Indian education; it doesn’t necessarily mean to get an Indian education rather to be taught how to be Indian. In Sherman Alexie’s short story “Indian Education” the main character, Junior, is taught the lessons of being an Indian. The story is about Junior’s life in school from first to twelfth grade with a class reunion at the end. Through each grade we see Junior growing up as well as lessons to be learned. Junior finds himself facing many stereotypes, racism, and discrimination towards him, his people, and culture. The short story ends with Junior beating the odds and overcoming all the obstacles he faced.
Throughout the story “Indian Education” Alexie’s character learns to be an Indian and learns many lessons of how tough it is to be Indian. The first lesson being learned of being Indian is being poor. In the first grade Junior was picked on because he was different than the other boys. “My hair was too short and my U. S. Government glasses were horn-rimmed, ugly. ” The narrator states how he is different by having his hair too short and ugly glasses. Having his hair too short shows the other Indian boys that he’s different because in Indian tradition the guys usually grow their hair out.
He also states that his glasses are provided by the government which tells the reader that he is poor. Experiencing this poverty is common amongst Indians because many of them aren’t educated enough to get a good job to support themselves. Another example from the first grade is when Junior is given nicknames like “Junior Falls Down” and “Cries-Like-a-White-Boy. ” His nickname “Cries-Like-a-White-Boy” hints that there is some tension between the Whites and Indians because as said in the story they’ve never heard a white boy cry.
These examples show the narrator is learning of being an Indian because being poor is common within the Indian culture and having unfriendly tensions between the Whites is something Indians have had for decades. In the second grade Junior faces racism and discrimination from his teacher. “‘Tell me you’re sorry,’ she said. ‘Sorry for what? ’ I asked. ‘Everything,’ she said. ” Here, his teacher is punishing him for no reason. This shows the teacher views herself higherthan him and thinks of Indians as at the bottom. This is the first time he faces racism and he’s only a young kid at this time.
This is one of the many difficulties Indians have to face every day because they look, act, and are viewed differently. In the fourth grade he is shown encouragement for the first of few times. His teacher tells him he should be a doctor, because he is very smart, so he can come back and help his tribe. At this same time the narrator’s mom and dad are sitting in their own darkness drinking and being depressed because of their lives. Junior, having to face his parents like this, knows what he has to do to help not only his family but his entire culture.
It’s the first time he looks himself in the mirror and sees himself becoming something and wants to do something with his life. This can be seen by the many difficulties Indians face versus how much encouragement and belief they get from others and their selves. It can also be seen as him breaking away from the Indian culture and fighting to be different than everyone else in his reservation because it’s almost a “tradition” for Indians to get criticism from others that they’re never going to be anything in life and for the Indians to stop believing in their selves. These were the first lessons he learned of becoming an Indian.
Going through the fifth grade the narrator shot his first basketball and air balled everything. However, instead of giving up he looked at the positive and saw math and geometry in it and kept on trying. This can also be seen as a metaphor; As Indians, and the culture of Indians, hardly anything goes right for them. They’re poor, they have poor education, and a lot of them become alcoholics, but for Junior he doesn’t give up, he keeps his head up and despite all of these negative events happening around him he is still able to know that he can choose how his life turns out and not become like everyone else in his tribe.
At this same time he shot a basketball his cousin was sniffing cement and his cousin saw beauty and chemistry in this. Junior, learning to be Indian, sees his own family making the wrong decisions on his own because no one is there to tell him what’s right or wrong. Learning to be an Indian can be tough with no supervision and guidance from a more responsible person. He also learns lessons of being an Indian during the seventh grade when he separated from his tribe.
“But on the day I leaned through the basement window of the HUD house and kissed the white girl, I felt the good-byes I was saying to my entire tribe. ” Junior left his tribe to get a better education at a white school. Leaving your own people to go live with the enemy is a hard thing to cope with for Junior and his tribe. This teaches him lessons of being Indian because he realizes that living on his reservation is not going to get him the education he needs to be successful because Indians have a poor education system.
All the way until the twelfth grade Junior faced many obstacles, stereotypes, and racism in the white world. In the twelfth grade the narrator graduates as valedictorian and states that his hair is longer than ever. “I walk down the aisle, valedictorian of this farm town high school, and my cap doesn’t fit because I’ve grown my hair longer than it’s ever been. ” This shows the audience that he’s very smart and that he beat all the challenges and obstacles put in front of him.
This teaches him how to be Indian because it shows the narrator that being Indian is tough and he knows it’s not easy for people with an Indian background to become a successful person out in the world. However, he accomplished things no one believed he could. He beat the odds and proved a lot of people wrong. His long hair symbolizes that he hasn’t forgotten where he’s come from. It’s a symbol his Indian heritage and even though he’s been going to a white school for some years he still hasn’t forgotten about his life back at home. He’s always kept a part of him everywhere he went.
Throughout the story Junior grows up to become a new person beating the odds and defeating all the obstacles he had to face. Even though he came from an Indian reservation where people saw themselves as failures, he overcame those odds and saw that he can choose how his life turns out. The narrator is educated of being an Indian facing racism and discrimination. The story talks about the narrator’s education from the first through twelfth grade but doesn’t necessarily give the image of him getting an education but rather it sends out the message of him learning to be an Indian.