“Indian Education” follows Victor from first grade through high school. Although he is bullied in first grade, Victor manages to gain respect when he beats up one of his tormentors, Frenchy SiJohn. He suffers under cruel teachers for the next two years, but in fourth grade, a teacher named Mr. Schluter encourages him to become a doctor. The following year, life takes a darker turn as Victor’s cousin begins sniffing rubber cement. However, he also befriends Randy, a new boy at school.
Victor attends junior high and high school in the farm town nearby. The Indian students who stayed on the reservation ostracize him when he kisses a white girl, and he experiences a moment of culture shock when he realizes many of the white girls in the farm town are bulimic. At a school dance, Victor has a diabetic seizure and the teachers assume he has been drinking because he is an Indian. Although he is uncomfortable with the fact that the school basketball team is called the Indians, Victor remains on the team. He graduates as the valedictorian of the farm town high school, and watches as his classmates from the reservation high school descend into alcoholism one by one.
Alexie once again uses an episodic storytelling structure in “Indian Education”. This story chronicles Victor’s youth by depicting one episode from each year he is in school. Rather than attempting a smooth narrative flow, the story is presented as a list of formative events. Because of this, the story is fast-paced and its plot is distilled to contain only the most potent moments from Victor’s youth, which together comprise his "education".
The story interprets the meaning of education broadly. Victor’s most meaningful lessons are rarely drawn from book learning, and instead come from life experience. While several of the collection’s stories explore Victor’s teenage years, this is the first that delves into his experiences attending high school off the reservation. Like Victor, Alexie also chose to attend high school off the reservation, and many of the incidents in this story are drawn from his own experiences. (Alexie returns to this topic in his 2007 young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which shares many plot elements with “Indian Education”.)
Although alcoholism is a prominent theme in Alexie’s fiction, it stays in the background of this story until the end. Although Victor manages to avoid drinking in high school, his racist teachers assume he is drunk when he suffers a diabetic seizure. Again, this moment may be autobiographical; Alexie also had seizures in his youth, although he suffered from hydrocephalus rather than diabetes (“Sherman Alexie: Born with Hydrocephalus, Now a Well Known Author”). Ironically, this incident may help explain why Victor develops a drinking problem later in life - it seems that everyone expects him to, be it his white teachers or his friends on the reservation, many of whom become alcoholics before they even graduate high school.