Boys of Class, Boys of Color: Negotiating the Academic and Social Geography of an Elite Independent School


  • We wish to thank The Haverford School (THS) and its Head, Dr. Joseph Cox and Assistant Head, Mr. Mark Thorburn, for their support of this research. THS has used it to engage in continuous reflection and change. What we describe in this article, therefore, is a moment in time. We are grateful, also, for the helpful feedback we received from Professors Mort Botel, Art Dole, and Joan Goodman, and Drs. Dan McGrath, Norman Newberg, and Richard Parker. Finally, we are grateful to our Research Assistants, Dr. Robert Zeitlin, Ms. Lauren Scher, and Ms. Laura Boniello, who helped us in many aspects of the research process. Not for quotation or citation without the written permission of the senior author.

*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Peter Kuriloff, Graduate School of Education, 3700 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA. 19104–6216 [e-mail:].


How do boys from diverse backgrounds manage in an elite boys' school? Interviewing a representative sample of 27 boys, blocked for race, class, and academic performance, we found that they navigated the school's academic geography by mastering “a drill” that included hard work, unwavering commitment, a will to win, a cool style, and self knowledge as learners. Some developed a transformative love of learning. But many marginalized boys struggled with the school's social geography. African American boys managed most effectively as they developed intra-group discourses of race and class enabling them to take up the school's offers of “hegemonic habitus” without “selling out.” We discuss the liberating implications of helping students in both independent and public schools develop similar critiques.