Journal of American Indian Education

Volume 15 Number 3
May 1976


Thomas Davis and Alfred Pyatskowit

Thomas Davis is Curriculum Specialist and Alfred Pyatskowit is the Director of Committee Operations for the Menominee County Education Committee, P. 0. Box 149, Keshana, Wisconsin 54135.

After four years of operation and about a dozen research studies later, the staff at the Menominee Community School on the Menominee Reservation in Northern Wisconsin are finally developing some generalizations about Indian children, Indian education, and the plight of the Indian child within a white dominated school system. There is still much documenting to be done regarding the Community School generalizations, but perhaps it is not too early to release the directions of the school’s thought at this time to encourage research on these issues in other parts of the country.

According to current thought at the Community School, a model of Indian and white school systems can be diagrammed this way:

What the diagram points out is that not only are white and Indian values different and often conflict, but that the values of an ethnic group essentially determine that group’s educational system. When the two systems are merged together, or one system dominates, the result is poor performance by the Indian child, or the child whose ethnic group is in the weaker position within the school system.

The solution to the poor performance by the Indian child, according to this diagram, is to separate the values and to create an Indian System of Education based upon Indian values similarly to the "white" education system. The staff at the Community School believes that each ethnic group’s values should be respected for what they are in spite of their strengths or weaknesses. Therefore, the system should be based upon the needs, desires and other value statements of the Indian community.

Bicognitive education, as being created at the Community School, is based upon the staff’s perception of Indian needs and values as they have been presented to the staff by the Menominee community through needs surveys, the policy-making of the all-Menominee Menominee County Education Committee, and the general dialogue between the school and the Menominee community. Research by the school’s staff and scholars working in the field of Indian education have also been taken into account.

Not too long ago, Robert J. Havighurst described the Indian child in an article as someone who has to learn to live within two worlds. According to Havighurst, who was the moving force behind a nationwide study of Indian education (see Reference 1) the Indian child is always having to move back and forth between his two worlds, performing a delicate balancing act that sometimes results in a feeling of intense confusion on the child’s part (see Reference 2).

Work done on the Menominee Reservation by the Community School supports Havighurst’s description. On the one hand the Menominee child has to act and think like an Indian if he is to be accepted by the community. On the other hand he has to act and think like a white man to hold down a decent job that pays enough for him and his family to survive. Unfortunately, such concepts as that of "Indian time" conflict with white oriented concepts as "being on time," and the resulting conflict either causes the Indian trouble in the form of peer rejection on the reservation or in the form of employer rejection in the world of work. Indians spend anywhere from several hours to several days at a wake for a relative or close friend, and the white employer insists that the Indian go to the funeral, get it over with, and come back to work.

If this two-world concept is true, then the purpose of Indian education should be to prepare the Indian child to think and react effectively in both of the worlds that he must live in to make a successful life for himself. To verify that current systems of education have failed to achieve this major goal, all the observer has to do is to go to such studies as the United States Senate Subcommittee report: Indian Education: A National Tragedy—A National Challenge (see Reference 3) or Havighurst’s To Live On This Earth (see Reference 4) and the plight of Indian education becomes painfully clear.

Goals of Bicognitive Education

Bicognitive education has as its goal: To help the Indian child learn how to think and react effectively within both of his worlds. To achieve this goal both affective domain and cognitive domain processes are emphasized. However, the entire bicognitive education process can be broken down into the following schematic model:

1. Affective Domain—Indian Values

2. Cognitive Domain—Indian Knowledges

3. Cognitive Domain—Non-Indian Knowledges

4. Vocational Goals—Non-Indian Skills

Research suggests that Indian students have a poor self concept within the school setting, and this seriously affects the Indian child’s ability to successfully complete academic requirements (see Reference 5). According to the model, the starting place of bicognitive education and the solving of Indian student problems is in the affective domain where the student’s personality and reactions to the environment around him are formed. It is important to build upon the Indian Values already inherent within the Indian child; i.e., the bicognitive system should build from a position of the student’s strength. The Indian child has a very good self concept within his home and community, and that the self concept fails only when the Indian child is forced into a school setting (see Reference 6). Therefore, it stands to reason that the school should build upon the self concept strength present in the home and the community.

One efficient way to strengthen the home and community self concept is by taking advantage of the Indian community values. In establishing community values, probably the most important reference is that of John F. Bryde (see Reference 7). Havighurst disagrees strongly with Bryde’s work, but from a bicognitive standpoint, Bryde’s work is extremely important (see Reference 8).

Indian Concepts of Self

Essentially, Bryde identifies eight concepts of self that Indians hold which are different than those held by most whites:

1. One of the strongest foundations for the Indian self concept is how well the individual gets along within the group. Usually getting along within the group forces conformity which eliminates the highly competitive type of atmosphere that exists in Anglo society.

2. A second important part of the Indian self-concept is that Indians tend to try to work for the good of the whole group rather than for the individual, or self. When the group is doing well, individual Indians feel strong and good, but when the group is doing poorly, the individual, no matter what his station in life, has feelings of anxiety.

3. The third trait largely determines how the Indian uses time. The individual Indian believes in concentrating upon the "now," without worrying about the future. Where in Anglo society it is extremely important to "build for the future," in Indian society, it is extremely important to have a good time "now" so that good memories in the future will dignify the past.

4. The fourth trait explains the individualism of most Indians, and one of the underlying reasons for Indian problems with the Anglo world. In white society most individuals, while striving to "get ahead," let others make decisions for him or follow the course marked out for him. The Indian tends to listen closely to advice, then to make up his own mind. Betterment of the group holds precedence in his decisions, but at the same time his decisions are highly individualistic in nature, putting him into conflict with the Anglo pressurized way of doing things.

5. A fifth trait helps Indians to face hard times with an impassive face. Poverty, embarrassment, fear, etc., are hid behind an outward composure that cannot be upset by the feelings going on inside of the self.

6. The sixth trait can be explained by saying that the Indian uses nature, but at the same time feels a reverence for nature. Indians also tend to limit their use of nature so that some of nature’s good will always be left for tomorrow. An excellent example of the Menominee view toward nature is their development of selective logging techniques during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

7. A seventh trait makes the Indian highly aware of the presence of God. Acts of religious worship are often spontaneous and they may occur at any time. In the ideal, Indian worship is a part of his very breathing, exploding at times into a joyful awareness of the goodness of life and the importance of God.

8. The eighth trait is in some ways related to the fifth trait. The Indian does not feel at home in the Anglo world, and when he is in that world he feels uneasy and fearful. However, he inevitably covers up his uneasiness and fear by presenting an impassive face to the world. He knows fear; but he does not show it (see Reference 9).

None of these values is held by every single Indian, nor are they uniformly held by every Indian community. Each community needs to investigate its own values before implementing this part of the bicognitive program.

To implement the affective domain component of bicognitive education, educators can use these and other Indian community values in the following ways. First of all, they can use the values as a point of reference in dealing with Indian children. In constructing group activities, they should certainly remember self concept (see Reference 2) where the Indian tends to try to work for the good of the whole group rather than for the individual. The teacher or administrator should take advantage of this concept in urging the student to help the whole group perform well.

Secondly, these self concept components can be used in instruction programs designed to teach the Indian child about himself and his heritage. And thirdly, the self concept should be built into the fabric of the instructional program. Instead of singling out individuals for presentations, the school should emphasize group presentations, and the school’s curriculum should be built around the Indian respect for himself and his environment, emphasizing Indian accomplishments, abilities and skills.

Cognitive Domains Described

The first of the two cognitive domains emphasized in the bicognitive educational system, that of Indian knowledges, relates directly to the affective domain emphasis on Indian values. Indian knowledges range from traditional physical activities, such as lacrosse and hunting games with the Menominee, to Indian language, history, and culture. Primarily Indian knowledges should help bolster the Indian student’s self concept. He should learn his culture so that he can learn about himself and thus be proud of his heritage.

However, certain aspects of the Indian knowledges category can be used to help teach non-Indian knowledges from the second cognitive domain. For instance, as part of a research project undertaken by Johnson and Dodge in Menominee schools, Menominee Indian legends and tales were used to teach students basic reading skills. Significantly, experimental groups using the Menominee cultural reading materials showed impressive gains in reading ability over control groups which did not use the materials (see Reference 10). Other ideas for use of Indian knowledges in this manner are only limited by the imagination.

The second cognitive domain, that of non-Indian knowledges, consists primarily of the types of knowledges and skills taught in the normal middle-class school districts. These include reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as the academic subjects: science, social studies, math, speech, etc. Primarily these are the knowledges developed by the non-Indian world, which the Indian child has to master if he is to think and react effectively within the non-Indian world. Within bicognitive education, this category should also include an intensive study of the white man, how he thinks, what he is saying, and how he relates to the Indian world. This study is a key to the effective operation of bicognitive education. The educational system starts from the premise that the Indian child is an Indian, not a white man, and then it attempts to teach the Indian child about the white man so that he can effectively deal with the white man’s world.

The last category within the schematic model emphasizes vocational goals which primarily center around non-Indian skills. To achieve a measure of well-being within life, the Indian child has to take a job. Since most jobs available to Indians are controlled by the expectations of non-Indian society, the Indian has to meet those expectations in order to survive. The vocational goals segment should be based upon skills needed by students planning post-secondary work or to go directly into a job. In this portion, most of the recent developments in career education can be used, and an emphasis should be placed upon teaching Indian students the meaning of the white man’s competition, his obsession with time, and all of the other things stressed by the white man in the worlds of post-secondary education and the job market.

Allotted Time Spans

In the preschool through kindergarten years, three-quarters of the student’s time should be spent upon lessons designed for the affective (Indian values) domain, and one-quarter of the time on the non-Indian cognitive domain. Lessons within the Indian value domain, however, can be designed to help student develop reading readiness skills, discrimination skills, etc., the normal type of skill development that goes on in most pre-school and kindergarten classrooms. The non-Indian cognitive domain should emphasize the development of the student’s understanding of the white man and the white man’s world.

The first through the fourth grades should continue to emphasize the affective (Indian values) and the Indian cognitive domains, with about two-thirds time spent on learning tasks from the Indian perspective. Reading, art, and beginning science can be taught from the Indian affective domain, as well as oral communication and language experience. The one-third time spent on the non-Indian cognitive domain should emphasize the development of such skills as math and a continuing study of the white man, his values, and history.

The fifth grade is a key in the whole bicognitive program. According to research at the Community School (and other reports), there is a dramatic fall away from the pace set by non-Indian students by Indian students at the fifth grade (see Reference 11). As suggested by Davis, the fifth grade is a transition year that holds enormous significance for Indian education (see Reference 12).

Under the bicognitive model of education, the fifth grade remains a transition year. Half of the student’s time should be spent upon tackling learning activities in the affective and the Indian cognitive domains, and the other half learning activities from the non-Indian cognitive domain. The major difference in approach during this year is that for the first time the Indian student should start working through such skills as reading and writing using techniques developed by non-Indian society. They should be able to take what they have learned about the white man’s values and thought processes and put it to work in their learning activities. By this time in their educational career they should have a strong self concept within the classroom, and they should be able to widen their horizons.

From the sixth through the tenth grades, only a third of the student’s time should be spent on the affective and Indian cognitive domains. The Indian cognitive domain by this point should have evolved into specific, specialized courses that relate directly to the academic subject areas in the average high school: Indian medicines, dance, philosophy, and law.

In the eleventh and twelfth grades, the emphasis should change again to vocational goals and career education. At this point the Indian student should be looking toward the future and deciding to go on to some post-secondary type of education or preparing to go out and find a job. The curriculum program at this point should be flexible enough to meet individual student needs, and should be extremely practical so that students can see sense in what they’re required to do.


As stated in the beginning of this paper, bicognitive education as a concept needs much more research before it is perfected. The Menominee Community School is certainly a long way from implementation of all aspects of this program, and it will probably be years before it can be adequately tested out in Menominee County schools.

Still, it seems important to release this idea to the educational profession working with Indian students at this time. An idea needs to germinate in many minds and be tested out in many different ways in many different places before it is valid.

Does bicognitive education represent a new future for the Indian child? Only time can tell --time and a lot of hard work.


1. Robert Havighurst, The National Study of American Indian Education (Recommendations and Summary to the National Indian Education Advisory Committee, 1970), p. 5.

2. Ibid., p. 5.

3. U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare. Special Sub-committee on Indian Education, Indian Education: A National Tragedy --A National Challenge. 91st Congress, 1st Sess., November 3, 1969.

4. Estelle Fuchs and Robert J. Havighurst, To Live on This Earth: American Indian Education (Garden City, N. J.: Doubleday, 1972).

5. W. Sam Adams, An Evaluation of Title IV-B Communications Project (University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 1975), p. 34.

6. Ibid., pp. 32, 35.

7. John F. Bryde, Modern Indian Psychology (Vermillion: Institute of Indian Studies, University of South Dakota, 1971).

8. Fuchs and Havighurst, op. cit., pp. 126, 127, 149.

9. Bryde, op. cit., pp. 96, 97.

10. Carol Dodge and Dale Johnson, "A Comparison of Two Vocabulary Development Programs with Intermediate Grade Menominee Indian Children" (Research Report, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1975).

11. Menominee County Education Committee Research Department, "Six Year Study of Menominee Indian Student Standardized Test Scores" (Research Report, Keshena, Wis., 1974), pp. 9, 10.

12. Thomas Davis, "A Report on Reading Research at the Menominee County Community School," Wisconsin State Reading Association Journal, 17 (March 1974), p. 37.

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