Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

School was school

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I went to an interesting high school in Toronto. Per capita I'd say we had the highest ratio of slackers, as well as the easiest access to drugs and alcohol, of any high school in the city.

Few teachers ever took attendance and if a supply teacher ever asked you to go to the office and sign the late book, it was obvious that nobody ever read it — "goldfish is sick," read one of the excuses one day, while a friend of mine wrote "hungover" in the space below. I wrote something about being abducted by aliens and left in the suburbs without bus fare to see what would happen and nothing did. I used to come a bit late to school after that just to see who could come up with the most creative excuse.

School was a genuinely fun place to be, which is why so many people — my brother included — opted to take what was known as a "victory lap" and graduate in six years instead of the usual five (back when Ontario had a Grade 13 program). There was one guy in school who was 23 and had been in high school for nine years by the time I was in my final year — some thought he must have been a police informant but nobody ever seemed to get arrested for anything.

School pride was non-existent, and we were proud of that. Cheering on a school team was something you did ironically, as an excuse to get out of school early. The football team won the (Tier 2) Metro Toronto football division when I was in Grade 12 and I came up with the ball at the end of the game after a failed double reverse — all I remember after that is the stench of gin as I was mobbed by classmates with slushie cups.

For better or worse, that was my youth. I don't necessarily recommend it, but that's the way things were at that school in those days. And I went to that particular high school because it was close, just two blocks from my house, and never considered going anywhere else. Even if my parents had the money to send me to a private school I wouldn't have wanted to leave.

And yet, despite all the slackers and a citywide bad reputation, we were also one of the smarter schools overall. More grads went on to university than other schools in the district. We had a gifted program. We won the Toronto "Reach for the Top" trivia award every single year I was there. Our top math student helped design the SkyDome in his free time, while the top grads from my year went on to win all the top scholarships from the top universities in Canada.

Some of my fellow grads are quite successful, I'm proud to say, and even the group of guys we affectionately called "The Sweathogs" after the show Welcome Back Kotter is doing well. The remedial class kids everyone assumed wouldn't amount to much have been starting businesses, launching successful high-tech startups, making parts for top car manufacturers, and so on. One of them is an actual MLA in Ontario. And all of them make more money than I do.

The reason I point all of this out is because I went to a university overwhelmingly populated by private school kids, probably because it was small, ancient, hard to get into and had Ivy League pretentions — we wore robes to dinner once a week, for example, and our library was stocked with the largest collection of old books in Canada. My high school grades were pretty good, but I assumed all of the more privileged kids, whose parents spent upwards of $200,000 to send them to boarding schools, would make me look like an idiot.

Not so. Some kids did better than others (and a lot of them did better than I did that year), but I couldn't see any real advantage to going to a private school over a public school as far as academics were concerned. All of those kids loved their private boarding schools and they're all very connected to powerful people. But I've since heard a few of them wish that their parents had sent them to public school and instead given them that $200K after graduating to start a business, buy a house, go to grad school or whatever.

With one, and possibly two, private schools opening in Sea to Sky, and our existing Waldorf school expanding, it's an interesting situation. Parents will always want the best for their children, and private schools fit that bill for many families. Several students from the resort already do attend private schools in the Lower Mainland or on Vancouver Island.

But the thing is, Whistler Secondary is a pretty great school, in the top 15 per cent if you take any stock in the Fraser Institute's rankings — and it would likely rank higher if fewer kids were focused on high performance sports. And the more students they get (read: not attending private schools) the more programs and courses they can offer.

University and grad school seem a lot more important in the grand scheme of things. In my experience it doesn't make all that much difference how you get there.

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