Stations and Callings: Making It through the School System


332 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-458-95300-8




Reviewed by Ashley Thomson

Ashley Thomson is a full librarian at Laurentian University and co-editor or co-author of nine books, most recently Margaret Atwood: A Reference Guide, 1988-2005.


This is another monograph by the authors of Does Money Matter? (1979). It is dedicated to the memory of one of their number, John Porter, of Vertical Mosaic fame. The study’s objective is to examine those factors which make students (and certain sub-sets of students, such as girls, or francophones) aspire to stay in school, and then go on to various forms of post-secondary education.

Among the variables examined, “in temporal sequence,” are: 1) the students’ socio-cultural background (for example, their parents’ class, or religion); 2) demographic givens, such as the students’ sex, birth order, and mental ability; 3) students’ perceptions of their “life chance”; 4) the students’ attitudes toward themselves, toward school; 5) the influence of “significant others,” such as parents or schoolmates; and 6) school factors, such as students’ performance, or the programmes enrolled in.

While, as the authors demonstrate, most of these factors are related to each other, and each varies in importance depending upon circumstances, at least one important fact emerges by the end of this study: “that the decision to embark on a path that will eventually lead to university is made very early. The decision may be modified, or the student may be bumped off the path, but it is more likely to be modified if the student is from a lower rather than an upper-middle class background” (p. 315).

The data upon which this study is based were collected for the most part in 1971, in Ontario, from students in Grades 8, 10, and 12. Nonetheless, the book will very likely be of current interest in all other provinces because its policy implications are many. To be sure, the authors do not dwell on policy, but it is an important corollary of their work. For example, the authors dispute the notion, normally promoted by student organizations and the NDP, that the abolition of tuition fees will open up university to all who want to go. Instead, they argue that if equality of education is to be realized for everyone, much more work will have to be done at the elementary level. Some suggestions are offered.

This monograph deserves a wide audience and it is a pity that it will not likely get it. The text comes complete with oodles of charts, diagrams, and statistics which, along with a dry style, will deter all but the specialist audience of educational sociologists for whom the book seems primarily written.


Porter, John, Marion Porter, and Bernard R. Blishon, “Stations and Callings: Making It through the School System,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 7, 2023,