Preparing for Power: America's Elite Boarding Schools

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

7
The Prep Crucible

LIKENING prep schools to crucibles may seem incongruous or exaggerated. After all, most prep schools look more like playgrounds than industrial blast furnaces, and coolness, not heat, is the popular perception of prep style. However, the crucible metaphor is more apt than it might at first appear, for since their inception the elite schools have had the responsibility of melting down the refractory material of individualism into the solid metal of elite collectivism. By isolating students from their home world and intervening in their development, it is hoped that they will become soldiers for their class. A good many soldiers, however, also run the risk of being prisoners of their class. The total institution is a moral milieu where pressure is placed on individuals to give up significant parts of their selves to forward the interests of the group. As one admissions officer said, "We don't want selfish learners here." What should be remembered is that while outward conformity is required, more importantly, treatment is designed to penetrate deep below the surface of student behavior into their very consciousness, so that values and even somatic needs are subject to standardization and regulation. Thus, the requirement that students eat, sleep, and study together creates and continuously reinforces a sense of collective identity. As we shall see, at one girls school, the students all sleep together on a sleeping porch, virtually eliminating any sense of privacy.

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