Boarding Schools: An American Privilege
For most of the general public boarding schools conjure up views of young men in navy blue blazers with white shirts and a tie going to a beautiful school with ivy covered walls and the game of polo being played in the distance. To a degree the image holds true. Boarding schools offer collegiate type environments, have firm rules, and often teach generations of students from the same families. These descriptions of boarding schools are predominately in contrast to the atmosphere at Hailsham in Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. His novel describes a dissimilar view of what a traditional boarding school is envisioned to be. In spite of being considered an exclusive school for “special students” in the rural English countryside, Hailsham is a boarding school were orphans, not affluent prep students, with worn uniforms attend under the watchful eye of teachers who shelter them from reality. Unlike Hailsham affluent and exclusive boarding schools offers a rite of passage were generations of students are sent to preserve a class of people and its ideology, vigorously train to become business and political leaders, and are prepared to assume the privileges and burdens of power.
The simplest description of a boarding school, also known as preparatory or “prep” schools, is often a place where parents pay for a student to live and go to school. Typically teachers and administrators live on campus with students and act as their family implementing the strict rules, making disciplinary decisions, and overseeing behavior and academic performance. Boarding schools can be one or all of the following: academic boot camp, a place parents put children they have little time for, a haven from deteriorating public schools, a credential for children of the wealthy and well-known, or a training ground for tomorrow’s leaders. These schools range from small unknown institutions which will accept anyone, to the elite schools, which are very discerning and are a conduit to Ivy-league schools and success. The varieties of prep schools are identified by nine distinct traditional types: Academy, Episcopal, entrepreneurial, all-girls, Catholic, western, progressive, military, and Quaker. In the United States, the average boarding school costs $37,000/year, according to Boarding School Review. It's rare you will find one that is lower than $30,000/year or higher than $45,000/year. While prep schools share related features, they differ in their capability to socialize their students for power due to varied connections with America’s most powerful families.
In an effort to insulate themselves from the rest of society, the American upper-class founded boarding schools in the late nineteenth century as part of an “enclosure movement”. The landscape of boarding schools within America inhabits a minute corner of the topography with the most famous and elite schools being located in the Northeastern part of the country. Schools such as Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts founded in 1778 and Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire founded in 1781 are the two oldest prep schools in America and are the training ground for political elites including both President Bush father and son (Andover) and President Pierce (Exeter). According to Baltzell, the exclusive prep school played an important role in the formation and maintenance of an American upper class because the schools enrolled both Eastern patricians and parvenus (165). Part of the elite tradition is the continuity a family creates by sending several generations to a single school. Schools like the Groton School and Choate have been educating famous political families like the Roosevelt’s and the Kennedy’s since their inception. The percentage of students with one or more relatives that have attended the same school, legacy students, is as high as fifty- four percent. The second headmaster of the Groton school, Rev. John...
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