For the Children of the Infidels: Precis and Evaluation In “For the Children of the Infidels”? : American Indian Education in the Colonial Colleges, Bobby Wright argues against contemporary historian and literary glorification of colonial colleges’ attempt to educate Indians and convert them to the Christian faith. Instead, Wright claims that colonial colleges used the guile of educating and converting Indians to perpetrate their own success.
In support of his claim, Wright referenced the Virginia Company, Harvard, William and Mary, and Dartmouth; all of which, he argued, used the contrived cause of Indian missions as a way to obtain funds from England.
The Virginia Company began in 1609 as a mandate by King James I with a charter to fulfill England’s aim of Christianizing the Indians. The colonists realized that in order to convert the Indians to Christianity; they must first educate them. By 1617, King James I secured the funds to begin this task, and by that time the colonists had selected land to erect an Indian College.
However, Wright exerts after the Virginia Company received the finances to build the college, the treasurer of the Virginia Company found it more profitable to keep the money for his economic plan; rather than use it for the Indians. Wright states that only three years after the Virginia Company received the money for the college, three-fourths of it was gone and none was used to Christianize the Indians (Wright, 1988, p 72-74). Another example Wright uses to support his argument is Harvard. Harvard was established in 1636; and in 1643, the college sought contributions from England for the support of Indian work.
However, Parliament refused the funds, and only agreed to finance schools with the specific mission to teach and spread Christianity to the natives. Therefore, in 1650, Wright indicates that the Harvard president amends the college’s charter to include “education of the English and Indian Youth. ” By doing this Harvard’s president gained favor with Parliament and received money to build an Indian college. Wright points out that after its construction, the Indian college began to accommodate English students, rather than its intended purpose to serve Indian students.
In fact, the Indian college only housed four Indians over the four decades it was open (Wright, 1988, p. 74-75). In addition to Harvard, Wright uses the College of William and Mary to further demonstrate colonial colleges’ contrived effort to educate the Indians. In 1691, James Blair was in London hoping to receive a royal charter for William and Mary. At this time, a wealthy governor of the New England Company died, leaving his estate for unspecified “Charitable and other pious and good causes. Wright states that Blair seized this opportunity to get the estate for his proposed college under the pretense that he would spread the Christian faith to Indians. However, during the fifty years of Blair’s presidency, William and Mary made no serious effort to educate and spread Christianity to Indians; as Wright indicated by the college only educating a few Indians during that time. Instead, William and Mary devoted the resources of the estate for campus building and the education of English students (Wright, 1988, p. 75-76). The last example that Wright uses to support his argument is Dartmouth College.
In this instance, Dartmouth’s founder, Eleazar Wheelock, sent an Indian to England and Scotland for the purpose of fundraising to secure funds for the education and Christianization of Indians. The funds were brought back and used to build Dartmouth. Although Dartmouth was funded through the purpose of educating Indians, the college quickly became a place for English students. As the amount of English students increased, the Indian students’ numbers diminished. During the decade of the 1770s, only forty Indians would be educated at Dartmouth (Wright, 1988, p. 76-78).
In conclusion, although contemporary literature and historians praise colonial colleges’ attempts at educating Indians, Wright offers an alternative perspective. Wright argues colonial colleges’ contrived efforts to educate and Christianize Indians served the colleges’ own purposes. In doing so, Wright constructs this argument around the actions of the Virginia Company and several colonial colleges including Harvard, William and Mary, and Dartmouth. Evaluation Bobby Wright’s article proves to be an effective argument against contemporary acclaim of the colonial colleges’ effort to educate and spread Christianity among the Indians.
Wright began the argument by stating the conflicting interests between the English, colonists, and Indians. The British desired to “Europeanize” the Indians through the colonists; the colonists had no real desire to educate and convert the Indians, but needed England’s money; and the Indians did not want to relinquish their culture. These conflicting interests are the underlining theme throughout Wright’s examples of the colonial colleges’ contrived efforts of educating and spreading Christianity to Indians; and the examples provide the reader with pre-knowledge that Wright strengthens through his examples.
Wright constructed his examples chronologically from the Virginia Company (1609), Harvard (1636), College of William and Mary (1693), and Dartmouth College (1769). Each of Wright’s examples builds his argument through sufficient evidence that support his claim. Wright closed his argument with the Dartmouth College example which provides the strongest support of colonial colleges’ misuse of monies intended for Indian philanthropy. The article is well-written and provides strong descriptions of each account used for the Colonial period.
Wright’s strong descriptions make his argument very persuasive to the reader. Bobby Wright’s article provides much insight into the relationship between England, the colonial colleges, and the Indians. The insight that Wright gave into these relationships proves to be beneficial to today’s students, teachers, and historians. References Wright, Bobby. (1988). “For the Children of the Infidels”? : American Indian Education in the Colonial Colleges. In Goodchild, L. & Wechsler, H. (Eds. ) The history of higher education, (2nd ed. ) (p. 72-79). Needham Heights, MA: Simon & Schuster Custom Publishing.
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