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MAY 2013


Williamsburg's Indian School

In his second inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson spoke on the necessity of "educating" Native Americans in white ways: "Humanity enjoins us to teach them agriculture and the domestic arts, to encourage them to that industry which alone can enable them to maintain their place in existence and to prepare them in time for that state of society which to bodily comforts adds the improvement of the mind and morals." This was not a new idea in Jefferson's time: Indian boarding schools such as the Indian School at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, had already been attempting to "civilize" Native American children without much success. Programs of forcing Native American children into boarding schools to learn academic and job skills, as well as white, European-American culture and the Christian religion, continued until the mid-twentieth century. For more on these "Indian Schools," see "Williamsburg's Indian School," and "The Indian School at William & Mary."

Primary Source of the Month

Pupils at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School
Pupils at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School
Pennsylvania, circa 1900
Wikimedia Commons

At various points during the past three centuries, Native Americans from across what is now the United States were taken from their homes, sometimes forcibly, to be educated at Indian boarding schools like the one at Carlisle, Pa. They were expected to give up their Native beliefs, languages, and religions and assimilate themselves into white American culture. Children were taught reading and writing and instructed in other daily-life skills with the expectation that they would bring this knowledge back to their families and tribal groups and “assimilate” them as well.

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Teaching Strategy: Boarding at an Indian School

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School in central Pennsylvania, which opened to students in 1879, was one of the most influential boarding schools for American Indians. Students, many of them forcibly taken from their homes on reservations far away, attended classes to learn to read and write, as well as acquire daily-life skills. The hope was that they would take this knowledge back home and teach others. Students will compare/contrast their own lives with children in the boarding schools and explore three perspectives to walk in the shoes of the students, parents, and teachers.

Colonial Williamsburg Teaching Resources for Your Classroom

2012–2013 Teaching Resources Catalog

Colonial Williamsburg offers a variety of quality American history instructional materials, including:

  • Discovering the Past Through Archeaology Classroom Simulation
  • American Indian Bandolier Bag Hands-on History Kit

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Quotation of the Month

"We can end their existence among us as such separate people by a broad and generous system of English education and training, which will reach all the 50,000 children … instead of feeding, clothing and caring for them from year to year, put them in condition to feed clothe and care for themselves. … that not only may we fit him to go and come and abide in the land where ever he may choose, and so lose his identity."

— Richard Henry Pratt, founder and superintendent of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. From The Indians: Origin and History of Work at Carlisle, The American Missionary Volume 0037 Issue 4 (Apr 1883), p. 108-111.

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