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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.


The Educational Personnel of the Indian Service. Properly equipped personnel is the most urgent immediate need in the Indian education service. At the present time the government is attempting to do a highly technical job with untrained, and to a certain extent even uneducated, people. It is not necessary to attempt to place the blame for this situation, but it is essential to recognize it and change it.

Amount of Training for Teachers. Standards for teachers and school principals in government schools should be raised to the level of at least the better public school systems. At present only a comparatively small number of the teachers and principals in the Indian Service could qualify on this basis. Public school systems which are regarded as meeting even minimum standards require elementary teachers to have graduated from a teacher-training course of two years beyond high school and an increasing number of the better communities are employing teachers who have completed the work in three-year and four-year teacher training institutions. This is for elementary teachers. For high school teachers communities everywhere have for many years demanded at least college graduation. The chief reason government Indian schools have not been accepted by state and regional accrediting agencies in the past is that they do not have secondary school teachers who meet this minimum requirement. But children in elementary Indian schools require just as well prepared teachers as do high school students. For work similar to that needed with Indian children there is a distinct tendency within public and private schools to employ teachers for all levels who are college or university graduates, with special preparation in the underlying social and other sciences. A good argument could be made for the point of view that the national government should in its own work take the lead in raising standards, but in any case it is not too much to ask that the government's standards shall be at least as high as those of the better states and communities. Not only are they not as high at present; there is even some evidence that the Indian Service is receiving teachers who have been forced out of the schools of their own states because they could not meet the raised standards of those states. The national government could do no better single thing for Indian education than to insist upon the completion of an accepted college or university course, including 360 special preparation for teaching, as the minimum entrance requirement for all educational positions in Indian schools or with Indian people.

Salaries Abnormally Low. The need of higher salaries in the Indian education service is evident when comparison is made with the conditions in public school systems. High pay and school teaching have., never gone together, but Indian school salaries are below any ordinary standards. The uniform elementary salary of $1200 in the Indian Service should be compared with the salaries df elementary school teachers in the fifty-nine cities studied by the National Education Association, which in 1926 ranged as high as $3400, with a large number between $2800 and $2900, and a " median" (average) salary of slightly over $2000. Principals of elementary schools in these same cities averaged over $3000, with the largest number of positions between $3600 and $3800; whereas the salary for principal in an Indian school is usually $1560. High school salaries in the Indian Service have been increased somewhat, so that the $1560 that may lie paid is not a bad beginning salary to teachers without experience, though considerably below what the best well-trained beginners receive, but in order to get and keep qualified high school teachers school systems are paying as high as $3000 to $4000, with nearly $2600 as a median for regular teachers and over $3000 for department heads.

Vocational teachers in public schools under the Smith-Hughes Act usually receive more than other teachers in high schools, and persons having the qualifications called for under such positions as matrons and "disciplinarians" in Indian schools would, if adequate training were insisted upon, command salaries from two to four times what is now paid in Indian schools.

It is sometimes argued that there are plenty of candidates for certain of the positions, particularly teaching. This is a familiar phenomenon to students of occupations. It merely means that standards are so low that anybody may apply. As soon as standards are raised and salaries improved, only the qualified can apply. The Indian school service throughout is an excellent example of the disastrous effects of lack of training standards.

One result of the low salaries is the amount of turnover in some of the schools. In one school visited in March, 1927, there had been twenty-six teachers since September for the eight school rooms. One room up to that time had had ten different teachers. Only two of the eight rooms had in March the teachers they started with in September. What this means for morale and educational progress, is easy to see. It would be a serious matter in any school ; with Navajo Indian children, in dire need of the kind of understanding that comes only after a slow process of getting thoroughly acquainted, it seemed almost to nullify any good effects that might accrue from maintaining a school at all.

Matrons and "Disciplinarians." One of the best illustrations of the need for better equipped personnel is in the case of such positions as " matron " and " disciplinarian." The very words reflect an erroneous conception of the task that needs to be done; but whatever they are called the positions need to be filled by people with appropriate training for this work. The matron of an Indian school influences the lives of boys and girls probably more than any other person on the staff. Education is essentially changing human behavior, for good or ill, and the manner in which the matron and disciplinarian handle the children in their care determines very largely the habits and attitudes that will go to make up what the outside world regards as their personality and character.

It seems almost incredible that for a position as matron the educational requirement is only eighth grade—and even this eighth grade standard is comparatively new. The statement of duties in a recent civil service examination for matron reads as follows:

Appointees, under general direction or supervision, will have charge of the home life of students in Indian boarding school, including the performance of one or more of the following tasks: Directing the household departments of the institution; supervising or directing or promoting the social life of students, training or guiding them in correct habits of health, self- discipline, ethics of right living, physical training or recreational work; teaching vocational guidance, housekeeping, care and repair of clothing. Appointees may be required to serve on a vocational guidance committee. The head matron's duties are chiefly supervisory and executive in character.

One would expect, in view of this statement of duties, training requirements that would include high school and college and certain specific training for handling children. As a matter of fact, however, all that is required in addition to the schooling of eight grades or the " equivalent " is one of the following:

a. 6 months training or experience in four of the following: institution child welfare, social service, home nursing or visiting nurse, home management or general housekeeping, domestic science, general cookery, family sewing, care of children, teaching
b. 1 year as matron
c. 2 years normal training d.
2 years nurse training
e. 2 years home economics

Professional Qualifications Necessary. It will be noted that a woman so poorly educated as to have only eight grades, not even the present average of the population of the United States, would be eligible for any of these positions, provided she could qualify with six months' experience " in home management or general housekeeping, general cookery, family sewing, or care of children." In other words, practically any woman who had ever had anything to do with a household would be eligible for a position which really requires not only a good general education but high ability and special professional training. For this work head matrons ordinarily receive $1320 and other matrons and assistant matrons from $780 to $1140.11 It is a tribute to humanity in general that under such a scheme the matrons have been even as good as they are. At a time when business, nursing, and practically all fields open to women are insisting upon high school graduation as the minimum prerequisite for any specialized training and when the types of work such as are described under the position of matron are more and more being prepared for by special professional courses in colleges and universities, it seems incredible that the government of the United States should invite as candidates people with no schooling beyond the elementary grades and no real technical preparation.

It is easily possible to describe these positions as to qualifications and training in such a way that workers specially prepared to do the work can be obtained. National associations in the various educational and social fields have done considerable work on qualifications of personnel, and would undoubtedly be willing to lend their material to assist the government in the effort to bring government conditions more nearly up to what a modern community would expect. One difficulty is that in practice certain positions, especially those of assistants to disciplinarians and matrons, have apparently been set aside for Indians exclusively. This would seem to be an extremely doubtful procedure, of no real benefit to the Indians from the point of view of employment and decidedly objectionable from the point of view of the welfare of children in Indian schools. Capable Indians should most certainly be encouraged to get the necessary general and special preparation for such positions as these, but the positions should not be assigned to Indians solely because they are Indians.

Methods of Appointment. Certain appointment peculiarities in the Indian educational service also need to be carefully considered. For example, appointments in the Indian Service are seldom made at the time of year best calculated to get good candidates. American school heads make a practice of selecting most of their teachers for the following year between February and June, thereby assuring themselves of experienced teachers who have made good and also of the best new candidates available from the colleges, universities, and teacher-training institutions generally. In contrast to this, Indian Service examinations have been held comparatively late, and appointments not made until so far along that most of the good candidates have already accepted positions. Again, the modern school head almost invariably interviews the candidate for a position in his school and either sees the candidate in action or gets first-hand information from qualified persons who have. It may not be possible under government conditions to do the thing on such a personal basis as this, but it would be highly desirable if competent heads of schools in the Indian Service could have the same opportunity public school superintendents and heads of private schools have of seeing to it that a teacher is selected who fits the special conditions of his employment. In any case, it should be possible so to place the examination and selection that all the really worth while candidates will not be gone by the time the Indian Service comes around.

Furthermore, the probationary period of six months customary in the national civil service is not adapted to Indian schools. If an appointment is made late in the spring, as frequently happens under the methods that prevail, the teacher has but a few weeks at the end of the school year, when conditions are hardly normal, and a few more weeks in the fall, to demonstrate his abilities. Schools that have given careful attention to their personnel problem usually insist upon a full school year as the minimum time in which to judge of a teacher's success in his work.

These and other special difficulties in Indian educational service appointments point to the necessity for a personnel agency at the Washington office which will work on this task of recruiting the right kind of personnel for the Indian Service. Whatever success has attended other efforts in the recruiting of teachers and other educational employees, notably in the case of the Philippines and Porto Rico, was brought about by special attention to this problem.

Chief Changes Needed in Personnel Provisions. In the sections that follow other changes that are needed to improve Indian Service educational personnel are briefly summarized:

1. Superintendents of reservations as well as of schools should be held to at least as high qualifications as superintendents of public schools or directors of extension work.

The position of superintendent is an educational one in the broad sense of the term, requiring qualifications similar to those demanded of persons occupying positions in the two fields indicated. At the present time no public school board would think of employing a superintendent of schools who was not at least a college graduate, with special training and experience for his work, and many communities now demand considerable advanced special work beyond college graduation. This is not a theoretical matter; school boards have simply learned that educational administration is a profession requiring special preparation, and that it is a practical procedure to pay sufficient salary to get qualified people. It is true that the Indian Service has as superintendents of both schools and reservations some very able men who do not have the qualifications here suggested. This is merely because they are the product of the period when this training was not provided to the extent that it is now. The Indian Service can no longer hope, under present changed conditions with regard to training everywhere, to bring in superintendents of a high type unless better educational qualifications are set up.

2. The principle of the salary schedule should be applied to the Indian education service, so that professionally qualified teachers and other members of the educational staff entering the service can count upon salary increases for capable work.

At the present time, while the entrance salary for elementary teachers is low as compared with better American school communities, the greatest difficulty is not the low entrance salary so much as the fact that advancement is almost unknown. It was the clear purpose of the application of reclassification to the field service to insure promotion within the grade upon satisfactory work, but it is the regular thing to find everywhere in the Indian Service elementary teachers of many years' experience receiving the same $1200 paid to the beginning teacher. Nothing could be so destructive of morale as this. In a good city school system entrance salaries for the type of work required by the Indian Service would ordinarily be more than $1200, but, what is even more important, there would be, in any case, a salary schedule in effect which would provide systematic increases. The Indian school service is almost alone among modern educational systems in not having a definite salary schedule. The Research Division of the National Education Association, which has made a special study of the matter, is authority for the statement that practically all large cities and approximately 70 per cent of all communities over 2500 population have salary schedules for the school system.

3. The present " educational leave " should be extended to cover at least the six weeks required for a minimum university summer session.

One of the obvious disadvantages of teaching in a government Indian school has for years been that whereas teachers elsewhere have the long summer vacation in which to travel or do summer school work, the Indian Service teacher had only the thirty days allowed other civil service employees. A commendable change was made when " educational leave " began to be granted. At present, however, this amounts to only four weeks, which means that unless the teacher or principal uses also his annual leave, which is given him for another purpose, he cannot remain for the full summer course. It is to the credit of the teachers in Indian schools that many of them surrender their annual leave in order to complete regular six weeks' courses. This, however, is not necessary or desirable. Educational leave is not to he regarded as a special privilege for the employee, but rather as a necessity for the government, which thereby sees to it that the teaching staff is kept in touch with current theory and practice in education. Some of the most encouraging teaching seen in Indian schools has been by teachers who have made the most of their opportunity at summer schools while on educational leave.

The principle involved in "educational leave " should also be recognized to the extent of detailing an employee to visit other schools, whether in the government service or not; to study employment of other conditions having to do with his educational work; in other words, to secure any supplementary equipment from time to time that will enable him to do a better job. This principle has long been recognized by private business and by other government services, national, state, and local, and application of it is especially needed in the Indian Service. In particular the attendance of teachers and other educational officials at educational meetings should be encouraged and not made practically impossible, as at present. Public school boards and state educational departments regularly send superintendents and other school employees to educational meetings at public expense because of the obvious advantage to the school system itself of keeping in touch with the work other schools and school systems are doing. No one can visit an Indian school without realizing how much the government work is handicapped by the fact that the government does not provide similarly for attendance of Indian school people at educational meetings.

4. There is a need for a definite program of pre-service training for Indian school work.

Just as modern corporations provide training for their employees because they have found it economy to do so, the government would find it very useful to undertake a brief period of pre-service training to acquaint appointees or prospective appointees with some of the conditions they will find in the Indian Service. Indian schools and Indian educational programs generally need not be as different from those used elsewhere as some people assume, but there are conditions that can and should be made known to teachers and others about to enter the service. This training should include a short time spent at the Indian Office to familiarize the appointee with the general organization and certain of the problems from the central office point of view; probably a short survey of other bureaus of the national government that have any bearing on the education of the Indian; and brief visits to several schools or reservations in different parts of the United States. Too frequently a teacher is deposited at an Indian school with no previous knowledge whatever of Indian life, of the part of the country where the work is located, or of the special conditions that prevail. This pre-service training might well be an integral part of the appointment and probationary service previously suggested.

5. Personnel standards will have to be raised for other employees as well as for members of the strictly " teaching " staff. The most promising feature of Indian educational policy, namely, the determination to provide an educational program that will include as an integral factor industrial and other activities, falls down almost completely as a result of the low standards of training. The so- called platoon or "work-study-play" plan, for example, which many American communities have found helpful because it compels consideration of a richer educational program than might otherwise be furnished, cannot possibly succeed in Indian schools unless those in charge of the " auditorium " features, the farm, the dairy, the shop, and unless other activities are resourceful and well prepared for the work. The success of much of the home economics work in the boarding schools in the face of almost insurmountable difficulties is due to an insistence upon training standards for home-economics teachers that, while by no means ideal, are far ahead of shop and other industrial workers, matrons, and ordinary academic teachers. In only a handful of instances in the entire Indian Service could the teacher of agriculture or industrial work qualify for the corresponding type of work in a public vocational secondary school as stipulated by act of Congress and the regulations of the Federal Board for Vocational Education. In the case of vocational teachers one department of the national government thereby fails to carry out or even approximate the standards set up by another agency of the government created by Congress for the express purpose of establishing such standards.

6. More attention will need to be paid to service conditions aside from compensation.

The difficulties of getting and retaining qualified employees for the educational service are not confined to salary and salary schedules, important though these are. It would be difficult to find an educational work where the hours are as confining, the amount of free time as nearly nil, the conditions of housing as poor, as in the Indian educational service. In the boarding schools the teachers and other staff persons are almost literally on a twenty-four-hour service basis, seven days in the week. The summer school provision recently made means that teachers are obliged to teach in the summer session without additional pay—a condition that obtains, so far as is known, nowhere else in the United States and one that could only be justified by higher compensation. In the day schools the teachers are obliged to go almost entirely without any of the congenial companionship that is an essential to morale.

Living conditions at many Indian agencies and schools represent a survival of primitive rural conditions of forty years ago, of a type no longer existent in quite such an extreme form even in the remote rural districts of states in which the agencies are located. Sometimes, for example, there are only oil or gasoline lamps; it is impossible to get to town ; roads are so inferior to the surrounding highways of the state and nation that the agency is inaccessible certain months of the year, or automobiles have to be pulled through by "teams. The road leading from a town to an Indian agency is usually reasonably good until the government reservation property is reached, when it becomes very bad. Better salaries and a salary schedule would draw qualified teachers to an Indian reservation ninety miles from the railroad, but unless some care is taken to make living and working conditions worth while even better pay will not hold them long. It is worth noting that there are some localities where the efforts to improve living conditions have helped tenure and morale notably even with the present low salaries and impossibility of promotion.

New Educational Positions Needed. As better qualified teachers and principals begin to be provided for Indian schools it will gradually be possible to shift the emphasis from mere administration and inspection, as at present, to real professional direction and supervision. In this respect the Indian Service is about where most states were a quarter of a century ago, when adequate state leadership in education first began. At that period the state departments of education began adding to their staffs specialists in secondary education, in vocational education, and in various other fields, until today a typical state department of public instruction will consist very largely of a well-equipped technical staff whose task is that of providing help and direction to the schools of the state, the schools accepting this aid, not because they are required to—indeed compulsion is often entirely lacking—but because it is valuable to them. The state, in its turn, finds it is good policy to accompany state financial aid with the technical assistance necessary to see that the money is expended as far as possible in accordance with the best educational practice.

In the Indian Service application of the same principle would mean that instead of a largely administrative and clerical service at the Washington office, whose time is necessarily taken up to a very considerable extent with insignificant and often irritating details, there would be in addition a comparatively small scientifically trained educational staff, such as other government bureaus have, whose task it would be to furnish the necessary professional direction now so often lacking for the broad educational program of the Indian Service. This educational staff at Washington should comprise, in addition to the already existent positions (which include school administration, home economics, and nursing education) other temporary or permanent specialists in health education; vocational education, including agriculture and farm and home demonstration; vocational guidance; adult education; and school social work of the visiting teacher type. The total number of such positions would be small, and the aggregate expense a mere fraction of the total appropriation for education, but there can be little doubt that the effect would be similar to that experienced by state departments of public instruction, which have found this to be the economical way of making appropriations bring maximum results.

New types of employees are also needed for the schools and the reservations, either for present positions or in addition to them. The titles of "disciplinarian" and " matron " should be abolished in the Indian schools and the names of the positions created in their stead should designate the real character of the duties performed. Persons in other educational fields have difficulty in understanding how such a position as " disciplinarian " can exist. The poorest "disciplinarians " are an obstacle to Indian progress; the best try very hard to be directors of boys' activities or even " deans," to use a word that secondary schools have taken from the colleges. The position should be on at least as high a level in training and and salary as other educational positions in the school. In public schools coaches and athletic directors nowadays are almost invariably college graduates, and there is a decided tendency to require special qualifications for this work because of its recognized importance for character training. The corresponding position in an Indian school carries even greater responsibilities than those of the school athletic director, since the whole social and individual life of the boys is affected, day and night, and special social and racial factors are involved that few athletic directors, even of the better type, would know anything about. Directors and staffs of modern summer camps come nearer what is required of the boys' director in an Indian school. As the public schools develop and the boarding schools cease to be the prominent feature of Indian education they have been, there will be more and more need for community workers in health and education, especially social workers with family case-work training to make the necessary connection between the schools and the homes. There is nothing visionary about this. It is already being done successfully in a number of urban communities, and there are social agencies engaged in training persons for this type of work. The principle upon which these positions should be established is that of having as few positions as possible, but well paid and responsible, with college and special training insisted upon, even if it becomes necessary to fill positions slowly, rather than to fill a lot of positions with inadequately trained people. In the creation of needed new positions the government should avoid its previous mistakes in the Indian Service and set up high standards of personnel.

11 The examination announcements indicate possibility of promotion, but funds have never been provided to make promotions possible. The figures given include the estimated value of maintenance.

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Last modified April 24, 2008