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Child Shall Lead Them

Of course, it conveniently satisfied the needs of the American government, although this purpose was hidden, even to some of the devoutly Christian teachers at the schools.

So long rendered voiceless, and forced to speak in the language of their oppressors, Adams makes a heroic effort to find the real words and real impressions of these children in prose: “By evening I was too tired to play and just fell asleep wherever I sat down. I think this is why the boys and girls ran away from school; why some became ill; why it was so hard to learn. We were too tired to study” (Adams 153). Children were kept busy in line with the Protestant work ethic — work was supposed to be good for the soul, and if the children were worked hard, it was thought that they would be less apt to revolt, question what they were taught, or try to engage in non-approved behavior, such observing in Indian rituals or traditions.

Educating the children was a spatial as well as an intellectual project — the children were taken away from their families, and taught American values of individual property — despite the fact that their own tribal properties had been taken away. They were taught that America was the land of the free, but their own parents had been denied the freedom to educate their own children as they saw fit. The childrens bodies were colonized with a foreign ideology: they were taught to work in a useful way for their oppressors, rather than learn their own peoples ways of hunting, fishing, and living upon the land. Every hour of their lives was dominated by the European clock and orders by their teachers. Rules could not be questioned.

To contextualize Adams research, it is important to remember that schooling during the 19th and early 20th century in trades for the lower classes was not unusual, and harsh discipline was very common, particularly for children who were not expected to rise to the elites of American society.

All teachers had the right to harshly discipline children in the classroom. Furthermore, many native children, Adams admits, did have a more ambivalent attitude to their education that might be initially suspected. Given the fact that their old way of life had been destroyed, learning a trade was often seen as the only way out of certain poverty. Despite the discipline, many children were able to network within the context of the boarding schools, and share their experiences in a way, Adams believes, eventually coalesced in the Indian liberation movement in the 1970s.

Adams work is an instructive document in the complexity by which natives were viewed by whites as well. Some whites, however misguided in their actions, did see the schools as better than the likely alternative that awaited Indians, if the next generation of native children left to remain on their reservations. White progressives were shocked when Indians did not embrace their project with equal fervor. They thought that the values of European culture and education were inherently rational compared to that of savage ways and Indians would be grateful.

Adams book is eye-opening in terms of the way that education has been used in America. Americas use public education to all has been a mixed blessing: it provided willing immigrant children with opportunities, but it also has been used to impose ideas of patriotism and homogeneity upon the population. Midweek prayers, learning from the McGuffey reader, and industrial training and domestic science were part of the education of most American children who went to school. Native children were taught that Indian ways were inherently inferior to the American culture they were learning about, every day, but they may not have been the first or the last to be instructed in the lesson: that to keep ones ancient traditions is not to be a true American (Adams 335).

Work Cited

Adams, David Wallace. Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School

Experience, 1875-1928. University.

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