HISTORICALLY, three systems have served the educational needs of Indians: Bureau of Indian Affairs schools, parochial or mission schools and public schools. Recently, through the Office of Economic Opportunity, the tribes themselves established a fourth school system, primarily in the Headstart Program.
These systems—still involved in attempting to better the lot of the Indian—have had much experience in providing programs to meet Indians’ needs and have been in the business of education on and off reservations for many years. In spite of what they have attempted and of what contributions they have made, acute problems exist in the Indian education field.
And Indian education will not progress, develop or evolve into a dynamic field unless the problems inherent in it are identified and solved.
In an analysis of the situation, I have categorized these problems into eight broad areas, from “lack of money” to “too many instant Indian experts.”
Lack of money. By far one of the most pressing problems is the unavailability of money or inadequate funding of Indian education programs or systems. The demand far exceeds the supply, and available monies are only for the most basic educational needs of the students . . . “the traditional curriculum.” Very small amounts, if any, are available for innovative programs and ideas.
Without adequate funding, the ideology and philosophy of Indian education become so many words. The concept of Indian education faces a bleak future characterized by stagnation, insensitivity, inadequate facilities and personnel. Is this what we educators wish to be contented with?
The irrelevant curricula. just what do we mean by the often-repeated phrase, irrelevant curricula? My definition is that it is schools not doing their job in meeting the needs of their students—especially Indian students. This area encompasses four necessary corrections.
An Indian student presently is subjected to an educational system geared to the needs of the non-Indian student without any concern to unique problems and background of the Indian. Yes, the Indian must live in the white man’s world, but if he is to become a productive member of the human race, the schools must develop programs to meet his needs.
The American school curricula stresses values in direct contrast with the values held, in varying degrees, by the Indian. Such highly esteemed values as agressiveness, competition, individual personal gain, out-smarting your fellow man, and verbal ability and agility are taught the non-Indian youngster from the time he is able to comprehend. These values become the foundations of the American educational system. Thus, the Indian student is thrown into a foreign situation—he has no experiential background comparable to it and consequently, retardation is “built into” the educational program as far as the Indian is concerned.
Another aspect is the stress of the English language in the system. If educators would recognize that the English language is not the mother tongue of most Indian students, educational programming could become more relevant, meaningful and rewarding to the Indian student,
If curriculum experts would include courses reflecting the positiveness of the Indians’ contributions to the greater society, another correction would be made. It is not difficult to understand why the average Indian student has a negative self-concept: he is taught in a foreign classroom, by a teacher who is literally a foreigner, and in a foreign language that he comes from a people who were bloodthirsty, marauding killers, and that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. Correct this image by eliminating these teachings, and replacing them with more positive characteristics.
Education has directly contributed to the destruction of the institution of the family among Indians: To illustrate this engulfment rather than bridgment of parent and child, let me give the following example.
Fifth graders are studying the atom or atom bomb and its effect on society as a whole. If the Indian child seeks to understand the concept of the atom more fully in an inquiry at home, he will discover that his parents are unable to help him gain that understanding because there is no concept paralleling the atom in the Indian language. Instead of help or clarification, the child may receive some type of scolding. In the case of the non-Indian child, the parents may not know the answer, but they have other resources to which to turn—a neighbor, a set of reference books, a nearby library. Thus, the Indian child begins to question the intelligence of his parents, and when this happens, the parental role is threatened and weakened. This weakening continues as the child progresses through school because the parent falls further behind, as he is not keeping up with his child. Destruction of the family institution is therefore hastened.
Lack of qualified Indians in Indian education. By far the most glaring problem is the acute shortage of qualified Indians in Indian education. Materialistic gains, incentives and opportunities entice the qualified Indian educator away from this challenging field. There is much hard work and many challenges in Indian education: isolation, poor or inadequate facilities, eager but academically deprived students, but one’s ingenuity, creativity, patience and forbearance are put to a real test in facing these and other challenges. If Indian education is to meet the needs of the students, if it is to have the sensitivity required, if it is to be dynamic and viable, it must have more qualified Indian educators—it must reach the stage wherein it will challenge the Indian educator to take up arms to join its ranks and to improve its lot.
Insensitive school personnel. It is tragic that this exists in the 20th Century. Too many administrators and teachers are not knowledgeable about the American Indian. Whether it is attributable to apathy, indifference or design does not lessen the problem. If school personnel are truly educators, it behooves them to learn about the people they are teaching: To fail in this task is to fail to educate. The burden of this responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the educator, and the exercise of that responsibility is long overdue.
Differing expectations of education programs. As noted in the section on irrelevant curricula, the American educational system is foreign in concept, principle and objective to the Indian student. The thinking, attitudes and experiences of the non-Indian are the base of the value structure rather than the aspects of Indian culture. Thus the educational perspectives of the Indian are not considered. The Indian views education as providing him with immediate practical skills and tools, not a delayed achievement of goals or as means for a future gain.
Lack of involvement in and control of educational matters. The Indian has not been able to express his ideas on school programming or educational decision-making. When they have been expressed, his participation has been limited and restricted. If problems in Indian education are to be resolved, the Indian citizen must become involved. He needs to have more control in the programs to which his children are exposed, to have a say in what types of courses are in the curriculum, to help hire teachers, to establish employment policies and practices, and all of the other responsibilities vested in school administration—that of being on a Board of Education. There are working examples of Indian-controlled school boards. These dynamic systems point up the fact that Indians can handle school matters. It is time that more Indians became involved in such control.
Difficulties of students in higher education. Colleges and universities need to establish programs which can deal effectively with the problems and needs of the Indian student—if he is to remain in school. In general, the Indian student has an inadequate educational background as he may have been looked upon as less than college material in high school. He has unusual adjustment problems and usually inadequate financial help. It is time that more colleges and universities attempt to solve these development factors and provide a more successful educational experience for the Indian student.
Too many instant-Indian education experts. To the detriment of Indian education and its growth, each day sprouts more “instant Indian education experts,” who do more damage than good. Usually, these experts have all the answers: they have completely identified the problems and have formulated solutions, but they leave it to the Indian to implement. Again, the Indian is given something to implement which he has had no part in formulating. These experts usually depend on superficial, shallow studies done in one visit to a reservation or school, or they depend on one or two conferences with Indians who have little or no knowledge of the critical problems confronting the Indian generally. Indian education can well do without these experts who cannot be reasoned with or who feel they know what is best for the Indian.
There may be other factors which contribute to the problems of Indian education, but these eight areas are, I think, contributing to the situation wherein Indian education is not realizing its full development.