Boys' Preparatory Schools: Reviews

Figure 1.--Some conservative schools in the 1980s continued to require short pants, kneesocks, and sandals. Note at this school the uniform was grey flannel shorts..

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The Rapt Pupils

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that the rich are "different" from everyone else. Exclusive private schools seem at first glance to be pedagogical enclaves populated by scions of the rich. The laughter and joys, frets and concerns of this junior elite must surely be foreign to outsiders. Not necessarily so, one may conclude after an enjoyable perusal of Boys' Preparatory Schools: A Photographic Essay, by Patrick Briston and Dennis Weidner. Youthful spirit and exuberance, as well as sensitivities, transcend differences among students and schools.

In Mr. Briston and Mr. Weidner's pages, however, analysis happily yields to delight, offered by the more than two hundred color and black/white photos from British preparatory schools compiled into this volume. Schoolboys (and schoolgirls), clad in traditional school uniforms, are depicted in slice of school life scenes: sharing a happy moment among friends; mulling over lessons; or relaxing with a pet. The various colors and styles of the uniforms are striking; the smart good looks of these clothes and the traditions they reflect are palpable.

The photos, though, are only part of this charming and engaging essay. The original poetry, verse, and schoolyard humor found here lend a vibrance to the splendid photos. the children write and laugh about topics of universal interest to their peers. One clever poem relates a new boy's first perceptions of his school: "The palace of a schoolhouse/The great mansion of beds in the dorm ..." Friends and teachers eceive warm reviews, while school lunches are rather less fondly memorialized. Students' poetic descriptions of lessons and exams resonate with elders' own school memories: "Sweaty palms with glue-like quality thought bubbling through a paltry bin ..." Wherever school bells ring, children are rather more than less kindred spirits, it seems.

Boys' Preparatory Schools has much to recommend it to the private and public school libraries, educators, and anyone desirous of a glimpse into prep school life. The photos are winning, capturing both youthful mirth and impressive tradition. The verses of these young people show at times a genuine lyrical talent. Altogether a delightful package, this photographic essay is both fresh and timeless. - JB--Dallas, Texas

Mini Public Schools

The traditional boys' preparatory school, a sort of 'mini-public school' which prepares boys for entry to proper public schools at the age of 13, is a very British institution, so it came as a surprise to an English reader to find that this book was published in Washington DC. However, the American perspective upon the subject provided by the authors is to be welcomed. Also welcome are the numerous photographs, beautifully capturing an educational ethos which is now, somewhat sadly, in decline. The stunning colour plates are especially brilliant. There is much here to reward the mind and delight the eye in this wonderful little book. - BM--London, England

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Boys' Preparatory Schools
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