Journal of American Indian Education

Volume 4 Number 1
October 1964

SEVENTH GRADE NAVAHO ANSWER
"WHY EDUCATION?"

Benjamin Bennett, Jr.

There may be times in the process of teaching school when results from rather prosaic assignments produce information of potential interest beyond the immediate classroom. Our groupís consideration of the values of formal education may thus be of more than only local interest.

I. THE QUESTION

In finishing a year of teaching seventh grade Navaho children, the writer devoted some time to a consideration of the class thinking on the desirability of formal education, i.e., classroom instruction. Two points were especially brought to mind: (1) that education is considered, by both classroom teacher and official tribal pronouncements, as being desirable and (2) that often a great deal of "thinking" on the subject is no more than trite repetition of cliches. In writing about the matter, the children were urged above all to be candid and, hopefully, original.

One might, not unreasonably, expect the responses to be reflective of values the students place and/or have heard placed upon formal school experiences.

From the papers of the twenty-five class members, five values were prominent: These are presented in Table I.

It would thus appear that a strong utilitarian approach to the value of education has been inculcated; an acceptance of a cultural "norm" much in line with the thinking of non-Indian society.

TABLE I

FREQUENCY OF MENTION OF VALUES

Value of
education

Times
mentioned

Assists in getting a "good" job

18

Promotes a "better" life

12

Aids English language facility

10

Provides opportunity for service

7

Makes life "easy"

6

It would thus appear that a strong utilitarian approach to the value of education has been inculcated; an acceptance of a cultural "norm" much in line with the thinking of non-Indian society.

II. SPECIFIC ILLUSTRATIONS

The concepts of a "good" job, "better" life and "easy" life appear firmly fixed in the childrenís minds but a bit difficult, though by no means impossible, to explain Through the following quotations one may begin to sense the meanings head of these somewhat amorphous terms:

Comments touching upon the value of education in getting a "good" job include:

It is good to have because a lot of educated people have a good job, like working in the hospital, teaching and working in the public places for the government. The educated people earn more money then the uneducated people. They earn these money by working in these public places.

Everyone should get a good education before they would (be able to) get a good job.

If we donít go through enough education it would be hard to get a job that pays lots of money.

Education is good to have because it helps you with your job.

Then when you finished your schooling your get a good job.

Comments touching upon the value of education in promoting a "bettteeí life include:

I think that the school education is the most important thing to have because lots of the people are taught well to do things when they are growing up. And when they are man some would have much trouble and some wouldnít have much trouble because they are well educated. And they would be in a better life like living wealthy or healthy instead of sickness and all (that) sort of thing.

Because when we have good education we can have better life. Better life mean when we have good thing. Good job, good clothing. Everything thatís good (better) than we have ever have in our life.

They (the educated people) also have a better living, like buying thing for their houses and clothing and eating good food.

Comments touching upon the value of education in aiding in English language facility include:

If a white man speak to us if we didnít have education, we will not understand a word he say.

I think it is good to have education because you need to have education so later when you finish school you can talk English and you can write your own name. But when you are not educated you donít even know how to talk English or write your own name. If you donít speak English that is what some Navahos are today. When they donít know how to speak English someone always has to speak for them. And when they donít know how to write they just have to put their thumb into a black ink- and put their thumb on it.

Many people who didnít had any education now they do not speak English and canít understand, because by that time they didnít had not enough school so that everybody can go to this school thatís why.

I think education is very good to have because you will learn a lot of things that you donít know. And you will learn how to talk English. So if your parents doesnít know to talk English, you would help them when a white man comes to see your parents. And you would help them when you go to the store.

Education is one of the important thing in life. Everyone depends upon education to give them better life and opportunities, it helps people to communicate and understand each other.

It would be hard to speak to other people that donít speak your language. If you are blame as killing or doing something bad by other people that donít speak your language, you wouldnít have much chance to speak to protect yourself. This is one of the things why you should have education . . . Also if you have education you would protect yourself. This means by reading the signs that tells you that there is danger or telling you what to do next.

You must know how to talk English because some people might ask you to work for them.

If you donít have any education you will have lot of trouble speaking to people who talk English very well.

Comments touching upon the value of education as providing opportunity for service to others include:

People are putting their kids in school because when they grow up and finish their education, they would come back to their parents to help them. Some are thinking that they would make better living when they grow up and live on their own. Like having a house and everything ... Well I like to have education because I donít want to stay at home and let my parents take care of me. Instead I want to go to school and help my parents when I got a job or finish my school.

If youíre a good educated person, you might help some other people that are not well educated.

Comments touching upon the value of education as a means of having an "easy" life include:

If I was at home herding sheep it wouldnít help me much as school and education would help me in living an easier life.

By have more education you get more easy job and you do everything without difficulty.

It will help us make our living more easier instead of hard. What I mean of having an easier living is in the future we will be without our mother and father sometimes, you will not always be among your parents. You will have to find yourself a job, that will help you with your living.

Thinking that the few selected items appearing here might seem somewhat fragmentary, six complete papers, with exceedingly brief data concerning their authors, have been included in the appendix.

III. EVALUATION

From the responses elicited, a person is led to question the efficacy of the present teaching as it attempts to assist the children in formulation of ideals and realization of bicultural values. However, economics being what they are, it is perhaps not too surprising that such emphases are placed on potential aid in vocational adjustment to the environment.

It would appear that the classroom teacher might do worse than try to somewhat redress the matter by giving greater emphasis to the altruistic, aesthetic, and service possibilities also inherent. There may perhaps be a militation against these desirable (and quite traditionally culturally compatible) concepts as greater permeation of non-Navaho culture is accepted on the reservation.

Without at all denying the value of, need for, and the right to pursue somewhat mundane goals, the classroom teacher might wen see the present responses as indicative of the continued need for teaching if Navaho children are to be able to deeply satisfy themselves as to that crux of all school problems: Why education?

 
 
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