- 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.”
Documentary and Educational Films
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
Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55, “Eroica” (1803): initially, Beethoven dedicated this symphony to Napoleon, whom he thought to be a hero because he championed enlightenment values such as democracy. When Napoleon declared himself emperor, Beethoven enraged and redirected the symphony to represent a heroic internal struggle: in the end, he may have dedicated his “heroic” symphony to himself, or to a symbolic internal struggle. This does not sound like heroic music to me but I do hear the celebration of an admired figure. Here are links to performances conducted by Karajan, Harnoncourt and Furtwängler.
- First movement (Allegro con brio): the movement is grand in character, suggesting a leader playing on a large stage.
- Second movement (Marcia funebre – Adagio assai): like the remainder of the work, this funeral march is on a grand scale and is now used in public funerals.
- Third movement (Scherzo – Allegro vivace): this sounds like a reprieve from the struggle.
- Fourth movement (Finale – Allegro molto – Poco andante – Presto): this movement suggests the celebration of a leader or other person of admirable qualities.
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!”