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Carlisle’s Legacy: Another Point Of View

July 2024
1min read

The Carlisle school set a pattern for education of the Indian that has endured in varying degrees down to our own day. The appalling aftereffects of the Carlisle philosophy are detailed in a 1969 report of the Special Sen- ate Subcommittee on Indian Education,∗ chaired first by Senator Robert Kennedy and, after his death, by his brother Edward. Titled Indian Education: A National Tragedy—A National Challenge , the report notes:

∗ 91st Congress, 1st Session, Senate Report No. 91-501

• Indian student drop-out rates are twice the national average, nearly 100 per cent in some school districts.

• Achievement levels of Indian children are two to three years below national norms, and the Indian child falls further behind the longer he stays in school.

• Indian children, more than any other minority, believe themselves to be “below average” in intelligence, and twelfth-grade Indian students have the poorest selfconcept of any minority group tested.

• Forty thousand Navaho Indians, nearly a third of the entire tribe, are functionally illiterate in English.

• Less than one fifth of the adult Indian population has completed high school or its equivalent.

• Nearly 9,000 Indian children nine years old and under are sent away from home to Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools.

• On the average, of a class of 400 students entering a Bureau of Indian Affairs high school, only 240 will graduate. Of those 240, 67 can be expected to enroll in college (28 per cent as opposed to a nationa! average of 50 per cent). Of these 67, only 19 will graduate from college. Only one out of every 100 Indian college graduates will receive a master’s degree.

The seeds of this educational failure, in the view of the subcommittee, can be found in the very policy that was the essential principle of the Carlisle school: forced assimilation of the Indian into white society, at the expense of his tribal identity and his self-respect.

“We are shocked at what we discovered,” reported the senators after two years of research, although they discovered little that had not been discovered long before. The special subcommittee’s recommendation of “increased Indian participation and control of their education programs” echoed a famous 1928 Brookings Institution report. Indeed, as far back as 1744, the Chiefs of the Six Nations testified eloquently against alienating the Indian from his own heritage. To the invitation of the government of Virginia to educate six of their sons, they replied: “Several of our young people were formerly brought up at the colleges of the Northern Provinces; they were instructed in all your science; but when they came back to us they were bad runners; ignorant of every means of living in the woods; unable to bear either cold or hunger; knew neither how to build a cabin, take a deer, or kill an enemy; spoke our language imperfectly; were therefore neither fit for hunters, warriors, or counselors; they were totally good for nothing.”

—Elizabeth N. Layne

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