Look beyond glamour and glitz for true role models
Seldom do you hear of good role models. Footballers, pop stars, actors. Famous people will let you down. Not because they're bad people, but because they're normal people. And normal people are flawed. Never meet your heroes, the sagacious say. They probably have a point.
Who is a good role model? David Beckham, probably. England's former football captain ticks plenty of boxes. Family man, sportsman supreme, willing to send himself up. The one-time Manchester United star almost single-handedly secured the Olympics for London, in between being a global ambassador for all that puts the Great in Britain. His reward? Omitted from the London Olympics squad, which in turn only increases his chances of becoming a minor deity. If your son was David Beckham, or daughter married to him, you would be immensely proud.
It was not, though, ever thus. Time was, David Beckham was a bad role model. Sent off against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup for a petulant kick at an opponent, Beckham was for a time a pantomime villain. A haircut with a pop star girlfriend. His effigy swung from a rusting pub sign. How things change.
I don't actually believe many children or youngsters are influenced by role models, that in fact they are a media construct. A pop star might influence the clothes youngsters wear, but most recognise the appeal is superficial. If a child swears because Wayne Rooney has a tendency to turn the air blue then it should earn the wrath of a strong parent, and enough would be enough. In any case, bad language was common long before England's centre-forward, and he merely becomes a scapegoat.
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Of course, it would be naive to think there is no correlation between how celebrities, musicians and sports stars behave and what impressionable teenagers in their most formative years get up to. But its influence can be over-stated. More to the point, "good" role models are seldom drawn from the exalted classes. Much closer to home in fact. But perhaps they need a bit of a nudge.
This week, a campaign was launched to encourage workers to visit state schools to talk about their careers. Backed by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Inspiring the Future campaign aims to tackle the mismatch between what young people want to do with their lives and jobs available. That, at the same time, "success" means more than appearing in a reality television show scantily clad.
"If you look at what young people aspire to be, it's vets, actors and pop stars," said Nick Chambers of the Education and Employers Taskforce charity, which is running the Inspiring the Future Campaign.
"A lot of the roles young people see are the roles they see on TV. There are few role models in other industries. Young people don't often realise that behind the scenes of a TV presenter is a camera crew, receptionist, make-up artist, a marketing or legal team and so on."
Best of luck with that, you might be thinking, dubiously. But top professionals like doctors, business people and engineers should visit state schools to give pupils job ideas – it is a regular feature in private schools.
What's more, the response to the campaign was highly instructive. Via the social media website Twitter, hundreds of people revealed who inspired them. Well-known journalists chose other journalists, be it that they had read columns in newspapers or come up close to titans of the industry. Politicians were much the same. Many people paid tribute to their parents, but it was teachers who were lauded the most. "My history teacher Mr Smith inspired my love of politics," gushed the Deputy Prime Minister.
At the risk of blithely following the herd, I feel the same. One teacher in particular was remarkable. Mr Storrie, my history teacher for four years, orchestrated lessons. They were challenging – at the very edge of our intellectual grasp – without ever straying into academic naval-gazing, We were as likely to be exposed to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's bleak novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich as we were Plastic Bertrand, the Belgian punk rocker. The proof was in the pudding. Our A level class, a more mediocre bunch you couldn't hope to meet, scored A and B grades across the board. David who?