Headmaster's Vision

The Creation of Significant Men

From Veritas 2017

Perhaps it would be much more effective if we just reverted back to the traditional expression: “gentleman.” That might make things easier. For centuries, there has been an attempt to come up with the ultimate adjective to be used in front of the word “man.” We can debate the semantics of the issue, but I tend to drift towards the word “significant.” Therefore, at Selwyn House, we can say with a tremendous amount of pride that we make every attempt to help create significant men. It is rather existential to determine the exact meaning of “significant” in this sense, and to help, I draw you to our ever-present vision. A significant man is a man who embraces the concept of Selwyn House VERITAS. He is true to others, he is true to his school, but above all else (my attempt to sound Shakespearean), he is true to himself. He is self-aware, self-respectful, self-confident, and he develops the skill to be a self-advocate.

Easier said than done, but at the same time, it is a fairly straightforward description of the task. Now for a dose of reality, articulated through the greatest challenge of boys’ education: How do we, as a proud boys’ school, aid in the creation of significant men? I am not suggesting that the school environment alone can assume this responsibility. It is far too complicated for this, and I remind you all of the Mark Twain quote: “I refuse to allow school to interfere with my education.” However, school does play a crucial role, and Selwyn House, in particular, pays close attention to this task. In fact, I would be bold enough to say we are obsessed with this responsibility. To be blunt, we take pride in what we do that fosters the creation of significant men. The recent CAIS Accreditation Report (which you can read about in this issue) confirms our success. In that report, the following is stated: “The concept of VERITAS pervades all aspects of school life…it dominates the school’s culture, and provides a focus for ongoing efforts to build a boy-friendly environment in which character education is a touchstone…the visiting committee commends the school on its success in developing a boy-friendly environment in which every boy is known and loved.” From an outsider’s viewpoint, we are establishing the environment necessary before one can begin the quest for building significant men.

At Selwyn House, we believe there are four necessary ingredients required to create significant men. The first is that boys need to establish a clear base of friends. Any definition of our current male crisis starts with the premise that men do not develop lasting and meaningful friendships. Their lack of meaningful, deep relationships is at the heart of this crisis. Boys are desperate to develop a true sense of friendship, and they instinctively understand that friendship takes a great deal of effort and that friends enable a person to navigate the most difficult periods in life. What is true and what is so important is that boys who attend boys’ schools tend to keep their high-school friends for life. Boys need an environment where friendship can flourish for them, and our current environment (as indicated by the CAIS report) is, therefore, enabling.

Secondly, boys need effective and legitimate male role models. Obviously, this puts (as it should) a great deal of pressure on fathers, but at the same time, every male member of our faculty is cognizant of the fact that they are male role models to all our boys. Boys need to witness integrity, honesty, passion, empathy, vulnerability, displays of emotion other than anger, hard work, and love from other men. And they need to experience and witness this on an ongoing basis. 
Thirdly, while the presence of male role models is important, a boy will have an exceedingly difficult time becoming a significant man without substantial and constant influence from women. It all starts with Mom, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the single greatest contributor to a man’s happiness happens to be the relationship he has with his mother. Over the past fifty years, boys’ schools have evolved to the point that virtually fifty per cent of the faculties of any boys’ school are women, and the same percentages can be found in leadership positions. One advantage women have is their ability to quickly and accurately define significance, and through that knowledge and influence, boys experience and learn much. Women cannot be men, but they sure know what a good man is. They know the path towards building significant men. Today, it is not about how we as men feel about women; rather, it is about how women feel about us as individual men.

Finally, and most importantly for me, if any boy is going to develop into a significant man, he cannot miss boyhood. This at first sounds rather obvious but let me assure you, it is not. So many institutions (especially schools) make every attempt to take the boy out of a boy. Boyhood can be messy, disorganized, chaotic, and frustrating, but it is absolutely necessary to experience all of this if we are to turn boys into capable, responsible, hard-working, respectful, caring, emotional, diligent, mature, sensible and loving men.

The quest continues. VERITAS remains the guiding principle of light and the development of significant men remains a cornerstone of everything we attempt to do. In the end, it is the greatest legacy we can develop: turning boys into men into significant men.