Exploring the Stories Behind Native American Boarding Schools
In the late 1800s, the United States began an educational experiment that the government hoped would change the traditions and customs of Native Americans. Special boarding schools were created in locations all over the United States with the purpose of educating American Indian youth. Most of these schools sought to suppress any sign of students’ tribal heritage and to “Americanize” them. Thousands of Native American children were sent far from their homes to live in these schools and learn the ways of white culture. Many struggled with loneliness and fear away from their tribal homes and familiar customs. Some lost their lives to the influenza, tuberculosis, and measles outbreaks that spread quickly through the schools. Others thrived despite the hardships, formed lifelong friendships, and preserved their tribal identities.
Through primary source documents, students explore the experiences and perspectives of individuals involved in Native American boarding schools.
Students will be able to:
analyze primary source documents;
develop an understanding of issues related to the forced acculturation of Native Americans through government-run boarding schools; and
examine different perspectives on the education of Native American children.
People for research: The following people had experiences with Native American boarding schools. Each link leads to a search for their name on the Chronicling America collection of historic newspapers. Students may also conduct research in the Library’s online collections and in secondary sources. Students may instead conduct research on an individual of their choosing.
Fred Lookout, tribal chief; student at Native American boarding school
Zitkala-Sa, musician and writer; teacher at Native American boarding school
Charles Eastman, physician and lecturer; recruiter for Native American boarding school
Jim Thorpe, athlete; student at Native American boarding school
In this lesson, students investigate an individual or group of individuals who participated in Native American boarding schools. After exploring newspaper articles or other primary sources related to the people chosen, students assume the identity of the person and write in a journal, and exchange their journals with other students who respond as their person would have responded.
Assign students to research one person from the “People for research” list or other people involved in Native American boarding schools at teacher’s discretion. Group students by research subjects to compare notes. Jigsaw into small groups that include a variety of research subjects.