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History of Indian Education in the United States

The 1930s: Indian education values native culture

Collier's "Indian New Deal" included a separate Indian Civilian Conservation Corps and an Indian Emergency Conservation Work program. Opportunities were created for vocational training as well as jobs and job training.

The Depression had finally benefited Indian people, not because of their unique plight, but because they were at last a part of a national plight. Collier and his new director of the Education Division Willard Beatty were convinced that Indian education should be rooted in the community and should stress the values of native culture.

Progressive education was tried for the first time during the New Deal period:
  • Children learned through the medium of their own cultural values while becoming aware of the values of white civilization.
  • Indian Service teachers were taught to be sensitive to Indian culture and to use methods adapted to the unique characteristics and needs of Indian children.
  • Community day schools increased from 132 to 226 and enrollment tripled.
  • By the mid-thirties, the military routine in the boarding schools had been abandoned and children were permitted more social life.
  • Vocational programs were developed to teach skills that would be of use to students if they returned to their reservations.
  • Job training shifted from an urban emphasis to a rural one.
  • Indian schools introduced Indian history, art and language.
  • A directive was issued that there be no interference with Indian religious life or ceremonial expression.
Interest in Indian art grew during the period and in 1935 the Indian Arts and Crafts Board was established. Craft guilds appeared on many reservations and art classes in federal schools were organized.

The first bilingual pamphlets appeared between 1940 and 1945. However, bilingual education was a difficult task--few books were available and few instructors were competent to teach.