Prep Schools, “Diversity,” and Puritan Conscience

tags: Puritans, Groton, Prep Schools

Jim Sleeper is a lecturer in political science at Yale, teaches seminars there on “Global Journalism, National Identities” and “Journalism, Liberalism, and Democracy.”

Last month an instructor at the elite Groton School — founded in 1884 by, among others, J.P. Morgan and Endicott Peabody, its first rector, a descendant of Massachusetts Puritans — wrote me to take issue with some kind words I’ve published in this summer’s DEMOCRACY journal (subsequently adapted and posted by The Atlantic) about the Puritan steel in Groton’s bygone rites of passage to maturity and republican leadership as the school understood them .

“Groton is vastly different from Peabody’s school, with its culture of ‘manly Christianity,’” my correspondent sniffed, adding that “If it were anything like the Rector’s institution, I wouldn’t have spent these years teaching here.”

Can anything be said in defense of “manly Christianity” by anyone besides a true believer, especially now that Americans have taken new steps, whether in South Carolina or at the Supreme Court, to broaden our understandings of racial and sexual comity? Wasn’t the pedagogy of old preparatory schools such as Groton so elitist, sexist, and racist that we’re well rid of it?

Well, sort-of.

The old schools’ rigorous disciplines — extra-curricular, as well as curricular — were often unjustified and often misdirected, often hypocritically, and not only because they were institutionally sexist and racist. Some of them, including Groton and Choate, were founded late in the 19th-Century amid a phony revival of Puritanism by Gilded Age plutocrats hoping mainly to toughen their sons to exercise elite prerogatives. ...

Read entire article at Washington Monthly

comments powered by Disqus