Inside MPS Pt. 2: Being a Golden Knight

To read Pt. 1: Inside Marianapolis Pt.1: Not So Normal

The title of this piece is Being a Golden Knight because the golden knight was Marianapolis’ mascot.  It was a privilege to go to Marianapolis Preparatory School.    I have a few stories from my time there that demonstrate this privilege.  Before I tell these stories, I need to introduce the concepts of concerted cultivation and natural growth in order to provide a more in depth sociological frame to this discussion.  Concerted cultivation is a term that describes when parents will use their resources to ensure the growth and success of their child.  Examples are paying for your child to play an instrument, play in travel sports or go to a prestigious high school.  Concerted cultivation is commonly found in higher class families.  The other term, natural growth, is when a family has less resources to enable the success of their child and as a result, these parents encourage their child to grow up and become mature and successful on their own.  This usually includes the child getting a low paying job because their parents didn’t have the social connections to get them a high paying job or the child learning how to do a sport without specialized attention (such as a personal coach or a summer camp for example).  This is more commonly found in lower class families.

Because Marianapolis is a higher class institution, concerted cultivation was a virtue that was fostered at the school.  MPS was a product that was invested into by parents who valued concerted cultivation.  These parents who invested into the school expected the school to ensure the success of the student in all facets of life.  As a result, the school worked to uphold a culture of concerted cultivation.  For the remainder of this part of Inside Marianapolis, I will discuss the policies that the school implemented that demonstrate a culture of concerted cultivation.

Before I discuss how Marianapolis fostered a concerted cultivated lifestyle, I want to emphasize that I participated in all of these activities and that I considered them normal when I participated in them at the time.  The three activities in particular that demonstrate a concerted cultivated lifestyle are sports, community service, and spring break trips.

With sports, everybody was required to do at least two seasons of sports because there was no PE class.  It’s an excellent idea to try to get every student to participate in a sport.  The interesting part of the policy, however, is that sports were required, while PE was prohibited.  Simply put, this policy was requiring students to be involved in an extracurricular activity.  By being involved in an extracurricular activity, the students were able to list that activity on their college resume as something separate from their classes.  This policy regarding sports was less about the health of the students and more about making the student more qualified for applying to a prestigious college.  I do believe that MPS wanted to promote the health of their students, but I also think that the school was a place that was constantly looking to make their students more qualified for a college application.

Community service is another example of a privileged lifestyle at MPS.  Similar to sports, community service was treated as another activity that can be listed on a college resume.  At MPS, students were required or seriously advised to do community service, whether that be through extracurricular clubs or on community service day.  After those service tasks were accomplished, students were encouraged to list those activities on their resume.  Again, similar to sports, I think MPS does care about the community surrounding them and does desire to help.  At the same time, I think that the administration had a separate agenda when it came to implementing the community service policies.  I would then argue that the idea of doing community service for non-selfless reasons is a lesson that was passed on to the students at MPS.  I can confidently claim that statement because I am in a process of learning that “community service” is not to benefit me, which was a revolutionary idea that I was exposed to after my time in high school.

I have one story in particular that demonstrates the higher class nature of MPS community service.  My senior year, there was a community service event called “Homelessness Awareness Night.”  The event began a week beforehand in which we were required to raise money for “the homeless.”  Then, on the night of the event, we collected a ton of cardboard boxes and set out for the Thompson Green (which is right outside of the school and in the wealthiest area of the whole town).  We then set up our cardboard boxes and our fancy sleeping bags and hung out all night and had a fun time together.  I appreciate this memory because it was a good time with my friends.  On the other hand, I don’t think our efforts did much to help “the homeless.”  We had no idea what it’s like to be homeless and our efforts to mimic that lifestyle were futile.

The last example of privilege at MPS is the spring break trips.  Every year, the school offered two to three spring break trips with EF Tours.  These trips traveled all around the world to countries such as Australia, New Zealand, China, UK, Italy, Greece, Costa Rica, France and Spain.  During these trips, the students were taken around the country by an English speaking tour guide and were able to experience the culture of that country.  These trips provided a variety of benefits to the students, such as fueling their desire to travel and learning about other cultures.  What I disagree with the trips about is that they didn’t educate the students about the social issues going on in the countries.  For example, I went on the trip to Australia and New Zealand my senior year.  I had an absolute fabulous time!  What I wasn’t made aware of, however, was the systematic racism that the Aboriginals experience in Australia.  Not making the students aware of these social issues, I would argue, only reinforced the privileged and concerted cultivated influences on the student.

To read Pt. 3: Inside MPS Pt. 3: The Upside Down


5 thoughts on “Inside MPS Pt. 2: Being a Golden Knight

  1. lfpbe says:

    Liam, I’m enjoying this series. I wanted to mention that at every school where I’ve taught I’ve seen example of concerted cultivation in low- to middle-income families. Many lower-income families use community resources like charter schools, programs for gifted kids, or simply Google searches for scholarships, mentor programs, and other resources. Of course the majority of concerted cultivators are upper or upper-middle class, but I can name several dozen kids I’ve known over my career who benefited from very deliberate (and often quite aggressive) cultivation from lower-income parents.


    1. Pennyworth says:

      Thank you so much Ms. Edstrom. That makes a lot of sense and obviously my commentary is only based on my experience at MPS and through what I have studied. I would love if you posted that on the facebook post so that other people may see it. Otherwise I can so that other people are aware of this reality that I didn’t point out. Thanks and hope you’re doing well!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. lfpbe says:

        Sure, I’ll post it on FB too. I’ve had some pretty contentious (but interesting and important) conversations on this subject over the years. One stance was that any program (including parental maneuvering) that brings less privileged kids out of their own communities and into privileged communities is destructive to the student’s sense of identity and dooms them to be outsiders. I tend to think everyone, regardless of background, should spend some time out of their home communities during their teen and young adult years.

        Have you read Richard Rodríguez’s book Hunger of Memory? We taught it some years in English IV at MPS but I’m not sure what we did your year. It’s a great read and spends time on all these ideas.

        I am well and I hope you are too. I hope you have a great year (you’re a senior, right?)


      2. Pennyworth says:

        I have not read that book, what is it about. And yes, I think that it is great for students to spend time out of the house and experience different people and learn how to deal with different responsibilities. Moreover, I think there are a lot of benefits to students coming from less privileged environments to a better school opportunity, which could allow them to have a more successful future. A form of affirmative action I suppose. And yeah, it is my senior year which is pretty exciting. I like my classes, am living off campus and figuring out my stuff for the future. What are you up to?


      3. lfpbe says:

        Hunger of Memory is a memoir of growing up in a Spanish-speaking immigrant while attending schools that emphasized assimilating – first parochial schools and then Stanford and Berkeley, where the author got a Ph.D in English. Among other things, it’s about the way language impacts culture – the way a Spanish-speaking family home and the English-speaking world of U.S. academia have totally different “feelings” to them, the challenge of code-shifting between language and behavior appropriate in one setting but not in others, and – in my opinion most powerfully – about the irony that the author’s parents made tremendous sacrifices to pay for an education that essentially created a permanent rift between themselves and their son. This last was the part that really resonated with me when I first read it as a college freshman. In general I’ve found that high school students, both at Choate and at Marianapolis, had trouble connecting with it.

        Things are going well for me. I’m officially a member of the “gig economy,” so my exact schedule is always fluctuating, but I have about half a dozen tutoring students and various other little jobs, and I’m revising a novel that I wrote last year and trying to get another off the ground. I’m curious to know what will be next for you.


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