Is it mentor be? - exploring education’s role model fixation
‘No printed word nor spoken plea can teach young minds what they should be. Not all the books on the shelves, but what the teachers are themselves.’ (Rudyard Kipling)
Everyone it seems supports the current vogue for role models. From premiership footballers on reading programmes to Mo Farah for black kids in general, you can’t get away from the idea that someone can do more for students just by being themselves than someone else can by being a teacher. Thinkers as diverse as Kipling and Plato are invoked to support the notion that role models are a common-sense way forward when it comes to inspiring young students. Even transgender role models have been invoked as figures of inspiration to those students uncertain of how much they can reveal of themselves to others.
At the same time, a growing number of teachers are being disciplined for their behaviour outside of school, and for setting a bad example to impressionable young minds. Some have even lost their jobs because of failing to meet the changing standard of professionalism currently sweeping education. What does this ‘new appropriateness’ and the elevation of role modelling inside and outside the classroom tell us about education today? Is the current vogue for role models something we should welcome or be much more critical of? Does the concept of teacher as role model blur the distinction between a public and private life? And does the focus on role models elevate experiential learning at the expense of abstract knowledge?
Our speaker is Kevin Rooney, Head of Social Science and Deputy Head of Sixth Form at Queen’s School in Hertfordshire.