Privilege and the Importance of Elite Education
IN 1946 a young, politically ambitious Choate graduate was asked to make some remarks on the occasion of Choate's fiftieth anniversary. "I think," John F. Kennedy said, "the success of any school can be measured by the contribution the alumni make to our national life." Chastising private schools for not producing men or women who contribute to political life, he added with his characteristic directness, "In America, politics are regarded with great contempt; and politicians themselves are looked down upon because of their free and easy compromises . . . [but] we must recognize that if we do not take an interest in our political life we can easily lose at home what so many young men have so bloodily won abroad. I don't think this will happen. But it is the great challenge of our times" ( McLachlan 1970, 298).
Kennedy's call for "prep power" was not altogether original. Endicott Peabody, the first rector of the Groton School, was explicit on the importance of preps in high places when he wrote in 1901 to Vice President Theodore Roosevelt (who had two sons at Groton), "There are great possibilities latent in our body so that you might legitimately look upon it as