American Indian Education: A History by Jon Reyhner, Jeanne Eder

By Jon Reyhner, Jeanne Eder

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The friars spoke of Náhuatl’s “authority, stylistic variety, and expressiveness” (quoted in Heath 1972, 24) and of how Indians learned quickly how to write it in roman letters. Faced with these facts from the hinterland, in 1570 King Philip III of Spain declared Náhuatl the official language of New Spain’s Indians and ordered that the University of Mexico establish a chair of Náhuatl and that all clerics should learn it. By then Franciscan friars had produced more than eighty grammars, vocabularies, catechisms, and scriptural translations in Mexico’s indigenous languages.

As could be expected, Morse’s 1822 Report to the Secretary of War of the United States on Indian Affairs called for greater efforts to civilize and convert Indians using “‘education families’ composed of missionaries, teachers, and mechanics” and included a proposal for an Indian college to be funded by the government and run by missionaries. Morse felt Indians were “an intelligent and noble part of our race, and capable of high moral and intellectual improvement” (Prucha 1984, 156). The government expected teachers in mission schools to promote government policy, including the policy of removing eastern tribes west of the Mississippi River.

P R O T E S TA N T M I S S I O N A R I E S Protestant missionary efforts among the Native population began soon after the arrival in the Americas of the first Protestant colonists (Bowden 1981). The first royal Charter for the Colony of Virginia in 1606 commended the founders for their “desires for the Furtherance of so noble a work . . in propagating the Christian Religion to such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God [with the hope that they] may in time bring the infidels and Savages, living in those Parts, to human Civility” (quoted in Vogel 1972, 45–46).

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