Cover: The Best of the Best: Becoming Elite at an American Boarding School, from Harvard University PressCover: The Best of the Best in HARDCOVER

The Best of the Best

Becoming Elite at an American Boarding School

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Product Details

HARDCOVER

$38.50 • £30.95 • €34.50

ISBN 9780674035683

Publication Date: 09/30/2009

Short

312 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

8 line illustrations, 1 table

World

For two years, Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández shared the life of what he calls the “Weston School,” an elite New England boarding school. He sat in on classes, ate meals in the dining halls, cheered at sporting events, hung out in dorms while students baked cookies or celebrated birthdays. And through it all, observing the experiences of a diverse group of students, conducting interviews and focus groups, he developed a nuanced portrait of how these students make sense of their extraordinary good fortune in attending the school.

Vividly describing the pastoral landscape and graceful buildings, the rich variety of classes and activities, and the official and unofficial rules that define the school, The Best of the Best reveals a small world of deeply ambitious, intensely pressured students. Some are on scholarship, others have never met a public school student, but all feel they have earned their place as a “Westonian” by being smart and working hard. Weston is a family, they declare, with a niche for everyone, but the hierarchy of coolness—the way in which class, race, sexism, and good looks can determine one’s place—is well known.

For Gaztambide-Fernández, Weston is daunting yet strikingly bucolic, inspiring but frustratingly incurious, and sometimes—especially for young women—a gilded cage for a gilded age. “Would you send your daughter here?” one girl asks him, and seeing his hesitation asks, “Because you love her?”

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As students around the world deliberate their options for further education, only made more challenging in a pandemic, we’re reminded that getting in is only half the battle. In The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students, Anthony Abraham Jack asks how—and why—do disadvantaged students struggle at elite colleges? What can schools can do differently if these students are to thrive? As back to school season begins, we spoke to two university book clubs that read and discussed The Privileged Poor this summer.