Choctaw Education

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There were many scores of men and women who were earnest, devoted, and consistent disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. The labors of the faithful missionaries had prepared them for the adoption of a general system of education a system adapted to their necessities.

At the time the General Government purchased their lands in Mississippi a school fund was created, and provision was made for a number of schools, to be located at the most eligible points, and to be free to all who should be willing to patronize them. Immediately after their removal to their present homes the schools were opened at the sites chosen; a majority of them were located in the middle and southern districts. There was but one school taught in the Moshulatubbee district in 1843; it was in the vicinity of the Agency, and, though free for all, the average attendance of pupils did not exceed one dozen. The teacher was a competent and worthy man, who felt exceedingly anxious to do his duty and render himself useful. Schools had been opened at Pheasant Bluffs and at Ayaknirt-chukma, but; owing to the utter indifference of the parents, they had been discontinued. And, after a fair experiment, these, like other government schools, were pronounced a failure. The agent, and the few intelligent Indians, who had labored with so much anxiety and hope, finally became discouraged. Their efforts to infuse their own spirit, and to excite a general interest in favor of education and civilization were abortive. The children were growing up in gross ignorance; not one in a hundred was learning to read or becoming industrious and thrifty. The few who had been kept in the school, and taught to read, were not materially improved; for their habits had not been changed. Home influences were of the most pernicious character, and parental example and precept served almost wholly to neutralize the lessons of virtue and morality which the teachers had labored to inculcate. It was also found exceedingly difficult to teach the pupils to speak the English language, while living at home, and conversing only in the native dialect.

There were a few schools taught in which Choctaw books alone were used; these were designed more especially for grown-up persons, who were not able to converse in English, and who were anxious to read the few books that had been translated and published in their own tongue. There were elementary school books, portions of the New Testament, and a small hymn-book, printed in the Choctaw. That was the extent of their literature at that time. Unlike most Indian languages, theirs is not guttural, and hence it is readily written with the Roman alphabet, and can be spoken as readily as our own. Thus the work of translating and preparing books for the use of the natives is rendered comparatively light.

When adults have been converted and received into the Church, they have been urged to study the alphabet and learn to read in their own language; and I do not remember one native Christian man who was not able to read the Choctaw Testament. When traveling from home the native disciple did not forget to have his “achukma hollisse”–good book–in his pocket as a traveling companion. We have seen the old, tawny, and weather-beaten soldier of the cross take his Testament from his pocket and pore over its pages with an intensity of interest which gave the strongest possible proof of the love of the truth which had found a lodgment in the heart.

I distinctly remember one man, about fifty years of age, who spent a Sunday at our mission. His name was Nawah; he had a son in the Fort Coffee Academy; and, as he was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Mr. Goode asked him to pray and give a “talk” to the students. He walked deliberately to the desk, and, putting his hand into his bosom, be brought forth his Testament, and having read a chapter he kneeled down and prayed with much earnestness. After prayer he opened his Testament and gave the lads an exposition of the Scripture lesson; and though we were not able to understand his discourse, yet it was evident that he succeeded in making his lecture very interesting to the youths whom he addressed.

 




MLA Source Citation:

Benson, Henry C. Life Among the Choctaw Indians and Sketches of the South-West. L. Swormstedt & A. Poe. 1860. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 18 April 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/choctaw-education.htm - Last updated on Oct 7th, 2012


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