Peeking Behind the Scenes: Exploring Elite Schools Practices with Former Principals

Conference: The Asian Conference on Education (ACE2021)
Title: Peeking Behind the Scenes: Exploring Elite Schools Practices with Former Principals
Stream: Educational Policy, Leadership, Management & Administration
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Shlomi Hanuka, University of Haifa , Israel


For centuries, elite schools have been envisioned as safe havens for those who wish, and ‘deserve’, to shelter their offspring from the rest. Promising a different, unconventional, and family-like environment, elite schools are a strategic tool for transmitting particular cultural norms and social mores. But what is it elite schools do? What are the practices of elite schools that institutionalise their students and validate their sense of belonging, commitment and gratitude to the tribal-like community of such schools?
This paper emanates from a study that explores, through the study of three highly selective elite schools in Israel, the role elite schools play in their students’ lives during and beyond school. My research looks into stories of schooling, privilege and distinction from graduates and former principals - two groups overlooked in the research on elite schools. Focusing on the latter group, this paper brings forward the testimonials of four former principals who, collectively, account for a total of one hundred and eleven years of experience running three schools.
I draw on the former principals’ views to examine the institutionalisation of elite schools’ students through three key pillars: excellence, self-awareness and elitism. Connecting theories of social imaginary, social cohesion and elitism, I portray ways elite education carries and delivers particular benefits and social capital. Instrumentally, I reveal the agenda and the meaning system of some captains at the helm of Israel’s elite schools, expanding the sociology of elite education.

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