.

Especially should denominations sponsoring mission enterprises understand the necessity for restricting their effort to work that can be adequately supported and for which adequate standards of personnel can be maintained. Some mission schools are decidedly worse than government schools; these should be as quickly as possible abolished or merged with stronger and more promising institutions.

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Last modified April 25, 2008