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The Native American Education Scandal

The sub-standard education provided to ethnic and racial subgroups has been the subject of countless articles.  Yet curiously overlooked in the coverage are Native Americans ("The Longstanding Crisis Facing Tribal Schools," The Atlantic, Jan. 12).

I'm hoping that will change as a result of a lawsuit filed in Arizona's U.S. District Court that accuses the Bureau of Indian Education of repeatedly failing to improve the learning environment at Havasupai Elementary School.  It contends that the school teaches nothing beyond reading and math.  It further charges that extracurricular activities and special education services are nonexistent.  The school is so understaffed that the school janitor occasionally fills in as a teacher.  Although the suit is restricted to that particular school, I believe what it maintains applies to virtually all tribal schools. 

For far too long, Native Americans have been the forgotten people in this country.  The history of their treatment is a national embarrassment that is reflected in the scandalous condition of their schools.  ("Young Jim Thorpe, Native American, and His Game-Changing Football Team," The New York Times Book Review, Jan. 13).  Students were treated like "child prisoners of war, taken from their families, stripped of their culture and dress, beaten or imprisoned for speaking their native tongues."  I fail to understand why so little has been written before about what is still happening when every other racial and ethnic subgroup has received widespread attention.  

If the overall Native American graduation rate of just 69 percent involved black and Hispanic students, you can be sure the media would be all over the story, with a Congressional investigation soon to follow.  Further, if eight in 10 black and Hispanic students were not proficient in reading, as the 2007 federal data cited in the suit, and the same draconian discipline were applied to them, there would be an uproar.  But because such appalling factors apply to Native Americans, there is deafening silence.

The conditions at Havasupai Elementary School are only the tip of the educational iceberg.  It's time to investigate the Bureau of Indian Education, which is responsible for funding and overseeing tribal schools. 

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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