In Search of Rainbows of the Reservation: A Look at the Contract School Concept in Navajo Indian Education
Bailey, Glenn L.
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This paper begins by attempting to place the issue of contract school education in historical context. General developments in Indian education are discussed with an increasingly sharper focus on the Navajo in particular. The issues of self-determination and acculturation, which are concerns addressed by the employment of a contract system, are discussed, as is the ability of an Indian child to learn. The latter point is made largely to emphasize the potential of Indian education, when it is made to work. The nature and history of the community/ contract school is summarized next, leading to a look at one particular sample, Navajo Mission/Academy in Farmington, New Mexico. Until 1980, Navajo Academy and the Navajo United Methodist Mission School used the same facilities, but granted separate degrees. The unusual nature of the dual schools and their merger are covered, as is the role of the Mission/Academy as a contract school. My personal connection with the institution was as a dormitory counselor, which gave me ample opportunity to observe the functioning of the school, and the contract system. In addition, five formal interviews were done with persons involved with the Academy, the Mission, and the B.I.A. (See Appendix 3.) The contract school idea is fundamentally a sound one. It is beset, however, with a number of problems of both a structural, and a procedural nature. These difficulties with funding through the B.I.A., and other concerns are overshadowed by the inherent value of the school as an Indian run institution. Navajo Mission/Academy, while not entirely sufficient for supplying true quality education, is a relative success as far as Indian education among the Navajo is concerned. The danger of severely damaging such a dynamic program is real, however, and comes at a time when the need is for an even greater representation of Indian wants and needs.