Roger’s Rules

Barbarians at the Gate: Cushing Academy edition

Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts is a B-list prep school, old enough and rich enough to merit the appellation “elite,” but academically a cut (or two) below such first-rank institutions as Deerfield, Exeter, and Andover. If you have a spare $44,000 and you wish to unload Junior for grades 9-12, I suppose you might consider Cushing an option.

If you care about Junior’s education, however, you’ll want to think twice about sending him (or her) to Cushing. Why? Well, despite boasting all of the accoutrements of a traditional prep school, Cushing has decdied to embrace the Brave New World of educational trendiness and dispense with its library and the contents thereof.

This was one of those eye-rubbing announcements that sparks a double response: incredulity, first, followed closely by outrage and contempt. The October issue of The New Criterion has a note on the subject.

Thomas Parkman Cushing, who originally endowed the school, was careful to stipulate that it be provided, in addition to other accoutrements befitting an educational establishment, with a “suitable library.” James Tracy, the current headmaster, finds the whole idea of a library, and the objects they traditionally contain, positively quaint. Speaking to The Boston Globe, he actually said, apparently without embarrassment, “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.”

Where, I wonder, were Cushing’s Trustees when their school was being vandalized? Were they happy to sit back and watch as the intellectual center of the institution was eviscerated? How’s that for leadership?

The Globe reports that Cushing is “one of the first schools in the country to abandon its books.” Is this embrace of the new illiteracy a trend, for heaven’s sake?

The story seems straight out of the pages of some third-rate satire: “In pursuit of a ‘bookless campus,'” The New Criterion reports,

Cushing is disburdening itself of its library’s 20,000 books and spending $500,000 to establish a “learning center” — the name, the Globe reports, is tentative, but whatever they settle on you can be sure the scare quotes will be appropriate. Of course, once you dump a library’s books, you have a lot of extra space to fill, so Cushing . . . will be spending $42,000 for some large flat-screen monitors to display data from the Internet as well as $20,000 for “laptop-friendly” study carrels. In place of the reference desk, the Globe reports, Cushing is building “a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.”

The cappuccino machine is a nice touch, I think you’ll agree. Here’s the bottom line:

at a moment when American students are positively inundated with various forms of electronic media competing for, and eroding, their attention, an institution entrusted with (in Thomas Cushing’s words) “strengthening and enlarging the minds of the rising and future generations” decides to jettison one of civilization’s most potent aids in furthering that project. Fifty grand per annum for a school without books.

You really can’t make it up.