Back to Chapter 1
SOCIAL EXCHANGE THEORY AND THE BOARDING HOME
Social exchange theory offers a useful perspective on the question of why certain boarding home program parent-student relationships result in mutual satisfaction and a continued relationship while others do not. The theory suggests that any interpersonal relationship will be evaluated positively and maintained when the rewards each partner receives in the relationship exceed the costs he must pay (see Shaw & Costanzo, 1970, pp. 69-103; Secord & Backman, 1964, pp. 233-323). The rewards and costs involved in an interpersonal relationship include not only material exchanges of goods and services, but also emotional exchanges, for example, rewards of feeling liked or costs of feeling rejected. In the relationship between an employer and an employee, for example, not only money for work, but also feelings and status messages are being exchanged. In evaluating the relationship and deciding whether to continue it, the employee is likely to weigh, in part, the material reward of money against the cost of his time and work. However, he will also weigh, although not necessarily consciously, whether he is receiving emotional rewards, such as the feeling that he is liked and valued by his employer. Similarly, the employer will weigh both his own material and emotional rewards and costs in deciding his degree of satisfaction with the relationship and whether he should continue it.
Social exchange theory also suggests that a person evaluates his satisfaction in a particular interpersonal relationship by comparing the rewards and costs he obtains in it with the rewards and costs he has obtained in similar relationships in the past. He also evaluates the relationship by observing the rewards and costs persons in similar situations are obtaining. In addition, whether the person decides to continue the relationship depends on his estimates of the outcomes that will occur in the alternative courses of action available to him. These factors together establish his individual "comparison level." Since people's comparison levels differ, a relationship satisfying to one individual is not necessarily satisfying to another. Thus, a pretty girl, accustomed to very status-enhancing relationships with members of the opposite sex and perceiving many alternative relationships available to her, may look negatively upon and discontinue a particular relationship that an unattractive girl, accustomed to less status-enhancing relationships and perceiving no other options, might evaluate positively and seek to maintain.
Therefore, in attempting to explain why some boarding home parent-student relationships are positively evaluated and maintained by both parties while others are not, it is necessary to consider:
From the perspective of the boarding home parent, the material rewards available in the relationship are usually of little significance. The parent can usually make only a minimal monetary profit in the transaction, and the students' school obligations prevent large amounts of household work. In addition, people with such material rewards as dominant motives for taking a student are screened out of the program. For this reason, boarding home parents receive their primary rewards from other aspects of the relationship, such as enjoyment of the student's reactions to urban life or enhancement of the parent's status by validating his self-image as a generous and civic-minded person. Where the student denies such emotional rewards to the boarding home parent, the parent is likely to become dissatisfied with the relationship because he is paying high costs in caring for the student, worrying about his problems and whereabouts, and disrupting established family routines.
From the perspective of the Boarding Home Program student as well, the material rewards available in the relationship, such as a luxurious home and expensive food, tend to be of little value since students often prefer their customary style of life at home. The primary rewards available to the student in the boarding home parent-student relationship, thus, also come to lie in emotional exchanges related to feelings of being liked and valued, especially by feared, high-status white people. Where the boarding home parent denies such emotional rewards to the student, the student is likely to become highly dissatisfied because he is paying high costs in leaving his family and the comfort of an established lifestyle and is living with strangers who demand conformity to new patterns of living.
Satisfaction level and continuance in a boarding home parent-student relationship depends, as previously discussed, not only on their rewards as compared to their costs, but also on the student's and parent's comparison levels and perceptions of available alternatives. Those students, for example, who have had extremely warm and indulged relationships with their own parents, and who expect these relationships to continue should they decide to return to the village, are much more likely to withdraw from a particular boarding home parent-student relationship than those who come from families where they are rejected or overworked. Since the alternative of transferring homes or returning to the village is readily available to most students and the alternative of withdrawing their home from the Boarding Home Program or taking a different student is readily available to most parents, the boarding home parent-student relationship tends to be quite unstable, as indicated by the large number of students who transfer and drop out.
While recognizing the importance of a student's or parent's individual comparison level and perception of available alternatives in determining his satisfaction, it is perhaps more useful to focus on the exchanges of rewards and costs that occur in the relationship itself. Boarding home parents can do little to change an individual student's comparison level, but they can substantially change his rewards and costs in the relationship.
Changing the rewards and costs of the student, however, is not easy because social exchanges between members of different cultural groups lead to a number of special problems. First, members of different cultures often erroneously evaluate their costs in a relationship because they misinterpret the meaning of social signs. A person's estimation of the rewards and costs of a relationship are based not only on the concrete effects of the actions of the other person, but also on his interpretation of the symbolic meaning of these actions. When a person is late, for example, a member of western culture may consider this action a high cost, not because a few minutes' delay caused great inconvenience, but rather because being late in a culture that places an extraordinary high value on punctuality is interpreted as a highly status-reducing act (Hall, 1959). A member of a different culture, however, may place no such symbolic meaning on being late and interpret the western cultural member's resultant anger as a sign that the westerner does not like him personally. Second, it is difficult for each member of the cross-cultural interaction to evaluate the rewards and costs that he is sending to the other person because he has difficulty in reading the subtle, often non-verbal signals through which a member of a different cultural group makes known his gratification or discomfort (Hall, 1964). Third, even when one member of a cross-cultural relationship does become aware that his behavior has been misinterpreted and is causing unintended costs for the other, he may not know how to correct the situation because he does not know what behavior the other cultural member will consider rewarding.
These processes of cross-cultural signal crossing, where each party misinterprets the symbolic meaning of the other's behavior, is unaware of his misinterpretation, or, if aware, does not know how to correct it, are primary causes of unsatisfactory relationships between white boarding home parents and Indian and Eskimo students. The following sections discuss such problems in the affect, status, power, and communication dimensions of the boarding home parent-student relationship and describe the behavior of successful and unsuccessful boarding home parents.
That boarding home students were anxious to be liked by their boarding home parents was not especially surprising. Securing the approval of members of the dominant culture was extremely important to many students. Affection from the boarding home parents was especially important in a period of emotional deprivation caused by leaving the close relationships of the village primary group. Parental affection, therefore, was the most valuable reward the student could obtain in the boarding home parent-student relationship.
The extent of boarding home parents' anxiety about whether or not the students liked them was surprising in view of the fact that the well established parents should be more secure in their self-calculations. Many parents felt uneasy about relating to a member of another cultural group and viewed the student's acceptance of them as a sign that they really were good people. Moreover, the need to be liked by other people has been identified as a fundamental American value orientation (Stewart, 1969). People from other countries often consider Americans insatiable in requiring tremendous assurance from other people that they are indeed liked.
Like detectives, both parents and students tended to search each other's behavior for clues to their feelings about them. One mother, for example, noted that her Eskimo student was wearing sunglasses and discussed with great agitation whether the girl wore them to avoid seeing her. Fearing rejection, yet expecting to be rejected by a member of a different culture, both boarding home parents and students tended to misinterpret each other's behavior and perceived rejection and prejudice where none existed.
Ironically, it was those boarding home parents who tried the hardest to secure the student's immediate affection who were most likely to perceive rejection instead. Some parents tried to obtain instant affection through expensive gifts of clothes and trips. When the student took the gifts as a matter of course since "all white people are rich," the parents were crestfallen and angry. Other parents cooked elaborate dinners for their student and felt rebuffed when the student forgot to come home for dinner or ate only the meat and bread to which he was accustomed in the village.
The social sign that convinced many parents that the student did not like them was his desire to spend as much time as possible in the city with his friends and as little time as possible at home. To some extent, the parents were right in interpreting the student's avoidance as a sign of his discomfort in the home. While the parents interpreted this behavior as dislike of them personally, this was rarely the case. Especially those Indian and Eskimo students who had never before left small villages felt extreme fear and awe of strange whites.
Students' intense fears in the white boarding home probably derived in part from subconscious anxieties aroused by the discipline methods used by village parents, who often warn a naughty child that they will give him away to white people if he does not behave (Briggs, 1970; Oswalt, 1963; Milan, 1964). The boarding home situation, where the child is in reality given to white parents, quite possibly arouses latent terrors and even the feeling that being placed in the boarding home is a punishment for being somehow bad. Fearful of the white parents, students were often terrified of being in their homes, where they might make a mistake, break something, or hurt someone.1 As one student put it:
I didn't want to become involved in family activities because I felt out of place in being in a home where all the people were white, and I was Native. I didn't know how to act so I just didn't want to get involved. So what I did most of the time I'd want to get away from the home and get outside and pass time that way so I wouldn't be burdened with how I should do things while I'm staying in the home.
Students' fears of making mistakes were more intense in those boarding homes where family life was more formal, and students accustomed to the casualness of village life perceived what parents considered minor routines to be formal occasions. As one student said:
Seems like everything they did was ordered, that they did things according to a system . . . you had breakfast at a certain hour and the table was all laid out and arranged every time a person was going to eat. You'd have the plates arranged in a certain manner, forks and spoons arranged in order all on the table.
Students' feelings of discomfort in the home were exacerbated by the shock of different cultural patterns. For example, some students, accustomed to seeing heavy drinking in the village and fearing that they would be placed with drinking parents, became terrified when the boarding home father had a beer with a neighbor. Athabascan students, coming from a culture that places strong taboos against what western cultural members usually consider mild forms of nudity, might become upset when boarding home parents violated these norms. Indeed, one occasion where a boarding home father had put on only his underwear to quiet a crying baby in the middle of the night greatly upset the boarding home students and caused extreme concern in their home community. Eskimo students, coming from a culture where overt expressions of sexual affection between married adults are not the norm, often were shocked at boarding home parents' "silly kissing."
While such pressures pushed the student away from the boarding home family, the student's search for emotional support in the crisis of leaving primary group ties and entering a demanding new setting pulled him toward peers and any Natives from his home area. While physically remaining in the city, students attempted psychologically to return to the village. They would "go home" by spending every possible moment in the company of friends from home. They would visit Natives from their home town who lived in Fairbanks. They would haunt the bars, where they could meet other Natives and where they knew that people from home would eventually come.
Students typical desire to spend most of their time in the company of peers rather than parents, in the city and not in the home, derived not only from initial discomfort in the home and the search for emotional support, but also from very different cultural norms concerning the appropriate relationship between a parent and an adolescent and the appropriate way to spend leisure time. The relationship between parent and adolescent in the village is traditionally one of reserve (Parker, 1962). This traditional detachment has been intensified by the culture change occurring rapidly among the young, where the students' westernized outlook can be shared with peers, but not with parents (Chance, 1966). Thus, while boarding home parents often expected the parent-adolescent confidant style of relationship that is an ideal, although often unrealized, of western middle class culture, students did not. Such relationships were appropriate only with peers. Similarly, recreation in the village, unlike the city, does not generally take place within the home. As one Eskimo boarding home mother, who urged her students to go downtown frequently, pointed out, life in the village is not home-based. "You always go out for recreation and walk around. There's nothing fun to do in the home." To many students from small villages, the city is an exciting place and they cruise expectantly, literally awaiting the adventures that they have seen in the movies.
Students' desire to spend time away from the boarding home, therefore, stemmed from many sources discomfort in the new setting, different norms about parent-adolescent relationships, different norms about use of leisure and did not necessarily signify personal rejection of the boarding home parents. The students' behavior, however, often conflicted with boarding home parents' ideals of family life. Boarding home parents tended to hold middle-class values of family togetherness as expressed by spending leisure time with other family members and going to church together. In addition, many families nurtured a fantasy of cross-cultural family togetherness with the white parents and their children sitting cozily with their Indian or Eskimo child discussing their different cultures. Since fulfilling this fantasy was an important reward for parents in the relationship, boarding home parents often became angry when the student would not "be part of the family." Parents often demanded that the student spend most of his time at home with them and might even warn him that other people would not like him if he visited too much, thereby unintentionally reinforcing students' fears of rejection in the new situation.
From their perspective, as well, boarding home students found ample evidence to confirm fears that the boarding home parents did not like them. Having experienced rejection and prejudice in past relationships with whites, many students expected similar treatment from their boarding home parents. Even when parents held no such feelings, many students interpreted their experience as confirming these expectations. One student, for example, called up a counselor hysterically to tell her that the boarding home parents had locked her out of the house. The counselor found that the parent had expected the girl to return home much later and had planned to be home at that time. More experienced boarding home students often remarked that one of their major problems in the boarding home was "misinterpreting how the boarding home parents felt. At first, I thought that they were prejudiced, that they had bad feelings toward me. It took me a long while to rule out that they didn't."
Students often interpreted the boarding home parents' attempts to socialize them into western family routines as proof positive that the parents disliked them. Parents often made a series of demands upon students that the parents regarded as trivial but that the student interpreted as implying disapproval and dislike: "Eat your vegetable, do you want to get scurvy?" "Turn off the lights." "Hang up your clothes in the closet." Since parents frequently did not understand the bases of the students' behavior, they often did imply the view that students behavior was "primitive," rather than a rational response to the different living conditions in the village. Coming from hunting cultures, for example, Indians and Eskimos regard large quantities of meat as a diet for a human being and view vegetables and salad as inferior stuff. Students may be accustomed to leaving the lights on because in the village it may be necessary to use electricity continually in order to maintain the generator. Clothes may be stored in suitcases because village homes have no closets. It was difficult for either boarding home parents or students to view different ways of doing things as appropriate in different circumstances rather than as signs of inadequacy.
Achievement-oriented parents communicated more subtle but even more powerful messages of rejection by their insistence on "improving" the students. Such parents had often taken a boarding home student from civic-minded, "do-gooder" motives. In accordance with western cultural beliefs about the controllability of the environment, these parents regarded the student as a piece of clay that they could mold into a "Native leader," a "Native college student," or, at the very least, a "Native beauty contest winner." The boarding home student, in short, became the parents' new civic project. Parents embarked with immediate gusto upon re-making the student, providing financial generosity hair appointments, tutoring services, special lessons, etc. Students placed in these homes were often aware of the boarding home parents' good intentions. Indeed, the realization that it was well-motivated and not prejudiced people who were trying so hard to change him might thoroughly convince the student that he really was inadequate and justifiably disliked.
For the boarding home student, another social sign, although one largely subconscious, that the parents did not like him occurred when parents limited food. Food is of great importance in Eskimo and Indian psychology. Students come from hunting cultures where food can be scarce and food anxieties are prominent (Murphy & Hughes, 1965). Eating is one of the great delights of life. Most important, affection is often expressed in the tangible form of food (Briggs, 1970). Since village parents give a child food to appease him, students also are accustomed to using food as a substitute gratification in periods of stress, such as entering the boarding home situation. In addition, the propensity of most teenagers to consume tremendous quantities of food is well known.
Boarding home parents frequently did not understand the importance of food to students, especially in a period of emotional deprivation. Parents interpreted students' eating behavior on the basis of their own western cultural norms; thus they often regarded students as greedy and selfish. Students tend to eat tremendous quantities of meat, soda pop, juice, sweets, and little else. For an Indian girl to fry herself a dozen eggs for breakfast was not uncommon. Parents' complaint that "they don't realize that meat costs money" was in fact often literally correct since, in the village, hunting might still supply much meat. Moreover, in areas which lack refrigeration, large quantities of perishable items such as eggs must be eaten immediately.
Boarding home parents also viewed another student food pattern constant snacking as evidence of selfishness. Students might eat at once a bag of cookies or a six pack of pop intended implicitly for the whole family to share over a period of time. Village students, moreover, tend to be accustomed to a snacking pattern of eating rather than sitting down to three major meals. Nor are they accustomed to planning and budgeting food. Some boarding home parents locked cupboards and refrigerators to limit students' eating. From their perspective, students often complained to their own parents that they were "all the time starving" in the boarding home. Since their own parents of course shared the students' concern with food and defined food deprivation along with physical punishment as the essence of white "meanness," these complaints often led to lack of trust in the boarding home parents.
In their evaluations of boarding homes, whether food was abundant was one of the items students most frequently mentioned. Moreover, food seemed to be closely associated with the quality of the emotional relationship with the boarding home parent. As one student put it, "I like them when they're not too tight with the food." In sum, different cultural patterns of food consumption often led parents to view students as greedy and students to view parents as stingy, not only in material things but also in affection.
In spite of the potential for misinterpreting each other's behavior, a large number of boarding home parents did succeed in developing positive emotional relationships with their students. Two parent behaviors seemed critical in creating such reciprocal affection. The first was direct expression of unconditional warmth. These parents were not especially concerned about whether the students liked them and responded to them immediately with a spontaneous demonstrative warmth that prevented the student from misinterpreting their feelings. Much of this affection was expressed through the powerful nonverbal communication channels to which Indian and Eskimo students appear to be especially sensitive, for example, bodily contact and facial expression. As one student said, "She has a smile that will make anyone feel wanted and happy." Often, these parents directly expressed love for the student verbally as well. As one said matter-of-factly, "When we sat down together that first night, I told him I loved him and I cared about him." When asked how she could tell someone she had just met that she loved him, the boarding home mother laughed, "It's very easy. You just come out and say, 'I love you.' You say it with feeling in your voice. It's a feeling from the heart." More sophisticated parents might be embarrassed by such open demonstrativeness, but believed that direct expression of warmth was critical to the relationship. As one boarding home father explained.
You feel sort of silly telling a 15-year-old girl that you love her. But you've got to do it because they are that direct with each other. She writes letters to her brother that you'd think were written to her boyfriend. Also, they don't have the history of relationships that you have with your own children. They don't know how you feel about them unless you tell them directly.
In addition to being exceedingly direct, the warmth of these successful parents was at first not conditional upon the student's actions. These parents did not wait to observe an adequate sample of the student's behavior before they made a decision concerning how they felt about him. While parental warmth might be withdrawn on occasions of misbehavior later in the relationship and, indeed, then comprised a powerful means of influencing student behavior, by that time the base had been established. Direct expression of parental warmth helped to convince the student at once that the white parents did like him and helped to prevent the student from interpreting unfamiliar aspects of the parents' behavior as prejudice and rejection.
Secondly, while themselves expressing great warmth, these parents tended to be little concerned about whether the student returned their affection. Indeed, these parents assumed reciprocated warmth in the absence of the direct signs of affection that they themselves showed. Such security about reciprocated affection was important because Eskimo and Indian adolescents and adults tend to be highly ambivalent both about expressing affection and being the object of affection (Briggs, 1970; Helm, 1961). Although village parents treat small babies with extreme warmth and indulgence, overt displays of affection are not normative between parents and older children. The arrival of a new baby typically results in swift dethronement and deprivation of overt affection for the older child. Indeed, the lack of overt affectional display between parents and older children is recognized as a sign of the child's maturity. Proud of his new status, the child may overtly reject display of parental affection although covertly he longs for it.2
This repressed desire for affection, combined with resistance to its open display, often led boarding home students to intensely desire but ambivalently react toward the boarding home parents' display of warmth. Thus, a student who strongly desired affection might respond to a boarding home parent's hug not with a returned embrace or even an acceptant relaxation, but with bodily tension. These successful parents, however, did not feel rejected and withdrawn. Rather, they tended to laugh about the student's unresponsiveness. "He lets me hug him with one arm," said one boarding home mother, "but not with two. I guess that's reserved for his own mama." These parents were often unaware of emotional undertones that in fact did indicate the student's ambivalence toward them, and, when aware of negative feelings, they often dismissed them as "teenage ups and downs." Especially in the later phases of the relationship, when students may withdraw because they feel that their new love for the boarding home parent indicates disloyalty to their own parents, these parents' lack of intense concern with reciprocated warmth helped to maintain a positive affectional relationship. In short, these successful parents were thick-skinned. They were not obsessively concerned with the students' feelings toward them and did not interpret the students' behavior as rejection, even when rejection might have been intended.
Parents who developed a relationship of mutual affection with the boarding home student communicated warmth in other characteristic ways. Typically, food was plentiful. Also, the family frequently had a high activity level so that negative emotions did not become contained and stabilized. As one student pointed out:
When you get out of the home and go on trips and things, you have different feelings. Everybody is excited and the relationship becomes closer. You begin to feel that the boarding home parent is really human. If the kid is left in the same environment, the same patterns continue.
Humor was also characteristic of these parents, and they frequently laughed about problems that other boarding home parents became anxious about. In sum, these successful parents demonstrated in easily understandable ways the affection that was highly rewarding to the student and did not demand that the student reward them in return by overt displays of affection.
While parents who succeeded in developing mutually satisfying relationships with boarding home students evidenced little conscious awareness of the affectional dimension of the relationship, they tended to be extremely concerned about the status dimension, the student's feelings about whether he received the respect and trust congruent with his position. This emphasis harmonized with that of the boarding home students, who also tended to be unanalytic about affectional interactions but very much aware of status messages. Intense concern with status is, of course, typical of the adolescent stage of development where a person aspires to adulthood, but is not treated as such. Preoccupation with status is also generally characteristic of minority group members who seek to validate insecure positions by obtaining status acknowledgments from members of the dominant group.
For the Indian or Eskimo boarding home student, status concerns are acute not only because he is an adolescent and a minority group member, but also because he experiences a severe objective status loss in the transition from his village to city roles. In the village, the adolescent at puberty is viewed as a young adult and the later adolescent, as a mature adult (Olsen, 1970; Gubser, 1965). By these criteria, all boarding home students would fall into the adult category, and about half or more would be considered mature adults (see Table 3). The prerogative of adulthood in the village, as in western society, is fundamentally freedom from parental control. Only little children have rules (Chance, 1966). Only little children are told to go to bed or to come in to dinner. Adolescents, who are adults, regulate their own behavior. They stay up all night if they are having fun and they get something to eat when they are hungry.
AGE AND GRADE DISTRIBUTION OF
STUDENTS IN REGIONAL SCHOOLS AND BOARDING HOME PROGRAM*
Number of Students in
Percentage of Students in Each Grade
Number of Students in Each Age Level
Percentage of Students in Each Age Level
*These statistics include the students enrolled in regional schools at Beltz and Kodiak as well as Boarding Home Program students. Figures were collected by Bridget March of the Division of Regional Schools and Boarding Home Program.
In western society, the role of the adolescent is much closer to the role of child than adult and consequently entails much legitimate parental regulation of behavior. Thus, as a matter of course, boarding home parents set rules for students, such as coming in for meals at regular times or going to bed early on school nights. Students, however, often perceived these rules as major denials of status since only small children may be treated this way in the village.
Moreover, for a number of reasons, boarding home parents tended to intensify students' status loss by treating them as even younger than the western adolescent role would justify. First, boarding home students often display physical characteristics that to western adults are cues of childhood. Eskimo students especially tend to be small and to have the rounded face, undefined facial features, and paucity of body hair that western adults associate with young children. Second, students are often placed in a school grade much lower than their urban age-mates. Since their fundamental role is that of "student," parents may relate to them more in terms of their academic status than chronological age. Third, village students rarely have urban experience and may have to be taught such things as how to cross the street or the meaning of a red light, lessons which parents are accustomed to teaching only very young children. Fourth, boarding home parents often find it rewarding to treat the student as a very young child because the parent enjoys the student's delight at new experiences very much the way parents enjoy the reactions of small babies as they discover the world. To obtain these rewards, parents often placed boarding home students in situations where they needed parental nurturance or reacted in interesting ways.
For these reasons, status loss based on treatment viewed or seen as appropriate for a younger life stage was one of the major costs perceived by boarding home students in the parent-student relationship. Such treatment was especially galling when boarding home students in their late teens were placed with "parents" in their early twenties. One of students' most frequent complaints was that the parents "treated me like a child." One young man, for example, who left an urban boarding home for one in a Native community where he could regain his status, commented in disgust that the mother "bought me a bicycle and tried to get me to join the Boy Scouts." Students were extremely sensitive to any status implications of parental communications. "She called me 'baby,' " one Indian girl complained of her boarding home mother, totally ignoring the affectional message in the address and responding only to the status implication.
Males especially were likely to experience severe status loss in the boarding home family because, in addition to being treated like a child, they were often treated like a girl. Sex role divisions of labor are much stronger in the village than in urban society, especially among Eskimos. Boarding home parents often unwittingly assigned women's work to Indian and Eskimo men washing dishes, sweeping the floors, watching a baby. Male students, bitterly resenting such chores since their male status demanded important work, often expressed passive resistance by "forgetting to do them." Unaware that their demands were actually creating high costs to students since they entailed a loss of status, boarding home parents often became infuriated at what they perceived as an unfair exchange in the relationship. As one parent complained, "After all I do for him, all I ask is that he just dry the dishes at night, and he won't even do that much for me."
Some parents, who were aware of the sex role implications for household tasks, nevertheless believed that asking young men to do women's work was justified since these were the tasks that needed to be done. They explained to the student western versus village differences in sex role division of labor. Such explanations helped ease the situation. As one student commented, "I dislike cleaning up the house every weekend. That's women's work at home, but I guess it's different in the boarding home." On an emotional level, however, male students still may feel degraded by performing women's work just as, on an emotional level, boarding home parents feel anxious when the student withdraws into silence, even though they intellectually understand Indian and Eskimo students' verbal reticence in a stress-producing situation.
In addition to status reduction through treatment appropriate to a younger age level or less important sex role, students also felt that boarding home parents did not treat them as persons worthy of trust. Students viewed parents' queries concerning where the student was going, whom he would be with, and what he would be doing as evidence not of parent's interest and concern, but rather that the parents "think Natives are all alike and that I'm just going to get into trouble." New boarding home parents especially tended to act like over-anxious mothers with their first babies. Fearful that something would happen to the innocent in the city or fearful that the student was indeed wayward, these parents attempted to keep the student under total surveillance. As one student said, "She wanted me to ask every time I even went out for a walk. It's degrading."
Ironically, boarding home parents often denied status to the student not only through inappropriate demands, but also through inappropriate generosity. Among Indians and Eskimos, gift-giving entails reciprocal obligations. One gives something to another in the expectation that, when one is in need, the assistance will be returned (Nelson, 1966). Gift-giving in the village is not gratuitous; it is a balanced but delayed material exchange system. While this form of gift-giving also occurs in western culture, for example, in the exchanges of favors among politicians, another western gift-giving form is the altruistic, where a material gift is exchanged not for a material return, but for psychological rewards, such as the gratitude of the receiver. In altruistic gift-giving, the receiver's expression of gratitude becomes critical since it is the major reciprocation provided to the giver. Altruistic gift-giving is, in sum, status enhancing for the giver but status reducing for the receiver. Thus, Eskimos traditionally regarded the "free" gift followed by a "thank you" as highly degrading. Freuchen (1961) reports that when he tried to thank his Eskimo friends for sharing their meat with him, they responded, "It is your right . . . there is nobody who gives or gets gifts . . . for thereby you become dependent. With gifts you make slaves just as with whips you make dogs (p. 109)."
Boarding home parents found it difficult to resist altruistic gift-giving. Parents enjoyed what they thought would be village students' delight at new clothes, sports equipment, and records. They could play "Lord of the Manor" or "Lady Bountiful" at little cost to themselves. Moreover, many students arrived with little more than what they wore, and parents were embarrassed at sending their boarding home student to school with clothes less good than their own children's. While some gift-giving, especially at appropriate occasions such as Christmas, cemented the relationship, where this gift-giving was excessive, it aroused ambivalent feelings in the student. Fears of dependency and resentment at status loss mingled with enjoyment of the material objects. As one young man wistfully remarked, "It's nice, but there's nothing you can do for them. They do everything for you."
In order to avoid status loss by receipt of a free gift, students frequently acted as if the gift was their due and failed to display appropriate appreciative behavior. As others have pointed out, students may not verbalize "thank you" because such expressions are not normative in Indian and Eskimo villages (Wax & Thomas, 1961; Nelson, 1967). However, status restoring mechanisms seem more important than ignorance of western social customs in explaining this behavior; students in homes where they were not placed under severe pressures to display gratitude tended to learn quickly western culture expectations concerning gratitude display. These students attempted to reward parents with "thank you's" when appropriate. Indeed, some students overdid it. As one mother remarked, "He thanked me and thanked me about ten times and I only baked him a cake."
In homes where the student was placed under strong pressures to reward the boarding home parents with gratitude, he frequently attempted to re-define the boarding home parent-student relationship as one of balanced exchange by asserting that the parent was making money by keeping him. He was a financial asset to the family and, therefore, need not feel dependent or grateful. Since boarding home parents, especially those parents who expected their rewards in the boarding home parent-student relationship to derive from the gratitude of the student, frequently spent much more than the monetary stipend on the student, this status-restoring maneuver infuriated them. Parents generally responded by attempting to prove to the student beyond any doubt that they were actually altruistic, a tactic which exacerbated the student's feeling of status loss.
The boarding home student's frequent refusal to express gratitude to the boarding home parent led to great dissatisfaction on the part of many parents because gratitude, or the satisfaction of having their in many cases objectively altruistic behavior recognized, was one of their major rewards in the relationship. Indeed, one of the most frequent complaints of boarding home parents was that students did not show appreciation for all that they did. Denied status by the student, such parents often recited their good deeds to the coordinator, who played an important role in performing the appreciative and status enhancing maneuvers that the student refused to do.
Status loss is almost inevitable for boarding home students in the transition from the village to the city. It occurs in the boarding home and also in the urban school, where the best student in his village might find himself at the bottom of the class. Status loss occurs in students' most casual interactions in the urban community. Eskimo students especially may feel psychologically small just by being constantly around physically taller white people. Boarding home parents who visited students in their village were often shocked by the student's higher status. As one said, "Why he looked half a head taller when I saw him in Wainwright. There he was surrounded by his equipment with his girl friend. There he was a man."
Those boarding home parents who developed mutually satisfying relationships with students behaved in ways that reduced as much as possible students' status loss in the transition to the city. To some extent these parents restored students' status by avoiding rules which were not age-appropriate. As one parent observed, "After all, you're not going to tell a man of 18 that it's time to go to bed." However, the key to giving the students status was not fewer objective rules; rather it was in explaining these rules as adult-appropriate behavior. In the status as well as in the affectional area, these parents were very direct about their feelings. They often told the student explicitly that, although there were rules, they considered him an adult. As one boarding home parent, who had many stringent rules, put it:
I would say that the most important thing is that instead of treating them like a child you treat them like an adult. It's a very thin line. "Okay, we have rules and regulations. You know what we expect of you, and we trust you to set a good example so we can be proud of you.
These parents also obtained desirable behavior not by making rules, but rather by telling the student what behavior was in keeping with an adult role. One parent, for example, said that she never told her girls to stay out of bars, but every once in a while she "would remind them how young ladies behave."
Again, as in the affectional area, while giving status to the student by very direct means, these successful parents did not expect the student to reward them by direct expressions of gratitude. They perceived the student's appreciation of them in subtle ways. When asked whether the student showed gratitude, these parents usually asserted emphatically that he did and mentioned not verbalized thanks, but the student's attitude or unsolicited help around the house. Indeed, in those homes where the students were grateful, they often attempted to repay the parents by doing chores that the parents had not requested. Performing an unsolicited chore placed the student in the same status position as the parent who gave an unsolicited gift.
In sum, these successful boarding home parents helped restore the student's inevitable loss of status in coming from the village to the city by telling him very clearly and directly that they considered him an adult. Although these parents avoided rules that were inappropriate for the student's age, more importantly, they explained their rules as adult-appropriate behavior. These parents also did not demand that the student enhance their status by direct, verbalized gratitude, but perceived as rewards non-verbal signs of gratitude through which the student could reciprocate his obligations without assuming a position of subservient dependency.
The cause most frequently precipitating the disintegration of the boarding home parent-student relationship was dissatisfaction with the power relationship. The boarding home parent might tell the coordinator to take the student away because the parent could not control his behavior. For example, the student would not conform sufficiently to family routines to make life tolerable for the parents, or the student insisted on prowling the streets and the parents did not wish to take the responsibility for him. Such costs outweighed the rewards the parents received in the relationship, and they terminated it. For the student, a frequent cause of requesting a transfer was that the boarding home parents were "too strict" and "bossy." Students consciously evaluated their costs in a home largely in terms of the parents' attempt to control their behavior and restrict their freedom.
The power relationship tends to be a critical area in the boarding home parent-student relationship, in part because of the vast differences between a village and city in the types of behavior that need to be regulated. In a small village, there is little need for rules governing the child's freedom of movement and of association. Everyone knows everyone else and often everyone is related to everyone else. The child will not be going long distances where he might get lost or into areas where there are dangerous cars or dangerous strangers. Knowing that the child is with familiar people in a familiar area, village parents typically do not attempt close surveillance of his movements any more than an urban parent attempts close surveillance of his child when he knows he is somewhere in the home. Nor do village parents see an objective reason why a child must be home for every meal when he can easily eat at a relative's or help himself when he is hungry. Especially in the summer, the situation from which boarding home students arrive, village life tends to be casual. It is not unusual for teenagers to celebrate the days and nights of continuous light by staying up all night at dances that begin late in the evening and end in the morning.
In addition to differences in the areas of behavior that must be regulated, Indians and Eskimos tend to hold very different attitudes toward the legitimacy of coercive authority and toward the ways in which it is appropriate to direct and sanction other people's behavior. Coercive authority is fundamental to western institutions with their extensive, formalized rule systems and explicit punishments for disobedience (Wax & Thomas, 1961). Among Indians and Eskimos, in contrast, similar institutions tend to be absent. Informal consensus, a chief system, or custom are the traditional authoritative institutions. The village council, an institution recently brought into being by whites, lacks traditional legitimacy and in some areas its rules and regulations are ignored. Boarding home students, in short, are not accustomed to obeying formalized rules, except in the school setting.
Coercion in interpersonal relationships, as well, is normative and legitimate in western society. Western parents assume such coercive authority in their relationship with their children and, indeed, American statutes and common law protect parental power over children to an extraordinary degree (Kleinfeld, 1970). Even casual encounters between equals are characterized by subtle but habitual coercion. As Wax and Thomas (1961) observe:
Even when white people do not wish to accomplish some end, their conversational patterns are structured along coercive lines. Thus, at a casual party, the man who remarks that he plans to buy a pear tree may anticipate that someone will immediately suggest that he buy a peach tree instead. If he remarks that he is shopping for a new car, someone will be happy to tell him exactly what kind of a car he ought to buy. The same thing happens if he ventures an opinion about music or politics. Someone is bound to inform him (in a friendly way, of course) that he ought to be listening to, reading, or attending something for which he has no particular inclination.
A cardinal interpersonal premise of Indians and Eskimos, in contrast, is that one does not interfere directly with another person's behavior (Wax & Thomas, 1961; Helm, 1961; Nelson, 1966). As one boarding home student succinctly put it, "No one in Wainwright tells the other person what to do." This principle of non-coercion applies not only to relationships between two adults, but also to relationships between parents and children. Non-interference principles can be carried to lengths that shock Westerners, who place little value on non-coercion in interpersonal relationships but high value on social betterment achieved by making other people do what's good for them, whether or not they are so inclined.
Helm (1961) describes an incident in an Athabascan community that is a "distillation of the norm of non-interference":
Four-year-old Benny Heiro seemed to spend his days bombarding our cabin with rocks and sticks, despite our frowns. Cora replied, "Yes, Benny was like that at her house, too." He had spent that morning pounding on the wall with an axe and culminated his labours by striking Cora's four-year-old daughter on the head with the blunt end. (The anthropologist) exclaimed in shocked tones, "Good heavens, what did you do?" Cora replied, "Well, I told him to go home, but he wouldn't." (p. 87)
Nelson (1969) emphasizes the importance of non-interference in an Eskimo community:
One man seldom tells another what to do. If a young hunter walks out onto the ice in summer without pushing a sled along, those who know better will probably let him shoot a seal and learn for himself how difficult it is to drag the seal home on the ice without a sled. Only in a dangerous situation will comments or hints be made, and even then they are often cryptic and indirect. Minding one's business reaches extremes on occasions. I once saw two puppies pull an excellent caribou skin down from a cache and rip it to shreds, in full view of several Eskimos. It is better not to interfere in another man's affairs at all than to risk offending him, even in situations like this. (p. 380)
It is important to distinguish, however, between direct interference with another person's behavior, which is condemned, and indirect interpersonal surveillance and sanctioning, which actually may be more intense in a small village (Briggs, 1970; Helm, 1961). Such methods maintain amiable surface relationships and avoid face-to-face confrontations (Kemnitzer, 1967). Thus, paradoxically, a person might perceive fewer overt rules and regulations in the village and feel more like his "own boss" because no one gives him orders, although subtly expressed norms and sanctions govern certain areas of his behavior far more stringently than in an urban area.
Given these marked differences in cultural perspectives on formal rules and coerciveness in interpersonal relationships, the power relationship between boarding home parents and students is a predictable area of conflict. Boarding home parents saw themselves as requiring that the student follow only a few self-evident rules, mere norms of urban life, yet the student perceived these rules as illegitimate displays of naked power. The boarding home parent typically attempted to regulate large areas of the student's behavior that were previously unstructured. The student must tell the parent where he is going and when he will be back. He must go to bed and eat meals at certain times. He must eat vegetables. He must not visit so much with his friends, etc.
Not only the rules themselves, but also the authoritarian style in which certain parents expressed and enforced them imposed high costs on Indian and Eskimo students unused to interpersonal coercion. These parents presented rules as ultimatums. In order to validate their authority, they arranged confrontation dramas where their authority was upheld, but at the cost of severe loss of face by the student. Reincarnating the Indian wars, these parents described the boarding home parent-student relationship as "a pitched battle." "It was either her or me, and I was going to win."
The following enforcement of authority scenario is a very extreme instance of the processes that occur. The boarding home student had received an upsetting letter from home, left the supper dishes half unwashed, and went upstairs to his room. The boarding home mother became furious and felt that his failure to do the dishes threatened her entire authority over him. If he did not do the dishes, he would never have any more respect for her. She screamed at him to "get right down here this instant and do those dishes." When the boy did not respond, she marched upstairs, flung open his door, and repeated the order. He still did not respond and she went to get a whip. At this point, the boy ran outside in hysterics, and the parent called the coordinator. The coordinator suggested that she leave the student alone for a while, but she refused, explaining that she would lose all her authority. The boarding home mother wrote the boy's parents saying that she wanted to treat him like her own child and that this was the way she would treat her own child.
Boarding home parents who had not developed a positive affectional relationship found that they had surprisingly few resources through which to influence the student's behavior. In the early stages of the boarding home parent-student relationship, especially with students who had not been around white people, the student's fear and awe of the white parents usually prevented misbehavior. Indeed, quite often the students were too fearful of the parent even to ask if they could leave the home. After this initial fear dissipated, however, those boarding home parents who failed to develop satisfying relationships with students generally relied on coercive enforcement measures, most frequently restrictions.
Parents tended to be unaware of the dramatic impact of restriction upon many boarding home students, who were unused to long, drawn-out forms of punishment. Restrictions often prevented the student from seeing his friends, who served as a central source of emotional support in the stresses of the boarding home experience. Taught that it is improper to show feelings, especially angry feelings (Briggs, 1970; Helm, 1961), students often did not display the non-verbal cues that would give parents some way to gauge the effects of their punishment. As one overtly sweet and shy Eskimo girl wrote in her diary:
I am mad and kind of upset today. I hate this woman at the house. I really hate her! She makes me so mad I just could kick her. If only I could! She put me on a two-day restriction for just a little mistake . . . They say that the restrictions are not punishment, but they are to me.
A few boarding home parents attempted to control the student's behavior by stronger measures, such as depriving him of food or using physical punishment. Since village parents may consider these methods to be the essence of white "meanness" (Olsen, 1970), such punishments accomplished the immediate end of short-term control at the cost of branding the parent as an intrinsically bad person with whom a positive emotional relationship was inconceivable. Indeed, the boarding home parents themselves were often astonished at the effects of such punishments. As one mother puzzled, "When I slapped her, she sobbed as if she had been beaten, but it was only a light slap. She was so scared that she wouldn't even go out the following weekend, even though then it was all right."
Where boarding home parents exerted power in ways the student found intolerable, the students had little power to influence their behavior. Just as boarding home parents had few power resources through which to influence the behavior of boarding home students because the relationship was a temporary one the students were similarly limited. Unlike natural children, the student could not use the parents' identification with him and long-term emotional bonds as a way to obtain some reciprocal power. However, boarding home students did have one power resource that natural children do not. They could easily withdraw from the relationship. For parents who were partly motivated by the stipend received, the student's threat to leave (which some parents referred to as "blackmail") might induce them to modify their behavior. For parents who were motivated by altruistic needs or the desire to "improve" the student, the threat of withdrawal might also be an effective check since withdrawal signified failure to the parent. However, threats to leave were not highly effective power resources since the parent often found it easy to convince himself and the community that it was the student and not the parent who "couldn't make the grade." In addition, active control strategies are not congruent with Indian and Eskimo value orientations, so students rarely exploited this source of power. More frequently, students passively resisted parental demands. For example, they refused to learn the manners the parent was trying to teach or pretended that they did not hear an order (a particularly subtle control strategy since many students do have substantial hearing loss as a result of otitis media, and the boarding home parent often does not know if he can hear).
Boarding home parents who developed mutually satisfying relationships with the students rarely made an issue of authority and thus allowed the student to feel autonomous. Indeed, when asked what rules they had for the student, they frequently shrugged, saying that they "didn't have any," although further discussion made it evident that the parents did have certain standards of behavior that the student was following. While these implicit rules might be stringent, students did not perceive parents as exercising excessive power because they expressed their authority in an indirect, not bludgeoning fashion. As one parent explained, "I don't order. I ask. I don't demand. I suggest." Or, as a student expressed it, the boarding home parent acted as "my advisor, not my boss."
In a number of these homes, parents did make fewer objective demands on the students because they did not attempt to regulate the student's behavior on minor issues.3 As one pointed out, "Why fuss because he won't eat vegetables? I just give him a vitamin pill." These parents did not find it necessary to correct all behavior inappropriate by western norms. One parent, for example, remarked with amusement that his student "spits when she gets nervous. She can spit a mile. It's funny in such a pretty little girl."
These successful parents did not use restrictions, the boarding home parent disciplinary staple, as a primary method of control, although they might restrict the student occasionally. As one parent explained, "I was never a believer in restrictions. It's harder on the parent than it is on the child. Everyone is locked up together in the house and just gets madder." These parents had a diversity of influence techniques, which were similar, however, in their indirection. They avoided above all placing the student in a situation where he would severely lose face.
Explanation was a very frequent control strategy. As a number of these parents pointed out, students often did not really understand the bases for such rules as staying off the streets at night or informing boarding home parents of where they were going. Such rules seemed to them to be arbitrary parental dictates. These boarding home parents attempted to explain the reason for the rule from the student's perspective in direct, clear language. One parent, for example, explained the prohibition against wandering around town in terms of the difference in the dangers found in the city and the village, "I told her that in the village you've got to be afraid of wild animals, but here it's wild people." Since invoking fears of the unfamiliar is a modal method of control used by village parents, this parent's explanation built upon students' sensitivity to fearful situations. These boarding home parents noted that they found it surprisingly difficult to give such explanations because they themselves had rarely thought about the bases of their ways of doing things and had taught these ways to their own children when the children were too young for sophisticated reasoning. Explanation is a control technique that avoids direct orders and loss of face since it seems as if the student makes his own decision based in part upon the additional information the parent provides. Moreover, explanation appears to be legitimized by village norms. Athabascan Indian parents interviewed most frequently suggested "talking to" the student as a means of influencing their behavior (Olsen, 1970).
These boarding home parents also influenced the student by allowing natural consequences to occur that could convince students of the need for behavior change without direct parental interference. Indeed, some parents purposively arranged situations where such instructional "natural" consequences would occur. One parent, for example, alleviated the problem of continual pre-dinner snacking by allowing his student to go ahead and gorge herself before dinner. Then he took the family out for dinner, and the student found herself too full for most of her hamburger and malt. Allowing a person to observe the consequences of his own actions is again an indirect method of correction commonly used in the villages since it avoids confrontation and public loss of face (Nelson, 1966).
These successful parents also used ostracism and joking, two other control methods that avoid face-to-face confrontations, to prevent misbehavior. Rather than attacking the student with evidence of misdeeds, parents might refuse to speak to him. Parents also might inform students that they had violated prohibitions by joking. In one case, a boarding home mother suspected that her student was frequenting the bars. Rather than accusing her, the boarding home mother made some jokes related to recent police raids where other boarding home students had been picked up, even though it was their first time in the bar. The point was understood.
In many cases, these boarding home parents also relied on the legitimate authority of the natural parents to influence the student's behavior. Boarding home parents who discussed problems with the student's own parents by letters or during visits and obtained the natural parents' support for their rules often found enforcement much easier. Occasionally, the natural parents would not reply to boarding home parents' letters or would not visit them because they were embarrassed at their poor English or at calling upon that "pretty, rich lady." Even if this occurred, however, boarding home parents could still rely on the legitimacy of the natural parents to enforce their rules by such comments as, "Your parents loved you enough to send you here away from them to get an education. Now sit down and study."
Where a positive emotional relationship had developed between boarding home parents and students, parents were able to influence students' behavior without authoritative measures. As one parent said simply when asked how he enforced his rules, "They do it to please you." Students did not want to jeopardize the warmth and approval they received from these parents through misbehavior, and the threat of withdrawn love was a powerful control. It was in those relationships where such affectional bonds had not developed that the parent found his influence resources so limited. The student had very little to lose by doing as he pleased.
Boarding home parents often viewed a "failure to communicate" as their fundamental problem in the boarding home parent-student relationship. Communication, however, was rarely the problem in itself, but was usually a symptom of other problems. While some special communication difficulties did occur, parents often defined a generalized unhappiness with the relationship or problems related to affect, status, or power merely as communication problems. Such a definition of the situation was less threatening to the parent since it implied that there was no basic disagreement and that if everyone would understand each other everything could be resolved. In addition, Indians and Eskimos tend to respond to stress or express disagreement by withdrawing into silence. For this reason, parents frequently interpreted student's silence, their mode of response to another problem, as lack of communication and the major problem. Moreover, students soon became aware that little else created as much anxiety and exasperation in a white adult as maintaining a barrier of silence to his questions and demands. Thus, students could use silence as a method of passive aggression to retaliate against boarding home parents.
However, communication is a problem area to a certain degree in the boarding home parent-student relationship because of the vastly different communication norms of westerners and Indians and Eskimos. Making conversation is the major way in which westerners establish social contact, especially in an unfamiliar situation that provokes anxiety (Wax & Thomas, 1961). Indians and Eskimos, in contrast, tend to respond to an unfamiliar situation by quiet observation until they know what they are expected to do. Thus, nervous boarding home parents often bombarded new students with conversational sallies to which the students responded with silence. Some boarding home parents erroneously interpreted students' initial silence as surliness, although most were aware that Indian and Eskimo students tend to be "shy" with strangers. More experienced boarding home students, who had learned the importance western adults place on social conversation, often counseled new students above all to "talk" in the boarding home.
While students' initial reserve wears off after they become comfortable in the home, a more subtle and pervasive communication difficulty concerns differences in western and Indian and Eskimo norms concerning the appropriateness of personal conversation. Westerners tend to view personal discussions as an indicator of interest and concern for the other person. Personal conversation is also considered a sign of an important interpersonal relationship, such as between a parent and child. With their strong values of non-interference, in contrast, Indians and Eskimos often consider what westerners view as innocuous conversation to be highly personal intrusions. Thus, boarding home parents frequently peppered the students with questions about their personal life or problems to express their concern about them and willingness to help. The student, however, interpreted this interest as prying voyeurism. Moreover, students often did not consider discussions of personal problems to be appropriate in a parent-adolescent relationship. In the village, students were not accustomed to talking about personal matters with their own parents and initially did not expect to discuss such subjects with boarding home parents. Personal matters were discussed with peers or siblings if they were discussed at all (Parker, 1962; Chance, 1966). Indeed, the student's natural parents frequently found out about his problems in the boarding home not by talking to him directly, but by talking to his friends or brothers and sisters. More experienced boarding home students learned that they were expected to discuss their problems with parents in a western boarding home and that such discussions gratified parents, but this different cultural pattern took time to acquire.
Appropriate methods of seeking information also differ substantially between westerners and Indians and Eskimos. Westerners consider direct questions to be the way to find out what one wants to know. Moreover, they tend to equate such straightforwardness and directness with honesty and sincerity, important western interpersonal values. Indians and Eskimos, in contrast, tend to view direct questions as boorish and childish, betraying a lamentable lack of sophistication. Adults wait until the future or other people answer one's private speculation (Briggs, 1970). A mature person also finds out what he wants to know by careful observation, especially, of non-verbal cues, such as posture or facial expression (Wax & Thomas, 1961). Should a person desire immediate verbalized information, the proper approach is to talk around the subject, to hint that such information is wanted. Such an indirect interpersonal approach allows the other person to refuse to answer an implied question without either party losing face. Thus, when a more traditional Indian or Eskimo adult wants to secure the opinion of another adult on an issue, he will generally not ask a direct question, but make a statement that implies a question. For example, if he wants to know whether the person thinks the plane will come in that afternoon, he might say, "Somebody says the plane will come in this afternoon," and await the other's indirect answering statement, "Maybe the weather is bad." Had he asked directly whether the person thought the plane was coming in, the likely reply would have been "I don't know."
An older Eskimo student who had formerly lived with a white family suggested that boarding home parents might find communication much easier if they adopted a more indirect style of information seeking and were more attentive to nonverbal cues. Suppose, the interviewer inquired, a student came home from school looking unhappy. Should the boarding home parent ask him directly what is wrong or should he leave the student alone? The Eskimo student replied that the parent should try to help the student, but he should not be too obvious, since the student would lose face if he admitted his problem. The parent, he suggested, should get the student to talk about his day in school and be observant and alert. Somewhere, maybe in the middle of the story, the student's voice will change or maybe he will pause. Then the parent will know what is the matter.
Inflection and sentence form patterns that differ between cultures can also cause misinterpretations. For example, Indians and Eskimos may phrase a question or request in the statement mode, but with a question inflection (Olsen, 1970). Thus, a student may say, "I am going to town," with a rising intonation. What the student has said is, "As an independent person, I am going to town unless anyone has a serious objection." The irritated boarding home parent may not be aware that permission has been indirectly requested. A difference between Athabascan Indian and western sentence patterns mentioned by village teachers is the Indian tendency to phrase a request in the imperative mode. For example, the person may say, "Take me to town," when he is actually asking, "Will you take me to town?" Such "orders" anger white people who do not understand this pattern.
While differences in cultural norms about appropriate communication styles explain much of what the boarding home parent perceives as the student's failure to communicate, the student may also withdraw into silence because the parent is engaging him in conversation that he perceives as status reducing. It is difficult for westerners, such as boarding home parents, to realize the extent of many Eskimo and Indian students' sensitivity to possible allegations of inferiority. For example, the parent may ask the student to tell him about life in the village and the student may reply with a monosyllable because he feels that anything he said would demonstrate his inadequacy. As one student explained:
I didn't know how to answer them really. I couldn't really answer their questions because I thought that if I told them certain things like we lived in a little run down shack compared to what they're living in, it made me feel much lower.
Students often perceived the parental questions that began, "Can you do . . . ?" Have you done . . . ?" or "Do you know . . . ?" as highly status reducing, since they might be forced to admit that they cannot do, have not done, or do not know something that they believe they should. Yet, parents were very likely to ask just these kinds of questions, since they were unsure of the students' knowledge of the urban area.
Similarly, students were often unwilling to ask boarding home parents questions when they needed information. Parents did not understand that it made students feel "ashamed" to ask how to use the telephone or the shower when they felt that they should have learned such childish things long ago. Moreover, since direct questions bothered them, they believed that their questions would bother the boarding home parent. Only the older, more sophisticated students realized that white adults found such questions highly rewarding, since they provided the opportunity for the adult to assume a nurturant role.
Students also did not talk to their boarding home parents because they believed that the parents might embarrass them by telling amusing stories to a third party. As Polacca (1962) warns in discussing Navaho etiquette:
The Navajo will tell about himself if and when he trusts and likes you as his friend. When he does this, he feels that he is confiding in you. If you pass along this information carelessly, he will feel that you have betrayed him, that you cannot be trusted. This applies not only to his family relationships, but also to small daily happenings, which to the non-Indian seems to be small talk, carrying little weight or importance.
Indeed, in an essay giving advice to prospective boarding home students, one boy wrote as his first suggestion:
Never really let out your problems to your boarding home parents until you know that you can trust them as friends because what you say may sometimes be very amusing as I know from experience . . . they have ways of passing information around.
Since gossip and ridicule are major methods of village social control, students were extremely sensitive to being talked about and laughed at. Yet, it was difficult for boarding home parents to resist telling others about their cute reactions to an urban environment, since enjoyment of these novel responses was an important reward to parents in the relationship.
Parents who developed mutually satisfying relationships with boarding home students rarely viewed communication as a problem. In part, the lack of difficulty in this area resulted from the mildness of problems in other areas; thus, the student did not withdraw into silence. However, these parents also seemed to make fewer demands for conversation, especially formal discussions. As one put it, "When there's something to talk about, she'll talk about it." They also appeared to rely more on non-verbal channels to obtain information about the student, often referring to his posture, expression, or actions rather than to his verbal comments as the way in which they knew how he was reacting. In many cases, also, the parents' preferred conversation style was closer to the student's norms of indirection than to western norms of straightforwardness. Lacing conversation with humor, these parents also lessened the tensions in conversational exchanges.
These successful parents often reported that they engaged in many discussions with the students, and such conversations were obviously important sources of student learning. As one boarding home father said,
I just say to them, "What is it you want to know? I'll give it to you straight." We discussed mercy killing and everything. Sometimes the girls say something like, "Think I'll go shack up," and that blows my wife's mind. They're just doing it to test us, because they're looking for standards.
In sum, some communication difficulties occurred in the boarding home parent-student relationship because differences in cultural communication norms, student's sensitivity to status reducing messages, and student's fear of parental gossip made conversation too costly for the student to engage in. According to students' reports, slightly less than half of them talked to their boarding home parents often or sometimes about their problems (see Table 4). Parents who developed successful relationships with students, in contrast, often engaged in much conversation because they reduced students' costs in communication through their sensitivity to the status implication of messages and through an indirect communication style closer to students' norms.
FREQUENCY OF BOARDING HOME PARENT-STUDENT DISCUSSION OF
PROBLEMS IN ANCHORAGE AND FAIRBANKS: 1970-71
|Frequency of Discussing Problems with Parents||Number||Percentage|
This information was obtained from students' reapplication forms and consequently does not include opinions of graduating seniors.
The interpersonal relationship between the boarding home parent and student disintegrates when either or both find that the costs of the relationship exceed the rewards. Those few parents who expect material rewards from the relationship, such as a financial profit or help with housework, are usually disappointed and withdraw as soon as the student's unfamiliar behavior imposes small costs. The majority of parents, however, expect primarily emotional rewards, such as affection, validation of their self-image as a generous and civic-minded person, gratitude, interesting confidences and reactions from a culturally different person, or the satisfaction of shaping the student's development. Where a positive relationship develops, boarding home parents are likely to receive such rewards and find the relationship very satisfying. Such rewards outweigh the costs of the student's sometimes troublesome behavior as he adapts to urban community and family life. Where a positive relationship fails to develop, the parent not only does not receive these rewards, but also pays additional costs in endurance of the student's silence and animosity, excessive household disruption, worry about the student's whereabouts, and, above all, the sense that the parent has failed. The experience of failing as a boarding home parent can severely threaten the self-esteem of a white adult. Years later, parents who have dropped out of the program speak of the experience with great emotion and confess that they still worry about what they did wrong.
From the student's perspective, the costs of the boarding home parent-student relationship are high. For many students, the material rewards available in the relationship, such as the opportunity to live a "comfortable" western life style, are not of great value since they may prefer familiar food, surroundings, and people. The student must pay heavy costs in leaving the emotional support of the primary group and living with white strangers from whom he expects prejudice and rejection, in enduring the dramatic loss of status in the transition from his village to city role, and in giving up much of his freedom and accustomed ways of doing things. Boarding home parents who develop satisfying relationships with students reduce these costs by accepting the student with demonstrative warmth, explicitly treating him as an adult, influencing his behavior in an indirect style that preserves the student's sense of autonomy, and refraining from demanding overtly reciprocated affection and gratitude. Moreover, these parents express their warmth and view of the student as an autonomous, trustworthy adult in extremely direct ways that a person from a different cultural background can easily understand. Warmth and approval from a member of the dominant culture are highly rewarding to students, especially in a period of emotional deprivation and general status threat. Such rewards can far outweigh the costs of altering their behavior in the ways that the parent requests.
Footnotes, Chapter II
1Some students were reluctant to babysit because they feared the white child might die. The death of small children is not a rare occurrence in the village. Boarding home parents often misinterpreted this fear as ungrateful laziness.
2For a detailed example of these processes among Eskimos, see Briggs, 1970.
3An Indian woman who runs a boarding house for Indian students in Canada put it this way, "I didn't preach to them or hurry them. In time children will pick up ordinary good manners and customs if you set a good example and don't criticize them. Within a month, there was a complete change" . . . (Westley, 1971).