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Turning Points Features

A lesson for teachers on how NOT to run a school

The U.S. government began organizing schools for Indian children in the 19th century. Like the missionary schools that preceeded them, these institutions sought to teach Indians how to be white "Americans." After decades of forced removals and fighting, the government decided that the best way to deal with Indians was not to keep pushing them out of sight but to assimilate them into the dominant white culture. The Office of Indian Affairs issued a series of books and pamphlets, such as this one from 1892, that described in exact detail how this process of assimilation was to occur, from the organization of the school and school officials to the rules and lessons taught in the classroom. The purpose and methods of this process are made strikingly clear in rules such as no. 93: "Pupils must be compelled to converse with each other in English, and should be properly rebuked or punished for persistent violation of this rule. Every effort should be made to encourage them to abandon their tribal language."


The children's time was carefully monitored, with boys receiving instruction in agriculture or trade skills and girls in the domestic arts. This particular guide was designed for Indian girls who were expected to return home after school rather than enter a career. While it was certainly not unusual for boys and girls, white or Indian, to receive different classwork, the standards of what constitutes proper homemaking reveal much about the imposition of mainstream values on indigenous peoples in the early 20th century. To white policy makers and teachers, these efforts appeared to be a helpful act of kindness, while to Indians, they often seemed an act of aggression; as one Stockbridge woman recalled, "They tried to erase us."


Posted September 09, 2005
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