Up Front: July 2005

Another view

The letter was anonymous, the writer identifying himself only as “A Southern Prep School Grad.” It was in reference to last month’s cover story on Woodberry Forest School.

“Yes, the private prep schools have beautiful campuses, dormitories and great academics, sports and facilities. However, they are isolated and protected societies that are not typical of the world at large. Your article failed to report on the inherent sadness in such places. All those young boys, eating three meals a day together, with no parents in sight. Going to bed at night in dormitories filled with other boys and supervised by non-family adult teachers who live in apartments on the ground floor like resident property managers. No ‘good nights’ or other loving comments from any parent.

“For three or four academic years, these boys live apart from parents — most of whom are at great distance and cannot visit occasionally or at all. Their fathers are captains of industry or other busy professionals. They park their teenage sons in a protected environment to be raised, and nurtured, by others. In some cases, the parents of prep-school boys are in difficult marriages or are divorced and simply cannot deal with having their sons around. For those boys, the isolation of prep school becomes at least a temporary escape from a bad home life. ...

“Academics, of course, are excellent at such schools. But bear in mind that many boys are sent there because they were failing in public schools or had discipline problems. While many benefit from taking college-level courses in high school, others bear through it just to pass and then revert to their irresponsible ways as soon as they hit college. Why bother? In many cases, a secure job awaits them at the family business after graduation. Consider this last remark in light of the alumni you have spoken to — how many of them are working at family businesses in jobs from which they cannot or will not be fired? How many of them have truly excelled on their own merits outside a family business?”

He adds: “Your article reflects on the appearance of a prep-school connection that lasts a lifetime and leads to many business and professional connections. However, as I see it, the real source of these connections is not the school itself but rather the wealth of the families who can afford to send their children to high school at a cost that is higher than a college tuition. The families of many of these alumni belong to the same country clubs, and it is there where the real business connections occur. I have seen it myself. ...

“I received an excellent prep-school education that prepared me academically to succeed in college and beyond. However, I would never send my children to prep school. I plan to attend their school events, to cheer them on, to ask them about their day at the dinner table, to kiss them good night at bedtime and to be with them for all the good times and bad as they mature into adults.”

When one publication writes about another, potential conflicts of interest are rife. So in light of this issue’s story about The Herald-Sun, let’s get these out on the table: For 13 years, this magazine was owned by the News & Observer Publishing Co., of which I was a manager shareholder. The piece was written by Contributing Editor Tim Gray, once an N&O business reporter. Lead editor was Senior Editor Ed Martin, a reporter and editor at the Durham paper in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Assisting was Senior Editor Arthur Murray, editor of the Paxton-owned Daily Dispatch in Henderson before coming to BNC.