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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.


School Organization in the Indian Service. In an effort to furnish Indian boys and girls with a type of education that would be practical and cost little the government years ago adopted for the boarding schools a half-time plan whereby pupils spend half the school day in " academic " subjects and the remaining half day in work about the institution. Some of the best educational programs for any people have been built upon some such provision of work opportunities. As administered at present in the Indian Service, however, this otherwise useful method has lost much of its effectiveness and has probably become a menace to both health and education.

Half-Time Plan Not Feasible for All Children. If the labor of the boarding school is to be done by the pupils, it is essential that the pupils be old enough and strong enough to do institutional work. Whatever may once have been the case, Indian children are now coming into the boarding schools much too young for heavy institutional labor. It is the stated policy of the government to discourage attendance of young children at the larger boarding schools, but even in these schools there are numbers of young children, and in the reservation boarding schools the children are conspicuously small. At Leupp, for instance, one hundred of the 191 girls are 11 years of age or under. The result is that the institutional work, instead of being done wholly by able-bodied youths of 15 to 20 nominally enrolled in the early grades, has to be done, in part at least, by very small children—children, moreover, who, according to competent medical opinion, are malnourished. Indian Office reports speak of the introduction of laborsaving devices as if they were an accomplished fact, but actually little has been done in this direction; there is no money. In nearly every boarding school one will find children of 10, 11, and 12 spending four hours a day in more or less heavy industrial work—dairying, kitchen work, laundry, shop. The work is bad for children of this age, especially children not physically well-nourished; most of it is in no sense educational, since the operations are large-scale and bear little relation to either home or industrial life outside; and it is admittedly unsatisfactory even from the point of view of getting the work done. To make a half-day program feasible, even for older students, a plan of direct pay for actual work is probably better, such as has been in operation at the Santee Normal Training School, Santee, Nebraska. Undoubtedly all pupils should have a hand in the institutional work as part of "civic " training, but for this a comparatively small amount of time would suffice, an hour a day, perhaps. At present the half-day plan is felt to be necessary, not because it can be defended on health or educational grounds, for it cannot, but because the small amount of money allowed for food and clothes makes it necessary to use child labor. The official Course of Study for Indian Schools says frankly:

In our Indian schools a large amount of productive work is necessary. They could not possibly be maintained on the amounts appropriated by Congress for their support were it not for the fact that students [i.e., children] are required to do the washing, ironing, baking, cooking, sewing; to care for the dairy, farm, garden, grounds, buildings, etc.—an amount of labor that has in the aggregate a very appreciable monetary value.4

The term "child labor" is used advisedly. The labor of children as carried on in Indian boarding schools would, it is believed, constitute a violation of child labor laws in most states.

A Full-Day Educational Program Needed. Pupils of the first six grades in Indian schools should be in school all day. Indeed, if the right kind of educational program is provided, that is, not limited to "academic " subjects, it may safely be said that, except for conspicuously over-age children, the Indian school should as a minimum approximate the opportunities for other children by regarding the years through 14, at least, as primarily for education, and not for "work" in the adult sense.

In Indian schools, as in all good modern school systems, a full-day educational program should continue through the first six years or grades. This should not be a mere three R's academic program which would be just as bad a mistake as the present system, but one that will offer to all pupils abundant provision for play and recreation, work activities of a useful and educational nature, and creative opportunities in art and music. This should be followed by a semi-industrial junior or middle school period of approximately three years with plenty of industrial choices and specific vocational training for chronologically older boys, but a period, after all, the content of which shall be determined by general educational aims rather than by the needs of the institution or even vocational aims except in the case of older children. This in turn should be followed by three years of senior high school work, specifically vocational for some students, sufficiently general in the case of others to leave the way clear for further education in college and university for students who show that they could profit by it. No special magic, of course, inheres in this division into three-year periods, but an Indian school whose organization followed this plan would be reasonable certain of tying in with the junior high school movement that has been developing everywhere in the United States and at the same time coming closest to what is probably the best type of organization for schools that has so far been devised; a primary and elementary school designed to give certain needed skills, information, habits, attitudes, behavior; a junior high school for all children that goes more definitely and directly into the field of citizenship, vocations, physical education and conduct control; and a senior school that will prepare specifically for future careers.

The Platoon Plan. "The boarding school program," says the 1926 report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, " has been so modified that there shall be assigned each week one half-time for classroom instruction, one-fourth for vocational instruction, and one-fourth for institutional work details of pupils. . . . The school program is essentially the platoon system of organization."

The platoon plan, however, has been tried out in only a few schools so far, but it clearly represents, a commendable effort to give Indian children more of a chance at a real education than they now have. As carried out in the few schools that have tried it the plan is not the platoon system of organization as that system is understood by the large number of cities that have adopted it for their public school systems, chiefly because the national government has not put into it anything like the resources that public school systems have found necessary. It should be said, however, that anything that will release Indian boarding school children from what the Commissioner of Indian Affairs himself appropriately calls " noneducational routine labor " is a step in the right direction. At one school visited the heads of the work departments objected at first to the plan because it gave them the children for only two-hour work periods instead of four, but they later in the year withdrew their objection because, as they said, they found the children did as much labor in two hours as they had previously done in four, and the morale was better. Of course production aims should not control in the education of Indians, any more than they should in the education of whites, but the entire half-day plan has been controlled by the necessity of production, and the platoon plan will not be able to develop into what it should unless an educational rather than a production aim is definitely accepted for Indian education and the funds are provided to get it.

The Personnel Problem Again. Furthermore, the personnel problem that affects everything in the Indian Service is involved; the platoon plan requires people who have, besides a good general education, special training in directing the assembly periods that are characteristic of the platoon plan at its best, capable health education directors to handle the all-round play and health education features that are provided for every child, qualified teachers of industries, and other special workers. The Indian schools have the activities in part, but they need the personnel. Principals, teachers, and staff people who are responsible for carrying out the platoon plan of organization should keep constantly in touch with the work that is being done all over the United States, visiting other platoon schools, and utilizing the resources of the United States Bureau of Education, the recently formed Platoon School Association, and other agencies that are active in this field.

It is only fair to say, too, that certain objections to the platoon or work-study-play plan apply with special force to the Indian Service. Unless the right kind of teachers are secured and they integrate their activities to make a well-rounded educational pro- gram, there is danger that the various parts of the work will be as unrelated to each other as they are now. But the platoon plan, even without the features that should attend it, represents an improve- ment over the present organization in the boarding schools, which produces a school and work day that would be too long for adults and is indefensible for growing children.

4 Course of Study for United States Indian Schools, p. 1 (1922)

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Last modified April 24, 2008