BELTZ BOARDING SCHOOL/NOME-BELTZ REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL
Beltz illustrates a most peculiar pattern. During 1971-72, village students at Beltz did quite well. Only 33 percent (12 out of 36) of the village freshmen developed school-related social and emotional problems, and most were mild difficulties. Only 8 percent of these students had drinking problems, which was about the same percentage that teachers reported had drinking problems in the village. No one was reported to use drugs, and only one of the freshmen got in trouble with the law. Over the 7-month testing period, the village freshmen gained considerably over 7 months in reading achievement. The drop-out rate at Beltz was a minuscule 3 percent, and the school had a long waiting list of students eager to get in.
Yet, when village students left the boarding school, they were conspicuous for their high rate of failure. Again, it must be kept in mind that many Beltz students did very well after graduation. But in Upward Bound programs, in the Dillingham Foreign Study Program, in vocational training programs, and in college, the Beltz students frequently stood out for their inability to adjust. They were especially likely to have negative attitudes, drinking problems, destructive involvements with GIs, and difficulties in establishing relationships, not only with white adults but also with other Native students. One college counselor reported:
The Beltz kids are our crybabies, drunks, fighters. They constantly complain they're bored and want us to entertain them. They stick to themselves as a group and won't be friendly with the other kids. Everyone else comes to our apartment and talks, but with them we have to put a note on the door asking them to come. Then, when they do come, they ask what they've done wrong.
The second puzzle is that during 1972-73, problems in the dormitory suddenly skyrocketed. Among our group of students, school-related social and emotional problems rose to 81 percent (25 out of 31), and most of these problems were severe or moderately severe. Drinking problems in the group increased to 40 percent (14 out of 35). The drop-out rate at the school rose to 31 percent, and the dormitory was partly empty because so few students wanted to attend. Beltz dormitory, in short, developed the severe drinking problems, vandalism, violence, and suicide threats and attempts that are often reported in boarding schools.
What is responsible for this dramatic increase in social problems in the dormitory?
Why did Beltz fail to prepare village students for the demands of life outside of a boarding school even during the period when the boarding school seemed to be functioning well, social problems were low, and academic progress high?
Beltz Boarding School in 1971-72
In 1971-72, Beltz enrolled 160 students drawn from villages in the Seward Peninsula area. Beltz is located 3-1/2 miles outside of Nome, a regional town with a high level of social problems. The town had a negative influence on Beltz students, although not as severe as in Bethel. Beltz students, for example, obtained liquor in town or paid others who would buy it for them and hid it outside the dormitory in the snow. Another aspect of the town's negative influence was when parents of Beltz students became intoxicated in town and then came to visit them in the dormitory or, just as bad, went home without visiting them because they did not wish their children to see them intoxicated. That the town's influence on the Beltz dormitory students was not as severe as the town's influence on Bethel students resulted in part from the dormitory being several miles from town. While some students could run into town themselves, most went to town only a few times a week on the school bus.
The School Program
In 1971-72, Beltz was a conventional high school offering the standard curriculum of such subjects as English, social students, mathematics, and industrial arts. Students were generally quiet and withdrawn in class, but they worked conscientiously.
For entering freshmen, a quite successful "team-teaching/no bells" program was established during 1971-72. Indeed, this program exemplified the type of flexible, informal, open teaching approach that later failed both at Bethel and at Beltz when, during the following year, it was self-consciously attempted under the banner of "freedom in education."
Several Beltz teachers decided that the village freshmen would make a better transition to high school through a concentrated English and social studies program taught in a relaxed, informal atmosphere. They designed the program, secured a Title I grant, divided up the teaching responsibilities among a group of four instructors, and moved students from group to group, depending on the type of instruction occurring. This program developed an embryonic feeling of class unity among the freshmen and led to higher-than-usual class participation.
The group of Beltz students we were following made good academic progress during this year. In reading achievement, the 33 students tested progressed .86 of a grade over the 7-month testing period. In language achievement, gains were lower with the freshmen gaining .37 of a grade.
Gains by Beltz students in reading achievement and language achievement over their freshman and sophomore years were almost identical to the gains of the village students who had gone to high school in Anchorage. For example, in reading achievement, the 18 remaining sophomores tested at Beltz gained 1.7 years while the 14 remaining students tested in Anchorage gained 1.64 years. While the number of students involved is small, these results are consistent with large-scale research which has found no significant difference in achievement gains of Indian students who attend public schools versus boarding schools.1
Yet, Beltz graduates frequently felt that they had received a bad education which did not prepare them for adult life. For example, while only 30 of the 72 Beltz graduates whose addresses could be located returned our questionnaires, only two of these graduates made positive evaluations of their high school education. Most of their complaints centered around what they believed to be an inferior education which resulted in lack of self-confidence. One wrote:
The Beltz High School was a little behind in its teaching standards. I feel that if a person would take up subjects to follow up in college for preparation, he would be a lot better off. The school provided a lot of high school diplomas without enough education to back the diplomas.
It is quite possible that teaching standards at Beltz were lower in earlier years. However, graduates from all-Native boarding schools frequently say that they do not think that they have learned as much as their friends who go to integrated schools.
The later difficulties of the Beltz students appeared to arise largely from the type of learning that occurred in the dormitory. It was in the dormitory that students spent most of their time, formed the emotional relationships significant in their lives, and acquired important values and attitudes. Yet, the attitudes and styles of behavior that led to success in the dormitory were often self-defeating when transferred outside.
Lack of Adult Guidance: The dormitory removed village students from the influence of adults in the village but failed to provide any adult guidance itself. Little meaningful personal contact occurred between village students and any responsible adult. This did not result at all from sloth or unconcern on the part of the staff. Quite the contrary, the staff frequently put in 12-hour work days and were on call all night and weekend. The staff had little time to develop the needed informal, personal relationships with students, partially because it takes a tremendous amount of time to run a dormitory, especially in a remote location. The staff, just to maintain the dormitory, were forced to spend most of their time on tasks which had little to do with students. The dormitory director, for example, spent much of his day supervising plant construction and maintenance and establishing good relationships with the school staff, the town, the dormitory control board, and the students' parents. The counselor spent most of his day supervising the dormitory attendants so that his role ended up being more assistant dormitory director than counselor.
In addition to the professional staff, dormitory attendants were available to students. In 1971-72, the girls' and the boys' wings were each supervised by a dormitory aide. These aides were usually Eskimos who were expected to serve as counselors and role models for the students. However, it was quite difficult to obtain good dormitory aides, especially men, who would stay at the school. Dormitory aides received low pay, low status, and had inconvenient working hours. The routine work involved in supervising 80 students (answering the telephone, providing aspirin, etc.) left them little time for counseling. And even if they found time, their low status as dormitory aides undermined their function as a role model. One aide told me:
I tell the girls to study real hard so they won't end up nothing but a dormitory attendant like me.
In the 1971-72 school year, a very unusual situation occurred at Beltz. Two teachers lived in the dormitory with the students. These teachers paid for their room and board by assisting the recreation director in supervising activities (an arrangement greatly resented by other teachers who looked upon the arrangement as free room and board). In our interviews with students, these teachers were almost the only adults whom students mentioned as influential. In the evening, students visited these teachers in their apartments. One of the teachers used the especially effective practice of going into the boy's dormitory when lights were out and talking to them about the world outside of school, his own experience in growing up, and his ideas of what a teacher should do. Because of this personal contact in an emotionally effective setting, students took his ideas seriously. One student wrote in her diary:
Yesterday, Mr. B. got really mad at us. He meant well. Everything he said was true. I thought about how he said things so that I or the others can cooperate. Cooperation is a big word. I would like to hear Mr. B. yell at me again.
Having teachers live in the dormitory with the students and educate them in intimate, informal settings is traditional at fine private boarding schools. Such a situation is not typical, however, in public boarding schools, and it ended at Beltz in the following school year. Moreover, even during the 1971-72 school year, the two lone teachers could provide little adult guidance and emotional support for 160 students.
Lack of Educational Program: The essence of the educational program in fine private boarding schools is considered to occur outside of the classroom. In boarding schools for upper class children, for example, school activities, such as sports and clubs, are planned to achieve character development goals. The school staff organizes and supervises these activities as well as the academic program. These fine boarding schools are structured as total educational communities. They uphold clear values (supported by students' parents) and foster extensive informal contacts between students and school staff.
The Beltz dormitory, however, had no such educational goals. The dormitory staff viewed their primary function, not as education, but as providing a home life and recreation for the students. Some attempts were made to teach Eskimo art or health information, but the dormitory for the most part was little more than a housing program.
The divorce of the dormitory from educational concerns occurred in part because of the administrative division between the dormitory and the school. Each was under the control of a separate, competing agency, and each had a separate, competing staff. Rather than working together, the school and the dormitory staffs were in continual dispute. These conflicts arose over every issue, from sharing maintenance personnel to ideas on how students should use their free time.
The school staff argued, for example, that the dormitory staff should make the students study. The dormitory staff, in turn, agreed to establish a quiet hour but insisted that the dormitory was the students' home and should be inviolate from school pressures. The dormitory staff complained about the teachers' lack of interest in students outside of the classroom. The school staff, on the other hand, complained that the dormitory staff had no interest in the students' academic activities and became enraged when the dormitory sent students home for dormitory behavior when the student was doing well in school.
In addition to this problem of separate staffs, the dormitory staff had little time to organize educational activities out of the classroom, even if they had wanted to. The forms of student government were set up—a teen court, student council, and recreation council.. But the staff was not able to work closely with the students, and the students had little notion of what these organizations were. Housekeeping was the only important, responsible, out-of-school activity in which students were involved. They were organized into work groups, and student leaders were responsible for seeing that the students did their work detail. Dormitory students learned to behave autonomously, primarily in the area of housekeeping. Indeed, a college counselor remarked that "Beltz kids are the only ones who come in on their own to ask for wax and a buffer."
The dormitory staff also did not organize educational activities because their emotional and intellectual energies were almost totally absorbed by a few disruptive students. During 1971-72, drinking and violence at Beltz was confined primarily to 15 to 20 students. However, as few as three hysterically drunk students in a dormitory of 160 can tie up an entire dormitory staff, when for example, these students are threatening other students with knives or trying to set the dormitory on fire. And, even after such an event passes, the trauma does not. Most of the staff's thoughts and energies were devoted to worrying about why these things happened (whether or not it was their fault), and what, if anything, could be done to prevent them. Students, who caused no problems were often ignored. When we asked about a well-behaved student in our group, a typical response was, "Oh, she's one of the good ones who just fades into the woodwork."
Peer Group Socialization
Given the absence of educational influences from the school village, students were socialized almost entirely by their peer group. Most students had relatives and friends from home at the school. It was to these peers that village students turned for emotional support and guidance.
The peer groups were organized primarily on the basis of village and sex, as in the "Teller boys." Signs on students' rooms proclaimed, for example, that this was the "Shishmaref Room." Such cohesive peer groups, often based on growing up in the same neighborhood, are common among adolescents.2 But at a boarding school, where students are away from their families, peer group influences are far more pervasive. Peer groups at Beltz roomed together, ate together, and spent their free time talking with each other. For all the benefit students received from getting to know other students at the school, they might as well have remained at home in the village.
These strong, cohesive peer groups, however, provided important benefits for village children. First, they substantially reduced the stress of leaving home and adapting to the demands of the boarding school. When they came from the same village, older students taught the younger students the school routine and took care of them. Second, these cohesive peer groups in 1971-72 were able to contain drinking problems within particular groups of students. Beginning village freshmen were often highly ambivalent about drinking and could go either way depending on the types of pressure around them. As one student expressed this ambivalence:
Let me tell you something that my parents wouldn't like. I know you won't believe me because I didn't believe myself. It was on Friday night that I got drunk. I was having fun. I felt that I was full of whisky. I'm kidding, you know. I really don't know how to drink, so I want to but I don't want to.
When those students who had no inclinations to drink received support from their village peer group, they generally did not drink.
However, the price of reducing homesickness and containing drinking through tightly knit peer groups was high. In the classroom and especially in the dormitory, these peer groups undermined staff attempts to organize activities or to create a school spirit of unity and cooperation. This occurred because of hostility and competition between regional peer groups. One graduate said:
The high school that I graduated from was a rebellious school. The students from "Up North" (Kotzebue area) and we "Southerners" (Norton Sound) were constantly against each other. We didn't like "Up North" kids because they were always acting like they controlled everything. I don't know their reason for disliking us.
If the northerners became involved in an activity, then the Southerners would not participate. In 1971-72, further division occurred because students from St. Lawrence Island formed a third regional peer group, the "Islanders." Each regional group blamed the others for the drinking and fighting that occurred.
Another cost of these cohesive peer groups was that some Beltz students became extremely dependent on each other. Teachers often noted that two students (more visibly in the case of girls but also with boys) behaved as one person. If one left, the other sometimes fell apart. The counselor said of one student in our group:
She was fine last year, but she got all her support from her cousin, who transferred to another school. Now she's very hostile. There's been a lot of running away and drinking problems. She tried to start a fire in the dormitory at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning and kicked me black and blue when I tried to drag her out. She went home for a few days, and I suspect she won't return.
Attitudes Learned in Boarding School Socialization
Village students at Beltz learned to be at ease only within their village or regional peer group. Towards outsiders, they tended to be suspicious and hostile. In contrast to village students at the other schools, Beltz students tended to be more withdrawn and uncommunicative at the end of their freshman year than at the beginning. When we approached, Beltz students usually mumbled a reluctant monosyllable or two and left as soon as possible. Such suspicious attitudes toward other people seemed to cause trouble for Beltz students when they transferred to new situations outside the dormitory. A college counselor pointed out that Beltz students found it difficult to relate not only to white adults but also to other Native students:
They can't make relationships. They won't say hello to other kids in the dorm. They need a tremendous amount of group support before they will take part in any new activity.
Another counselor, who observed Beltz students on a travel program, made the similar observation that "Beltz students seem unusually threatened by interaction with different students."
What village students seemed to be learning at Beltz also was to act in passive, dependent, and socially irresponsible ways. This was in contrast to life in the village where adolescents are responsible for performing important family chores such as getting water and caring for small children. At school, students were responsible only for doing their work detail, and this job had little meaning because it was impersonal. Students did not see a few hours' work (which reduced boarding costs to taxpayers) as helping people they knew and cared about. Students at Beltz were not even given responsibility for developing activities to amuse themselves. They passively accepted the movies, dances, and other activities planned for them, and later in non-school situations they often expected to be similarly entertained. One Beltz counselor commented:
We tell them to be responsible, but . . . (they have) . . . nothing real to be responsible . . . (for). They're just like little robins in the nest, squeaking for us, like Mommy, to give them a worm.
Students at Beltz also received the impression that standards and rules were arbitrary and chaotic. The staff, however, saw their constantly shifting policies as worthy attempts to find some new, more effective method of dealing with the problem of student drinking. They saw as enlightened and commendable their policy of treating every student's drinking on an "individual basis." However, the changing policies resulted in a society where law seemed shifty and arbitrary—a society where no law was fairly and uniformly applied.
Despite the negative attitudes and styles of behavior that the school was developing in the students, Beltz Boarding School in 1971-72 did not have the intense social problems that plagued other boarding schools. They did not develop in part because of the low degree of stress in the boarding school environment and in part because of the emotional security and insulation from drinking pressures provided by cohesive village peer groups. Still, Beltz failed to provide positive developmental influences because of the lack of personal contact between adults and students and the lack of education outside the narrow academic goals of the classroom. This type of boarding school environment seemed to be teaching students suspicion, passivity, and dependency.
The Nome-Beltz Regional High School 1972-73
In 1972-73, the staff and student body at Beltz Boarding School consolidated with the Nome public school so that the village students supposedly could benefit from integration and the Nome students from the modern school facilities. The new student body consisted of 367 students, of which 249 were Nome students. Only 51 of the Nome students were white, and the rest were town Eskimo. A new library/media center, designed as an open classroom, was added to the school plant and a new school board, composed of Nome and village representatives, was appointed.
The village students at Beltz as well as many of the Beltz teachers strongly opposed consolidation. Rivalries existed between Nome and Beltz students (and indeed had helped to create school unity at Beltz). Nome students sometimes made fun of Beltz students during town visits. Beltz students feared consolidation so much that on our questionnaires, only 6 percent of the freshmen wanted to return to Beltz the following year.
In addition to these school changes, the key dormitory staff also changed and the number of staff was reduced. The former dormitory director left. He had been at Beltz for several years and knew many of the students and their families personally. A budget cut reduced the number of dormitory attendants.
The students living in the Beltz dormitory during the 1972-73 school year were no different from the students living in the dormitory during the previous year. Yet, drinking, violence, vandalism, and suicide attempts increased many times. The Human Rights Commission called in to investigate found:3
The trouble precipitating the Human Rights Commission's visit was the drinking and violence that occurred on a December weekend. On Friday night, about 25 students were intoxicated; one had a badly cut hand from thrusting his fist through the window. On Saturday night, similar drinking occurred and a student tried to jump out the window. The staff at the school reported that one student was flashing a knife and another threatening students with a belt. Several students made vague suicide threats, saying, "I don't care what happens to me" and that the staff can "do nothing to stop me."
While this was a bad weekend, dormitory staff reported it was not an extraordinary weekend. A similar weekend of drinking and violence recurred in April when 11 boys ended up in jail.
The town was scandalized at the events in the dormitory, which became even more bizarre with each retelling. Even former Beltz teachers, previously committed to the welfare of dormitory students, now referred to the dormitory as the "zoo" or the "fun farm."
The processes through which changes in the Nome-Beltz school environment increased drinking and violence appeared to be:
Increase in External Stress
With the Nome-Beltz consolidation, the former moderately friendly school atmosphere changed to hostility. The conflict was not racial. Rather, it was the scorn of the "city slicks" for the "country hicks." Nome students mocked the shy, retiring village students, called them "dogs," and wrote nasty messages about them on the bathroom walls. Beltz students disapproved of the town students for their aggression, noisiness, and disrespect toward teachers.
With the arrival of the more dominant Nome students, Beltz students felt that they had "lost" their school. This feeling was symbolized by a misguided election in which school colors and a mascot were chosen early in the year. Rather than choosing between entirely new school symbols, the students were given choices which included both the former Nome High School and former Beltz High School symbols. Predictably, since the dormitory students were outnumbered, the blue and white Nome colors and Nome mascot won.
At this point dormitory students, with a few exceptions, refused to participate in school activities. Only two dormitory students came out regularly for intramural basketball. Only one dormitory student participated in chorus. For the most part, dormitory students took no interest in school games or other events.
Frightened of the aggressive town students, dormitory students also withdrew in class. One very bright student in our group was so afraid of the Nome students that she could not read aloud in front of them. Dormitory students retreated to the back of the classroom and rarely spoke even to the former Beltz teachers they had known before. Some hid in the dormitory and refused to go to class at all. One very outgoing girl in our group came in to the nurse crying, "I don't like it here anymore. I don't want to go to school. I have a headache and a stomachache today."
At first the teachers, especially the former Beltz teachers, made determined efforts to make the village students part of the school. For example, when none of the dormitory students tried out for cheerleading, the teacher in charge made special attempts to get them to participate. However, two of the three dormitory students finally selected for the B team cheerleading squad quit. Another former Beltz teacher offered to take students on an overnight ski trip. Only Nome students signed up. If the Nome students participated, the dormitory students would not. Since nothing they did seemed to make much difference, the teachers gave up trying. Moreover, other difficulties at the school dominated the staff's time and energies.
These other difficulties centered around the "open classroom" that was supposed to be established in the new library/media center. The informal, open program for freshmen that a few teachers had easily established the year before now evolved into a self-conscious attempt to create a new political order rather than an attempt to teach more effectively; as such, it ceased to work. The teachers divided into liberals versus conservatives and could agree on no unified program. Some of the teachers wanted a free school with no rules, bells, or attendance taken. One teacher said, "If I can't turn them on, then the kids shouldn't bother coming to my class." Other teachers wanted discipline, bells, and authority. Unlike Bethel, where the principal was committed to the open classroom concept and had unified the staff in support of the plan, the Nome-Beltz Program received no strong administrative direction. The fighting between the teachers over the school program and other issues continued throughout the year and the end result was exhaustion. A sign in the teachers lounge proclaimed that the year ended "not with a bang but with a whimper."
Effects on Students
The effects of these school policies on Nome students were similar to what had occurred at Bethel. Absenteeism broke all records. On four randomly selected days, between 37 percent and 53 percent of the students were absent for one or more periods. At one point, some dormitory students refused to go to school until "the teachers stopped fighting." Observation of the classrooms at Nome-Beltz, as in Bethel, indicated many students milling around. There were, however, exceptions to this in the classrooms of a few outstanding teachers.
Beltz students began to complain that they were bored and were not learning anything. Our achievement tests, however, suggested that Beltz students, during their sophomore year, progressed reasonably well, about as well as they had done the previous year. The students tested gained .7 of a year in reading achievement; and .5 of a year in language achievement.4 What had declined was the students' commitment toward schoolwork. In contrast to their positive attitudes and hard work on the tests at the end of their freshman year, Beltz students now called it "slavery" to take a test since they were in a free school. Some left the room in the middle of the test. Others didn't bother to come at all.
The dormitory students, angry and frustrated by the hostility of the Nome students and the confused school program, had no way to release their feelings in recreational activities. Previously, Beltz students had taken great interest in school activities, but now they refused to participate. Due to budget cuts, fewer adults were available to supervise recreation so fewer activities were available in the dormitory. After class and on weekends, groups of bored students just milled around the halls of the dormitory. As one student in our group summed it up:
I'm tired of cheap Beltz. Too dead. I hate being bored all the time, and it makes me sick.
Decrease in External Restraints
Getting drunk and going wild became a popular form of entertainment at Beltz. The staff did little to restrain students because of new dormitory policies.
The dormitory director had begun policies of "democratic freedom" and "reinforcing only positive behavior and ignoring negative behavior." The dormitory attendants were instructed that students were mature adults who would be treated as responsible for themselves. The staff was told to pay no attention to bad behavior because attention just rewarded it.
The staff did not agree with these policies and were outraged by the students' behavior. An experienced Native kitchen worker said:
(The director) tells us not to yell at students. She insists we ask them to do everything. You've got to yell at them. You can do it in a nice way. We joke around. In the kitchen we expect them to behave. This place should be given over to the Catholics or Covenants. They believe in discipline.
The dormitory aides said that the students mocked and defied them by sipping from bottles right in front of their faces. At times, some students kicked and slugged the attendants. The dorm aides retreated to the office, often afraid to go out. Not until the Human Rights Commission's visit did dormitory attendants feel their power had been restored.
The increase in drinking and violence in the dormitory was hardest on the more stable, talented students. Since too few dormitory staff were available to hold down the large number of wild drinkers, the better students were pressed into service. Night after night of restraining their friends left them upset and made it hard for them to sleep or to concentrate in school.
Entrenchment of Drinking, Violence, and Anti-white Feelings as Peer Group Norms
The stress of the changed school situation and the initial laissez-faire policies of the dormitory staff were largely responsible for the initial rise in drinking and violence at the school. But even after the students became accustomed to the school program and after "law and order" policies were established in the dormitory; these problems remained at high level.
Drinking problems did not diminish because drinking and violence had become the established way to achieve status in the peer group. Teachers noted, for example, that students had begun to brag about their hangovers. The dormitory staff noted that the leading drinkers were leaders in other activities, such as the class officers and the stars of the Eskimo Olympics. The staff also observed that expelling the worst student drinkers did not affect the level of drinking in the dorm. When the heavy drinkers were expelled, new ones rose to take their place, even students who had never drunk before.
Beltz students also tended to develop strong anti-white attitudes which became entrenched as peer group norms. When village students enter high school, many hold somewhat negative or suspicious attitudes towards whites based on early experience. While these feelings usually smolder beneath the surface, frustrations in the dormitory, especially bad experiences with some white dormitory staff, can cause anti-white feelings to erupt and solidify. As one Beltz graduate explained these feelings:
They (the dormitory attendants) make you feel like the whole world hates you, or something like the white people hates the Natives or white people wants the Natives to have poor education or white people wants to do better than Natives.
Students blamed their frustrations during the 1972-73 year on certain disliked dormitory staff and showed hostility toward many whites in the dormitory. One student in our group, for example, hit three white girls living in the dormitory while he was sober. The reason he gave was because "they were white." When two white college students came to the dormitory to help out with the recreation program, few students would participate with or talk to the visitors. One of the college students noted:
You can't get the kids interested in anything. We constantly try things like paintings murals on the walls. No one helps for long except this one boy who says he likes whites better than Eskimos.
The dormitory staff attempted to correct the situation by establishing an "Honors List" for good school behavior. Making the "Honors List," however, gained little status in the peer group. Consequently, this policy had little effect in increasing positive behavior. When a special movie was made available for Honors List students, only 4 of the 45 eligible students showed up.
The causal processes underlying the dramatic increase in the level of drinking and violence among Beltz dormitory students in the 1973 school year can be clarified through a famous experiment in social psychology. This experiment5 was used to investigate the effects of environmental stress and three different styles of adult leadership on aggressive behavior in boys' clubs. In the "authoritarian" style, the leader dictated all tasks. In the "democratic" style, the leader suggested different goals and participated in the group's decision making and activities. In the "laissez-faire" style, the leader was present, but he allowed students freedom and did not participate. (The leadership at Beltz, in attempting to avoid an authoritarian style, was not democratic but laissez-faire.)
This experiment found that the laissez-faire leadership style led to the highest level of aggression in the group. Moreover, aggression became even greater in situations where external stress increased through (1) the presence of a hostile and critical stranger and (2) the group's own boredom due to lack of accomplishment. The parallel to Beltz in 1973 is obvious.
Using our modest criteria of success,6 Beltz failed 67 percent of the 42 village freshmen who entered the school in 1971-72. Of the 91 graduates from 1970-72, 23 entered college, but only 7 succeeded. The low levels of social problems at Beltz during the 1971-72 year and the high rate of academic progress suggests that many of the conspicuous problems of boarding schools for village children could be avoided by particular school policies. But even when such problems are avoided, our study of Beltz graduates suggests that such boarding school experiences often develop attitudes and styles of behavior that handicap students in later adult life.
1 W.P. Bass. An Analysis of Academic Achievement of Indian High School Students in Federal and Public Schools, Albuquerque, New Mexico: Southwestern Cooperative Educational Laboratory, 1971.
2 For a discussion of peer groups among non-Native students, see Philip A. Cusick, Inside High Schools: The Students' World, New York, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1973.
3 Nome-Beltz Regional School Study 1973, Shirley Woodrow and Willie Ratcliffe, Alaska State Commission on Human Rights, Anchorage, Alaska.
4 Fifteen students were tested for reading achievement; 14 for language achievement.
5 K. Lewin, R. Lippit, and R. White, "Patterns of Aggressive Behavior in Experimentally Created 'Social Climates,' " Journal of Social Psychology 10 (1939) 271-299.
6 Our criteria of success of a high school program for a village student was that the student (1) stayed in the program, (2) did not develop severe or moderately severe school-related social and emotional problems (mild school-related problems are not considered school failure), (3) gained at least half the expected amount in reading achievement (see Appendix I).