I've heard McCallie described as a Ritalin-deprived social wasteland, a playground for overly smart or rich kids, an almost perfect academic and athletic environment, and several times, "a school for fags," a comment more reflective on the ignorance of some other Chattanooga folks than the school itself. (This is not a weak attempt at humor - this is relevant, as you will see later.) Regardless, its outstanding academic rankings and extraordinary athletic success turn the spotlight on it fairly often, mostly if you're in the South. For a place so rich in tradition and noteable alumni, it's tough to get a proper read on the true soul of the school. It's probably impossible. It's silly to try and tie down something complex, though the school's website (www.mccallie.org) is constantly trying to.
I have walked McCallie's halls. I have drawn crude graffiti on its stall walls. I have slept in its library. While I cannot expose its true nature, I can report things as I saw them. The way I see it, if this helps anyone know what's coming or helps them make a future call on whether or not to send their kids off to this school, this write-up is worth the trouble.
The Objective Information
McCallie was established in 1905 as a military institution by the first noteable member of the McCallie family, a minister who was in fact really quite respectable. There's a story about how he stopped a lynch mob from taking out a black man accused of raping a white woman in town while he awaited trial in a Chattanooga jail cell. If I'm not mistaken, this man was later proven innocent. Anyways, the point is that the school originated as a very respectable institution with a great deal of integrity and a strict disciplinarian attitude. Whether it has retained that integrity is an ongoing debate.
Since its birth, the school has remained an all-male prep school. The class sizes are generally small and the tuition bill large (I graduated with 150 people, and as of 2004, tuition's at 14,500 dollars for day students and 28,850 for students who live in the dorms.) It has students from grades 6 through 12, though only high school students may reside in the dorms.
It's true that the administration tends to sing the praises of its alumni. Noteables (as noted by McCallie's site) include:
- Ted Turner, Vice President of Time-Warner, Inc, and vital cog in The Machine's death-grip on society.
- Howard Baker Jr., former Senate Majority Leader and White House Chief of Staff.
- Ralph E. McGill, late Pulitizer Prize winning editor of the Atlanta Constitution.
- Olan Mills, the chairman of Olan Mills Studios.
-The late Dr. James R. Killian, MIT's former president and chairman.
-Carroll Campbell Jr., former governor of South Carolina.
-G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Mississippi.
-Zach Wamp, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee.
-J. Louis Reynolds, late chairman of the Board of Reynolds International and executive vice president of Reynolds Metals.
-Charles Battle, vice president of the Atlanta Olympic Committee.
-James. B. Williams, president and CEO of SunTrust Banks.
Though the school doesn't make a habit of claiming them, Pat Robertson
did indeed attend, as did The Dell Kid
Now, to the point: Interested in sending your kid to McCallie? Consider the following:
McCallie's academics are incredible. Many of the teachers are noteable professors
from various universities
that have decided to teach high school and have sought a place at McCallie. This not an exaggeration - this school's faculty is damn good. In addition, the curriculum is varied, including far more classes than the typical high school, particularly in the foreign language department. (Current languages offered include Spanish
, and Greek
This, however, all comes with a price. Burnout
is frequent among McCallie students, to the point that many, many find themselves rather screwed up and mentally exhausted
. Some who perform well become incredibly arrogant
as a result of being, well, very smart. Others who don't perform so admirably feel pretty stupid
in comparison to the over-achievers, though they're in fact plenty smart. I suppose such is the case in many (if not all) schools.
McCallie, like most high schools, has drugs
. What makes McCallie different from many is the high school boarding population. Take the following things into account: The vast majority of these kids have money
already (a lot of it) and they're given 50 bucks a week as allowance
. There aren't many things around for them to spend it on. They have a mind for experimentation. They're smart enough to get just about whatever they want and plenty of them are prescribed adderall
as it is, a favorite pill to abuse, particularly in a competetive academic environment. Many of them are stuck in cramped dorm rooms most of the time and are seeking a way out. (Think of your freshman year of college. Then imagine it as a 9th grader. You don't even have a car
.) Thus, McCallie's got an expansive drug history that occasionally rears its head. Example: My junior year, a guy I knew was caught attempting to sell pills
in one of the dorms. He was presented with a choice; he could either rat out the people he sold to and leave school as a withdrawing student, or he could keep quiet and they'd kick him out officially, marring his permanent record
. He chose the former, and the people he turned in where given the same choice. Within three days, about 78 people were involved, almost half of that class. It's not as if drugs are spilling into the hallways from overstuffed lockers, but the school does have pretty serious issues with it.
The Social Aspect.
Being in an all-male environment has some major implications. As one might expect, they are both good
. For the sake of optimism, I'll cover the good first. Unless you're completely detached
from the rest of the school's population (which is highly unlikely even for the most stereotypical outcast types) the sense of comraderie
and brotherhood is strong. Very. Perhaps it comes from sharing some intense academic and athletic pressure or in sometimes from a communal dislike for the powers that be
(see the upcoming section on that), but McCallie students seem to have each others' backs regardless of the circumstances or what social circles they run in. While having no girls around has obvious negative benefits, the drama
associated with the presence of relationships and jealousy is nowhere present, and students tend to feel more free to be themselves since there aren't any girls around to impress. Class discussions are frank and open.
The Chattanooga community at large has interesting reactions to McCallie. Lots of other high school students seem to have an open animosity
towards McCallie's students, whether it's because they're snobs
or because, since it's an all-male school, they're logically all gay
. Thus, McCallie students are "stuck-up fags" a good deal of the time. Outside of other high school students, people seem to like McCallie for its community service projects.
certainly aren't missing from the lives of the boys attending. There's a sister
school, the Girls Preparatory School, that shares events, sports teams, and even a class here and there. Still, alot of the guys enter college with minimal female interaction, and this can have negative reprocussions. There is a potential for a certain naivete
that can come across as charming and refreshing, but harmful just as easily.
McCallie's got a myriad of state championships to its name, particularly in swimming
, which has been won 19 times since 1969. Crew
is similarly legendary. Other sports are solid but don't stand out as strongly.
While McCallie isn't allowed to recruit, it has a tendency to obtain coaches
with almost suspicious effectiveness. One of the German
Olympic crew coaches was picked up for the rowers for a time, for instance. A personal favorite: One year, the cross country team was lagging a little. The next year, a few boarding students from Kenya
showed up and we suddenly got much better.
There is sketchiness lying slightly below the surface that most people don't catch. Things tend to stay more quiet than they logically should. Again, examples:
- When I was in 7th grade, one of the older guys suffocated
himself in a plastic bag. Nevermind the logistics of that suicide
; I don't recall any real news coverage on his death and I do recall an assembly asking us not to make a big deal of it. Actually, the school's suicide record is not at all sparkling.
-The school has a hidden past of violent conflicts
that may or may not be true. While you probably won't find documents detailing certain events, many teachers will quietly tell you the story of the day they came to school to find one of the kids with an AK-47
sitting on the roof of one Locket Lodge. After a stand-off, he killed himself. Similar stories
are to be found regarding people who've been caught in the process of preparing something deadly
(i.e. a gunner on a hill caught before firing), though the validity of these stories is obviously highly questionable. What makes them worth investigating is that certain teachers will vouch for the validity of them, though they'll often preface it by telling you that they could be fired
for doing so.
- At times, the administration can be shady about what they'll do to project a proper image. That has a good deal to do with why scandals
are never heard about outside of the school community, but it also applies to specific instances. A short time ago, a police officer
was gunned down and killed very near to the school. There was a huge community outpour of sympathy, including a funeral procession
eight miles long. As it passed by the school, hundreds of McCallie students spontaneously left their classes to stand alongside the road with their hands over their hearts. It began to rain, but nobody felt it appropriate to go inside before the end of the procession. The administrative response? They excused all students from class, but also had people come out and take pictures of the boys standing in the rain
, wearily waving to the crying family as they passed. They've gotta document those shining moments.
The school's not for everyone. There's a certain amount of bullshit
and unnecessary stress to deal with. Regardless, it's a pretty incredible institution once one gets past the unpleasant aspects of it and the crippling financial burden.