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Carlisle Indian Industrial School Research Paper

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Carlisle Indian Industrial School treated Indians poorly and too strictly claiming that it was the only chance for them to become real men and women. “The reservation noncooperationists were vindicated nevertheless, and the middle-class intellectuals’ strategy was shown to be impractical as the actualities of federal policy unfolded on reservations around the country” (Warrior 239). The Indian tribal societies were often close to hunger or in constant danger from enemies. So these Indians generally recognized the need for strict discipline, for body-hardening and character-building training, and for occasionally painful, frightening, or humiliating punishments. Indeed, although such descriptions, they do not detract from the generally idealized depiction of childhood. They seem to prove, after all, that Indian children were resilient little boys and girls.

Large numbers of Carlisle pupils took part in the famous “outing” system, working a few months or more each year for selected white families or firms, both to earn money for themselves and to gain experience of white life. The fundamental goal was to “individualize” the pupil by separating him or her from other Indian children — first the separation from kin, then from all Indians — and to “lift him up” by total and solitary immersion in white life. The program wrote Pratt decades later in his autobiography, was Carlisle’s right arm. It enforced participation in civilized life, and was thus the supreme Americanizer. By 1910 a later principal, M. Friedman, admitted that Carlisle was “a vocational school. It is neither a college or a university” (Washburn 32). But he outlined the impressively expanded activities. The pupils spent part of each day in the classroom, obtaining a common school education, and another part working at various vocational pursuits such as telegraphy, business studies, carpentry, tailoring, tinsmithing, printing, baking, sewing, or agriculture (Washburn 55). In the early twentieth century the school attempted to modernize its vocational training, dropping harness making as a separate (Padget 833).

Summary of Opposition

Some critics suppose that Carlisle Indian Industrial School benefits Indian children and helped them to become a part of the society, acquire reading habits and socialize. “Students worked half a day in class and half a day on industrial skills such as farming, weaving, gardening, laundry work, and home economics. English was used for both academic and industrial instruction. Written Navajo was used with students in an academic setting, but its use was restricted to religious instruction“ (Lockard 22). In one of the few concessions to tribal cultures, pupils could also engage in “native Indian crafts,” like jewelry or rug making. They could enjoy the numerous extracurricular activities, such as the debating and literary societies, the band program, or football — the Carlisle team played against Harvard, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania. Carlisle was a government school, but Friedman assured readers that “while the various students are allowed to select their own denominations in the great Christian church, it has been insisted constantly that every student affiliate with some church” (Washburn 28).

Until its closing in 1918, Carlisle constituted an ambitious, carefully organized, and expensive way of “nationalizing” — Friedman’s term for detribalizing — Indians from about ninety different tribes, and of molding them into new citizens. Further, Carlisle stimulated the establishment of many more government off-reservation boarding schools, with their large multitribal student bodies and ambitious academic and vocational curricula. Many developed their own versions of the “outing” program, which sometimes degenerated into a supply system of cheap menial labor to white patrons.

Each school also instituted its tightly organized daily regimen and sometimes harsh military-style discipline, the better to instill in young Indian’s obedience, self-control, Western concepts of time, and the Protestant work ethic. The boy became progressively more useful, but he also became more interested in school learning (Washburn 92). Proficiency in English and the almost magical skills of reading and writing could make both the young and their families more competent in the new world growing up around them. The children would also learn the knowledge of the whites, get to know their customs, and thus become mediators between two worlds. Sometimes, the motivations of an adult seemed blatantly selfish; at all times they were highly pragmatic. These Indian adults pushed upon their children the education of the Christian civilization for salvation in the present life — individual and tribal salvation. Indeed the new skills could even be used to preserve the wisdom of the past (McDaniel 65).


In spite of benefits and inclusion in society, Carlisle Indian Industrial School treated Indian children differently from white majority of students supposing that only strict discipline could help to bring them up. Echoing this sense of pride one of the Indian students comments her experience: “we’d been trained more rigidly” than at the self-consciously rigid Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania (McDaniel 69). Tribal education did not turn the young Indian into a passive prisoner of culture; each boy or girl was an individual with his or her blend of ethnic, familial, and personal characteristics. But the tribal educational experience provided a major motivational influence — indeed a cluster of influences — upon the Indian child’s responses to the school. Ostracism, even if temporary, was perhaps the most devastating of punishments. Many Navajos commented on the relentless work ethic forced upon them by their families and by the harsh Arizona environment. Resentment does not necessarily imply a deep skepticism of tribal values, but occasionally such a socially dangerous attitude did surface.

When faced with the awesome technological power of white civilization, or even with the strange new world of the school, some Indian children began to question the wisdom of their elders. But this could happen even before full contact with American life. Indians who rebelliously attempted to engage in activities inappropriate for their age, or without having first acquired the socially sanctioned spiritual powers, in part rejected major tribal values in their pursuit of personal goals. Indian education was essentially designed to preserve the heritage of the tribe, but that need not imply a blind rejection of new experiences. Indian parents, and occasionally grandparents or tribal leaders, often encouraged young Indians to seek a school education, in order to secure a livelihood in the modern world or to become mediators between their peoples and American society. Even when older Indians themselves resisted white culture, some attempted to adapt their traditional teachings to new realities. For instance, One of the Indians, Jim Whitewolf, recounted how his Kiowa Apache grandfather, in classic fashion, brought other old men to tell stories to him. Then the grandfather himself lectured the boy. First pointing out that Indian peoples no longer fought each other as in the old days, he emphasized the necessity for hard work. “He told me that now I didn’t need to have a fast horse to do fighting, but that he wanted me to take care of my horses so I could use them to farm with, like the white people were doing so I could have something. (McDaniel 68). All this perhaps suggests that tribal methods of education combined positive and negative incentives in harmonious balance (McDaniel 65).


Although traditional education was essentially conservative, we have seen how individual tribal adults realized the need to adapt to, and even exploit, the new education, especially the English language and the skills of reading and writing. “Twenty-five years later, despite growing criticism of the effectiveness of these off-reservation schools and a concerted drive to enroll Indians in public schools, over eight and a half thousand Indian children were still enrolled in large, off-reservation boarding schools” (Fear-Segal 7). Thus half of the autobiographers first attended school because kin or other tribal adults instructed them to do so. In some cases the narrator claimed that he or she had wanted to go anyway, but tribal adults made the decision. Such encouragement of schooling implied some degree of exploitation of the young Indian for the good of the people.

The varied curricula totally excluded Indian cultural knowledge, and generally fell into the half-and-half pattern: half of the curriculum comprised common school academic subjects, generally the English language, arithmetic, history, geography, and the religion of the denomination. The other half required physical labor appropriate to “proper” gender roles. The boys learned such skills as blacksmithing, woodwork, and — although some came from tribes which practiced agriculture — American methods of farming. The girls learned “civilized” cooking, dressmaking, and other domestic arts (Washburn33). Thus educated into the ways of the Christian civilization, young Indians would return to their tribes as mediators between cultures. These penetrated to the heart of the Indian community, but failed to quarantine children from the “heathenism” of their kin. An increasingly strong emphasis on the need for practical, vocational education certainly appears in reports of officials around the turn of the century.

There was also an increase of appreciative comments on Indian life, which might be taken as either romantic racist sentimentality about interesting but backward peoples, or a genuine growth of sensibility -or, more likely, a confused blending of both attitudes together. Boys would also need practical skills about the farm, and girls a rudimentary academic education along with housewifely skills — all a far cry from the goals of visionaries, or even of many missionary schools, which provided an impressive academic curriculum. There was a line of nature between races, and thought in terms of the survival of the fittest. Yet Indians also declared that each Indian should be seen as an individual, who, if he could not be transformed, could be improved. Both approaches persisted through the period covered by this study. Despite the admitted dangers of exposing unprepared young Indians to the vices of civilization, by the late nineteenth century the large, off-reservation boarding school appeared to be the wave of the future. Many educators hoped they could supplant Indian parents and turn such distant boarding schools into real homes, in contrast to supposedly inadequate environments from which the children came.

Works Cited

Fear-Segal, J. Use the Club of White Man’s Wisdom in Defence of Our Customs”: White Schools and Native Agendas. American Studies International, 40 (2002): 6-10.

Padget, M. Travel Writing, Sentimental Romance, and Indian Rights Advocacy: The Politics of Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona. Journal of the Southwest, 42 (2000): 833.

Lockard, L. New Paper Words: Historical Images of Navajo Language Literacy. American Indian Quarterly, 19 (1995), 17-37.

McDaniel, Mary. In The Death of the Great Spirit: An Elegy for the America Indian. Edited by Earl Shorris, 156-61. New York: New American Library, 1971.

Warrior, R.A. Reading American Indian Intellectual Traditions. World Literature Today, 66 (1992), 236-240.

Washburn, Wilcomb E., ed. The American Indian and the United States: A Documentary History. Vol. 1. New York: Random House, 1973.

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