Boarding house horror is a TV trope, of course, but like many tropes, its overuse is rooted in the real-life regularity of crimes committed at boarding houses and schools. There is a long list of heinous and terrifying things that happened at boarding schools, and most of them involve the same sort of stupid physical, psychological, and sexual abuse we've seen in places like Heritage Boys Academy, Hillstone in Great Malvern, and Lundsbergs, just to name a few. Here are some stories of truly unspeakable things done at boarding schools.
How would you like to be removed 1,500 miles from your home to be forcibly taught the culture and language of the White Man who invaded and overran your land? Whipped for "speaking Indian" and treated like an inferior race? Well, that's exactly what happened to Native American kids starting in the late 1800s.
Toward the end of the American Indian Wars, the US government was looking for ways to finally put an end to the so-called "Indian problem" – basically, what to do with all these natives who were here first and seem to still want their land. The solution was to "kill the Indian in him, save the man"; in other words, it was time for some good old-fashioned forced assimilation in the form of boarding schools.
Enter Army Lt. Richard Henry Pratt. Though boarding schools had been tried before, this man came up with a little twist that would solve the problem once and for all. Earlier schools hadn't truly separated the kids from their parents and Native American culture. Pratt's idea was to move the children so far away that all hope of cultural preservation was lost. So he gathered up 72 Indian prisoners and carted them off to St. Augustine, FL, to be indoctrinated. It turned out to be pretty terrifying for the Indians, but in the end, the project was a success. At least for the United States.
In Canada, the government was facing the same bummer of an "Indian problem" as the US, and it dealt with it in a similar fashion. The country started rounding up aboriginal kids in the 1870s and imprisoning them in residential "schools," where over the next hundred years children were treated like dirt and physically and sexually abused.
They were also literally used as medical experiments. Appendix I of the 2001 Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada report (pg. 69) lists injections, skin grafting, deliberate exposure to disease and radiation, sterilization, sensory deprivation, isolation, electroshock therapy, and exposure to sub-zero temperatures while naked as crimes perpetrated against the children.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which was organized to investigate and report on the residential schools, it will probably never be known how many children died in Canadian boarding schools, but the number is surely in the thousands. That 2001 Truth Commission report tosses out 50,000 as a fair figure. Whatever the final body count, the Canadian genocide was exactly that – genocide, a final solution before the Nazis' final solution, in fact.
As if medical experimentation weren't bad enough, children at Canadian residential schools were subjected to a ring of Canadian officials and clergymen who thought renting kids out to pedophiles was a good idea.
A 2007 Amnesty International piece on Native American schools notes in its section about Canadian residential schools that, according to the 2001 Truth Commission report, "Canadian clergy, police, and business and government officials 'rented out' children from residential schools to pedophile rings…The grounds of several schools contain unmarked graveyards of murdered school children, including babies born to Native girls raped by priests and other church officials in the school." Indeed, Appendix VI of that report (pg. 91) presents damning evidence that such crimes were ongoing into the 1990s.
In June 2012, writer and journalist Whit Sheppard outed Peter Hindle – a former math teacher at a western Massachusetts boarding school called Deerfield Academy – as a sexual predator. According to Sheppard, the much-loved Hindle, known by his nickname "Czar," didn't deserve quite as much of that love he got. You see, the Czar secretly liked to play with boys - no, not like catch.
Sheppard was a Deerfield Academy student from 1979 to 1983, and it was in the fall of 1982 when he first fell prey to Hindle. At first, it was just the Czar offering an innocent-sounding backrub, but it wasn't long before there was a different kind of rubbing going on. The Czar at least had the foresight to wait until Sheppard turned 18, but that doesn't make what happened any less disturbing.
According to Sheppard, January 1983 "was the first time explicit sexual contact occurred, the Czar massaging my legs and buttocks and then masturbating me to climax. The abuse continued over the next several weeks, more than eight times, wordless exchanges that escalated to include Hindle performing fellatio on me."
"Today it strikes me as creepy that he showered with our team in our small locker room after practice," Sheppard wrote publicly in a July 2013 Boston Globe article. No kidding.