- Like its politicians and its wars, society has the teenagers it deserves. [Attributed to J.B. Priestly]
Watching someone who does something well is an excellent way to learn. This is true for activities as varied as performing surgery and living responsibly. Every society needs role models and other exemplars of skill and virtue.
Charles W. Chesnutt, who was "an author, essayist and political rights activist best known for his novels and short stories exploring complex issues of racial and social identity," has been called an exemplary citizen. He self-identified as an African-American during an era of virulent racism. His extensive works are available online, free of charge through Berea College. Some of his works are available in print.
- Jesse S. Critzler, Robert C. Leitz, III, and Joseph R. McElrath, Jr., eds., An Exemplary Citizen: Letters of Charles W. Chesnutt, 1906-1932 (Stanford University Press, 2002).
- Charles W. Chesnutt, Chesnutt: Stories, Novels, and Essays (Library of America, 2002).
Everyone whose photograph appears on any of these pages is a role model. You could study any of them to appreciate the idea. Here are some works specifically on the subject of role models.
- Henriette van der Blom, Cicero's Role Models: The Political Strategy of a Newcomer (Oxford University Press, 2010).
- Jacqueline Southern Hirst and Lynn Thomas, Playing for Real: Hindu Role Models, Religion and Gender (Oxford University Press, 2004).
- Carol Hanbery MacKay, Creative Negativity: Four Victorian Examplars of the Female Quest (Stanford University Press, 2001).
- Emerson Klees, Staying With It: Role Models of Perseverance (Friends of the Finger Lakes Pub, 1999).
- Ken Ruettgers, Home Field Advantage: Modeling Your Life When the Score Really Counts (Multnomah Books, 1995).
- John Waters, Role Models (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010), one man's conception of the idea that might not meet every parent's hopes.
- Donald Bogle, Heat Wave: The Life and Career of Ethel Waters (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, 2011): the author presents a picture of an artist who was a role model professionally more than personally.
- Michael Sokolove, Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town and the Magic of Theatre (Riverhead Books, 2013): about a teacher who “devoted himself . . . to educating, rather than training, young people.”
- Kathryn Schulz, Lost and Found: A Memoir (Random House, 2022): “After Schulz’s father’s death, the seeds he planted in her life continue to bloom. In her case, these seeds were healthy ones. She writes: 'I’d recognized love when I’d found it because I had seen it from my earliest days. … I had always known what it would look like: loyal, stable, affectionate, funny, forbearing, enduring.'”
- David Hackett Fischer, African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Ideals (Simon & Schuster, 2022): “He argues that in struggling for their own freedom, Black people expanded and transformed America’s understanding of what freedom meant. The presence of enslaved Africans and their descendants, he suggests, has made us freer than we would otherwise be.”
From the gray or dark side:
Documentary and Educational Films
- My Voyage to Italy (Il Mio Viaggio in Italia): Martin Scorsese’s account of how Italian film shaped his views and his approach as a film director
Miguel de Cervantes' Novelas Ejemplares (exemplary novels - moral or instructive tales) are perhaps the greatest works of literature dedicated explicitly to role modeling.Though the moral lessons Cervantes intended may not meet modern expectations, these stories do illustrate the idea of human lives and moral and ethical lessons.
- The Lady Cornelia
- Rinconete and Cortadillo
- The Licentiate Vidriera
- The Deceitful Marriage
- The Little Gypsy Girl
- The Generous Lover
- The Spanish-English Lady
- The Force of Blood
- The Jealous Estramaduran
- The Illustrious Scullery-Maid
- The Two Damsels
A bit earlier, in 1405, Christine de Pisan wrote of an allegorical city of women in The Book of the City of Ladies to counter the misogyny of a male writer of her time. Drawn from historical figures, her characters displayed the virtues that she imagined would prevail in such a city.
Film and Stage
- Stand and Deliver, about the great teacher Jaime Escalante
- The Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei): a woman reflects in her old age on her father’s integrity during her youth
- Mon Oncle: an offbeat uncle teaches his nephew the value of questioning the consumer society
- Reuben, Reuben: on the saving love of a good woman
- Shane: role model as fantasy
- The Fallen Idol, on when an idol disappoints
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Saint-Saëns, Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22, R 190 (1868):
- Movement 1: Andante sostenuto. Soothing tones from the piano evoke a competent person, surrounded by followers in the orchestra.
- Movement 2: Allegro scherzando. The concerto turns playful, as the soloist explores themes, and exercises with several rapid scales. Now and again, the orchestra – which clearly is secondary – follows the soloist’s lead, copying hit themes but not executing his more intricate maneuvers.
- Movement 3: Presto. The movement begins as a frenetic presto, the pianist executing several difficult runs, and the supporting players occasionally following suit. Frequently, the supporting orchestral players offer support without attempting to match the soloist’s most difficult maneuvers. The concert ends witn a statement of exclamation from the orchestra, as if to say “bravo!” to their mentor.
Following are links to excellent performances of the Saint-Saëns concerto:
- Jeanne-Marie Darré and Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française, conducted by Louis Fourestier in 1955 – Darré famously played all of Saint-Saëns' Piano Concerti in a single concert in 1926, when she was 21 years old, then recorded the work in 1948, conducted by Paul Paray;
- Arthur de Greef with the New Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Landon Ronald in 1928;
- Artur Rubinstein and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos in 1952;
- Artur Rubinstein and the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy in 1962;
- Thibaudet and L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, conducted by Charles Dutoit in 2007;
- Benjamin Grosvenor and the Royal Liverpool Orchestra, conducted by James Judd, in 2012;
- Stephen Hough and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sakari Oramo, available apparently only on the Hyperion label.
Although it can be seen as a story about redemption, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Robert le Diable (Robert the Devil) (1831) (approx. 183-243’) (libretto), is also an allegory about healthy and unhealthy influences and relationships. The opera is based “on tales surrounding Robert the Magnificent, duke of Normandy, which claimed he was the son of the devil . . .” “Robert is the son of the archfiend by a human woman. Robert’s father, known as Bertram, but really the devil, ever follows him about, and seeks to lure him to destruction. The strain of purity in the drama is supplied by Robert’s foster-sister, Alice, who, if Bertram is the prototype of Mephistofeles in 'Faust,' may be regarded as the original of Michaela in 'Carmen.'” A recorded performance on video is conducted by Fulton in 1985. Audio-recorded performances are conducted by Minkowski in 2000, Palumbo in 2000, Oren in 2012, ? in 2019, and Minkowski in 2022. Also available is a compilation from different recorded performances, ostensibly presenting the entire opera without cuts.
Musicians as models for other musicians:
- Guy Davis and Fabrizzio Poggi, “Sonny and Brownie’s Last Train”
- Lakecia Benjamin, “Pursuance: The Coltranes”
- The Joshua Breakstone Trio, “Children of Art: A Tribute to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers”
- Big Band of Brothers, “A Jazz Celebration of the Allman Brothers Band"
- Duduka da Fonseca Trio, “Plays Dom Salvador”
- Ksenija Sidorova, “Piazzolla Reflections”
- Gerry Gibbs, “Songs From My Father” (2021): Gibbs teams with other great jazz artists in trio, in tribute to his father. “Drummer Gerry Gibbs pays tribute to father Terry Gibbs on the amazing nineteen-track double-CD set Songs from My Father featuring a guest appearance by the ninety-seven-year-old vibraphonist on one track, among other surprises, including the last studio performance by the late jazz icon Chick Corea, who also wrote ‘Tango for Terry’ for this homage and is the only non-Gibbs composition on the album.”
- Lea Birringer, “Transformation” (2021): “For her album ‘Transformation’, Lea Birringer approaches Johann Sebastian Bach and his musical heritage over the span of centuries and explores some of the great compositions that have been created with Bach as a guide and role model. . . . Alongside Bach's Partita, she has chosen works for solo violin by Max Reger, Lera Auerbach, Ernst-Lothar von Knorr and Eugène Ysaÿe . . .”
I was the only child of Frances Harris of Virginia
And Thomas Greene of Kentucky,
Of valiant and honorable blood both.
To them I owe all that I became,
Judge, member of Congress, leader in the State.
From my mother I inherited
Vivacity, fancy, language;
From my father will, judgment, logic.
All honor to them
For what service I was to the people!
[Edgar Lee Masters, “Hamilton Greene”]
- Walt Whitman, “O Captain! My Captain!”