Secret Brotherhoods: Accessing the Hidden Worlds of Elite All-Boys Schools

Year: 2021

Author: Howard, Adam

Type of paper: Symposium

Despite increased attention on elite all-boys schools in national media and increased scholarship on single-sex schools internationally, there has been little recent focus on elite all-boys schools within the U.S. This paper addresses this gap by drawing on a study of one hundred and twenty-five recent alumni of all-boys schools across the United States. The schools that these alumni attended are similarly governed by a particular code of omertá. More than just a code of silence, the code is primarily about preserving a certain world order. The code has been essential in keeping these schools’ cultures and what happens within these schools hidden from the public. Those who live by the code are promised, in turn, access to powerful networks that secure and advance students’ elite status. As such, one of the main methodological challenges that researchers face in the study of elite all-boys schools is gaining access to those sites. Access is not only gaining entrée into these sites but also about the information that insiders disclose about the sites. Encouraged by the potential of collaborative approaches to overcome this challenge, I focus on the methodological possibilities and limitations of teaming up with twelve young men who are alumni of elite all-boys schools to study participants’ experiences at their all-boys schools. Although my co-researchers had no prior research experience, they played a critical role in gaining insight into the hidden worlds of elite all-boys schools. In the last part of the presentation, I draw connections between my paper and the other papers presented in this session that examine the various methodological issues involved in the study of elite all-boys schools across the world to identify some of the key issues involved in working toward gender justice.