Charles Eastman, a Native American writer and physician chronicles his childhood experiences as a native Santee Sioux Indian.

Although it is commonly supposed that there was no systematic education and training of aboriginal children in tribal settings Eastman’s account suggest that nothing could be farther from the truth.   In writing of his story as an old man he argues that the training of children was “scrupulously adhered to and transmitted from one generation to another”

(p. 41).

The training of children took place through a variety of non-surprising but effective methods including: adults narrating myths and true stories with the expectation that children would repeat the story; grandparents constantly questioning children about their daily experience in ways that required children to be observant of their natural environment;  parents choosing heroes as models for their children to be daily called to mind to influence  behavior; imitative games and sports that prepared children for adult activities; moral and spiritual training through reverence for the “Great Mystery”; and many more formal and informal learning practices.

These methods promoted learning much like contemporary exemplary American families and communities do through use of stories, family practices, language socialization, and endless cultural prompting that prepares children both to function as full citizens in society, and also to develop in them life long attitudes of curiosity and observation.

Learning as it occurs in contemporary schools often loses its obvious connection to daily life.  However, learning that Eastman describes from his childhood is as intertwined with daily living as is the learning that occurs in families and communities today.  Contrary to what many assume, pedagogical thoughtfulness is not and has never been the sole province of the white middle class.



Eastman, C. A. (1971/1902). Indian boyhood.