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Maybe an Anglican Boarding School Isn’t Such a Good Idea After All

One of the ideas that’s making the rounds these days in the Anglican/Episcopal world is an idea of an Anglican boarding school for boys. Probably the most ambitious of these projects is St. Dunstan’s, which is in the planning stage. Before too many Anglicans part company with their hard-earned (or inherited) dollars for this project, I think some “outside the box” observations are in order.

The whole subject of an Anglican/Episcopal boarding school is one I can speak to with some authority: I am a product of the St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, FL, a relatively recent attempt to do the same thing. Opened in 1962, the concept was to replicate the classic, New England/Northeastern boarding school for boys tradition in a sunnier climate. Although things change, in many ways the cultural eruptions that took place in the school’s early years are still being played out, so some lessons are instructive.

The first is the obvious one: a boys boarding school is a natural hunting ground for pedophiles. I found this out the hard way; as I noted in this piece, I was St. Andrew’s first documented victim (at the time at least) of sexual harassment. Things haven’t gotten any better, as the whole mess of the Iwerne Camps and even a liturgical hero like David Haas attest. Sadder than that was the fact that this incident wasn’t the worst of it: the whole Freudian sexualisation of our society at the time–one which still dominates our public discourse–was harder to take than one incident, especially when encouraged by certain members of the faculty.

That leads to the next problem: hiring faculty who won’t subvert the message you’re trying to get across to the students. Today we lament the invasion of “woke” faculty in our colleges and schools, but it isn’t new. The freshly minted “hippie dreamers” of the 1960’s made their entrance, and without the first wave we wouldn’t be dealing with the second today. Those hippie dreamers included the school’s chaplains, and with the diffuse nature of North American Anglicanism the possibility of wheeling a Trojan Horse into the chapel is very real.

That diffuse nature is another bone of contention in the direction of any Anglican institution, and especially a school. As a recent piece in the North American Anglican will attest, the whole Anglican project has complicated origins and its message is not, to use a good Thomistic term, univocal. A presentation of the Anglican tradition that incorporates this complexity (and I’m not talking about the stuff that has come in during the last century or so) would prepare the students best for the realities of the faith today, but the tendency these days is to fight over things with one viewpoint triumphant in any given place.

That of course brings us to the most important question any school faces: what to teach. I’ve seen a great deal of opinion expressed on this subject, and it’s not too much of a generalisation to say that the “ideal classical” education is some variation of the trivium and the quadrivium. Now to be honest, if we brought these up to date to the current state of science and technology, the result would be reasonable. However, the trout in the milk has always been the tendency to short the sciences and emphasise the humanities. American education, following its British forebear, did this; otherwise, we would be much better prepared to operate in a scientific and technological world and not fumbled on problems such as the environment and COVID. I’m not sure that the Anglican world is quite ready to backtrack on this.

Dorm III, the “Senior Dorm” at St’ Andrew’s School, Spring 1973. It was this and the rest of the expansive physical plant which almost sank the school in its early years.

They say that education is driven by money these days, and as someone who is in the system that’s certainly true. I’m sure that those who are planning to open one of these have spent a great deal of time on fiscal considerations. St. Andrew’s School’s own history is instructive in this regard. When it was started, it was pretty much out in the wilderness. The founders of the school put too much money into physical plant and not enough into endowing the school to have a decent income to supplement tuition. (It’s worth noting that it didn’t have a proper chapel until 1967, five years after its opening.) The result was that the school nearly closed within ten years of its opening, and has been playing catch-up with its endowment ever since. Given the unforgiving nature of private school finances these days, any miscalculation can easily be fatal.

Looking across the athletic fields and into the wilderness surrounding St. Andrew’s School, March 1972. The wilderness surrounding the school was soon gone, and although the increase in population helped to grow the student body, the purpose of the school was forever changed.

The thing that saved St. Andrew’s as much as anything was the change in South Florida itself. A rapidly growing region, the school soon found itself surrounded by development and a growing population. It became predominantly a day school, and admitted girls in 1971, again within a decade of its opening. The danger of any church-related school like St. Andrew’s is that it becomes a de facto school for the local elites of all creeds (or lack thereof.) If a school is placed in a deliberately isolated location, that transition is not an option, and although it may be possible to maintain the institution’s purity of purpose, it may disappear altogether as well.

From the track, a slightly closer view of the wilderness beginning its transition, Spring 1973. Soon the school song’s claim to be in the midst of the “land of lakes and pine” would be a thing of the past.

I’m inclined to think that those who are promoting the idea of an Anglican boarding school are doing so out of a nostalgic viewpoint, with the idea that, if we could go back and do it the way it was done before, things would be better. Recent history with institutions such as St. Andrew’s–to say nothing of the challenges of insulating children from the invasive influence of culture and government–don’t support the success of such an idea. Our “boy crisis” is real, but a better way to start is to take a hard look at the way we turn our children to adults in our own churches. Boarding school was a great idea, but in reality it’s one whose prime has come and gone.


2 Replies to “Maybe an Anglican Boarding School Isn’t Such a Good Idea After All”

  1. Very thoughtful piece. Family – driven home school networks might be emerging as the better way toward some of the good ends intended by the boarding school model.

    Liked by 1 person

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