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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.


Religious Education. Religious education is in a sense the basis of all education, should permeate all. "We find a consensus of opinion that religion, being a vital experience, is an essential factor in education, and that no development of skill or knowledge can compensate for lack of religion," says a recent statement by a representative interdenominational committee. For the Indian this is especially important, since he has an attitude of reverence to begin with. That the government should have endeavored to meet the religious need is therefore natural and commendable; that the religious education provided should have shown so little success is hardly the fault of the government, but can be traced to failure on the part of religious organizations to apply to the Indian situation methods they have found successful in other fields, to the relatively poor type of religious worker supplied on so many reservations, and to inability on the part of many missionaries to connect religion with Indian life in any real way. Exceptions are found, of course, but in the main the religious education of the Indian has been anything but successful from whatever point of view it is examined.

Types of Religious Education. Some experienced leaders in religious education would attribute the comparative ineffectiveness of religious education among Indians to a too great dependence by the missionaries upon the purely preaching and evangelistic side of their work as compared with the practice of everyday Christianity. The point will perhaps be clearer if one realizes that most kinds of education sooner or later pass through three stages: One of "information" and sermonizing; a second, devoted mainly to habit-formation; and a third combining information, habit, and attitude to make what might be termed the stage of "discriminating choice," where right conduct results from a well-reasoned decision to do the right thing. To illustrate from another field, health education was at one time largely taught in the purely informational way, on the erroneous assumption that knowledge of what is right in health necessarily leads to right action in health matters. This has recently been followed by an emphasis upon the building up of health habits in young children, as part and parcel of their everyday lives, leading eventually to a sound structure of habit and attitude in adults throughout life. Leaders in religious education make the same point with regard to religion, and recent experience in religious education has tended to emphasize the direct practice of fundamental religious principles through everyday activities rather than dependence upon the information type of instruction alone. In accordance with this principle the more significant work of missions generally in recent years has combined with the original evangelistic message practical exemplification of the religious life in hospitals, schools, and social service. Among Indians, however, much of the missionary work is still almost exclusively confined to the purely evangelistic side. Thus at one school visited the children attended religious services for two hours Wednesday evenings, two hours Thursday evenings10 and twice on Sunday. Even the fact that the preaching was better than average cannot save this type of religious education from defeating its own purpose, especially with the compulsory attendance feature that is attached. The boys and girls of this and other Indian schools need a real program of religious education, which would include relatively little forced church-going and Sunday-school attendance but a large amount of scouting, club work, and other activities that will help make religion part of their daily lives and connect with their homes. Few of the missionaries -on the Indian field are equipped by training or experience to make the personal and community contacts that are essential in a modern program.

Missions and a Social Viewpoint. Pioneer Indian missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, were conspicuous for their ability to live with the Indian people, know the lives of individual Indians, and build on what they found. This is the reason, doubtless, why some of the best missionary education still seen among Indians is the direct continuation of their work. Judged educationally, current religious efforts among Indians fall down at precisely this point, knowing little of Indian religion or life, many missionaries begin on the erroneous theory that it is first of all necessary to destroy what the Indian has, rather than to use what he has as a starting point for something else. The fact that some of the denominations have apparently sent to many Indian jurisdictions weaker than average workers brings it about that instead of the broad handling of the religious background that one finds on other mission fields, involving recognition and even appreciation of the religious impulses and traditions of a people, the Indian missionary is only too likely to be a person who, however honest his intentions and earnest his zeal (and there are places in the Indian field where even these must be questioned), puts most of his energies into non-essentials. One finds him fighting tribal ceremonies without really knowing whether they are good or bad, interfering with the innocent amusements of agency employees, or fussing over matters affecting mainly his own convenience. It is hardly to be wondered at that after many years of work this type of missionary has little to show in building up personal character among Indians or developing the religious life of the community.

Here again one must admit some striking exceptions. Certain women missionaries have carried out the best traditions of their calling in healing the sick and caring for the unfortunate; three or four Catholic and Protestant mission schools show a better knowledge of underlying human nature than any government schools; in one or two places mission efforts have outdone all others in getting at the essential economic life; one or two missionaries have caught the spirit of community houses, home visiting, and other types of social service; but they are few and far between.

It is here that the churches have a special opportunity. One of the greatest needs of Indian education is for community workers with family case work training and experience for service between school and home. As Indian education becomes more and more a home and community task, rather than a boarding school task, it will be necessary to have high-grade field workers of the visiting teacher type to supply what many public schools are not yet ready to furnish and help build up the normal family life that has been all but destroyed under the boarding school policy. The churches have, done something of this sort in a few urban localities; they could do an important pioneer service by undertaking it with Indians.

10 Actual compulsion was limited to one hour on each of these nights

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Last modified April 25, 2008