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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 Plant and Equipment. For the most part the buildings and equipment of government Indian schools are below the standards of modern public schools. The Indian Service has some good-looking school plants; there are a few creditable buildings erected by student labor, and there is some ingenious use of very limited resources, as in the Hopi day schools; but most of the school buildings are unattractive and unsuited to present-day educational needs. Furthermore, a policy of patching up out-of-date structures, combined with insufficient repair funds, puts the government school plants at a serious disadvantage. Plant and equipment are not, of course, as important as qualified teachers and other personnel, but they should be better than they are. School architecture is a recognized profession, and an adequately equipped professional staff at the Washington office would include technically trained persons comparable to those employed by state departments of public instruction to supervise school building plans.

Too Many Old Buildings. One of the difficulties of the Indian school service has been the habit of turning over for school use abandoned forts and other government property. There is almost never any real economy in this practice; the recently established Charles H. Burke School at Fort Wingate, New Mexico, for example, has already cost more than adequate new school buildings would probably have cost, and the army barracks and other structures there will never make satisfactory school buildings. Military plants of this sort usually date from long before the modern period of lighting, ventilation, and conveniences, and they are often of poor construction, necessitating continued and expensive repair bills.

The same policy of trying to make old buildings do when it would be wiser economy to erect new ones is illustrated in many other schools besides those that have been military posts. Some buildings at Indian schools should be demolished rather than repaired indefinitely. It is false economy, for example, to repair a building like the boys' dormitory at Flandreau, or certain other buildings, usually dormitories, at places like Colony, Santa Fe, Leupp, and Cheyenne River, where there are dangerous fire-hazards. The unsatisfactory character of the government Indian school plant stands out especially in the many communities where the local school authorities have put up a modern public school plant and where the resulting comparison is too often very unfavorable to the Indian school. Even where an enterprising super- intenderit or some industrial teacher and the Indian boys have erected a satisfactory luilding with student labor, the lack of qualified architectural direction and guidance is often only too evident in the incongruous array of buildings that results.

Similar to the practice of turning over abandoned forts and other plant to the Indian Service is that of dumping all kinds of salvaged equipment on Indian schools. Occasionally a school gets something useful, but more often the school authorities find themselves embarrassed by having to find some use for such articles as old beds and oversize boots.

Machinery and Other Institutional Equipment. Wherever boarding schools are to be maintained, it will be necessary to make a proper distinction between production and educational requirements, and machinery provided accordingly. To get the large-scale institutional work done, good power machinery will need to be installed. The Indian Office has recognized this principle in commendable fashion, but funds have never been provided to carry it into effect. The best educational results with the maximum economy of operation will be obtained if power machinery is used for the non-educational institutional tasks and simple equipment for teaching purposes. Under this principle, for example, a school would have in its laundry three-roll and four-roll mangles of the latest pattern, with approved safety appliances, and in its household-arts cottage or elsewhere the individual gas, electric, or hand iron, or whatever other device is practicable in the household into which the girl goes.

Indian schools are conspicuously lacking in the various types of auxiliary equipment that are characteristic of the best modern schools. The chief needs are: (1) Modern school furniture, of the movable type, especially for kindergarten and elementary schools ; (2) libraries, laboratories, books, and laboratory equipment; (3) play and athletic facilities for the mass of the pupils. The meagerness of most Indian school classrooms is that of American schools of thirty or forty years ago or of the poorer country schools in remote districts today. What a modern elementary school room should be has recently been summed up by a competent authority as follows:

The classrooms offer interesting signs of the children who work there. Each room seems especially suited to the group for which it is intended. The primary room with its work and play material, tiny chairs, low boards and tables welcomes the small stranger fresh from home and mother; the upper grade rooms seem to say that real work and individual effort and control are in order there. Walls are of soft tan, buff, green, or gray, with light ceilings; furniture and woodwork and window shades tone with them, so that there is no jar on the eye, but instead a genial sense of space, restfulness, and freedom. A rug of plain color, a low, comfortable chair or two for teacher or visitor, sash curtains and flowers or plants, painted or cretonne-covered hook-ends on a single shelf, or on the book table, a few good pictures in color on the wall—all these add to the interest of the room and make for the intangible thing that we call "atmosphere." The blackboard is clean and frankly itself, without any camouflage of chalk pictures, borders, stencils, or calendars, and just high enough for proper reach.

The furniture is movable and arranged in informal groups or pushed against the wall as is best at the moment; of course, there is a work-bench or work table. Built-in shelves and boxes or lockers are here to take care of materials for handwork. There is much of this, for the children paint, draw, model, sew, do carpentry work, and garden, as well as read and write. Behind a low screen by a corner window is a book table or a shelf with attractive and well-chosen books, and two or three chairs. Other screens or movable cases are used to fence off a "work shop" and to keep chips and unfinished work within bounds; for the teacher in this school knows that it is not necessary to have material all over the place to show a creative spirit and that a disorderly, mussy room is as bad at school as at home. The small movable piano or the phonograph is brought in for a music period and then is passed on to another group.

Everything is conveniently arranged. The book table is off at one side, the bulletin board is in plain view, and cupboards and boxes are where they should be. Paint, brushes and paper, tools, bench, and wood, are conveniently close together for the small workers' use.17

Few Indian school classrooms approach this standard in any important particular, though many public schools do.

Freedom to Select Materials and Textbooks. Indian school teachers and principals usually feel that they are more or less helpless in deciding what materials and textbooks to use. Even those who realize the shortcomings of the present materials consider themselves confined practically in their choice to the list of " basic texts," though a few have managed to find ways of getting more modern books. Certain of the textbooks found in use were prepared before the period of scientific study and are not adapted to the needs of the children. Better qualified personnel would doubtless be entrusted with greater freedom in selection of materials.

It is not necessary for Indian schools to be elaborate in their architecture or luxurious in their equipment. The buildings should be substantial and modern, however, and they should, if possible, help set the fashion for sincerity, simplicity, and usefulness. They should certainly not fall below the accepted public school standards, as most of them now do, nor should the equipment, textbooks, and other materials be less satisfactory than in good public schools, as is the case at present.

17 Knox, School activities and equipment (Houghton-Mifflin, 1927).

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Last modified April 25, 2008