Scenes from the class struggle in North Toronto

This is the worst piece of journalism I have ever seen, on the front page of The Globe and Mail no less, a back to school story of one family who is now coughing up $50K per year for their two daughters to go to Havergal College in Toronto.

Parents opting for private over public schools

Sydney Wells and her twin sister, Katharine, will not be attending the same public school as their friends this morning. Instead, the 11-year-olds will don white shirts, kilts and blazers for their first day at a private school.

Although they may not know anyone at Toronto’s Havergal College, an all-girls school, their parents have enrolled them there during the critical middle-school years to give the pair a leg up.

“I’m nervous,” Sydney admits, “because I don’t have very many friends there. It will be fun. There’s smaller classes, and it’s more challenging and it’s all girls.”

That’s exactly what her parents want to hear. With the onset of puberty, seismic social pressures and emotional changes that occur in the late preteen years, the Wells family and some others are turning from the public-school system.

What they will not hear about is the elaborate clique networks in elite private schools, which come with a whole set of other “social pressures and emotional changes”.

Instead, parents, including middle-income earners, are shopping around for the best educational fit for their children — even if it means shelling out big bucks for private schools.

Parents who can afford $25K per kid per year, that is, and times two in this instance. Barring going into debt, this family must have an annual pre-tax income of at least $300K per year to be able to make this kind of “choice”, probably higher. That would put them well into the top one percent of families.

“It’s a period when kids start maturing, so we are more concerned about their peer influences and issues of safety and the school environment,” said Lynn Bosetti, an education professor at the University of Calgary, whose research deals with school choice. “Parents start looking toward finding a school that’s more aligned with their values and beliefs.”

Would that be the values and beliefs of the upwardly mobile nouveau riche?

Tony Wells, was intent on sending his daughters to a private school after they graduated from Grade 6. He did not like the smell of marijuana every time he passed the grounds of the local middle school.

“It’s just a risk. I think they’re much better off,” Dr. Wells said. “It just makes no sense to me to send them to school where there’s 600 hormone-crazed kids.”

I hate to break it to you but rich kids in private schools often do drugs, too. Perhaps more drugs. Having a daughter of my own, I think I know what he is also concerned about: sex. Alas, rich kids in private school find a way of getting that, too.

The choice is costing him about $25,000 a year for each child. But he feels that Sydney and Katharine, both of whom were on the honour roll, will have more opportunities in the private-school system than in the cash-strapped, overburdened public system.

Nice, the way that “cash strapped overburdened public system” is just thrown on there for fun! Hey parents who have their kids in public school: we’re better than you!

What terrible, unbalanced fluff. As someone who went to Upper Canada College (just down the road from Havergal, for those of you not in the know about the “right schools” in Toronto), I feel like I got a good education but was exposed to some awful social pressures that it took me years to shake. During my time there there some major abuses going on (the Doug Brown affair that played out in the pages of this very same paper not too long ago, among others). I once got cuffed in the head, blind-sided, off my chair onto the floor by a teacher.

Glorifying private schools in this way, especially when the high school in question is an old guard reserve for the daughters of Toronto’s most affluent, is highly questionable as a story. A better answer: making all public schools as well resourced as Havergal and UCC.

UPDATE: In the September 7 Globe and Mail there is a big thick glossy supplement, Our Kids go to School: Canada’s Essential Guide to Private Education, with “Profiles of more than 200 Private and Independent Schools”. Ah, so much clearer now.


  • I read the piece too, and absolutely agree with you. The other thing that struck me was that, although the headline was “Parents Opting for Private over Public Schools” there was absolutely nothing in the article to suggest that this is happening to any significant degree. I guess it is literally true, because the Wells family is opting for private, but anyone else? It just doesn’t say.

  • I go to Havergal College and I do agree that there is just as much drugs going on in school. Just recently, one of my friends got expelled for doing drugs in school. Sex, drugs and alcohol is rampant. Although I do feel that private schools do give you a leg up educationally, in terms of problems such as sex, drugs and alcohol, it is comparable to public schools.

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