Lessons Untaught

When I first studied the poem “Indian Boarding School: The Runaways” by Louise Erdrich, I was introduced to a dark moment in American history that I hadn’t run across in all my years of world and American history in school. The poem in centered around the cruel and unusual system used by the U.S. government in an attempt to “civilize” the Native Americans. Native American kids would be forcefully removed from their homes on the reservation and stripped of their native identities by being forced to wearing traditional clothing and short hair styles. “They were forbidden to express their culture.” The goal of these schools was to “Kill the Indian…Save the Man.” (NPR). Erdrich uses the view point of a runaway from one of these schools in her poem to describe the harsh realities of these schools. These runaways know they will be caught before making it home, but the little bit of hope given by the view “through the cracks in boards” offers enough motivation to at least try. (Erdrich).

Erdrich’s poem introduced me to an important moment in American history that without this class, I would have remained ignorant to. Just like the Indian Boarding Schools, many dark moments in American history are often ignored or breezed over in schools. This leaves many children completely unaware of past events which if taught, could be learned from and corrected or avoided in the future. However, many feel these true history lessons are too harsh to be taught to children.

Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin and Zariya Allen discuss this very issue of the American education system in their poem “Somewhere in America.” These three girls give a powerful reading of the poem in the video below that calls out the injustices of the education system in the sense of it failing to offer any real lessons. As they describe it, “the greatest lesson you will ever teach us will not come from your syllabus.” “There are many things missing from our history books,” and often time these things are left out due to their dark portrayal of American society. (“Somewhere in America”)

They attack topics from sexual assault and Japanese Internment to banned books and gun violence. All topics which are ignored in our education system much like the Indian Boarding Schools as teachers are required to teach material assigned to them by their government. As the girls say, we are taught growing up that “just because something happens, doesn’t mean you are to talk about it” and that its “better to be silent than make someone uncomfortable.” (“Somewhere in America”)

Their poem describes the major issue in our education that limits our conversations and healthy discussions about diversity. This sort of censorship of diverse ideas or the dark history of America offer no real educational or societal value as without reading and discussing these issues, no progress will truly be made. Through the studying of poems like that of “Indian Boarding School: The Runaways,” true strides in diversity will be made.\


“Somewhere in America” -Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin and Zariya Allen

NPR Indian Boarding Schools

“Indian Boarding School: The Runaways” -Louise Erdrich