Higher Learning


This morning I was interviewed by a magazine; the subject was “The Ten Questions Parents Should Ask” when choosing an independent school. Very shortly I will get around to telling you the one question I think outranks all others – perhaps all others combined – but this interview did put me in mind of one of the elements of our Mission: “preparation for higher learning and for life.” Earlier this week our Director of University Counselling, Alison McCallum, wrote a short piece on the University Counselling Blog about the question of higher learning. Here it is. It contains some seeds for more thinking, and a useful reference to an article in the Globe and Mail which mulls over not only the riddle of which institution to select, but also the mystery of whether higher learning is even worth it or not.

It is worth it. If you google the question, you will find lots of opinion and research on the advantages of university degrees and similar diplomas, and nearly all of them conclude that higher learning leads to greater opportunities, in terms of both income and career choice. For a student, however, those remote rewards are oddly not too powerful or persuasive. What is powerful and persuasive for a high school student, though, is the simple adventure posing the question of which institution, followed by the consequences of choosing. My observation of students is that this decision is actually not a pragmatic one, despite the efforts of parents and university counsellors to inject practicality into the considerations. The question is a deeper one, about the students’ possibilities, how they think of themselves now, and how they imagine their futures. Students who reflect, who have developed honest awareness of their strengths and passions, will also try to imagine a life in which other people – family, friends, community – are also going to create and embroider the fabric of their lives. They will have realized that human beings don’t congregate together in communities for the purpose of making money off each other. The deeper purpose of how they share lives and values and find fulfillment with others, regardless of their own level of income, will be a purpose that helps guide their decisions. I say this not as an exercise in wishful thinking. I know this is how our students usually think, because I have heard them say so.

The preparation for higher learning, therefore, is not detached from preparation for life. It is a way of asking the same question, and at SMUS we devote a lot of time to asking students to consider the question thoughtfully. Do the research, reflect on yourself and the world, and take the step with all the excitement that should accompany it.

As for the question that parents should ask that outranks all others when they are selecting an independent school, here it is: ask about the quality of the teachers. Facilities, curriculum, extra-curricular program, class size, reputation are all factors, but the most important factor that contributes to student success and fulfillment is excellent teaching. I welcome it when people ask that question at SMUS. Our teachers are committed to their students, and to their own personal and professional growth. I enjoy working with them.


  1. Yes quality of the teachers is Key. But personally what impressed me when my kids started at SMUS, 10 years ago, was how the students treated each other. I visited all three schools (Jr, Mdl and Sr), was impressed with that facet and that was the deciding factor. The zeitgeist at the school is terrific.

    • This is a great observation, Jean Marc. Sometimes we will have a student start mid-year, and one thing I am confident about saying to the new family is that the established student will do a very good job of making the newcomer feel welcome. Our kids impress me over and over.

  2. Well, that was fun Bob! On account of this blog I set up – for the first time – my very own twitter account. Sure is challenging scrunching down a thought into 140 characters. WOW. The tweet ended up sounding trite! This is what I had really wanted to say>> Maybe this should be rephrased “As for the question that *students* should ask. . . ” As a parent my job is to advocate for, defend, support and guide my children through their school years. After grade 12 they can do that for themselves. This is the time for them to take ownership of their own learning, their own future, their own mistakes and consequences. Parents need to know when it is time to cut the apron strings and I draw the line at High School Graduation!! Your message is excellent . . . I have already passed this on to my kids. Thank you so much. Laurie

    • Glad to see you on Twitter, Laurie. If you want to follow some of our educational discussions you might want to follow some of the people I follow. As for cutting the apron strings, it is good to get this right – we don’t do our kids any favours by letting them go too soon, or tying them down too long. One of the good things about a school like ours where the values are explicit and shared is that a parent can feel a bit more secure about loosening the grip, knowing that others will be picking up the baton, so to speak. Thanks for the comment. Bob


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