“Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940” by Child

Subject: History
Pages: 3
Words: 940
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: College

Nowadays, being a student at a residential private school is prestigious and, to some extent, pretentious. Modern cinematography depicts such students as children of rich parents who are barely engaged in their education. Now, let us go back 100 years to see what the difference is. In this trip to the past, tour guide is Brenda Child, historian, and professor of American studies. The mean of our transportation is her book Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940. In this writing, Child sheds some light on the life of Indian children in such boarding schools as Haskell Institute and the Flandreau School. They were created to solve the Indian problem and assimilate Native Americans with the rest of the population. The issue of whether boarding schools handled this problem remains highly debatable. Another topic for discussion is whether these Native American children are victims or survivors. Even though the students of these two boarding schools endured a lot of suffering and survived despite circumstances, they could be viewed as forced participants in the assimilation experiment and victims of their era.

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Boarding schools for Indians are a distinctive phenomenon that has both positive and negative sides. The major advantage of such institutions is that they made the life of parents significantly easier. According to Child, enrollment of children at such schools was a wish for some parents who “were not able to support a family” (Child 21). Indeed, throughout the ages, the upbringing of children requires a lot of time and resources, and residential schools released adults from some responsibilities. Since these schools nourished, cured, and educated students, the Ojibwe children got a chance for a better life.

Despite some positive aspects, the reality of boarding schools for American Indians was far from perfect. One of the significant problems described by Brenda Child lies in the fact that these institutions separated families of American Indians (Child 43). From the government’s point of view, separation of children from families was a key towards more active assimilation. It was expected that this experience would make it easier for children to adapt to life in a new society and get used to communicating with people whose appearance and worldview differs from their own. However, from the observer’s perspective, the officials forgot that parents are the primary agents of socialization, and children, especially young ones, need their attention and support. Undoubtedly, it is rational to regard homesickness as an “invalid reason to send a child home from school” because otherwise, no one would stay in a school (Child 47). Nonetheless, such a forced separation from parents and home left a severe trauma on these children’s psyche.

Children who graduated from boarding schools went through life-threatening experiences because these places were unsafe in terms of hygiene. Ojibwes suffered from such diseases as tuberculosis, trachoma, influenza, and measles (Child 55, 58, 67). It was typical of these schools to send an infected child to die back home (Child 67). That was a smart trick that assisted in decreasing the number of students who died in the school. This situation is immensely ironic: a child should become incurably ill to get home from school. The facts described in the book Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families reveal that Native American children were victims of irresponsible adults who failed to protect their health and well-being.

In addition, the quality of education per se leaves a lot to be desired. Children learned blacksmithing, shoe repairing, and harness-making that are outdated in the context of the rapidly industrialized American economy of the early 20th century (Child 98). The problem is that after graduation, young Native Americans were deemed to work at low-paid jobs instead of doing business or enrolling at university to get a degree. Therefore, one could suggest that these schools taught their students to work for the needs of white people. This strategy fits into the logic of assimilation because it is significantly easier to teach a student how to repair the shoes of a white person than to cure his children. Nonetheless, it is unfair that boarding institutions stamped ordinary workers instead of helping children fulfill their potential and get a profession that guarantees sustainable employment and stable income.

Another reason for concern about boarding schools’ quality is that students frequently tried to run away, rebel, and even arson the buildings. As Child puts it, “rebellion was a permanent feature of boarding school life” (Child 94). Disobedience and obstinacy are integral components of almost every teenager’s character. These features are becoming two times more explicit when kids live far from home in such places as the Haskell Institute or the Flandreau School. What is more, the life experience suggests that even in good schools where there are no atrocities as were in boarding schools for Native Americans. Older students tend to misbehave and rebel against the will of adults. From this, one could infer that the disobedience of American Indian children is a predictable phenomenon. Such activities unite students and help them find friends and like-minded people with whom they would maintain contact even after graduation.

To conclude, the arguments listed above illustrate that education in boarding schools was a challenging experience that took the lives of numerous young American Indians and overall led to dubious consequences. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the graduates of the aforementioned institutions are victims who managed to survive. At the same time, their experience shows that they are merely participants of the experiment in which a hypothesis on assimilation was tested. In other words, they were not fortunate to be born at those times, but history will remember their names forever.

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Work Cited

Child, Brenda J. Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940. University of Nebraska Press, 1998.