Assimilation Through Education

The United States enacted laws to educate Indians in boarding schools in 1819. This unfortunate use of education has developed into an international embarrassment as both Canada and the US used these boarding schools to wipe out tribal identity.

Starting with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the US enacted laws and policies to establish and support Indian boarding schools across the country. For more than 150 years, Indigenous children were taken from their communities and forced into boarding schools that focused on assimilation.


US Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland

Haaland talked about the federal government’s attempt to wipe out tribal identity, language and culture and how that past has continued to manifest itself through long-standing trauma, cycles of violence and abuse, premature deaths, mental disorders and substance abuse.

The recent discovery of children’s remains buried at the site of what was once Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school has magnified interest in that legacy in Canada and the US.

In Canada, more than 150,000 First Nations children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and were not allowed to speak their languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died.


Schools Reflect Our Country

One of the realities of schooling is how much the design of schools reflect our country. Changing schools for the better cannot start without the realization that we must first discuss, agree, and change our society. No one gets a pass in this process, even if the design is at first pushed through. Educating a large group of indians, now called Native Americans, by designing boarding schools to wipe out their tribal identity, is as reflective of our country’s short term thinking as current efforts to privatize all of education. If we are to make a truly public education system, it will have to be discussed and we will have to agree to change our society to support our truly public education schools. If we want to privatize the whole system, we will end up with many more poor schools and a more divided country than we have now.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Share this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More from EdSpeak

Discover the tools and strategies modern schools need to help their students grow.

Community Schools Reform

As a seasoned researcher of K-12 public schools and someone dedicated to improving the quality, equity, and creativity in education, I wholeheartedly support the proposal

Read More »

Subscribe to EdSpeak!

The SchoolWorks Lab Blog, connecting teaching to policy through research.