Preparing for Power: America's Elite Boarding Schools

By Peter W. Cookson; Caroline Hodges Persell | Go to book overview

Prologue: Seeking the Prep School Perspective

IF ONE were to think of American education in terms of a landscape, boarding schools would occupy a tiny corner of the topography. Accustomed as we are to equating size with importance, the relatively small number of boarding schools nationwide might suggest that the serious study of these schools will not substantially increase our understanding of how education shapes young people, or how education affects the larger society. In the public mind, boarding schools cater to the rich on the one hand, or are imposed on the weak and deviant on the other. The fact that less than 10 percent of American high school students attend private school and only 20 to 30 percent of those are enrolled in private residential schools suggests that boarding schools are marginal to the main contours of American life. If we were to reduce our sample even further to include only elite preparatory, or "prep," schools, then the number of students attending those schools is less than one percent of the total high-school population. The one percent who attend the elite schools are not randomly selected from the population at large. They are overwhelmingly the children of the privileged classes. At one elite school, 40 percent of the 1982 graduating class was drawn from families listed in the Social Register. Tuition

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