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Wendell George | Little Joe asks about Native American education

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“Uncle (Twasen), why do so many Native American children have trouble in school?”

“Well, Little Joe, drugs and alcohol take their toll just like everyone else but there is a more fundamental reason.”

“Is it because of their genetic makeup?”

“No, not at all. It comes from the long history of being hunter-gatherers with the freedom to think for themselves. They became effective adults through their natural way of learning. They educated themselves through self-directed play and exploration. Then about 10,000 years ago agriculture took over the world. Instead of developing skills and knowledge to be hunter-gatherers, children were forced work on the farms to do intensive labor which was mostly unskilled, repetitive work.”

“But with automated equipment there is less need for a large labor force on farms.”

“That’s right but then the agriculture economy changed to an industrial economy. Children were forced to work in the factories in the same way, i.e. long hours at unskilled labor.”

“Most countries now have universal compulsory education. Isn’t that good?”

“It’s good as far as it goes, Little Joe. But employers saw schooling as a way to create better workers. They forced schools to emphasize punctuality, teach children to follow strict directions and confine them to tedious work in classrooms. That isn’t much different than farms or factories.”

“Why is self-education effective?”

“Because it opens up the right brain to explore nature and follow its course. The Indian school (snmamayaten) teaches respect for nature and love (xmank) of animals. Indian children are free to experiment until they become of age when they find their spirit power (sumax) through deep meditation. To learn (mipnunen) about nature is to learn about life and how to survive in a changing world.”

“If teaching children to think for themselves is a good approach, why isn’t it used?”

“Well, simply because that doesn’t fit with the ideas of national leaders like Russia’s Catherine the Great who created schools which uniformly developed good patriots and future soldiers. Then others, like education reformers, wanted children to have moral and intellectual grounding so they would become their idea of competent adults. They believed that one size fits all and children should not be left to their own devices. Schools were to implant truths and ways of thinking into children’s minds. This was done with forced repetition, memorization and testing that is strictly left brain thinking.”

“It is the opposite of the intuitive Indian Way.”

“Right, Little Joe, and it is not working.”

“How can we help this situation?”

“To turn it around we must create awareness. Indian culture means giving back what you receive. We thank animals and plants for giving up their lives so we can survive. We thank the land for becoming fertile so we can grow food. We show all nature the respect it deserves. We reciprocate all favors. There is an old saying, if someone compliments your shirt you take it off and give it to him.”

Postscript: According to Sir Julian Huxley and Fr. Pere Teihard de Chardin, the human personality is trending toward a spiritual communication such as that experienced with pets. If extended to families, countries and the earth we will have global unity.


Wendell George writes Go-la’-ka Wa-wal-sh (Raven Speaks). He can be reached via email at His books are available at the local book stores, tribal museum and Amazon.