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Role of Education in Native American History

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The American government has constantly put Native Americans on the back burner especially when it comes to education. When there are low graduation rates in a school it can heavily affect teenagers with their future economic and social opportunities. Education plays an important role in everyone’s life, especially the role it has in determining people’s futures. America has failed the Native American educational system by the institutionalized boarding schools along with the current need for representation of Native American educators, and the inadequate education that reservations provide.

The only time Native Americans were a priority is when the American government was forcing Native children into boarding schools. The whole purpose of the boarding schools was to force children into forgetting their “Indianness” or “Savageness” so they could become more white. If Native American parents ever refused to send their children to boarding schools, agents of the Department of the Interior were able to arrest and even go as far as refusing food to their families. Those boarding schools caused extreme damage to the children that were forced to attend, for instance, the children rarely got to see their families, speak their native language, or even practice their culture. Boarding schools did no good for the Native American communities.

Not everyone’s experiences were the same with the boarding schools. Susan LaFlesche Picotte had attended the boarding school: Hampton Normal and Agriculture Institute from 1884 until 1886. Susan was already fluent in English so she had a better time there compared to others. She had a more standard academic experience while other students who didn’t speak fluently had a less conventional education. After attending Hampton Institute she went to medical school and became a doctor then she came back to Omaha to educate the tribe on alcoholism along with hygiene. She eventually became the tribal doctor for Omaha. It goes to show that everyone was treated differently even when attending the same school. Another example of children having different experiences is the fact that there were children who were physically and sexually assaulted by teachers or dormitory supervisors. Every single child who attended those boarding schools has been affected in one way or another. Only Arizona, Washington, Oklahoma, and Kansas teach about boarding schools in their public schools. It’s just another example of how America ignores problems they create by not teaching the future about what they did in the past to Native Americans.

Schools located on reservations are considered to be public schools but there’s a slight difference from the typical public school. Typical public schools are administered and funded by the Department of Education yet schools on reservations are managed and funded by the Department of Interior in a sub-group called the Bureau of Indian Education also known as BIE. So the ten percent of Native students who do not attend public school are attending a school that is run by the BIE. There are a total of 183 schools across 23 states on 64 reservations. Schools that are run by the BIE have some of the lowest test scores along with low graduation rates all across the nation. BIE is not the department that should be operating any form of education when it is clear that it just affects the students in a negative way by either having failing test scores or being unable to graduate.

Often the teachers that teach in classrooms on the reservation are unqualified to teach what they are teaching. Having a teacher teach a class that they are not qualified to teach means that the children aren’t getting the education that they deserve. For example, one teacher on the Warm Springs reservation, near central Oregon, was only qualified to be teaching high school continuing education along with agricultural science yet he had just taught in a third-grade classroom. The BIE along with any other rural school struggles to bring in qualified teachers because it either requires long commutes or moving to a smaller town. When they are unable to get qualified teachers they just take what they can get which leads to having unqualified teachers which in the long run just affects the students. Students having unqualified teachers can lead to students not learning what they are supposed to.

There is a lack of representation of Native Americans within the educational system in America and the BIE. In general, currently, there is less than one percent of teachers and administrators are Native Americans. Rebecca Clarren said, “ A recent study of 100,000 black students found if they had at least one African-American teacher between third and fifth grade, their chances of dropping out declined by 29 percent.” With such small amounts of Native teachers, it’s highly unlikely that Native students have more than one Native teacher if any at all. The lack of Native teachers could play a role in the low graduation rates as well. Out of the few Native educators, many are located on Native American reservations throughout the states. Most Native students end up attending public schools that are off the reservation due to the poor education that is provided on the reservation. There are 93% of Native students who attend school off the reservation to be exact. Students having teachers that look like them will help them in the long run for multiple reasons such as: comfortability, motivation, and feeling secure in their own skin. Granted not every Native American life on a reservation, a lot of the ones who do live on the reservation don’t attend school because the schools on the reservation aren’t the best educationally.

Many students attending schools on reservations often underperform with their education. The students attending schools operated by the BIE are known for underachieving. For instance, on-reservation students have an average score of 22 percentile points in reading and 14 points lower in math compared to Native American students attending public schools off the reservation. Studies have shown that students that attend school on the reservation learn less overall compared to standard public schools. It goes to show that going to school on reservations statistically only hurts them in the end by either not graduating or by being below the national average with test scores. It makes sense why many students chose to travel farther than they need to so they can attend a public school off the reservation.

The American government has let down Native Americans with their education. They are still American citizens so they should have the same opportunities in school as in traditional public schools. Starting with the forced boarding schools, America failed. Then with not enough Native American educators, America failed. Lastly, by providing poor education to Native students on their reservations, America failed. With just about every aspect of Native American education; America failed them. America should’ve done better for them especially since they confined Natives to such small pieces of land after America stole most of their land. Native Americans deserve to have the same type of education that everyone else in the nation is offered.  

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Role of Education in Native American History. (2022, August 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from
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