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Indians today are greatly different from what they once were. They have adopted many of the cultural traits brought by the invaders, and have participated in further changes and evolutions of the national societies in which they are located. Yet, there remains what is often termed ‘the Indian Problem’ and an enduring image of an unchanging Indian. Indians appear to be a problem because they do not change—at least, not in the way and at the rate, the Federal Government thinks they should.
Education policy for American Indians parallels the conquest and colonization of America. During the colonial period of history, many European nations were involved in bringing Christianity and European ideas of civilization to the various Indian tribes, which included the responsibility of formal schooling. In all cases, education of American Indian youth during the colonial period meant the extermination of the Native culture and assimilation of American Indians into the dominant European culture.
During the treaty period starting in 1778, the Constitution of the United States conferred upon the federal government the authority to make treaties, regulate commerce, and to control the disposition of lands occupied by Indians, which established the framework for the reservation system. Most of these treaties included that the federal government would provide education, health, technical, and agricultural services to the tribes. During this period, a number of treaties called for specific provisions for education of the American Indian; however, missionary groups administered most of the Indian schools with funds provided by the federal government. In 1819, Congress passed an act, which apportioned funds among various missionary societies to provide education to the American Indians. In 1868, a controversy sparked between the government and the missionaries about the missionaries support on bilingual instructional policy on educating the Native youth. This and the fact that most missionaries are Catholic lead to the withdrawal of the government to allocate federals funds to missionary schools.
In 1871, congress included in the Appropriations Act for Indian Education a section requiring the establishment of day schools on reservations. However, day schools were not favored by educators and politicians who viewed assimilation impossible when students were subject to the influence of their reservations. In 1873, the Board of Indian Commissioners stated that,
It is impossible to teach Indian children the English language when they spend twenty hours out of the twenty four in the wigwam, using only their native tongue. The boarding school on the contrary, takes the youth under constant care…and surrounds him in an English-speaking community. (Hoxie 1984: 75)
The main goal of the federal government of Indian education was to make the indigenous people act, look, and live like the Europeans.
The first major financial commitment that the federal government made to boarding school policy was initiated by the efforts of Richard Henry Patt, a U.S. army officer, who founded the Carlisle Indian School in 1879. This school, the model for similar schools in the future, removed the children from the reservation and placed them in boarding school often several hundred miles from home. In 1887, Congress passed the Compulsory Indian education Act, further promoting an educational system of boarding schools, which has been compared by many historians to a penal system
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