How do we know an elite status has been achieved or not? These are some of the questions that Shamus Khan is trying to answer in this chapter of his book privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School. Khan argues…
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83). It does not matter whether a student comes from a wealthy and privileged background. When they enter the school gates, they all become equal and must go through the same experiences in order to achieve the elite status (paulie); in other words they must be transformed. For example, even though Jason came from a wealthy background, he had to learn afresh how to behave in school and become a paulie (p.93). Students from their first day in school go through certain rituals such as seated meals, religious services, and dressing lessons to break the barriers existing in a hierarchical society and be at ease or comfortable. Failure to embody ease means non-achievement of the elite status. In these events, students interact with seniors and faculty members hence learning new things from them such as table etiquette and manner of dressing.
In this case, Khan assumes the American culture of hard work and merit. As such, corporeal ease is not inherited but earned through practice. The way to signal this elite status according to Khan is to display ease and openness in all social contexts. If not, one is assumed to not have “got it” (94-97). For example, even though Carla was from a privileged background and knew the elite mannerisms, she rarely interacted with others hence felt formal, distant, or forced hence different from the rest of the students. For her, the school vision of teaching “how the world works” was unfair to her as it neglected her background and assumed universality (p. 113). However, the Americans embraced this vision and became paulies. This ease is the “true mark of privilege that is essential to be elite” (p. 112). St. Paul’s school thus gives students the cultural resource to attain this privilege through repeated experiences; there are no boundaries based on wealth and particular knowledge rather St. Paul’s creates an even field for all. What mattered for Khan is what happened in school and the outside
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