Posts filed under ‘History of Schools Series’

Cultural Genocide and Education: The Story of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School

This is the second in our “History of Schools” Series. This is also an attempt that requires some editing.


After the famous battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, the surrender of Geronimo in 1886, and the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, the so-called “Indian Wars” came to an end (Adams, 1997), (Marshall III, 2007). According to historian Howard Zinn, these events solidified nearly four-hundred years of European and Euro-American conquest and genocide against the original inhabitants of the North American continent (Zinn, 2005). Many Native Americans now faced a harsh and unknown way of living. For them, the reservation system was a new and almost completely controlled existence. Lakota Indian historian Joseph M. Marshall III writes that a “loss of dignity came on the heels of [the] loss of freedom” (Marshall III, 2007, page 140). For the Lakota, living on vast plains became an extinguished reality, and instead they were reduced to miniscule agencies where they were trapped and confined (Marshall III, 2007). All the while, the United States government continued to take lands from the natives and attempted to destroy their cultures, societies, and identities. This was the process of assimilation.

One of the most powerful tools for cultural genocide that the United States had in its arsenal was the school. Both on reservation schools and boarding schools served assimilation goals by targeting native children and attempting to turn them into, what Euro-Americans identified as, “civilized.” The school that started this all was the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, begun by Captain Richard Henry Pratt of the U.S. military. Supporters referred to this movement and its schools as a “noble experiment” to turn native children into mirrored images of the “white man.” This, they contested, was the only way that American Indians would be able to survive the “progress” of white expansion. They would either have to perish in its path or become assimilated into its borders (Adams, 1997).

This discussion will center on Carlisle and the role it played in founding the movement. We will also look in depth at both the history and philosophy of Pratt. Carlisle was his brainchild, and thus both the school itself and the movement it gave life to are intricately related to his actions and words. However, this dialogue will not center on a few topics that are sometimes discussed about Carlisle – including its football fame and celebrated athlete, Jim Thorpe. Instead, the intention here is to explore the use of education as a means of cultural destruction and replacement, and as a process of securing domination over American Indians. Nevertheless, as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School Research Pages expresses, “[i]t is our purpose to respectfully honor those students and their descendants who lived the experiment, to celebrate with those who prospered from it, and to grieve with those whose lives were diminished by it” (Landis, 1996). As we shall explore shortly, the legacy of Carlisle is a complex and intimidating one to comprehend. Yet, it is one we must attempt to familiarize ourselves with in order to understand the powerful role education has and can play as an instrument of oppression.



November 14, 2008 at 6:19 pm 8 comments

Mass Education for Mass Production

By Brian Van Slyke

This is the first in our new series “History of Schools.” Please note, also, that this is a first attempt and it needs some editing.


The history of mass and forced schooling in the United States can speak a great deal to the current nature of our educational model. It can also help us understand the culture of work in this nation. Our contemporary structure of education prepares the vast majority of the country’s children for a specific form of work that mirrors the industries that arose during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Compulsory schooling’s legacy thus has much to teach us about our current society – and also where we can go from here.

Yet, when this topic is discussed, it is often dichotomized into a tail of heroes and villains, purely nefarious forces or people’s movements. In reality, as is the story of nearly all political, social, economic, and cultural histories; compulsory schooling was born out of a mixture of aims from different groups, movements, interested parties, and alliances. In the end, the alliance in favor of compulsory schooling was victorious. Resistance and non-compliance ensued; but the most powerful faction of the pro-compulsory schooling alliance, some of society’s elite citizenry and businesses, were able to effectively enforce the system and tailor it to their interests and goals. While humanitarian players were involved in the initial implementation of compulsory schooling, including anti-exploitative child labor concerns and labor unions, their struggles were usurped by the powerful and were instead used to create a mass population of diligent, obedient, and complacent workers and “Americanized” citizens.

It is therefore important to examine the driving factors behind compulsory schooling and its immediate aftermath. Such an exploration will allow us to exam what systems our current structure of education serves, how it came into being, and what lessons we can take away from these histories to help us work for a more just and equitable future.

This is the story of compulsory education.


October 24, 2008 at 3:13 am 4 comments


RSS Feed

Help Support Adventures in Free Schooling