In my last entry, I observed that a blog gives a writer licence to ramble a bit – so here goes: residence construction, Nelly Furtado, and the evolution of an academic programme.
This morning workmen were putting the final touches on a stone wall outside the renovation of one of our boarding residences. This took me back to the construction of the Crothall Centre, at the very beginning of the current campus redevelopment. The Crothall Centre was the keystone of this redevelopment; without it we couldn’t start the other projects because those facilities all needed a place to decamp during construction.
Before spades went into the ground for the Crothall Centre we had some interesting and exciting discussions with our neighbours – discussions that ended happily, fortunately, as they understood better what we were after, and we understood better what they were afraid of. A comment that came from the floor in one of these discussions was that we didn’t need better facilities (the fact that some of ours were falling down and seismically unsound is beside the point); after all Nelly Furtado had gone on to fortune and fame from her humble start in one of the local schools here in Victoria.
So she did. And so, frankly, have most of the geniuses and famous artists in history, and in the contemporary world. The comment does reveal, though, a common misconception in education: that the purpose of a good or great school is to create a nourishing hothouse for those few who will shine above the rest, whether they are Nelly Furtado or our own Steve Nash. The notion that the school and its programmes will be measured by the “best and brightest” is a philosophy that seduces many schools – or even entire cultures (who offer examples of their geniuses, artists or athletes as an indication of their superiority). The reality is that a good or great school has to provide every student with the opportunity to pursue his or her excellence. Every school and every humble circumstance will produce its Einsteins and Beethovens, its Nelly Furtados and Steve Nashes. At SMUS right now, in the two major areas of leadership and learning, we are in fact evolving and pursuing a rather different philosophy – that there is excellence in all of us, and that all students should have experiences that allow them to pursue their particular gifts.
One of the men who works on the grounds of the school – sweeping the drive, cleaning up debris and watering plants – is an SMUS grad. He has a very old-fashioned view of my role, and greets me cheerfully and very formally nearly every day, happy to be working at his old school. His formality and air of respect toward my role is a little embarrassing actually, but that is my issue, not his. It’s great having happy alumni, regardless of their station in life.