If as Shakespeare put it that brevity is the soul of wit, I stand before you witless. Since giving up teaching for administration I rarely have an opportunity to inflict suffering upon an unsuspecting audience and so clearly this is one of those openings that must be taken advantage of.
A few years ago the Ontario Ministry of Education sent out a poster to all high schools. The poster depicted a diverse group of happy teenagers with the caption “Every Student has the Right to Success”. The statement was made without argument, qualification or clarification but was rather in the form of an edict. Suffice to say, whereas most of us would agree that everyone should have the opportunity to succeed, few would want to admit to it as a guarantee in life. In fact, the very suggestion seems to assume success as something that is given rather than earned.
Today, we celebrate not only the successful operation of Robert Land Academy over 40 years but also the success of our current to be graduates and the realization of their post secondary aspirations. In both cases, these are stories of success earned and not given.
I first heard of Robert Land Academy 39 years ago when its founder Scott Bowman was in attendance at a class at McMaster University where I had been invited as a guest lecturer. I later taught Scott in my capacity as an assistant in a course that he subsequently took. He was rather unforgettable in that he wore a uniform on the campus and as such did not match the regular dress code of the day. In conversation, he talked about a school that he had recently started up and so it was that I first came to see it in operation in 1981. Needless to say, it was a very different place than it is today. It is equally needless to point out that the school and the service it provided would not have survived for 40 years had it not delivered on its promises and had it not been supported in its efforts by many dedicated staff over four decades.
Scott and I had many conversations about education and I put it to him that I would like to see an academic programme in place at the school equal in rigor and demands to the physical programme then in place. I had at that time no way of knowing that 24 years ago I would be given the opportunity to put that wish into practice when I was hired to take over the academic functioning of the school. Scott is not here today but enjoying his retirement and one assumes that he would take H.G. Wells seriously when Wells said “Leaders should lead as far as they can and then vanish. Their ashes should not choke the fire that they have lit.” The fire that he lit 40 years ago is still burning and it falls to us to keep it lit.
Bertrand Russell stated that “It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves great results.” The great hope that inspired Robert Land Academy was that boys could be given a second chance to turn their lives around, realize their potential and find meaning and happiness in their life. The strength of Robert Land Academy has been in its ability to grow, develop, respond and improve by remaining sensitive to the changing needs of the boys that it services and the changing challenges in the environments from which they come. However the central characteristics of the boys we serve remain constant: Strong Willed, Highly Intelligent, Manipulative and Short Sighted. The main issue---helping them to develop the self-control and self-direction required to channel their energies and abilities. The main lesson ---- teaching them that personal freedom does not consist in doing what you want but in being able to control yourself to do what you need to do. In this way you can realize goals and ambitions and having the knowledge necessary to formulate strategies and alternatives. A fusion of emotion and intellect provides the under lying framework and their successful integration forms the mental health necessary for individual fulfillment and happiness.
Those of you who have attempted gardening may have experienced the joys of growing tomatoes. Tomato plants will grow rapidly and spread all over the ground. A minority of the tomatoes will ripen and are edible while the majority touch the ground, receive no sunlight and are discarded or rot. Those who have the wisdom to use a wire support system known as a tomato cage will find that the plant will grow upwards and that the majority of the tomatoes are able to ripen and be edible. As tomato plants require structure, support and guidance so do young men. It is the failure of modern educational practice to not realize this and to not acknowledge and direct the specific male gender characteristics that are at once sources of strength as well as sources of inherent weakness. In short, restrictions--- environmental and otherwise can encourage growth whereas allowing freedom of growth and can result in inhibiting it.
Oscar Wilde stated that “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing worth knowing can be taught.” The irony in this comment belays the point that Wilde was making that learning and knowledge are not inculcated through a system of the passive acceptance of facts but rather through a dynamic experience involving the integration of emotion and intellect. During my childhood this was referred to ‘digesting’ material and I think that would you agree that there seems to be chronic indigestion out there today. Robert Land Academy provides a program that addresses the needs of the entire boy so as to move from a two dimensional education to a three dimensional educational experience. The irony becomes the fact that what appears to at first restrict freedom and the opportunities for self-fulfillment turns out to be the means whereby they can be ultimately achieved.
The ancient Greeks introduced the notion of the person as a complex entity made up of parts into Western civilization. An analogy they employed was the chariot, the charioteer and the horse. A successful balance of the three was made possible by balancing strengths against weaknesses. A very strong horse with an inexperienced charioteer would spell disaster as would a strong horse, an experienced charioteer and a defective chariot. The fastest chariot would be the one that matched a skilled charioteer, a strong horse and a sound chariot.
Needless to say, many young men possess strong horses and delude themselves with the feeling that wherever they are pulled by them is the direction that they wanted to go in the first place. The separation of horse and driver requires at first the realization that they are not one and the same. The introduction of direction and its pursuit requires the introduction of purpose.
We have before us tonight a group of young men who have their chariot under control, are heading in the right direction and are directed by purpose.
University and College applications are in and responses with acceptance are appearing on an almost daily basis. It is too early to claim 100% post-secondary acceptance but we are well on our way and expect this years success to be no less than our previous ten years. At present all but 4 of our graduates have already received offers of admission. The happiness that has come with the first offer has now been replaced by anxiety over which university or program to eventually accept. This is a good problem to have.
Our class of 2019 consists of the following boys and I shall indicate the field of study that they are pursuing after I call their name:
Callum Beer Social Sciences
Kevin DeOrellana Engineering
Abraham Doupe English
Yige Gan Architecture
David Gao Psychology
Daniel Hudson Social Sciences
Feng Li Engineering
David Neves Fire Fighting
David Solomon Computer Science
Aiden Strasser Mathematics
Wenxuan Sun Engineering
Jing Hong Zhang Cultural Sciences
I would not want to embarrass anyone specifically here by comparing their marks before coming to Robert Land Academy to their marks now. But I can say that none were accepted on the basis of what they had done but on the basis of what it was believed that they could do. While not giving names, let me give you some anonymous examples:
presently with 89% had a 23.6% average upon entry failing 6 courses out of 8
presently with 94% had 64% upon entry
presently 88% with 68.7 upon entry
presently 87% with 69 upon entry
presently 88% with 63% upon entry
presently 92% with 29% upon entry failing 6 of 8 subjects
presently 81% with 54% upon entry
presently 74% with 36% upon entry
I will limit the list to this in order that the guilty can claim innocence. However, I think that the point is well made that the program works.
The Robert Land definition of success is not graduating from high school. Who among you has ever known anyone to frame their high school diploma and hang it on the wall? Success consists of graduating from high school with choices and with the freedom to pursue your own path. It is controlling yourself and to that end your destiny. It is being the captain of your own ship. That is success. It is also the key to individual and human happiness.
Gentlemen, your success is your own but we claim some share of having make it possible. It is up to you to carry through with what you have now started and it is up to you to confront challenges and difficulties with determination and resolve. Keep control of your chariot and keep your eyes on the road ahead. We will continue to live up to our challenges by ensuring that the Academy continues to live up to those of other young men like you.
On a final note, I would ask our graduates to be to think about your parents. Oscar Wilde said “Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” In each of your cases I can remember that your respective parents were much more enthusiastic about you attending the academy than you were. I trust that you can now go beyond forgiveness to gratitude. I further hope that in the future each of you will have at least one son just like yourself and that Robert Land Academy will be here to accept them.