This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner Home Page About AKRSI Publications Academic Programs Curriculum Resources Calendar of Events Announcements Site Index This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner This is part of the ANKN Banner
Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide


Scanned-Digitized Version
Thomas (Tom) R. Hopkins

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


Public Schools and Indian Children. The present plan of the government to put Indian children into public schools wherever possible is commendable as a general policy. It will be necessary to make certain, however: (1) That the step is not taken too hastily in any given situation and as a mere matter of temporary saving of money; (2) that the federal authorities retain sufficient professional direction to make sure the needs of the Indians are met; (3) that the ordinary school facilities are supplemented by health supervision and visiting teacher work—types of aid most needed at present among Indians; (4) that adult education and other community activities are provided.

Advantages of the Public School. Like the government day school, the public school has the great advantage that the children are left in their own home and family setting. In addition (and many Indians regard this as especially important) attendance of Indian children at the public school means that the Indian children usually have chance to associate daily with members of the white race. Any policy for Indians based on the notion that they can or should be kept permanently isolated from other Americans is bound to fail; mingling is inevitable, and Indian children brought up in public schools with white children have the advantage of early contacts with whites while still retaining their connection with their own Indian family and home. This would seem to be a good thing for both sides. Any one observing Indian children in various types of schools—boarding schools, day schools, and public schools—throughout the country, as members of the survey staff did, is forced to conclude that on the whole Indian children in public schools are getting a better opportunity than others ; and it also seems likely that white children who have been used to Indians in the public school will have less difficulty in working with them later.

Furthermore, admission of Indian children to public schools involves the important principle of recognition of the Indian by the state. Many of the difficulties of the Indian at present are that he is regarded as in the twilight zone between federal and state authority; the state's welfare activities, usually in advance of what the national government is doing for the Indian, are not available for him because he is regarded as "a ward of the government." Once the Indian child is admitted to the public schools with other children, the community begins to take a much more active interest in him as a citizen. Parents of other children become excited, for example, over the health conditions of Indians, if only for the selfish and natural reason that the health of their own children may be affected. In ruling that the Indian child must be admitted to the public schools the California courts have taken the broad ground that any other action would be a violation of the state's constitutional guarantees of equal educational opportunity. If the states are ever to amalgamate the Indians justly and effectively with the rest of their citizenship, they should begin by taking the responsibility for educating Indian children in the public schools.

Danger in Too Rapid Extension. That the government will put Indian children too rapidly into public schools is a real danger, or at least it may fail to follow them up properly when the change takes place. Small though the per capita for Indian boarding schools is, even this is a larger amount than the cost for tuition in a public school. The temptation is therefore a very real one for the government to save money and wash its hands of responsibility for the Indian child. The rapid increase in public school attendance in the past few years suggests that the government has perhaps been more concerned with "getting from under" and saving a little money than with furnishing Indian children the kind of education they need. Although the admission of Indian children to public schools is a recent development, 37,730, or more than half of the total of 69,892 Indian children reported attending all schools in 1926, were in public schools. The number has more than doubled since 1912. In California alone, government officers estimate, nearly four thousand Indian children have been put into public schools in the past five years. This is excellent, of course, especially in a state which furnishes as good educational facilities as California does, provided care is taken to see that the children thus enrolled are actually getting the advantages of such schooling as the community affords; and provided, also, the health and other needs of the Indian child are looked after. In the State of Washington, where there is a state school administration especially interested in Indian education, state officers estimate that there are three thousand Indian boys and girls but only two thousand of them attending school. In Oklahoma, where by far the largest numbers of Indian children live, it was clear in some localities that the right to attend public school meant little to full-blood Indians; they were attending irregularly or not at all.

Finance and Supervision. A more carefully thought-out method of financial aid and better governmental supervision would improve the situation considerably in many places, especially in the Oklahoma situations just cited. The rate of tuition paid by the national government is theoretically fixed to cover the loss to the state or local community resulting from non-taxation of Indian lands. Actually the rate varies from ten cents per capita per day among the Five Civilized Tribes to forty or fifty cents or even more in some places. If the intention of the government is to furnish adequate schooling for Indian children, the present tuition practice has obvious limitations. It means often that the high tuition rate is paid to comparatively well-to-do communities, and the low rate to poor school communities. Some of the poorest public school facilities for Indian children are in those parts of Oklahoma where only ten cents per day per child is paid—quite insufficient to induce the school authorities to put forth any effort to get and keep Indian children in school. On the other hand, some of the best school opportunities anywhere for Indian children are in the richer districts of Oklahoma. It would seem as if the national government might work out for Indian children a plan of equalization by financial aid similar to plans now in operation in most of the states.

In the Oklahoma state education survey made by the United States Bureau of Education in 1923, it was shown that the loss in school funds to the State of Oklahoma resulting from non-taxation of Indian lands amounted annually to $428,000. It would be a mistake, however, to turn this or any other amount over to the states for Indian education without better guarantees than now exist. Some form of federal supervision is necessary until such time as the states fully accept their Indian citizens. At present the best public school provision for Indian children is usually found in those places where there exists a combination of public conscience on the Indian question and a good full time " day-school inspector" or supervisor. Notwithstanding the inadequate salaries, the government has in its service some excellent officers supervising public school attendance who have managed to make records for Indian children that would be considered good for any community.

School Social Workers. Although supervisors or attendance officers are needed, especially at certain stages, what is even more necessary in the public school situation is the school social worker of the visiting teacher type, who, with the public health nurse, can visit the homes and make the essential contact between home and school. Properly qualified workers of this kind, college women with training in family case work and experience in teaching, have been conspicuously successful in handling among foreign-horn children in the cities problems that are very similar to those met with among Indians. To hand over the task of Indian schooling to the public school without providing public health nurse service, family visiting, and some oversight of housing, feeding, and clothing, results unfortunately for the Indian child, especially the full-blood. He becomes irregular in school attendance, loses interest, feels that he is inferior, leaves school as soon as possible; or, in some cases, he is regarded by the white parents as a disease menace, and is barred from school on that ground, though often a little attention by a public health nurse or the school family case worker would clear up the home difficulty and make school attendance normal and regular.

An important by-product of both school nurse and family case work is, of course, the educational effect in the home. Instead of being isolated from the changes that take place, as with boarding school children, the Indian home from which the children go daily to the public school tends to change with the children, especially if the nurse and the school social worker are skillful in making the connection between school and home. This is only one of many kinds of adult education that need to go on in an Indian community even if the ordinary schooling for children is provided in a public school. The policy of the national government should continue to be to get Indian children as rapidly as possible into public schools, but the government should make certain at the same time that the fundamental needs of health care, home betterment, agricultural and industrial instruction, and other kinds of community education, are met. Public schools in remote Indian jurisdictions are likely to be lacking in just these newer kinds of child care and community education that better localities provide and that are especially necessary for Indians.

Go to University of AlaskaThe University of Alaska Fairbanks is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity employer, educational institution, and provider is a part of the University of Alaska system. Learn more about UA's notice of nondiscrimination.


Alaska Native Knowledge Network
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 756730
Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
Fax (907) 474.1957
Questions or comments?
Last modified April 25, 2008