The Carlisle Indian School: The Beginning of a Difference. Wanda Merkel History 223 Doctor Swafford 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 useful and prepared them to fit in to the American society. Pratt again ventured on another experiment sending the newly educated children out into the white community during the schools summer vacation months on an apprenticeship program. This educational program named the Outing System allowed the children the interaction within the white community living with Americans in their homes.
Using their newly learned skills, the children were adapting to the American civilized way of life and proved their ability to survive in employment in the community off reservations. Again Pratt succeeded in his experiment to educate the Indian children into productive American citizens. The school became popular for its success rate and as time went by, pressure was placed on unwilling tribes to send their children to the school. As more students joined the school it needed to expanded in size with the building of new dormitories and classrooms.
This increase in student numbers and success rate prompted the Bureau of Indian Affairs use it as a model for other off-reservation schools. Pratt ran the Carlisle Indian boarding school for twenty four years educating thousands of students. Though the Carlisle Indian boarding school and the Outing System apprenticeship program worked well in the education and Americanization of the Indian children setting the standard for other schools to follow, it began with a rough start. Hundreds of students died in the 20th century as a result of tuberculosis with seventy five buried in the school cemetery and the rest sent home to their parents.
Malnutrition due to the change in diet, environmental change, and emotional abuse also caused death for the students. Severe punishments were also inflicted due to the failure to uphold the strict military standards of the school which also contributed to the deaths of the children. Despite the unfortunate, credit is due to Pratt for developing the Carlisle school that greatly improved the welfare of many Indians. Many students who attended the school used their teachings and went forth to start a change in Indian rights. Jim Thorpe, a student at the Carlisle boarding school was sent there by is father who urged him to, “show the world what an Indian can do”. He became the role model of Indian success through his attendance at the school. A champion athlete, Thorpe often traveled the nation where he would give lectures to thousands of listeners on the rights of the Indians. His education led him in speaking out for Indian affairs giving him that voice to help make a difference. The Carlisle Indian Boarding school aided the Indian children in improving their lives, civilizing them to live like other Americans.
Pratt’s awareness of the education that was necessary for the Indian children to survive in the white man’s world and his dedication in implementing the changes became a legacy. The Carlisle boarding school was the educational ideal at a time when a change was needed to afford the children the opportunity to fit into the changing society. Transforming them into American citizens while hiding their identity, the school was able to educate them granting them the voice they needed to fight for Indian rights in the 20th century. References Anderson, Stephanie. 2000.
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