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The Enigmatic Academy

Class, Bureaucracy, and Religion in American Education

Christian J. Churchill

Publication Year: 2011

The Enigmatic Academy is a provocative look at the purpose and practice of education in America. Authors Christian Churchill and Gerald Levy use three case studies—a liberal arts college, a boarding school, and a Job Corps center—to illustrate how class, bureaucratic, and secular-religious dimensions of education prepare youth for participation in American foreign and domestic policy at all levels.

The authors describe how schools contribute to the formation of a bureaucratic character; how middle and upper class students are trained for leadership positions in corporations, government, and the military; and how the education of lower class students often serves more powerful classes and institutions.

Exploring how youth and their educators encounter the complexities of ideology and bureaucracy in school, The Enigmatic Academy deepens our understanding of the flawed redemptive relationship between education and society in the United States. Paradoxically, these three studied schools all prepare students to participate in a society whose values they oppose.


Published by: Temple University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-12

The seductions of redemption are the substance of human transformation. Children become adolescents and then young adults, and with new eyes they confront the world of illusion presented to them as reality by teachers and parents. These moments can be bracing, liberating, terrifying, confusing. Often they signal a change of perspective ...

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Part I. Plufort College

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pp. 13-19

The American new middle classes are inclined to combine secular and religious values and divergent lifestyles in a seemingly endless search for redemptive direction.1 They incorporate intellectual tradition and the fine arts; reform and radical politics; traditional world and avant-garde religions; preindustrial communal styles of living; transcendental ...

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The Regional Atmosphere

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pp. 19-22

Nestled in the hills of a rural, tourist region is a small liberal arts college called Plufort. Vaguely similar to Hampshire, New College, Oberlin, Bard, Carlton, Evergreen, Marlboro, Reed, Antioch, Goddard, and Bennington, Plufort College, in its competition for students, attempts to distinguish itself from these and other private academies of higher learning. Plufort’s sparse ...

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The Developmental Thrust

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pp. 22-28

Founded after World War II for G.I. Bill–subsidized veterans, Plufort College was too small and isolated to fully benefit from the postwar economic expansion. The original faculty had been educated in prestigious prep schools, colleges, and Ivy League universities, and, in their academic style and cultural bearing, had a predominantly, if largely acquired, landed aristocratic tone. ...

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The Symbiotic Community

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pp. 28-34

Substantial bureaucratization, broadening its liberal arts curriculum, and recruitment of professional, ideological, disciplinary, and gender variety has not eroded Plufort’s traditionally intense academic focus. The tutorial system with its less than ten-to-one student–faculty ratio has been sustained, and the college continues to define itself as a unique institution with high academic ...

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The Academic Trajectory

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pp. 34-43

From the perspective of students, disciplinary, gender, ethnic, and ideological variety in professors is crucial because Plufort’s academic culture dictates that students establish not only an intellectually emulative relationship with at least one professor but a political and personal one as well. The college’s academic apprenticeship system not only contains Plufort’s deeper institutional requirements ...

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The Sociopolitical Whirlpool

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pp. 43-49

On contemplating their isolation atop Plufort’s sylvan hillside above a verdant and undisturbed valley, Plufort students often note the trap of easy idealism their protected location affords them. They feel they can comfortably cast sweeping criticisms of the mainstream from their collegiate ivory tower. The Plufort student often believes that here she is free of the social pollution ...

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The Socially Ironic Reality Screen

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pp. 49-55

“Intensity” is the atmospheric quality defining the wide range of Plufort academic, political, and social activities. For the Plufort students’ participation in the ways of socializing, politicking, and academics is tinged by a near-frantic drive to do and to know as much as possible about any situation confronting them or their cadre within the liberated mass of the student body. ...

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The Public Relations Panorama

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pp. 55-61

Plufort’s modest endowment, limited fund-raising capacity, generous student aid policy, and “retention problems”25 related to students’ often-insatiable redemptive expectations, which, in turn, make them fair game for recruitment by other colleges and for conversion to other life directions, create continual budget deficits that otherwise potential endowment must pay down.26 ...

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The Competitive Strain

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pp. 61-64

Inextricably connected with Plufort’s swirling world of academic, political, community, and public relations activity are scholarly honors, elective offices, and jobs for which students compete. From a pool of twenty candidates, a committee of administrators and students choose eight resident assistants. The selection process coordinator never fails to mention that the candidates’ ...

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Conclusion: The Bureaucratic Grip

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pp. 64-69

As Plufort’s vulnerable ship navigated into the new century’s turbulent sea, 1990s business gyrations and the aftermath of 9/11 favored increased bureaucratic solutions to the college’s late twentieth-century dilemmas. Riding the crest of economic expansion, Plufort “wired up” for the anticipated revolution in computer technology and hired a “high-tech” academic entrepreneur as ...

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Part II. Mountainview School

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pp. 71-77

Cloistered beyond the turmoil of mainstream society, the American upper classes maintain a circuit of exclusive private preparatory schools designed to calibrate youth from privileged families for participation in the top levels of power at the institutions that shape and direct the nation’s foreign and domestic policy, as well as its commercial ...

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The Brahmin Tone

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pp. 77-84

Along the northeastern seacoast of jagged shoreline, fogbound woods and wharves, and meticulously unassuming architecture, the Tamarac River broadens and deepens before it empties into the ocean. On the Tamarac’s north shore sits the town of Riverview; on the south river valley, Paucussit, Brandon, and Randolph form a plateau that is often spared the bitterly cold ...

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The Civil Service Intrusion

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pp. 84-88

Mountainview’s early years were marked by a conscious disregard for the rigmarole of institutionalized schooling. More like a nurturing family—albeit all male—that functioned in the style of “old bulls guiding young bucks,” life at Mountainview was like visiting the home of an indulgent grandfather. A student from 1979 recalls that the “Mountainview School” sign at the base ...

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The Embattled Entitlement Path

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pp. 88-94

As children of corporate executives, entrepreneurs, producers, publishers, literary agents, lawyers, doctors, and “old money” families, Mountainview’s students often grow up in fashionably luxurious urban and rural enclaves throughout America.17 A boy from a famed family of great wealth provides as his address the name of the mansion where he resides. Another boy’s wealthy ...

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The Clubbable Induction

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pp. 94-97

While listed in a national guide to prep schools, Mountainview does not recruit students in the usual manner. As an institution of the last resort, it has difficulty presenting an image alluring to a general audience. Besides, the icons of prestige in Western civilization have been rendered all but meaningless to the school’s potential students. To sustain enrollment, this alternative ...

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The Currency of Behavior

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pp. 97-105

The new student’s introduction to Mountainview’s intimate educational setting is deepened in the weeks after arrival by exposure to the school’s academic schedule and living routines. Initial conscientious performance of household chores and adherence to school regulations and staff directives prevail in what is considered a “honeymoon” period during which the ...

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The Leisured Deviance Realm

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pp. 105-110

The cycle of the Mountainview year is punctuated by a variety of festivals and lengthy vacations that set the school apart from other private academies and most public schools. While most private schools cut their academic cycle short from what is required at public schools, Mountainview’s vacations match what is common for college breaks and vacations. These breaks ...

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Conclusion: Rentier Incorrigibility in Academe

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pp. 110-120

The round of academic activities and obligations at Mountainview is described by the staff as central to the program of rehabilitation. Prospective students and parents grant deference to this policy. Perhaps only in the prospective boy’s private huddle with veteran students and in Rod’s tacit deprioritization of academics by way of bearing and attitude toward Buck’s avowed ...

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Part III. Landover Job Corps Center

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pp. 121-127

Perhaps the most poignant illusion in American education is the promise that the lower classes need only be educated to realize the American dream. While that assumption has proven true for many millions of poor immigrants and ethnic minorities, as many or more appear to be inhibited from such upward mobility by the very lower-class ...

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History: Profit Motives, Local Fears, Violent Outbreaks

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pp. 127-139

Situated among an expanse of socially ameliorative programs originating in Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and its associated War on Poverty, the Job Corps is a product of left- and right-wing politicos and civil service bureaucrats and their counterparts in private industry. Each side has a vested interest in perpetuating the Job Corps by ...

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Approaching Landover

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pp. 139-142

Approaching Landover Job Corps Center on an interstate highway that links northeastern vacation meccas with urban centers of commerce and politics, the driver is surrounded by high-priced automobiles whose passengers are often unaware of the social and economic realities of the towns that border the highway. But nearing campus from the exit, urban decline is evident. ...

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The River to the Job

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pp. 142-152

While the more than one hundred Job Corps centers across the country differ slightly in focus and appearance, like military bases or prisons they share similar qualities. One marginal member of the staff at a Job Corps center in another state related his experience, which is instructive as to what the Landover program contains. Having spent his career as a music and arts ...

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Responses to Institutionalized Failure

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pp. 152-158

Many staff and students are convinced that Landover has failed in its mission to prepare its youth for an occupational basis for a dignified life—indeed, that the center is “designed to fail.” At the level where policy is applied it may appear as if the DOL and its revolving corporate administration intentionally designs programs that create the problematic experience that many of ...

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Students: “It’s a Risky Place”

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pp. 158-171

Unlike faculty and staff, for students Landover is a total institution.24 While it is true that those not sent here by the courts may leave as they wish, leaving without permission means almost certain termination. So these young adults, 72 percent of whom are eighteen years or older,25 must give themselves over to the institution fully if they are to pursue their goals. Yet as with most total ...

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Conclusion: The Veil of Ennui

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pp. 171-180

In the educational institutions of the middle and upper classes, students are encouraged to relate their academic work to the world around them. They have a sense that there is an established stage on which they will successfully perform as they enter the world. They often are encouraged to believe they are “gifted” and have the potential to take charge of the world. While students ...

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pp. 181-191

As America’s bloated ship navigates the new century’s turbulent waters, education for the dream becomes increasingly problematic. For their “working poor,”1 service sector, or union jobs, where rank and file often settle for what they can get, Landover’s more successful graduates pay a heavy price. They experience the humiliation rituals2 to ...


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pp. 193-201


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pp. 203-213


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pp. 215-223

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About the Author

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Christian J. Churchill is Professor of Sociology at St. Thomas Aquinas College, author of numerous articles in sociology, and a licensed psychoanalyst in private practice in Manhattan. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781439907856
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439907849

Page Count: 234
Publication Year: 2011