An A+ In Elitism

Oct 8 2012 @ 8:18am

Shamus Rahman Khan, author of Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St Paul's School, "spent a year doing ethnographic research, living among students as a tutor and conducting interviews at the exclusive boarding school in New Hampshire." James McGirk highlights the almost pathological sense of mastery and entitlement such schools can generate:

What Mr Khan noticed is a shift in the attitude of students and teachers at St Paul's to accommodate a more egalitarian atmosphere. Wealth and good breeding is no longer enough, the new elite must create the illusion that they have worked hard for what they have achieved. As Mr Khan explains, "Elites of the past were entitled – building their worlds around the ‘right’ breeding, connections, and culture – new elites develop privilege: a sense of self and a mode of interaction that advantage them."

The graduates of St. Paul’s have a special advantage over their peers. In a society riddled with gatekeepers, St. Paul’s graduates have refined their ability to network until it has literally become a reflex.

How such schools view achievement:

At every stage in a student’s education a sense of triumph over adversity is fostered (despite graduation already being a foregone conclusion – barely anyone fails out). And this sense of triumph extends far beyond the bounds of St. Paul’s. Students perceive one another as being not just above average but world-class, an illusion that is reinforced by a procession of prominent visiting speakers and class trips to prestigious locations.  Every St. Paul’s athlete was considered a potential Olympian; Mr Khan’s own pupils assumed he would one day win a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship.