The Carlisle Boarding School

In 1871, the United States governmental policies toward American Indians changed from dealing with tribes as nations to focusing on the assimilation of individual Indians. In the nineteenth century, Indians were viewed as “barbaric” and the goal of assimilation was to “civilize” them. One important “civilizing” force was education that would mold Indian youth into Americans, with values closely reflecting those of mainstream America.

The model boarding school was the Carlisle Indian School. Founded in 1879, the school tried to remove all signs of Indian culture from the students: they were to speak only English, dress in the American style, eat American foods, worship Christian gods, and live in American-style houses.

When the students first arrived at the school, they were given Anglo-Saxon names (such as George Washington). A military model was used to provide discipline and conformity. Students who were caught speaking any Indian language were severely punished.

Education in the boarding schools was oriented toward agricultural education. Boys were given an agricultural education while the girls were trained in housekeeping skills. The students served as unpaid workers to provide cleaning, cooking, sewing, farming, and other services.

When students had completed their education, they were indentured to an Anglo family for three years. The government paid the family $50 per year for the student’s medical care and clothing.

In 1880, Sioux chief Spotted Tail was enraged at the treatment his children had been given, so he removed them from the school and returned them to the Rosebud Reservation. The eastern press portrayed him as violent and savage. 

The Carlisle Indian School had limited success in educating Indian students and assimilating them into mainstream American culture. By 1899, Carlisle Indian School had graduated only 209 of its 3,800 students.

Boarding schools such as the Carlisle Indian School were intended to destroy American Indian tribal identity, replacing it with racial awareness. American society is racist and Indians are viewed as a single racial group rather than several hundred distinct tribal or cultural entities.

Source: The Carlisle Boarding School
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