SCHOOLING THE WORLD
The dark history of education as a tool of
settler colonialism and cultural destruction
“Let all that is Indian within you die.”
—Carlisle Indian School commencement speech
Apache children when they arrived at the Carlisle Indian School ...
and four months after their arrival
“Today, western schooling is responsible for
introducing a human monoculture across the entire world.
Essentially the same curriculum is being taught, and
it’s training people for jobs – very scarce
jobs – but for jobs in an urban consumer culture.
The diversity of cultures, as well as the diversity of
unique human individuals is being destroyed in this way.”
“Immerse the Indians in our civilization
and when we get them there, hold them under
until they are thoroughly soaked in the white man’s ways."
—Captain Richard Henry Pratt
founded Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1879
Buildings and students of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School,
circa 1900. More than 12,000 Indigenous children from more than
140 nations between 1879 and 1918, were forcibly brought to this
site to be assimilated into white man’s ways. The school
was the model for nearly 150 Indian schools.
“Kill the Indian, Save the Man” —Richard Pratt
Indian Schools were designed to destroy American Indian cultures,
languages, and spirituality. Students had to accept white
culture, the English language, and Christianity. The first, and
most well-known of these schools, was the Carlisle Indian
Industrial Boarding School. The school was established in 1879 by
an Army officer named Richard Pratt, and was located in an
abandoned Army post in Pennsylvania.
Pratt conducted a social experiment with Apache prisoners of war.
The captives were shackled and sent by train to a camp in Florida
thousands of miles from their home. He cut the men’s long
hair, put them in uniforms, forced them to learn English, and
subjected them to strict military protocols. During the course of
this experiment, some of the men were severely traumatized by the
experience and committed suicide. Most of the prisoners survived
and learned the English customs and language. Using this social
experiment as a model, Pratt went to Congress and requested
funding for the similar education of all American Indians.
The Pratt/Carlisle Model Sweeps Across North America
By 1900, most American Indian children were taken from their
families. They were transported by train and later by bus to
American Indian Boarding Schools where they would be put into
uniforms, have their hair cut, and be forced to act and speak
like white people. Many spent their entire childhood in the
American Indian Boarding School system, without seeing their
parents and families for many years.
Upon graduating, these young American Indians still retained
certain aspects of their traditional culture yet acted, spoke,
and thought like English-speaking, white Americans. They would
often return to their families and communities feeling like
outcasts and in most instances, their families and communities
treated them as such. No matter how much time, money, and effort
was made to assimilate American Indians, white society still did
not readily accept them. No longer finding an identity in either
the white or tribal society, thousands of American Indian
adolescents were thrust into an abyss of lost identity.
(source, and local copy)
Tom Torlino, 1882
Tom Torlino, 1885
“The first day in the land of apples [in 1884] was
a bitter-cold one; for
the snow still covered the ground, and the trees were bare....
But this eating by formula was not the hardest trial in that
first day. Late in the morning, my friend Judéwin gave me
a terrible warning. Judéwin knew a few words of English,
and she had overheard the paleface woman talk about cutting our
long, heavy hair. Our mothers had taught us that only unskilled
warriors who were captured had their hair shingled by the enemy.
Among our people, short hair was worn by mourners, and shingled
hair by cowards!
“We discussed our fate some moments, and when Judéwin said,
‘We have to submit, because they are strong,’ I rebelled.
‘No, I will not submit! I will struggle first!’ I
answered. I watched my chance, and when no one noticed I disappeared...
What caused them to stoop and look under the bed I do not know. I
remember being dragged out, though I resisted by kicking and
scratching wildly. In spite of myself, I was carried downstairs
and tied fast in a chair.
“I cried aloud, shaking my head all the while until I felt the
cold blades of the scissors against my neck, and heard them gnaw
off one of my thick braids. Then I lost my spirit. Since the day
I was taken from my mother I had suffered extreme indignities.
People had stared at me. I had been tossed about in the air like
a wooden puppet. And now my long hair was shingled like a
coward’s! In my anguish I moaned for my mother, but no one came
to comfort me. Not a soul reasoned quietly with me, as my own
mother used to do; for now I was only one of many little animals
driven by a herder.”
Zitkala-Ša recounting her first day
at White’s Manual Labor Institute
in Wabash, Indiana in 1884
Wounded Yellow Robe, Timber Yellow Robe, and Henry Standing Bear
Taken upon their arrival in Carlisle
Wounded Yellow Robe, Timber Yellow Robe, and Henry Standing Bear
six months after entrance to school
U.S. Army officer Richard Henry Pratt:
“We are encouraged in our Indian work every day by the advance of
public sentiment. If we succeed in what we are doing, it will be
through building up a strong and a bright hope in the breast of
the Indian. A hope that they may become white men, and follow the
white man’s road.”
“A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one,
and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous
factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with
the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in
the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the
“It is a great mistake to think that the Indian is born an
inevitable savage. He is born a blank, like all the rest of us.
Left in the surroundings of savagery, he grows to possess a
savage language, superstition, and life. We, left in the
surroundings of civilization, grow to possess a civilized
language, life, and purpose. Transfer the infant white to the
savage surroundings, he will grow to possess a savage language,
superstition, and habit. Transfer the savage-born infant to the
surroundings of civilization, and he will grow to possess a
civilized language and habit. These results have been established
over and over again beyond all question; and it is also well
established that those advanced in life, even to maturity, of
either class, lose already acquired qualities belonging to the
side of their birth, and gradually take on those of the side to
which they have been transferred.”
“School forcibly snatches away children from a world full
of God’s own handiwork ...It is a mere method of discipline which
refuses to take into account the individual...a manufactory for
grinding out uniform results. I was not a creation of the
schoolmaster: the Government Board of Education was not consulted
when I took birth in the world.”
—Rabindranath Tagore, 1927 Nobel Prize Winner for Poetry
LETTER FROM THE FILMMAKER
The film “Schooling the World” asks us to re-examine some of our
deepest assumptions about knowledge, learning, ignorance,
poverty, success, and wealth. The purpose of the film is not to
provide all the answers, but to ask a question, to open a
conversation. Our hope is that you will be able to use the film
with your friends, colleagues, students, or organization to begin
conversations that will be deep, challenging, and inspiring.
One leader in the field of international education told us that
he found the film “painful, provocative, and oddly exhilarating.”
The exhilaration comes when we can approach a new way of seeing
with honesty and fearlessness —even if it requires admitting we
have been wrong about some things. One of the main premises of
the film is that we do great harm when we think we have all the
answers; that in fact the dialogue between cultures must be
conducted with what the Buddhist tradition calls ”beginner’s
mind” —an attitude of openness, questioning, and listening, not
with an attitude of expertise that entitles us to prescribe
solutions for other people. We hope that your class or group can
conduct a dialogue about the film in the same spirit.
As you or your students come into contact with people from other
cultures, we encourage you to try to cultivate this attitude of
openness and listening —and to use the film as part of a process
of consciousness-raising. Even those of us who value cultural
diversity may harbor an unconscious bias toward seeing the
knowledge of traditional societies as a thing of the past —as at
best quaint and colorful, a relic to be studied and even
treasured, but not as vital living knowledge that has the
potential to guide how we live in the 21st century.
“Schooling the World” is challenging that assumption.
The way we educate children lies at the heart of our culture, our
economy, our ecology —our schools both mirror our society and
reliably reproduce it into the future. Schools as we know them
today reflect a world with vast extremes of wealth and poverty,
an economy with a devastating impact on natural ecosystems, a
culture in which family breakdown and individual psychological
distress are epidemic. What can we learn from other societies’
ways of learning about and understanding the world? What can
we learn from their ways of nurturing children and raising them
to a productive, satisfying adulthood? And how is our own current
school system failing to support the creativity and diversity we
will need to face the challenges of the 21st century? We
encourage you to think about the questions here and connect the
dots for yourself: how can we re-imagine learning and culture in
a way that supports individual creativity, cultural diversity,
economic justice, and a sustainable relationship to the
Director, Schooling the World