Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Miss Porter's School

Bass cheated, which was bad enough, but in the eyes of the school community she was guilty of something worse: weakness. From its very start, in 1843, Miss Porter’s has been committed not just to the old-fashioned values of charm, grace, and loyalty but to another, unspoken value as well: the ability to tough it out. Deeply ingrained in the school’s DNA, it makes the school a kind of upper-class, social Outward Bound.

Read the rest of the Vanity Fair article. Charming.


Lili said...

I attended Miss Porter's School in the 1970's, as a student from the Midwest, on financial aid. Peretz's article does not describe the school I knew: the one with several black students, Jewish students who were not "pretending to be Episcopalians," a school with no hazing, a school with such high academic standards that it got me into Yale and several other students, out a class of merely 75, into Princeton, Harvard, Dartmouth, Brown, and Penn, at a time when the Ivies were still accepting fewer women than men. (I later earned a PhD at yet another Ivy school.) I found it quite interesting that Peretz did not mention that Glenda Newell, the first black student admitted to MPS, was elected Head of School -- the equivalent of President of the Student Body. By the time I arrived, some years after she had graduated, she was still remembered with deep respect and reverence.

By the way, there was no "Oprichniki" group at MPS when I was there, and I never heard that such a group had previously existed. I was mystified by the notion when I first read of the Bass suit. The "traditions" at MPS are so much a part and parcel of the fabric of school life -- and also so utterly innocuous and benign -- that no special group of any kind is required to "uphold" them. You really don't need a group of "secret police" to remind you to go out and sing the school songs in a garden, or to pick daisies for a few seniors. The concept is laughable.

Anonymous said...

I also attended in the 70s and have been back often for reunions. The socialite darwinism depicted in the article is laughable. My mother (class of 56 like the writer's mother) recalls mild hazing at the Old girl/new girl soccer game, but nothing like the Tom Brown's Schooldays-like picture painted by Bass and recent publicity. By my time, everyone knew the "scary" OG's wagging fingers for wearing yellow and gray, or acting indimidating, were kidding, kidding, kidding. The few extra-timid New Girls would immediately be comforted and reassured by OG's that it was a game.The article jumps around describing school culture from the 1880s, 1940s, 1860s, and 2000's as if they were all alike. Innocuous traditions may carry over, but the "finishing school" atmosphere, to the extent it ever existed, is long gone, and bullying and real hazing have never been tolerated. It's a tempest in a teapot caused by a family who can't accept the consequences of a child's bad behavior. Since when is stress an excuse for cheating anyway?

Anonymous said...

"Since when is stress an excuse for cheating anyway?" The girl turned herself in for cheating and when the parents and others tried to communicate with the faculty, they were cut off. The girl was cut off from teachers and asked not to contact them. Maybe not everything mentioned in the article happened to you specifically when you were there, but if you are defending the faculty's behavior regarding the lawsuit, then Porter's clearly brought you up to be as blindly dedicated to the school as the article leads one to believe.

Anonymous said...

I attended in the '80s, and while I don't recall the Oprichniki, we did have the Terrible 10, who lorded over Traditions and picked out New Girls for particular humilations. There were harmless Traditions like Singing in the Garden and breakfast for Old Girls, but there were others, like the sports tradition, and various fall traditions, where we were forced to dress like whores and proposition men on Main Street. At a sports tradition, I had to lay on my back and do pelvic thrusts while singing a crude song to a strange boy - at the age of 14. After an incident early my sophomore year, the Terrible 10 were disciplined and disbanded, and much of the hazing phased out by knowing Administration.

There was always this element that you did not mess with the school's history, that it was greater than all of us. Either you were with them, or against them, and as a day student I was clearly not a part of their world. I'd never travelled much, my parents drove Fords and not limos, my parents were still married to each other, and I did not have a nanny nor had I been to boarding school and month-long sleepaway camps.

The faculty were superb and the classes (with the exception of the sciences) were wonderful. We had 4-5 Jewish students out of 300, and about 30 minority students while I was there. There was some moderate drug use, lots of sex, and lots of sexual harassment (and date rape) from the boys' schools we visited. I've never seen such rampant eating disorders either, with weekly weigh-ins for those who were "flagged" as being anorexic or bulimic.

It's an odd place, but I keep coming back to one thing. My parents sent me there for an education, and I came home every night to my family, chores, responsibilities, and my place in our household. I do not understand a parent who would send off a 14 year old girl, fragile in so many ways, to live amongst cut-throat, sometimes cruel teenage "mean girls." I certainly will not consider such places for my children.