Friday, Jan. 5, 1962
They advertise in about a thousand magazines, always showing some hot-shot guy on a horse jumping over a fence . . . And underneath the guy on the horse's picture, it always says: "Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men." Strictly for the birds. They don't do any damn more molding at Pencey than at any other school. And I didn't know anybody there that was splendid and clear-thinking and all.
Many an educator seconds Hero Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye, whose wry view of "Pencey Prep" echoes the language repeatedly used in advertising military academies. For military schools are widely scorned as something akin to reform schools with tuition—handy places for the rich or the divorced to dump incorrigible offspring. "Military schools are a symbol of the abdication of parental responsibility," scoffs one non-military headmaster.
Hock-High in Horses. Happily contradicting this gloomy picture is the better military academy, more academic than military, which is actually a first-rate college preparatory school. Perhaps the best example is Indiana's big (838 boys) Culver Military Academy on the shores of Lake Maxinkuckee. Last week Culver was putting on a $5,000,000 fund-raising campaign for a "Program for Excellence" that will create 70 new scholarships, build a center for alumni and parents, endow faculty salaries with $2,250,000. Even without all this, Culver has more excellence than most civilian schools.
Culver is a 1,400-acre complex of parapets and playing fields that looms out of monotonous farmland like a Hollywood blend of West Point, Dunsinane and Fort Laramie. The school is hock-high in horses—140 of them—plus an indoor polo field, 150 boats, twelve football fields, 15 tennis courts, a bakery and a barbershop, as well as a 44-room hotel and a 64-room motel for visiting parents and girls down for dances. But most of all, Culver has academic status: 99.2% of its graduates have gone to college (and not predominantly to service academies—only 18 have done so in the past four years). Stanford rates Culver among the top five private secondary schools in the U.S.; Yale includes Culver in a list of twelve prep schools that it recommends to inquiring parents.
Knee-Deep in Arts. Opened in 1894, Culver owes its military hue to Founder Henry Harrison Culver, a prosperous St. Louis stovemaker, who for his health roughed it one summer on Lake Maxinkuckee. Culver soon zestfully launched a chautauqua, wound up with a military academy. He aimed to blend liberal and Christian education, using military discipline "because of its peculiar advantage in bringing out the best results in the development of boys."
The first results were all too military, but the mind soon came to outrank the manual of arms. Though all Culver boys above eighth grade are enrolled in R.O.T.C., drill is confined to Saturday mornings in warm weather. Hazing is nonexistent; newcomers are plebes for only one term, are obliged only to call old students "Mr." More important are Culver's stiff entrance exams (average cadet IQ: 120) and drill in such matters as college algebra, Latin and Russian. Often recruited from Culver's resoundingly successful summer camp, the boys seem to thrive on the school's theory that esprit de corps enhances the spirit of study. "I didn't know how to work at home," says one first-classman. "Here you learn to think and reason, not just learn things by rote."
Strong on the arts, Culver even gets its lads to doff boots for ballet lessons. To its new $1,400,000 auditorium this year, it is bringing such cultural attractions as the Indianapolis Symphony and sharing them with hundreds of public school children. Culver has the oldest credit course in dramatics of any U.S. secondary school, has sent to Broadway such bright lights as Playwright William Inge, Director Joshua Logan and Monologuist Hal Holbrook.
"Discipline Is Essential." The man who has lately done most to demilitarize Culver is its sixth superintendent, retired Air Force Major General Delmar T. Spivey, 56, a West Pointer ('28), World War II bomber pilot, and onetime head of the Air University's War College. Shocked at the turncoat performance of some U.S. prisoners in Korea, Spivey turned down fat offers from industry, decided to devote himself to educating youngsters "in the real meaning of citizenship."
A genial general, whose uniform of the day is a tweedy sports coat and slacks, Spivey has raised faculty salaries, doubled scholarships, banished Sunday reveille and the pseudo-military titles (for example, "captain" for assistant instructor) that cadets formerly used to address their teachers. He even did away with marching to classes, but so far has kept the student uniform (royal blue jacket, grey trousers) as standard campus dress.
"We must shape the attitude of the cadets toward the academic. We mustn't let the things they like to do, the leadership program and athletics, overshadow their education in the arts, sciences and humanities," says Spivey. "I have friends who have said, 'Little Pete is an absolute hellion and I just don't know what to do with him.' Well, I won't take little Pete any more than Exeter or Andover will." Then why be military at all? "Discipline is essential to the learning situation,'' says Spivey. "Without it there would be no stable path to intellectual growth and eventual maturity."