Mentors #2

A year ago when I completed the manuscript for College Success Guaranteed – 5 Rules to Make It Happen, I was honored by Warren Bennis’ offer to give it a read.  (Warren is the Distinguished Professor of Management at Univ. of Southern California and the author of several highly regarded books on leadership.  He’s also a Hyde alumni parent: Will ’87.)

When he finished, he said, “I loved the book.  In the course I co-teach with the USC president – ‘The Art & Adventure of Leadership’ – we only give a handful of A’s.  And it occurs to me that the few we do give are bestowed upon the students who embody the five rules in your book.”  (I confess that this was a big moment for me.)  Then he said…

“I would disagree with only one point in your book.  You don’t need to ‘get’ a mentor.  You need to “stalk” mentors!  And you need to stalk them throughout your lifetime.”  (Note to self: If I should ever write a revised version, change “get” to “stalk.”)

So, what is it that prevents today’s kids from getting, much less stalking, mentors?  I see three factors at work.  The first has to do with current societal perceptions pertaining to the whole notion of authority.

As a boy, I remember my mother demanding that I show respect to all people who were involved with what seemed to me to be the “helping” professions:

– the minister who lived down the street (despite the fact that he preached to a different denomination than ours);
– any and all policeman, firemen, or uniformed military personnel (My mother lost her father and two brothers in WW2.);
– the guys who drove the dairy and bakery trucks (remember trying to talk Mom into ordering the cupcakes?);
– any and all teachers;
– the President (despite the fact that I don’t recall my parents ever voting for the winner in any election during my childhood);
– even the Fuller Brush Man (remember him?) got to make his pitch in our house.

The way my elementary school mind read it, these folks, whether we agreed with them or not, were people who tried to improve life for us and our neighbors and that fact alone was worthy of our respect.

During my 35 years as a teacher, I have watched this notion fade beyond recognition.  Some of this devolution makes sense when you consider the fact that the lessons my mother taught me were in heavy competition with Vietnam, Watergate, and those horrible assassinations.  But even when these things were going on, we were still glimpsing (partially) our national figures through a veritable telescope on the 6 o’clock news.  Today’s kids, on the other hand, get a full frontal view through a 24-hour microscope and “enjoy” a fairly steady diet of less than inspiring stuff.  (See Penn State.)

So, authority has been given such a bad rap that it’s simply too uncool for a kid to enter into any kind of relationship that might have so much as a faint whiff of subservience to any adult authority figure.

Onward, Malcolm Gauld