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Herb Palmer: Boarding school cited as maker of presidents

Young Americans are in step with the times these days as they trek off to school each morning in the knowledge that they are receiving the best education that money can buy. Upward of 15 million Americans go to public high schools, 640,000 to par...

Young Americans are in step with the times these days as they trek off to school each morning in the knowledge that they are receiving the best education that money can buy. Upward of 15 million Americans go to public high schools, 640,000 to parochial high schools, more than 150,000 to independent secondary schools and 42,500 to boarding schools.
This writer entered kindergarten at age 5 in a small town in southern Wisconsin on the Mississippi River. My family came to Duluth in 1920, where Dad worked at the Klearflax Linen Rug Co.
While attending Denfeld High School, I joined the school newspaper staff, called the Criterion. One day, Miss Margaret Gatzweiler asked me to solicit advertising from local merchants for a special edition. I returned the next morning with $48 in sales costing merchants from $2.50 to $10, creating the largest Criterion ever at that time.
My point here reflects on a time when basic education, often called the 3 Rs, was sufficient to provide an opportunity, in later life, to get married and support a family. It took stamina then, as it does today, to put the pieces together. All this ties into our subject today with the following question: "Which schools in the past 100 years produced four of the leading candidates for president during last fall's presidential campaign?
George W. Bush was a 15-year-old sophomore when he attended Andover, at roughly the same time that Steve Forbes was a mere four miles away at Brooks. Al Gore was living in a dorm during his senior year at St Alban's in Washington. A decade earlier, across the Potomac in Virginia, John McCain graduated from Episcopal. Bush had just arrived from Texas. He knew at once that his academic background was not as strong as most of his classmates.
For a time, Bush feared that he would flunk out, and he was never more than a middling student. Still, he was a big man on campus, thanks to his irrepressible personality, cocksure manner and love of the limelight. Bush was a member of his class's rock 'n' roll band, not for singing or playing an instrument, but merely for loud clapping at school events and functions which he thought were not only good but the best, according to journalist Stephen G. Smith.
Isn't that the kind of guy we want as president instead of one who thinks he knows it all? We've got to give young George W. credit for his self-confidence and ability to act when the time comes
On the other hand, John McCain, during the primaries, said he was the product of Episcopal High School. "The principles embodied in the school, especially its honor code, are those I've tried to embody in my own life," he says.
But as the population of the 50 states grew during the century, the surging number of independent day schools as an alternative to high school grew, and most students outnumbered boarders 4 to 1. Top tier schools of this type, despite tuitions of $25,000 or more, are getting more applications than ever before and are now as selective as the nation's leading liberal arts colleges. They owe their success to richer curricula, greater diversity and a significant increase in financial aid.
When President Bush entered Andover in 1961, the preeminence of boarding schools was simply a given. At Exeter, for example, 57 of the 208 graduates that year went to Harvard. Boarding schools of that era produced an outsize number of lawyers, doctors, educators, investment bankers and presidents.
Bush's father, George H. W. Bush, went to Andover. Franklin D. Roosevelt graduated from Groton, and John F. Kennedy from Choate. (JFK's report card was riddled with Cs and Ds, and his headmaster pronounced him "childish" and "irresponsible." He was, nevertheless, admitted to Harvard.
Then came 1968, and the changes that had been roiling in the outside world hit boarding schools like a thunderclap. "You'd walk around a campus in New England, and it looked like a Grateful Dead concert. The schools also had to adjust to co-education, admitting young women as well. Today, only one-third of the schools are single sex. Some small or medium sized schools draw students from almost all of the 50 states. And some of them draw students from more than 20 nations. Any good boarding school today looks like the United Nations, says Henry Flanagan, head of Western Reserve Academy.
The unique feature of boarding school education remains what it's always been, a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week proposition that provides a total life experience for young people. In Hotchkiss' 50th reunion yearbook, most of the alumni recall the school as "the place they learned the habits for a lifetime and made friends they kept up with for a lifetime." Interestingly enough, they rarely mention where they went to college. Boarding school was the place that shaped them and had such a lifelong impact on them."
(Editor's Note: Material in this column was obtained from a news feature written by Stephen G. Smith entitled "Boarding Schools" in US News and World Report)
On the lighter side . . .
Ole says there are two seasons in Minnesota: winter and under construction.
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