Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul's School

Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul's School

Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul's School

Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul's School


As one of the most prestigious high schools in the nation, St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, has long been the exclusive domain of America's wealthiest sons. But times have changed. Today, a new elite of boys and girls is being molded at St. Paul's, one that reflects the hope of openness but also the persistence of inequality.

In Privilege, Shamus Khan returns to his alma mater to provide an inside look at an institution that has been the private realm of the elite for the past 150 years. He shows that St. Paul's students continue to learn what they always have--how to embody privilege. Yet, while students once leveraged the trappings of upper-class entitlement, family connections, and high culture, current St. Paul's students learn to succeed in a more diverse environment. To be the future leaders of a more democratic world, they must be at ease with everything from highbrow art to everyday life--from Beowulf to Jaws --and view hierarchies as ladders to scale. Through deft portrayals of the relationships among students, faculty, and staff, Khan shows how members of the new elite face the opening of society while still preserving the advantages that allow them to rule.


The direction in which education starts a man will determine
his future in life.

My story is part of the larger American story.

I am surrounded by black and Latino boys.

As I looked around the common room of my new dorm this was all I could think about. It was September 1993, and I was a rather young fourteen-year-old leaving home for the first time. My parents, who had helped me unpack my room and were about to say good-bye, noticed as well. We didn’t say anything to one another. But the surprise on their faces was mirrored on my own. This was not what I expected, enrolling at a place like St. Paul’s School. I thought I would be unlike everyone else. I thought my name and just-darker-than-olive skin would make me the most extreme outlier among the students. But though my parents grew up in small rural villages in Pakistan and Ireland and my father was not white, they had become wealthy. My father was a successful surgeon; my mother was a nurse. I had been at private school since seventh grade, and being partly from the Indian subcontinent hardly afforded one oppressed minority status. For the other boys around me, those from poor neighborhoods in America’s urban centers, St. Paul’s was a much more jarring experience.

I quickly realized that St. Paul’s was far from racially diverse. That sea of dark skin only existed because we all lived in the same place: the minority student dorm. There was one for girls and one for boys. The other eighteen houses on campus were overwhelmingly filled with those whom you would expect to be at a school that educates families like the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts. This sequestering was not an intentionally racist practice . . .

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