The Carlisle Indian School: The Beginning of a Difference.
June 19, 2011
The Carlisle Indian Boarding School was an Industrial school for educating Indian children. Founded in 1879 by Army officer Captain Richard Henry Pratt who had many dealings with Indians throughout his military career, the school was geared toward the integration of the Indians into American civilization. Although the boarding school was not located on a reservation, it became the model for the institutions run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. With the development of the Carlisle Indian Boarding school, Captain Pratt set the foundation for Indian education and Americanization.
The 1800’s found the Native Americans losing in their wars with the United States over maintaining their land. The Indians needed to either all be killed or civilized through education; this prompted Captain Richard Henry Pratt to create the Indian boarding school. Pratt believed “that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead” and through education the children could be taught to live as civilized Americans. Pratt was no stranger to the dealings with the Indians and understood what needed to be done to save these Indian children from extinction and bring them forth by “Americanizing” them. Pratt began his experiment with educating the Natives when he was the officer in charge at the Indian war prison, Fort Marion in Florida. He selected a group of prisoners from the Caddo, Cheyenne, Comanche and Kiowa tribes to prove his ability to transform these savages through education. Cutting their long hair, the wearing of military style clothes, and learning to speak English was the first step in the transformation for these prisoners. Life skills were then incorporated into the education process along with the teachings of Industrial skills to allow
these Indians to seek employment. Pratt’s success with the prisoners worked and afforded the opportunity for 17 of his students to attend and excel at the Hampton Institute in Virginia. Due to this success, Pratt decided to continue his education process and requested permission to begin a boarding school for the Indian children.
Granted his request to begin educating the Indian children, the deserted cavalry barracks in Carlisle Pennsylvania became an established Indian boarding school. He was determined to civilize the Indian children and many northerners supported him by volunteering themselves as teachers. Pratt met with chiefs and elders explaining that without the education of the English language they were unable to express themselves and through interpretation they may not understand what the white man was saying. The enlistment of the children into American education was necessary to establish an understanding between the cultures. Knowing Pratt had good intentions and seeing no other option, the chiefs and elders allowed their children to be transported to the school.
In Pratt’s belief in the importance that the ability to communicate was the first step towards civilizing the Indian, he decided that the English language would be the only language taught at the school and no tribal languages would be tolerated. The children were given haircuts removing their long traditional hair and were provided with American clothing creating a more
civilized appearance. In addition, to top off their new status as civilized students, they were also forced to take Euro-American names. Their appearances changed, the children looked like Americans now needed to be educated to act like Americans.
The school curriculum consisted of reading, writing, and mathematics for half the day while the other half consisted of education in trades,” such as blacksmith and carpentry for boys and sewing and laundry for girls”. This realistic education was...
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Trennert, Robert A. 1983. From Carlisle to Phoenix: The Rise and Fall of the Indian Outing System, 1878-1930. Pacific Historical Review, 52, no. 3 (Aug). http://www.jstor.org/stable/3639003
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