Shamus Khan’s Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School was recently reviewed in the school’s alumi magazine. In the book he provides an inside look at the Concord, New Hampshire institution that has been the private realm of the elite for the past 150 years. One might expect that the alumni, as members of said elite, would not take kindly to his critical analysis of their alma mater.
However it seems the opposite has been the case. It has certainly won the acclaim of Nelson Aldrich–Saint Paul’s alumnus, scion of the Rockefeller family, former editor of the Paris Review and Harpers, and author of Old Money. (He is also the author of the 1979 essay “Preppies: The Last Upper Class?,” which predates the famous “The Official Preppy Handbook.” The essay has been described as “a seminal work of exposition on the manners and mores of the WASP establishment.”) His review begins:
“It has been said that it’s better to have a writer in the family than an assassin, but not much better. Shamus Khan, the author of this brilliant book, is a twice-anointed member of the SPS family… and some among his many relatives — after reading his book (or about it) — are surely calling him an assassin. This will not affect the value of his book at all.”
Aldrich’s glowing review continues on to highlight the thesis of Khan’s work: that the meaning of “privileged” has changed from simply indicating an “elite” background to some different quality dependent on personal achievement and accountability, and that the school is working to teach this trait to new generations of students. He concludes his review with a suggestion that St. Paul’s begin teaching this book to its students in lecture.
In 1979 Aldrich expressed the difficulty of determining “what ideals, if any, are inculcated at prep schools. Among the students, there is a certain reaction against the relentless competitiveness of Preppie life, in the name of cooperation. And out of this reaction, some prep schools have tried to create an odd set of ideals compounded of Christian, Maoist and Rogerian elements that many of the students seem to find affecting, if not yet soothing.” Khan’s study of the St. Paul’s School examines the development of the change Aldrich identified years ago. Read Aldrich’s essay here, then pick up a copy of Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School for yourself!