The New-Boy Network

The popular image of the prep school is based on outdated stereotypes that many preppies now find insulting.

Prep schools suck.

Don't believe me? Let me offer you these testimonials.

The Catcher In the Rye. Prep schools are full of crooks, phonies and sexy bastards.

"Dead Poets Society": Prep schools are prisons run by desiccated old Victorian schoolmasters. The students are repressed and uptight and their parents are even worse--they'll push you till you can't take it anymore and you'll end up sneaking into your father's desk in the middle of the night to find his gun so you can blow your brains out.

"School Ties": Not only are prep schools full of crooks, phonies, and sexy bastards, but they're also full of anti-Semites.

"Scent of a Woman": Did I mention that prep schools are full of sleaze-balls that hide behind their fathers, too? And that they enjoy lording it over the scholarship students?

Prep schools get an extraordinarily bad rap in popular culture, but it doesn't end there. Consider how former President George Bush was consistently maligned because of his preppy background (Andover '42). Recall the flap over President Clinton's decision to send First Daughter Chelsea to private school.

These are examples of mainstream America's unrelenting hostility toward the prep school. Americans assume that these schools are a social cancer, eating away at the egalitarian principles upon which this country was founded.

Some go so far as to say that the prep school must go. These people contend that the prep school drains the best and brightest from the public school system, thereby weakening it.

But how can this be when the total percentage of American students enrolled in private elementary and secondary schools is around 11 percent? The percentage of American students in private secondary schools is somewhere around 2 or 3 percent. Don't blame the private school for the problems of the public school.

The most common sort of attitude, though, is the kind demonstrated back in November 1989, when George Bush made a special visit to his and my alma mater. Andover (Phillips Academy), to commemorate George Washington's visit to the school two hundred years earlier in November 1789.

Before the visit, one more-than-slightly-misinformed Boston Globe writer called Andover one of the oldest (est. 1778), preppiest bastions of WASP hood in the country, a place where future Republicans are hatched.

Whatever.

The popular image of the prep school is based on outdated stereotypes that many of today's preppies find insulting. Many prep schools, especially the New England boarding schools, are actively trying to shed their archaic images. Today's prep school students aren't all male, aren't all rich and they certainly aren't all white.

The administration at Andover has made a conscious effort over the past ten years to diversity the makeup of both its student body and its faculty. With regard to economic background, the prep school is no longer the exclusive enclave of the fabulously wealthy. Sure, the old money types are still there, but the vast majority of students are middle to upper-middle-class.