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American Indians, the Irish, and Government Schooling

A Comparative Study

Michael C. Coleman

Publication Year: 2007

For centuries American Indians and the Irish experienced assaults by powerful, expanding states, along with massive land loss and population collapse. In the early nineteenth century the U.S. government, acting through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), began a systematic campaign to assimilate Indians. Initially dependent on Christian missionary societies, the BIA later built and ran its own day schools and boarding schools for Indian children. At the same time, the British government established a nationwide elementary school system in Ireland, overseen by the commissioners of national education, to assimilate the Irish. By the 1920s, as these campaigns of cultural transformation were ending, roughly similar proportions of Indian and Irish children attended state-regulated schools.
In the first full comparison of American and British government attempts to assimilate “problem peoples” through mass elementary education, Michael C. Coleman presents a complex and fascinating portrait of imperialism at work in the two nations. Drawing on autobiographies, government records, elementary school curricula, and other historical documents, as well as photographs and maps, Coleman conveys a rich personal sense of what it was like to have been a pupil at a school where one’s language was not spoken and one’s local culture almost erased. In absolute terms the campaigns failed, yet the schools deeply changed Indian and Irish peoples in ways unpredictable both to them and to their educators.
Meticulously researched and engaging, American Indians, the Irish, and Government Schooling sets the agenda for a new era of comparative analyses in global indigenous studies.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Indigenous Education

TItle Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vi


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pp. viii-x

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pp. xi-xii

My major debt is to the Academy of Finland for its generous Senior Research Fellowship (varttuneen tieteenharjoittajan apuraha), which allowed me a full year of research in the Irish archives (1996–97). I also wish to thank colleagues and ex-colleagues in the Department of Languages (English) here at the University of Jyväskylä for their encouragement and support of my research ...


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pp. xiii

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pp. 1-9

As an Irishman specializing for over three decades in Native American studies, I have long felt strong “resonances” between Indian and Irish histories.1 These “problem peoples” experienced centuries-long military and cultural assaults by more powerful expanding states. They suffered massive land loss and demographic collapse through disease, famine, population movement, ...

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1. Education in Native America and Ireland to the 1820's

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pp. 11-37

In 1812 the Commissioners for Inquiring into the State of all Schools, on Charitable or Public Foundations, in Ireland admitted that while “the present establishments for the instruction of the lower orders [are] extremely numerous,” they were “inadequate as a system of general education.”1 More commissions reported, and by 1824, according to the Commissioners of Irish ...

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2. The School as Weapon of State

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pp. 38-65

Until the nineteenth century, writes Colin Heywood, “the idea that the state should intervene between parents and their children was almost unthinkable.”1 Earlier British and American colonial governments had sporadically supported education to pacify and control subject peoples. Yet it was only in the early 1800s that schooling became a systematically wielded weapon of the ...

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3. The Local Community and the School

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pp. 66-88

“The drive to mass elementary education,” writes David Vincent of nineteenth- century efforts by European national states to school the people to literacy, “was founded on a dismissal of all that the home could teach the child.” Left to its parents, authorities believed, “the growing boy or girl would gain the wrong lessons in conduct, and at best an undisciplined command ...

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4. Regimentation

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pp. 89-117

The first reminiscences of school, writes Susan Douglas Franzosa, “are retold as a terrifying entry into an alien culture presided over by towering adults who . . . expect their charges to act in incomprehensible ways.” The place is often evoked “through meticulously sensuous detail, now familiar but distant, then strange but clear.”1 If the experience can shock twentieth-century ...

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5. Curriculum

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pp. 118-155

“Missionary education was doing more than to purvey knowledge or teach skills,” writes A. J. Ashley. “It was an important part of the missionary effort to effect a transfer of pupils from one universe to the other.”1 Whereas in a “normal” school the teachers attempt to indoctrinate pupils more deeply into their own cultural universe (or an approved version of it), in an assimilative ...

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6. School Staff

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pp. 156-187

“It may be set down as an aphorism generally true,” declared CNEI head inspector W. H. Newell in 1857, “that the teacher is the life or death of a school.” Recent improvements in one Dublin model school, he believed, were in part the result of his board appointing “zealous and effective teachers in the room of careless and inefficient ones.”1 Those at the top of the CNEI and BIA bureaucracies ...

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7. Peers and Mediation

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pp. 188-215

“I remember the first day I went to school,” wrote Maurice O’Sullivan of his experience in the Blasket Islands around 1908. “Peg de Róiste brought me, holding me by the hand, and it was with great plámás [persuasive talk] she coaxed me to go.” Later in class Peg sat beside O’Sullivan, explaining the strange doings of the teacher. When offered sweets, he had “a drowning ...

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8. Resistance and Rejection

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pp. 216-239

Irish national school students devised crafty ways to fool their teacher and get time off from the classroom. One group brought a stray donkey into the schoolyard before the master arrived. He then asked for volunteers to return the animal to its owner—and the culprits, according to a folklore informant, would “spend most of the day on this mission.” Others connived with a local ...

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9. Results

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pp. 240-262

“It was of course the case,” writes David Vincent of nineteenth-century efforts to use mass education to achieve mass literacy, “that parents and pupils everywhere subverted the intentions of the official curriculum” and made use of it in ways that “confirmed many of [the educators’] worst fears.”1 The present study strongly reinforces recent work by historians of education who ...

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pp. 263-271

These words could have been uttered by either a Native American or by an Irishman or woman, surveying assimilationist schooling in the period under review. Actually they were spoken by Albert Yava, the Tewa-Hopi quoted in the previous chapter as an advocate of pragmatic compromise; the one who realized that, ultimately, the greatest value is survival.1 The statement reinforces ...


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pp. 273-341

Bibliographical Note

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pp. 343-352


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pp. 353-367

E-ISBN-13: 9780803206250
E-ISBN-10: 0803206259

Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Indigenous Education