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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 Non-Reservation Boarding School. Although the present Indian Office policy rightly favors elimination of small children from the non-reservation boarding schools and the admission of Indian children wherever possible to public day schools, the boarding school, especially the non-reservation school, is still the most prominent feature of Government Indian education. Of the 69,892 Indian children reported by the Indian Office as enrolled in some kind of schools in 1926, 27,361, or slightly less than two- fifths, were in government and other boarding schools; and of the 26,659 enrolled in government schools, 22,099, or more than four-fifths, were in boarding schools, about evenly divided between non- reservation and reservation schools. The opening of the new school at Fort Wingate, New Mexico, this year increases the number of non-reservation boarding schools from eighteen to nineteen. Among no other people, so far as is known, are as large a proportion of the total number of children of school age located in institutions away from their homes as among Indians under the boarding school policy.

Place of the Non-Reservation School. Whatever the necessity may once have been, the philosophy underlying the establishment of Indian boarding schools, that the way to "civilize" the Indian is to take Indian children, even very young children, as completely as possible away from their home and family life, is at variance with modern views of education and social work, which regard home and family as essential social institutions from which it is generally undesirable to uproot children.11 "One who has observed the devastating effect of the large congregate institution or of the crowded classroom upon the personality of children," says a leading authority on social case work, " begins to understand somewhat better the relation of natural ties, of affection and undivided attention to the normal development of the human being." This is particularly true of the non-reservation boarding school.

It does not follow that non-reservation boarding schools should be immediately abandoned, but the burden of proof rests heavily upon proposals to establish new ones, or to add to the numbers of pupils in existing schools. As quickly as possible the non-reservation boarding schools should be reserved for pupils above sixth grade, and probably soon thereafter for pupils of ninth grade and above. This would leave local schools—public schools wherever possible, government day schools or even small boarding schools where no other arrangement can be made—to take care of all elementary schooling. Indian parents nearly everywhere ask to have their children during the early years, and they are right. The regrettable situations are not those of Indians who want their children at home, but of those who do not, and there is apparently a growing class of Indian parents who have become so used to being fed and clothed by the government that they are glad to get rid of the expense and care of their children by turning them over to the boarding school.

Entirely too many children are already crowded into the non-reservation boarding schools. Many of the schools regularly enroll one-fifth more than their rated capacity, and the "rated capacity" of an Indian school is in excess of ordinary standards. Members of the survey staff were repeatedly told at schools with a rated capacity of around 850 that it was the practice to enroll a thousand or more, even if there was no place to put them, so that the average attendance would meet the requirements for securing the necessary Congressional appropriation. If this is true, the situation should be clearly presented to the Budget Bureau and to Congress, so that better methods of financing may be adopted.

Furthermore, more and more Indian children are coming along for junior and senior high school work, and even if the non-reservation boarding schools were to continue indefinitely on their present enrollment basis, for which there would be no excuse, they would find they had large numbers of older children to replace the smaller grade pupils. But it is admittedly quite possible and desirable, so far as the great mass of Indian boys and girls are concerned, that we should look forward to a time not far distant when special United States boarding schools for Indian children as such will be no more needed than would special United States boarding schools for Italian children, or for German children, or for Spanish children.

Special Opportunities. The non-reservation boarding schools have, however, other opportunities than merely housing and providing schooling for children above the elementary grades. Each of the non-reservation schools should be studied to see what its possibilities are as a special school. Haskell Institute has for some time been making a commendable effort to see its task as one for bringing together widely different Indian racial strains and for undertaking higher training in certain fields. Chilocco is specializing in agriculture in a hopeful fashion. Albuquerque is starting to capitalize the arts and crafts of the Indians of the Southwest. These are examples of what needs to be done for all the places—careful study in the light of the whole Indian population to see what particular contribution each school might make to Indian progress through education. One of the tasks in the inauguration of a comprehensive vocational training program for Indians would be to examine the resources of each school to see what vocational training it could best take on. Rather than to have a number of schools all going in rather heavily for printing, for example (assuming that printing after investigation proves to be a practicable vocation for school training) one or two might specialize in it, and Indian boys wishing to learn the trade thoroughly would know where to go for it.

Some of these schools might well become special schools for distinctive groups of children: For the mentally defective that are beyond the point of ordinary home and school care; for trachoma or tuberculosis groups, such as are already under treatment at one of the reservation schools; for extreme " behavior problem " cases, thereby relieving the general boarding schools from a certain number of their pupils whose record is that of delinquents, who complicate unnecessarily the discipline problem, and for whom special treatment is clearly indicated. In addition there will for a long time to come be a need for schools for children who come from reservations without economic possibilities or from socially submerged homes. Eventually Indians should have this kind of care in state institutions, or under state placement arrangements; but there are still states where Indian children would not have a fair opportunity, where even now they are completely forgotten in the limbo of national and state concern for Indians, and where Indian children will need special attention. It is said that a large proportion of the children in the Mt. Pleasant School, for example, are orphans for whom it would be exceedingly difficult to reconstruct any kind of home life.

Needed Changes. While non-reservation boarding schools are not the place for young children, there is an admitted value for older children quite apart from the special opportunities here suggested, namely, in furnishing new contacts and in adjusting adolescents to conditions different from those found on the reservation or within the narrow boundaries of the community or the tribe. If the schools are to be what they. should be in this and other respects, however, very great improvements will have to be made. Almost without exception Indian boarding schools are "institutional" to an extreme degree. This is especially true of those non-reservation boarding schools that have upwards of a thousand students, where the numbers and general stiffness of the organization create problems that would be bad in any school but are especially serious in Indian schools. Much more attention should be given to boys and girls as individuals rather than in the mass. This will necessitate rooms for two to four students, for example, rather than the immense open dormitory system that prevails so generally; much more adequate health care than is now provided; smaller classes; less of the marching and regimentation that look showy to the outside visitor but hide real dangers; better qualified teachers, matrons and other workers.

Comment has already been made upon the low training standards of boarding school employees. One advantage the non-reservation schools have in this respect is that they are better located and have more prestige than reservation boarding schools, and therefore attract a somewhat better type of person, but lack of training is still conspicuous in the ignorance with which sex problems are handled; in the failure to understand even the rudiments of modern treatment of behavior difficulties; in the constant violations of children's personality—opening pupil's mail from home, for example. Boarding schools should experiment with the cottage plan and other possibilities for overcoming the very bad features of institutionalism which are present in an extraordinary degree in non-reservation boarding schools.

The Returned Student. The problem of the "returned student" is mainly a problem of the non-reservation boarding school. The theory held by some that Indians should be "civilized" by remov- ing them completely from their own environment in childhood has already been described in preceding paragraphs as erroneous. To carry it out with some show of success, however, an elaborate program of guidance, placement, and follow-up would have had to be devised. This was intended to be provided, and doubtless was in part, in the old "outing " system at Carlisle ; but at present, with almost no attempt whatever to follow up those who leave the non-reservation boarding school, either before or at graduation, it is small wonder that tragic situations result.12 To uproot a child from his natural environment without making any effort to teach him how to adjust himself to a new environment, and then send him back to the old, especially with a people at a stage of civilization where the influence of family and home would normally be all-controlling, is to invite disaster. We have learned in all education, and the lesson needs especially to be applied by the government in its handling of Indians, that no educational process is complete with the mere finishing of a certain school or course of study, that for young people the public educational organization must make the transition from school to outside as carefully as possible, only gradually releasing youth to undertake full responsibilities.

Other departments of the national government have already developed methods of handling this problem, and the Indian Service should have the benefit of them. Junior employment service work as carried out in many cities and described by federal agencies in available public documents13 furnishes a necessary basis on which the professional leadership proposed for the Washington office could build up a policy that would have a fair chance to work. Sothe of the plans already found helpful by various units in the Indian Service should be adequately financed and extended. Among these are the returned students' clubs; the agricultural project at Chilocco, which could easily be transformed into a project covering the Indian's own allotment instead of the school land; and building projects for the housing of groups of returned students in communities where the old traditions are strong and the young people would like to get a fresh start without severing themselves completely from their own kindred and community life.

11 In fairness to the Indian Office it should be noted that the tendency in the past few years has been strongly in the direction of encouraging attendance in public day schools.

12 For illustrations, see the chapter on Women and the Home, pages 573

13 Particularly of the Children's Bureau, the United States Employment Service, the Federal Board for Vocational Education, and the Bureau of Education.

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Last modified April 25, 2008