Every once in a while (but regularly enough) a parent – or perhaps an alum, or even someone outside the School who has learned what I do and wants to help save education – will tell me very earnestly, “You know what these young people need to learn? To balance a chequebook.”
The first time I heard the advice, I did a mental double-take. What, exactly, did they mean? Balancing a chequebook is simple addition and subtraction. Not wanting to trivialize the advice, I don’t answer that I think every student in Grade 3 could do the balancing without making a mistake. At the same time, there is more to this idea than meets the eye: many governments in the world can’t balance their chequebooks.
You no doubt have gone as quickly as I did to the real meaning of this advice: what every student needs to learn is how to manage his or her life responsibly (especially when it comes to money and financial commitments), and to develop some self-discipline and a sense of direction. I would say, in fact, that the School’s essential purposes – to pursue academic success in an environment where the character and the self also grow – embrace the entire underlying foundation for the ostensibly utilitarian act of balancing one’s chequebook.
Please don’t think I’m making light of the original suggestion, or exaggerating the higher purpose of what SMUS does. Neither is the case. In education we do think continually about the question: how do you translate the lessons of school, which can be theoretical and bookish, into equipment for living? The first answer I will offer is something we are exploring and implementing in a big way at SMUS right now: Experiential Education – quite simply, education that strives to give every lesson the context of the real world.
Secondly this whole sphere of what I described above as “managing our lives responsibly” has an educational domain attached to it; we use the phrase “executive function”. Executive function covers all the operations involved in getting your work done, doing your assignments and understanding how to get from the beginning of a complex assignment to the end. We devote huge amounts of time to this from Kindergarten to Grade 12, we run classes after school, we incorporate units into an array of subjects in the Junior School, Middle School and Senior School. If you are REALLY interested in the topic, you might want to have a listen and look at the videos of our parent presentations under the heading of “Learning and the Brain”, conducted by Heather Clayton, our Director of Learning. You’ll find them here.
I know that balancing your chequebook is necessary, but your chequebook can wait – these talks are much more interesting.