In the late 1800s, the United States supported an educational experiment that the government hoped would change the traditions and customs of American Indians. Special boarding schools were created in locations all over the United States with the purpose of "civilizing" American Indian youth . Thousands of Native American children were sent far from their homes to live in these schools and learn the ways of white culture. Many struggled with loneliness and fear away from their tribal homes and familiar customs. Some lost their lives to the influenza, tuberculosis, and measles outbreaks that spread quickly through the schools. Others thrived despite the hardships, formed lifelong friendships, and preserved their Indian identities.
Through photographs, letters, reports, interviews, and other primary documents, students explore the forced acculturation of American Indians through government-run boarding schools.
- Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900
- Progressive Era to New Era, 1900-1929
Students will be able to:
- gain respect for differences in cultures;
- analyze primary documents;
- develop an understanding of issues related to the forced acculturation of American Indians into the American culture; and
- examine different perspectives of the "Indian problem" in relation to the education of American Indian children.
This project is intended to encourage students to reflect on the multiple facets of the forced acculturation of the Native Americans during the late 19th and into the 20th century. There were many differing points of view on the "Indian problem," and how it could be solved.
Students learn to view photographs and text with a critical mind. They research issues involved in creating and administering Indian boarding schools. Finally, they investigate an individual or group of individuals who participated in these schools.
After exploring the pictures and written records of the individuals chosen, students assume the identity of the person(s) and write in a journal, and exchange their journals with other students who respond as their person would have responded.
Lesson 1 (one to two days)
Read definitions of primary and secondary sources in Using Primary Sources and discuss with students as necessary. Model photoanalysis as necessary, using analysis tool and teacher's guides and your choice of primary source materials from the Assimilation through Education Primary Source Set.
- Direct students to view pictures from Appearances, Dwellings, and Daily Life and Customs.
- Students select a picture from Gallery A and its corresponding picture in Gallery B to analyze using the Primary Source Analysis tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
- Students select a document from Journal Resources and analyze it using the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teachers guide Analyzing Books and Other Printed Texts to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
- Students create their own gallery to illustrate the change that was expected of the children when they attended the boarding school.
Lesson 2 (one to three days)
After completing the text analysis, students again use the Journal Resources to research the various individuals or groups of individuals who were associated with Indian boarding schools.
- Students select one person or group of people on which to focus.
- Students can learn more about their choice by selecting the text and reading the source material in more depth.
- Students may also search the American Memory collections for more information.
- To record the language, opinions, and beliefs of their person students may reflect on and answer these questions:
- What experiences did your person have with American Indian boarding schools?
- Did their lives change because of American Indian boarding schools?
- List words or phrases used by the selected person(s).
- List this person's thoughts or opinions on American Indian boarding schools.
- List the words or phrases this person used to reveal his/her biases.
- List words used that have different spellings today.
- List words that have different meanings today.
- In order to accurately portray their person(s) remind students to determine the following:
- What was the person's view and opinion on the value of boarding schools?
- What would they have had to say concerning a solution to civilizing the Indian?
- Would they have supported or discouraged the establishment of these schools?
- What terms, phrases, opinions, and justifications would have been used by their person(s)?
Lesson 3 (one to two days)
Students assume the role of their character and write in a journal responding to a teacher selected question. Possible questions include:
Why is there a need for American Indian boarding schools?
Have you ever been to an American Indian boarding school? Describe your experience.
Respond to the statement, "Indian children should attend Indian boarding schools so that they may be 'civilized'."
Respond to the statement, "The education Indian children receive will enable them to lead a useful, productive life."
Respond to the statement, "English is the only language to be spoken at the boarding school."
Describe the changes in the American Indian children after they attended boarding schools for a time.
Recommend at least one change in the American Indian boarding school system that would improve the schools.
Predict how the life of the American Indian would be different without the boarding schools.
Describe the funniest experience you had with an American Indian boarding school.
Describe your saddest experience with an American Indian boarding school.
- Students must stay 'in character' as they write.
- It is helpful for students to have their research materials and reflections on the language, opinions and beliefs of their person available to use as reference when they write.
- Allow students time to reflect and compose.
- After writing, students exchange their journals with another classmate and respond to each other's journal entry.
- Exchange as many times and with as many different individuals as time allows. It is more interesting if new questions are introduced periodically during the exchange.
- On the final entry each student steps out of character and writes his or her own opinion of the attempt to "civilize the Native Spirit."
Evaluate writing and student participation in class activities according to criteria you identify or generate with the class.
Suggested Search Words
- Indian boarding schools
- Indian schools
- Indian education
- Indian training schools
- Indian boys
- Indian girls
- Indian letters
- Indian mission schools
- Carlisle Indian School
- Hampton Indian School
- Indian school teacher
- Reports to Commissioner of Indian Affairs
- reports of Superintendent of Indian schools
Other Search Suggestions
- student name
- Indian boarding school by name
- individual tribe names
- photographer's name
- individual teacher's name
- superintendent's name
Do you consider yourself civilized? What does it mean to be civilized? America was struggling with these questions as it tried to solve the "Indian problem." At the end of the nineteenth and early in the twentieth century, the American government supported American Indian boarding schools. Native American children were often removed from their families, placed in government-run boarding schools and trained in "white man's ways." One of the first to try this experiment was Captain R.H. Pratt. He founded the first off-reservation Indian boarding school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1879.
The challenge is to imagine what life was like for people who lived during this period of time. Learn more about the teachers, school administrators, the children who attended the schools, and Native American leaders as you study photographs and life stories.
In this exercise you will examine and compare photographs from one of the three categories below. In each gallery compare "Native Ways," a sample of photographs of life before boarding school, and "Boarding School Ways," photos of life at school.
Click on the gallery of your choice below and follow the directions.
Create a gallery of 3-5 pictures that best illustrate how Indians' lives were expected to change after attending a boarding school.
- Search the galleries of pictures, Appearances, Dwellings, and Daily Life and Customs, in this lesson or do your own search using the American Memory collections to create your own gallery of pictures.
- Present these pictures in a physical or digital gallery.
- Respond to the following questions:
- What is the main idea being illustrated in your gallery?
- What could not be explained about boarding schools in your collection?
- What would be a good title for your collection?
Use the Journal Resources. Research individuals or groups of individuals who were associated with the schools. Select one person or group of people for closer examination. Record the language, opinions, and beliefs of that person.
Exchange Journals Page
Using the pictures you have observed and the information you have collected on the Journal Resources, select one person whose identify you would like to assume. Learn as much as you can about this person and the type of life he or she lived at this time. Use the American Memory collections to research a variety of search words and phrases to help you discover more about your person or people in the same position. Use your observations and your interpretations. Try to think and act as your assumed identity would have during this time period. Determine the following about your chosen person.
- What did your person think about American Indian boarding schools?
- What job or relationship did your person have with American Indian boarding schools? For example, Was he or she a student, parent of a student, a teacher, a Superintendent or an Administrator of a school, or a government official?
- What word would your person have used in describing American Indian boarding schools? Remember to use words that would have been used in the 1800s and early 1900s.
- What experiences did your person have with American Indian boarding schools? Imagine what their life would have been like as they went about their daily routines. Did their lives change because of the schools? What were they trying to accomplish?
- What did your person like about the American Indian boarding schools?
- What did your person dislike about the American Indian boarding schools?
After you have learned more about your person by answering the questions, you will assume the role of this person and write as he or she would have written in a journal. Entries in your journal will begin with a response to a daily question and then you may continue with your own entries. Your journal will be given to another who has assumed the role of a different person. This student will respond to your journal entry as his or her character would have responded. We will have several exchanges. Be careful to stay in character when you write.
Selected Questions for Daily Journal
Your teacher may assign one of the following prompts to help you begin to write in your journal. Try to stay in character and answer the question, but ask questions or explain your point of view to your journal partner.
- Why is there a need for American Indian boarding schools?
- Have you ever been to an American Indian boarding school? Describe your experience.
- Respond to the statement, "Indian children should attend Indian boarding schools so that they may be 'civilized'."
- Respond to the statement, "The education Indian children receive will enable them to lead a useful, productive life."
- Respond to the statement, "English is the only language to be spoken at the boarding school."
- Describe the changes in the American Indian children after they attended boarding schools for a time.
- Recommend at least one change in the American Indian boarding school system that would improve the schools.
- Predict how the life of the American Indian would be different without the boarding schools.
- Describe the funniest experience you had with an American Indian boarding school.
- Describe your saddest experience with an American Indian boarding school.
Access this resource at:
Indian Boarding Schools
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