Alexie declares "a smart Indian is a dangerous person, widely feared and ridiculed by Indians and non-Indians alike" to explain why, in his opinion, the Indians he lived with on the Spokane Reservation did not value formal education in the reservation schools. Alexie recognizes that his peers had plenty of intelligence, citing the complexity of their stories, songs, and jokes, but that they did not want to display it.
Alexie's family was different: they provided a home rich in books, and as he grew up, he sought out anything with text: auto repair manuals, cereal boxes, and books from the library and secondhand shops. He realizes his attitude is different from other Indians he knew, writing "I refused to fail. I was smart. I was arrogant."
Near the end of his essay, Alexie observes that in today's reservation schools, he sees two kinds of Indian students: voracious readers who write their own poems, stories, and novels and "sullen and already defeated Indian kids who sit in the back rows. . . the pages of their notebooks are empty. They carry neither pencil nor pen."
Alexie broke through cultural barriers—the pervasive culture of low expectations—to embrace education and the life of a writer, and in this essay he writes of his intention to keep visiting schools and trying to inspire Indian students because he is "trying to save our lives.