Tag Archives: Mentor

Mind The Gap

As the college visit tours wind down and collected brochures, flashdrives, t-shirts are filed, many family’s thoughts turn towards next steps.  Never before have so many high school seniors had so many choices.  For all our national bemoaning of the flaws of higher education, we have in fact an embarrassment of riches.  I have no doubt that the majority of ambitious and motivated teens will find themselves just where they need to be.

But what of those teens who may not have much support, and/or exposure to a world larger than their own?  Across this country there are teens; in foster care, in chaotic homes, in shelters, in insular communities and in survival mode.  What’s to become of them?  Four centuries of public education in this country, speaks to a collective consensus that educating our society is a good idea.  Most of us would agree that a high school degree is not what it used to be (either in substance or in currency.)  And despite the plethora of college choices and amounts of students attending, it is still its own unique experience.  Being a college student is actually quite different from being a high school student.  The choices alone are mind boggling.  What school?  What major?  Where to live?  How to pay?

As daunting as these choices are to many, they are a luxury that teens in survival mode rarely have.  We have all heard or seen stories of the teacher, case manager, caring adult, who intervenes and changes a teenager’s life.  It happens, it does.  But the reason these stories make for (potentially) compelling television or film, is their rarity.  We do not have a national systemic approach to caring/mentoring/guiding teenagers post-high school.

So what if we instituted a national mentoring system?  Adults could volunteer to be trained and then serve as mentors.  The “corps” would be comprised of; financial advisers, education experts, life-skill advisers, counselors.  (I picture a “peace corps” experience for retirees.)  Identifying at-risk teenagers is a bit more challenging.  Certainly high schools would be a good place to start.  Like anything, the earlier we catch the problem, the better.  But mimicking our military should not be ruled out.  Clearly we already have a national program that has mastered outreach to a segment of our young population.

Politics aside, we really can’t afford to have any ‘child left behind.’  For every teen who ages out of our current support system, there is potentially one less adult contributing.  The waste of human potential and the implied economic toil should not be acceptable.  Most health insurance policies now cover dependent children until age 26.  What I propose is not that much different and potentially much more impactful. Done in a thoughtful manner, this “gap” program would draw attention to inequities and systemically combat them.  It might not be the sexiest of administrative programs, but I believe it could change our world.

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Posted by on October 19, 2011 in Education


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Lending a (manicured) Hand

I had a disturbing realization yesterday.  I needed an image, not for myself mind you, but a visual image for a work project.  I was searching for an iconic representation of women mentoring women.  I scoured my memory, and search engine, for films, plays, novels, or real life examples which represented women helping women.  I asked colleagues and friends for help.  The best we could deliver were “mentoring moments” within film (ex., Truvy and Annelle in Steel Magnolias, Shug and Celie in The Color Purple.)  I could easily rattle off male mentoring as movie/play themes, as could you.  But any examples of women paired with women on screen uncovers the most cringe inducing phenomenon.  American women in cinema seem to despise one another.  They are in direct competition for the limited resources and options available to them.  When not coveting their professional position, they compete over men and children (The Women, To Each His Own, Gone With The Wind) or shoes (The Wizard of Oz.)  Now I’m not foolish enough to think Hollywood is based on reality (although to be perfectly frank I feel a little disingenuous even typing that sentence, in my heart of hearts I believe the world really wants to be a place where traveling suits, tuxedos and gowns are de rigueur.)  Surely art (created by human beings) stems somewhat from the human experience?!  There is some truth in fiction, is there not?
This is what is so perplexing, and flat out depressing.  I have never (to my knowledge) engaged in any Margo or Eve behavior.  I have worked in less than stable environments and have had my share of erratic and even “diagnosable” bosses.  I actually once worked for the woman known to many in this country as “The Queen of Mean.”  I have also supervised an entirely female staff.  If anything, all the women I’ve worked with (collectively) were more secure and mature than the men.
As far as women mentors, I have had the very good fortune of having two (concurrently) in my life.  I was in my very early twenties and was in a (slightly above) entry level position in a design house.  Maggie was Flemish and beautiful.  She was twenty years older than me and was by far the most stylish woman I had ever met.  Why she took me and my Sears wardrobe under her wing is beyond me.  Our relationship went beyond the sorry state of my attire.  She taught me about men, marriage, life and strength.  Her life had not been an easy one, and by example I learned what true grace is.  My boss at the time, Rosemary, set the bar far too high for supervisors.  She taught me everything about my job and hers and showed me a larger more exciting world.  She was my first and last supervisor who truly understood what it means to lead.  She believed, rightfully, that she was a professional success if she helped me to succeed.  She was not threatened by me despite that fact that the economy and hostile takeover led to my replacing her (I was much cheaper to keep on.)
Now that women in the workplace is a fully normalized occurrence, shouldn’t popular culture keep up?  Of course watching “Real” housewives claw each other is entertaining (?) but the relationships of women are far more varied and interesting than the one dimension of pettiness.  I’m hoping that I am wrong, that I have overlooked an entire collection of film and theatre that celebrates the women supporting women dynamic (remember I still think Judy is going to cajole me to put on a show in the barn.)
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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Cultural Critique


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