Past & Present Fall 2005
Past and Present
Love and Entitlement
On a sunny afternoon in mid-July, I found myself conferencing in Washington with hundreds of educators from around the world focusing on boys’ education in independent schools internationally. I was in the National Cathedral listening to an Evensong that had been specially arranged for us, and even my hardened heart was moved by the soaring melodies that echoed through the vaulted chamber. The homily was offered by Canon Vance Wilson, who also happens to be the Headmaster of St. Albans School, the prestigious boys’ school in the area that was generously co-hosting the conference. He had some interesting ideas to offer, and I surreptitiously wrote them down on the program because they rang so true to the spirit and intent of a Crescent School education.
Dr. Wilson spoke eloquently about the challenges of educating boys in an independent school. He spoke about the joys, the angst, the varied styles of parental input – good, bad or indifferent – and the significance of seeing teaching as a vocation, and not just a profession. He spoke about the importance of personal connections for boys, of role models that they can emulate, and the primacy of relationships over curricula. In his view, the teacher is far more important, and infinitely more memorable, than whatever course material is taught. The medium, the teacher in the classroom, is the message the boys receive. In closing, Dr. Wilson urged the educators from around the world to let our boys know that they are, “always loved, but never entitled.”
I believe that the teachers at Crescent know this implicitly and practice this regularly; nonetheless, I will remind them of Wilson’s golden rule at the beginning of the year. (By the time you read this, it will already have been accomplished.) We strive to let our boys know that we care for them, even when, and especially when, they don’t live up to our expectations academically or behaviourally. I think we do that in spades at Crescent, and have done so probably since Jimmy James first opened the front door of his house. The second part of Wilson’s exhortation is significantly more difficult, however, as it involves many more variables, and it ultimately challenges the student to re-examine his habitual and comfortable cultural frame of reference.
However we analyse our student body, whether economically, socially, or ethnically, it is comprised of select and somewhat privileged individuals. Simply living in Canada puts them in a more advantageous position than millions of students from around the globe. Being enrolled in one of the finest boys’ schools in the world is nothing to slough off either. Going home each night to a comfortable bed with their stomachs full after watching TV, playing computer games, or MSNing to their heart’s content is de rigueur. It is seductively easy for students, therefore, to take their good fortune for granted. Unless challenged, they can effortlessly imagine that they are entitled to the good life.
Dr. Wilson invited all of us on that warm Washington evening to work against this belief of entitlement in our students. It is truly a Sisyphean task as nearly 100 new students are enrolled each year; however, it is a task all of us at Crescent are committed to overcome.
Historically, our students have been perceived by our peer schools as being able to combine successfully personal excellence with appropriate humility. Our students embody the ethos of Crescent School. We are proud of what we are, but don’t feel the need to trumpet our achievements. We are not entitled to our successes: we must earn them. Day to day at Crescent we focus on who the student is rather than what he has got; it dramatically levels the playing field and strips away any pretence of entitlement.
Additionally, our emerging leadership in community and global outreach is enriching our students’ perspective of where they stand in the world. Through the global outreach programs we have created, students see cultural realities far different than those to which they are accustomed; they learn that there are other ways of living in the world that are equally valid and perhaps more joyous. There’s nothing quite as humbling for our students than seeing people with materially less in their lives apparently equally happy – or even happier – than they are. It strips away entitlement in a heartbeat.
Dr. Vance Wilson’s words echoed through the Washington’s National Cathedral. They also resonated with the spirit and practices of Crescent School. We will continue to strive to ensure our students know they are always loved and never entitled. We will continue to do those things that promote knowledge of the self and the other in our quest for men of character from boys of promise. It’s our promise to our students, our parents, and to you – past, present and in the future.