Affectionate and well-drawn portrait of a school year at an all-boy prep school. For more than 100 years, University School has educated the sons of Cleveland's elite, providing them with one of the best educations money can buy in America. But with single-sex schools now comprising less than eight percent of all private schools, it is also something of an anachronism. Or is it the wave of the future? Buoyed by a number of recent studies that have ``rediscovered'' the scholastic benefits of single-sex education, University School's remarkable headmaster, Richard Hawley, has emerged as a leading advocate and proselytizer for boys' schools. As he proclaims to the author, ``Gender is a big deal. Gender is deeper than race, it is deeper than culture. Deeper than humanity, all the way down to plant phylum.'' Twelve years after graduating from US, Ruhlman, a freelance writer, returned to his alma mater to study how Hawley's commitment to single-sex education was working in practice. But, perhaps because he was allowed extraordinary access, Ruhlman was soon seriously sidetracked by the minutiae of school life, the small crises and successes, the rich struggle of learning and teaching. Ruhlman's descriptions of the classes he audits are some of the best parts of his book. Despite lousy pay, most of the teachers are fiercely dedicated to providing their bright, eager students with a first-rate education. Ruhlman also lovingly captures the innumerable eccentricities and eccentrics endemic to private schools. However, some of his characterizations, particularly of the boys, seem too unfinished, a collection of quirks and attitudes that never quite coalesce. Many will also be surprised by how little emphasis he places on what, at most prep schools, is an all-consuming process, even the raison d'àtre: college admissions. Still, few works of nonfiction have captured so much of the spirit of the prep school experience.
Read full book review >