[Published in TESS on 10th August 2012 as “We must hand over the torch and trust young people to progress and innovate]
The opening ceremony showed vital faith in today’s youth. Let’s learn from that.
What lessons can education learn from the emotional roller coaster of the Olympic opening ceremony? The pièce de résistance was seven young athletes lighting copper petals which in turn lit up the magnificent Olympic cauldron.
The design of the cauldron (with 204 petals representing the competing nations) was representative of peace. The blended messages of ‘peace’ and the ‘hope in youth’ is a striking one at a time of such angst, turmoil and economic uncertainty in society.
Witnessing the Olympics espouse such confidence in young people gives great hope for the future. It epitomises the need to entrust the new generation to be successful, solve perennial challenges and innovate beyond our wildest dreams.
At education conferences I often hear the words of Robert F Kennedy being told to our education leaders of the present and future: “The world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind.”
Those words are used as a rallying call to try to stir educational leaders into youthful attributes of confidence, innovation and risk taking beyond the “group think” we can develop. However the words of RFK need also to be retold to the young. Many need to be reminded of what it is to be young and to enjoy the opportunities it brings. It is no surprise that the other story of the week was the need to facilitate more play amongst our youngsters. Perhaps the legacy of the Olympics will help to fulfil that aspiration.
The other legacy needs to be trusting others and trusting our young people. By having seven young people the event organisers diplomatically avoided the expected reinforcement of demigods. Our society has enough of them. Last week I heard once again how the media ‘celebrities’ of business game shows hinders interest in business and portrays businesspeople as fierce, power hungry, cold and callous creatures. The heroes should be successful people with social enterprise approaches. However our celebratory society has created a demand for figures, champions and perverse role models. Hopefully the seven torch bearers who ran the last leg will see this not as a last leg. Hopefully they will go on to achieve great things individually but will also learn the lesson to entrust others and pay back that trust. In poet John McCrae’s words:
“To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.”
There are lots of young people equipped and able to take the torch and to hold it high. There are lots of challenges we are at present failing with. People only need a chance to shine. It is everyone’s job to take the leap of faith, give young people their wings and let them fly. What is more, give them the confidence to fly high and inspire others in doing so.
Neil McLennan is SATH President and also the Institute of Contemporary Scotland Young Scot of the Year. He writes in a personal capacity.