Curriculum | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves


Read some of the curricular guidelines from Indian Residential Schools in Nova Scotia.  


  • History


English — CA
Also available in:
French — CA


This resource is intended for educators in Canada who are teaching in English.

What did the curriculum in a residential school look like? While curricula varied from one school to another, each emphasized immersion in the dominant Canadian culture and discouraged, often violently, any connection to students’ own culture and traditions. Below are some of the curricular guidelines from residential schools in Nova Scotia from the 1930s.

Language: Every effort must be made to induce pupils to speak English and to teach them to understand it. Insist on English during even the supervised play. Failure in this means wasted efforts.

Reading: Pupils must be taught to read distinctly. Inspectors report that Indian   children either mumble inaudibly or shout their words in a spasmodic fashion. It will be considered a proof of the incompetency of a teacher if pupils are found to read “parrot fashion”, i.e. without an understanding of what they read. Pupils should understand as they read. The sentence is a unit of thought. Bend every effort to obtain intelligible reading.

Religious Instruction: Scriptural reading, the Ten Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer, The Life of Christ, etc.

Ethics: In the primary grades, instill the qualities of obedience, respect, order, neatness, and cleanliness. Differentiate between right and wrong, cultivate truthful habits and a spirit of fair play. As the pupils become more advanced, inculcate as near as possible in the order mentioned, independence, self-respect, industry, honesty, thrift, self-maintenance, citizenship and patriotism. Discuss charity, pauperism, Indian and white life, the evils of Indian isolation, enfranchisement. Explain the relationship of the sexes to labor, home and public duties, and labor as the law of existence.

Sanitation: Great care must be exercised by the teacher to see that the schoolroom is kept thoroughly clean. The floors should be swept daily and scrubbed frequently. Ventilation should receive earnest attention. The air in the schoolroom should be completely changed during recess and at the noon hour, even in the coldest weather, by opening of windows and doors. Spitting on the floor, or inside the school building, should not be allowed.

General: Instruction is to be direct, the voice and black-board the principal agents. The unnecessary use of textbooks is to be avoided. Do not classify students in advance of their ability. 1

Connection Questions

  1. Duncan Campbell Scott, a leading advocate for the Indian Residential Schools, explained, “Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic.” How does this curriculum align with his objective?
  2. The first item in the list emphasizes the need to teach the students English. Why do you think it was included at the top of the list?
  • IndianIndian: When the first European explorers landed in the Americas in 1492 with Christopher Columbus, they referred to the entire indigenous population on the continent as “Indians” because they believed that they had arrived in India. The term came into widespread use among the settlers, and it lumped together entire local populations, disregarding their extraordinary diversity. Ultimately, the name Indian served to differentiate between Indigenous Peoples and the settlers, who referred to themselves as Europeans, whites, and, finally, Canadians.
  • 1Quoted in Isabelle Knockwood, Out of the Depths: The Experiences of Mi’kmaw Children at the Indian Residential School in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, 92. Knockwood went to the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School in Nova Scotia between 1936 and 1947. She uses this memo to illustrate the schedule in the school.

How to Cite This Reading

Facing History & Ourselves, “Curriculum”, last updated September 20, 2019.

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