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

Shamus Rahman Khan
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    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.

    InPrivilege, 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--fromBeowulftoJaws--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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3622-2
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction: Democratic Inequality
    (pp. 1-17)

    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...

  4. 1 The New Elite
    (pp. 18-40)

    I sat across from Chase Abbott. We were in my faculty office, a wood-paneled room on the first floor of the Schoolhouse, one of the main academic buildings on campus. At times Chase seemed to claim my office, as if it were his own. He stretched, sat back comfortably in his chair, almost lounging. When he first entered he looked closely at the papers on my desk, just barely resisting the urge to go through them. Before he sat down he inspected the books on my shelf, even going so far as to take one down and flip through it...

  5. 2 Finding One’s Place
    (pp. 41-76)

    Twice a week, St. Paul’s students dress in formal attire and eat dinner with a faculty member. I found the meals fascinating, painfully awkward, and occasionally even terribly boring. But since these teenagers were objects of my curiosity, I always looked forward to my Tuesday and Thursday evenings. What the students seemed to look forward to, however, was the end of the meal. The heavy wooden chairs would scrape in ugly unison against the floor, and the hive of students would rush from the dining hall into the Upper Common Room for coffee.

    For faculty, the student bodies crammed into...

  6. 3 The Ease of Privilege
    (pp. 77-113)

    The girls scramble to get ready. They rummage through their closets. They anxiously wait for an open shower to wash off the grime of their afternoon sports practice. They rummage some more. For some, their clothes seem a tired reminder of previous dinners. They rush into each others’ rooms, trading clothing, accessories, and advice. The girls look crisp. They want something sexy enough to catch the eye of their classmates, but nothing so bold as to raise an eyebrow and perhaps the ire of the faculty. Many settle on a little black dress, with a shawl to cover their shoulders....

  7. 4 Gender and the Performance of Privilege
    (pp. 114-150)

    Mary Fisher almost always appeared quite frantic, even lost. Everyone was eager to tell you how busy they were, yet other students took care to display their control and management of their endless obligations. Mary simply seemed overwhelmed. Her life was not a disaster, at least not compared to the occasional students who neglected to bathe regularly or do their laundry. Yet she seemed on the edge of a precipice. Whereas other students could be seen casually walking around campus, a light backpack tossed over their shoulder or a notebook and a couple of books in one hand, Mary seemed...

  8. 5 Learning Beowulf and Jaws
    (pp. 151-192)

    We can now retell the transformation of elites from chapter 1. Elites knew who they were as a group, and they knew who wasn’t one of them. They were a “class” who protected their interests. They had a distinct culture that they isolated from others and used to distinguish themselves. But today elites are far more “omnivorous,” culturally constituting themselves quite freely across social boundaries or distinctions. They no longer define themselves by what they exclude, but rather their power now comes from including everything.¹ What marks elites as elites is not a singular point of view or purpose but...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 193-200)

    What have we learned from this small, out-of-the-way place? St. Paul’s is a high school of just five hundred students, tucked away in the outskirts of Concord, New Hampshire. If one is interested in the American experience, as I am, then this is not your typical spot to learn about it. And even if we now know about St. Paul’s, do we now know more about the character of American inequality? I would like to think that we do. And in particular we know something about elites: how they have adapted to the changing landscape of the twenty-first century. I...

  10. Methodological and Theoretical Reflections
    (pp. 201-206)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 207-210)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 211-222)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 223-228)
  14. Index
    (pp. 229-232)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-234)