Privilege is in crisis. Look at our elite private schools.

“If you want to bring something to school to ask me if you’re okay, I’m happy to review your wardrobe choices,” the dean wrote, “without penalty or judgment.” (A characteristic of contemporary privilege is that it is always listening; he hears you.)

Some students and parents were mystified and angry, complaining that the rules seemed harsh and archaic, prompting another letter from Grace School’s new principal, Robert M. Pennoyer II, on Thursday, explaining that they had been designed to “promote a particular sense”. of culture and community” and that they would not be applied “in a manner to shame or embarrass. Nevertheless, bewilderment seemed the only rational response, in the face of the enthusiasm with which the private school environment encourages the free expression of gender and the empowerment of girls, particularly in terms of bodily autonomy. Last spring, Grace had drag queen Brita Filter (Jesse Havea’s stage name) perform at a Pride event at her chapel. Students cheered as Brita danced down the aisle in a baby doll dress that fell just below the hip.

Many schools sidestep the fashion discourse simply by continuing to mandate uniforms even as the world has changed so dramatically, a policy followed at Grace for children in kindergarten through eighth grade. Under new management this year, however, uniforms have been “degendered”, as a school spokesperson explained, leaving boys free to wear skirts if they wish and girls to wear skirts. shorts.

A clear benefit of the uniform is that it can calm the wealth disparities that are fueling the largely unspoken tension in schools with annual tuition fees of $58,000 and growing numbers of children receiving financial aid. The billionaire’s daughter is prevented, at least, from showing up in her $7,300 Chloe Midi dress. But the looser dress codes put in place for teenagers usually stem from the belief that there is no greater disruptor of students’ attention than exposed flesh or a visual suggestion of laziness. By that measure, the $10 Hanes tank top is a hassle, but the $1,500 Prada cotton crewneck is fine.

The civility-focused social media policies of Grace and most other private schools do nothing to recognize the internal economic inequalities that can, in themselves, be so troublesome. Students are generally not warned, for example, about the practice of posting pictures of themselves on Instagram in polo gear in Palm Beach or in front of their sprawling Bridgehampton hedgerow. Their parents often do the same. As always, who will watch the adults?