Education of Native Americans

Native American education efforts in the United States have been a mixed-bag as far as success goes. On one hand, Native American children have the highest drop-out rates of any ethnic group in the US. On the other hand, there are many education programs out there that are actively working to turn that tide around. National non-profit groups, federal agencies, independent researchers, and trade groups alike have been working on this issue for decades now. While they have made some gains, the sheer number of Native Americans dropping out of high school or college is enough to make the task one of Herculean measure. The real issue facing people that are trying to solve this problem is identifying the things that cause natives to drop out in the first place.

Much of this has its roots in the early governmental approach that the government took to educating Native American children. After the policies of "Indian Removal" and relocation had passed, there was a large push within the country to educate native children in boarding schools. These schools would later be ousted as depraved, abusive facilities where children were beaten and starved for speaking their native language or practicing their spiritual beliefs. The horrible conditions that Native American children faced at these schools have had a lasting impact on the way Native Americans view "public" education. Due to the actions taken against their ancestors in the early settlement of the United States, there is a definite climate of mistrust or apathy toward the government. This lack of trust creates an environment where the value of a public or state education is simply not fully understood or appreciated. Without the motivation necessary to keep going on with studies, Native American children decide to drop out.

Recent statistics from the Bureau of Indian Affairs have noted that between 29% and 36% of all Native American students drop out of high school. They mostly drop out between the 7th and 12th grades. These numbers are even higher in areas where parents of Native American children complain of a major lack in understanding of native culture.

In order to turn the tide on these statistics, a number of educational programs have been bolstered to provide even greater opportunities for Native American students. The federal government has created specialty internship and school scholarship programs that it hopes will help Native American youth succeed. Also, many schools have begun to take native culture more seriously. Many education analysts have noted that when educators don't acknowledge Native American culture with their native student body, the students begin to feel disenfranchised. There have been a number of schools that have successfully implemented programs that teach educators and staff about native culture, giving them a better perspective on how to interact with native students. The schools that have these "cultural sensitivity" classes have seen a noted decline in the amount of disciplinary actions they take against Native American students. Some credit the sensitivity training itself, but only time will tell which programs were the most effective.

There are many issues surrounding Native American education. It is a complex issue that demands a thoughtful perspective on the many difficulties that native children are born into. These difficulties can compound when these children are faced with a world that seems to neither understand them nor want to understand them. Their culture is often very different than the culture of their classmates, so they can find themselves feeling isolated. These issues have been the impetus for the creation of many federal, state, corporate, individual, and tribal initiatives to help Native Americans excel more readily in school.