1910: Should Indian Children Be Mainstreamed?
By Erika Janik
Standards: 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4, 8.5, 8.6, 8.10, 8.11, 8.12; 12.1, 12.2, 12.3, 12.9, 12.12, 12.13, 12.18
Grade Level: Secondary
Topic: The Progressive Era
Lesson Plan Text:
Introduction: Until the 1920s, federal Indian education programs tried to assimilate Native Americans by placing them in institutions that replaced traditional ways with those approved by the government. Most white observers saw this as an act of kindness that helped Indians realize the American Dream. Many Indians, however, saw it as an act of aggression. Children were often removed from their families and sent to distant boarding schools to absorb the values, knowledge, and practical skills of mainstream America. Indian children were prohibited from speaking their native languages; those caught breaking this rule were often physically punished. Investigations eventually revealed poor diet, overcrowding, excessive labor, and substandard teaching, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs officially abandoned its policy of assimilation in the 1930s.
Background Reading: "Americanization and the Bennett Law"
"American Indian Sovereignty"
Document to Analyze: Woodruff, C.D. "Tomah Indian School: A model institution"
Who, What, Where, When, Why: Dr. C.D. Woodruff spent two days observing students and staff at the Tomah Industrial School for this article, hoping to persuade more people to support these institutions. His praise of the staff, cleanliness of the building, and quality of instruction may have been, in part, a response to criticisms of the boarding school system that were emerging at the time.
Office of Indian Affairs. "Some things that girls should know how to do and hence should learn how to do when in school." (1911)
"Sewing Class at School for Indian Children." (photograph)
Office of Indian Affairs. "Rules for Indian Schools, with course of study, list of text-books, and civil service rules." (1892)
1. What are Woodruff's main points? Name four good things he sees in the school.
2. If Woodruff sees these things as good, what must he think is bad? What assumptions does he have about Indians?
3. What problem or issue does Woodruff see being solved by these schools? How does he know that this is a problem?
4. Whose views of the situation are not represented in his article?
5. Woodruff states that order is the first law of civilization (p. 1). What does he mean? How does Woodruff measure order at Tomah?
6. What inferences are made about Indians? About whites? Why is his description of order different for girls than for boys?
7. One purpose of Indian education programs was to better prepare Indian children for the "duties, privileges, and responsibilities of American citizenship." What are some duties and responsibilities of American citizenship? What do people need to know or do to be citizens? How did you learn these things in your own life?
8. Think about the qualities of citizenship you identified in the previous question. Would the education described by Woodruff prepare someone to be an American citizen? Why or why not?
9. Who gets to decide what qualities and activities are appropriate and considered "American?"
10. Browse through the regulations in the "Rules for Indian Schools" booklet. What assumptions must the author of those regulations have made about Indian children?
11. Is it better to preserve one's own culture and live outside mainstream society, or to give up one's language and ways of life to be assimilated? Is there a middle path between these two? Support your conclusion with a list of "Because..." statements.
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