"In a world of educational failure and decline, this is a book to make you stand up and cheer."-Plain Dealer
"Michael Ruhlman has chosen a subject of uncommon interest and done it complete justice."-The New York Times Book Review
While many people might consider single-sex schools an anachronism and even harmful, Ruhlman, who graduated in 1981 from University School, an all-boys prep school in Cleveland, would disagree. He cites research studies describing clear advantages of single-sex schooling over coeducation in terms of both academic achievement and social adjustment. Yet this unbuttoned, probing account of the 1993-1994 school year at University School seems to gainsay that research as often as it supports it. Secretive meetings, tense dramas, mini-crises and heated exchanges of letters roil the academy. A majority of the students would rather have girls in their classes. While some boys praise the school's quiet, orderly atmosphere, others scrawl graffiti and rebel against the dress code. Richard Hawley, the idealistic, erudite, didactic headmasternovelist, poet, author of a Jungian-feminist study on masculinityis viewed by some staff as a dangerous radical, by others as a too-strict disciplinarian. The commitment of the school's innovative teachers shines through in this candid look at a rare institution. (Sept.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ruhlman (Education of a Chef, Holt, 1995) presents a year-in-the-life look at University School (US), an all-boys school in Cleveland. Ruhlman's role as observer is unique, having attended US as a student. He returns "intending to watch the boys in this school, how they played off teachers and each other in this unusual world." He describes the daily inner workings and weighs the pros and cons of such an institution. Observing a discussion in an English class, Ruhlman states, "The main disadvantage of the single-sex classroom, of course, is that boys and girls together would approach "Leda and the Swan" differently and, ostensibly, learn more about each other in discussing the poem. Their questions and responses, though, would likely be screened, the discussion more careful, less open, less charged." Ruhlman writes well, and his text is easily read and understood. For most education collections.Terry A. Christener, Hutchinson P.L., Kan.
Affectionate and well-drawn portrait of a school year at an all-boy prep school.
For more than 100 years, University School has educated the sons of Cleveland's elite, providing them with one of the best educations money can buy in America. But with single-sex schools now comprising less than eight percent of all private schools, it is also something of an anachronism. Or is it the wave of the future? Buoyed by a number of recent studies that have "rediscovered" the scholastic benefits of single-sex education, University School's remarkable headmaster, Richard Hawley, has emerged as a leading advocate and proselytizer for boys' schools. As he proclaims to the author, "Gender is a big deal. Gender is deeper than race, it is deeper than culture. Deeper than humanity, all the way down to plant phylum." Twelve years after graduating from US, Ruhlman, a freelance writer, returned to his alma mater to study how Hawley's commitment to single-sex education was working in practice. But, perhaps because he was allowed extraordinary access, Ruhlman was soon seriously sidetracked by the minutiae of school life, the small crises and successes, the rich struggle of learning and teaching. Ruhlman's descriptions of the classes he audits are some of the best parts of his book. Despite lousy pay, most of the teachers are fiercely dedicated to providing their bright, eager students with a first-rate education. Ruhlman also lovingly captures the innumerable eccentricities and eccentrics endemic to private schools. However, some of his characterizations, particularly of the boys, seem too unfinished, a collection of quirks and attitudes that never quite coalesce. Many will also be surprised by how little emphasis he places on what, at most prep schools, is an all-consuming process, even the raison d'être: college admissions.
Still, few works of nonfiction have captured so much of the spirit of the prep school experience.