I spent 10 years of my life at the Bryn Mawr School for Girls – BMS for short – a small, elite, private school in Baltimore, Maryland. The school was founded by some women connected to Bryn Mawr College, an all-women’s college outside of Philadelphia. Apparently there was no where for young women to get a college-prep-worthy education in the early days of Bryn Mawr College; hence the need for a prep school. There’s no doubt I received a truly top notch education there. How many women my age (don’t ask) had the opportunity to study Latin, ancient Greek, Norse mythology, the history of art (with an incredibly quirky recent Radcliffe grad), calculus, physics – all in high school. (Well, I skipped physics, but that’s a story for another day.)
The school was tiny – only 40 or so girls in my graduating class. And I sort of lied about calculus. There were so few of us (four, to be exact) who made it through all the other math courses that, instead of teaching us at BMS, they sent us across the street to Gilman, our “brother” school across the street. Naturally we four young women – we were seniors then – were both the teacher’s pets and the talk of the school: it was the first time such a program was offered. If memory serves, the four of us received among the highest grades in that class. No surprise, huh?
What BMS had going for it in quality of education, it lacked in diversity. Sure, there was a token non-white girl in every class, and a small handful of us from Jewish families, but most of my classmates were from families that today might be considered the 1%. I’ve been pretty surprised to re-connect with quite a few of them on Facebook, only to discover that most of us share very left-leaning politics. (I was the only one who voted Democrat in the mock election our senior year.)
The school was so preppy it was named the #1 all-girls day school in the Preppy Handbook. Anyone who has known me any time from college on can attest to the fact that preppy is hardly my style. In fact, the college I chose was listed in the very same Preppy Handbook as the #1 college that true preps should avoid: Oberlin College. I guess I was trying to make up for lost time. And wouldn’t you know, Oberlin was the first place (with the possible exception of summer camp) where I felt like I really belonged. Among my reasons for choosing Oberlin, aside from its stellar reputation, were the vegetarian dining hall, the living and dining co-ops, and the absence of fraternities and sororities. And, of course, the reason it was considered antithetical to prep style: the hairy-legged women.
Even though I truly appreciate the education I got at BMS, I’ll always regret not sharing the American public school experience. Especially now, living in Philadelphia, at a time when public schools are experiencing such dire financial crisis. I’ve always thought that if everyone sent their kids to public schools, the overall quality of those schools would be so much better. And there might be more motivation on the part of the powers that be to fund public schools more equitably. Is that too much to ask?