My grandmother was in a boarding school around 1915-1920, when she did talk about it, she talked about as a somewhat demeaning in her relationships with teachers, but not completely negative experience. My mother was in one or 2 during the late 1940's, for her boarding school was an ok experience, nothing real negative. Both these women were "average" students and not trouble-makers, but they weren't pushovers either. From their stories, what others have said, and what's been written, it seems like time and location of the boarding school experience are significant factors. Seems like the early boarding school era 1880's - 1920's was the most negative. That is somewhat understandable because during those years the American educational system in general was militaristic, complete with corporal punishment - whipping, washing the mouth with soap, etc. were "normal" daily occurrences. Combine that with the abrupt change in federal policy from warring with and killing off the Indians to trying to "civilize" and "Christianize" us. And since the boarding schools were founded and administered by ex-military - I can certainly understand how the early boarding school years were probably more like juvenile military detention facilities than what we today think of as schools. In discussions of any historical era, we have to keep in mind the thinking at the time. In the late 1800's America was hyper religious, rigid, race-conscious, grandiose, and obsessed with notions of "manifest destiny" (i.e. God chose white Americans to lead the ways of "civilization" to the entire world, and thanks to politically influential groups like the Quakers, domestically Indians were moved to the "worth saving" list). To many white Americans, changing from exterminating Indians to embracing them was a radical change - that would be like Nazi Germany abruptly deciding to embrace the welfare of Jewish people. Needless to say, not all white Americans, particularly those entrenched in warfare mindset, warmed up to "embracing" Indians - particularly those in the military - whose ranks turned out to be the ones put in charge of the boarding schools. From what I've heard first-hand by others, the more "recent" boarding school years such as that of my mother in the late 1940's were more positive experiences. It might be useful for some researcher(s)/educator(s) to research Indians perceptions of the boarding school experience over the long term, pinpointing the details: which years, which schools, which reservations the students came from, their experiences, etc. Such research could help tribal and federal Indian education efforts to obtain factual information in a usable form to guide their efforts today, and help bring some clarity to discussions such as this one.
Saturday, March 3, 2012 - 19:01