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Study Questions: Sherman Alexie

Gather in groups of 3 (a group of four is acceptable if there is no other option), and open your books to Sherman Alexie's "Indian Education" on page 142 of your textbook.

"Indian Education"

  1. Sherman Alexie's story, "Indian Education," is a work of fiction, but it is also semi-autobiographical: Alexie did grow up on a Coeur d'Alene reservation, so the experiences he describes in school are authentic. What sorts of "education" does he intend, in the story and by the story?

  2. Alexie chooses to use the moniker, "Indian," in the title and throughout the story. Even Victor, the story's first person narrator, uses the term. Why? If this is not strictly an education in the milieu of Native American reservation life, then what is it?

  3. Stereotypes are a major theme in "Indian Education." Examine and discuss some examples of them, as well as how Alexie's narrator, Victor, reinforces or demythologizes them.

  4. Discuss one of the following as a story written in the style of Sherman Alexie's "Indian Education." Besides the major myth implied by each, discuss what other stereotypes would you expect to see addressed. (For example, in "Indian Education," Alexie describes Christian missionaries, Chicanos, and even bulimic white girls.)

  • "Black Education"

  • "Queer Education"

  • "Nerd Education"


Smoke Signals

  1. In "Indian Education" catalogue the names and roles used to define Victor and the his tribal companions. Which of these are imposed on Victor? Which of these does Victor impose on others? Which of these names imply labels that hurt, limit, or otherwise negatively define Victor and Coeur d'Alene Native Americans? Why? Based upon these examples, is "name calling" the same as "profiling"? Why, or why not? What are the potential dangers or injustices inherent to these? 

  2. Point to three places in Alexie's story where someone could have stood up to a bully or oppressor. Should they have? Why, or why not? What would have been the consequences . . . 

    1. for Victor and his relationship with his own tribe; 
    2. for Native Americans and their relationship with Whites?
  3. Explain the very last paragraph of Alexie's story, "Indian Education." How does Victor feel about his education? How does he feel about his tribal connections? How does he feel about himself, as a Native American? How "justified" are these feelings? Does Victor become a better or worse person? Explain.

  4. Arnold (Victor's father): "Happy Independence Day, Victor. Are you feeling independent? . . . Poof! The white people are gone. . . . Wave my hand, and the reservation is gone." What does Arnold mean by "independence"? Do Thomas and Victor find it? Create a "Bill of Rights" for, either, Victor or Thomas: name the three most important freedoms he deserves in this story, and discuss whether those freedoms are won by the end of the film.

  5. In Sherman Alexie's film Smoke Signals, Victor advises Thomas about how to look like a proper Indian: practice a stoic or mean look; wear his long hair loosely; and "get rid of that suit." Discuss Victor's motives for this advice, and in particular why he feels getting rid of the suit is the most important of the three. Does Victor bully Thomas by his jock-like insistence that Thomas lose the suit and unbraid his hair? Does Thomas bully Victor back by insisting on wearing the suit and continually making up stories about Victor's father?Using your answers, explain what "bullying" and "championing" are and are not.

Last Updated: 02/10/2016

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