SPUR 2022 Projects: Education

Education, Culture & Society | College of Education


SIGNS OF POWER AND DOMINANCE: THE ROLE OF MATHEMATICS CURRICULA IN U.S. ASSIMILATIONIST POLICIES AND PRACTICES IN INDIAN BOARDING SCHOOLS, 1879-1932

José Gutiérrez, Assistant Professor

American Indian boarding schools (IBS) have been in the national spotlight as the U.S. continues to reckon with its history of racism, including forced assimilation through education. The U.S. established and operated dozens of off-reservation boarding schools from the late 1800s through the 20th century. According to Capt. Richard H. Pratt, the founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the goal of these institutions was simple: “kill the Indian, and save the man.”

Previous research has documented how IBS were designed to assimilate children into white American society. Some of the methods used to achieve this goal include separating children from their families and communities, replacing Indigenous languages, religious conversion, and gendered labor/training (Lomawaima, 2004). Previous studies have focused on the boarding school experience and curriculum, policies, and practices that promoted assimilationist goals. Additionally, recent scholarship is exploring the intergenerational impact of IBS on Indigenous communities today.

However, no research has examined the mathematics curriculum in Indian boarding schools and how it was used to enforce U.S. citizenship and values. The main research question guiding this project is: How did the mathematics curriculum in Indian boarding schools during 1879-1932 promote federal assimilationist goals? This period is significant because it covers the beginning of the boarding school program and the Land Allotment and Assimilation era in United States history.

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