What kind of society…?

2 01 2012

The Archbishop of Canterbury has used his New Year message to challenge society about the way we deal with young people. In particular, he asks:

“What kind of society is it that lets down so many of its young people? That doesn’t provide enough good role models and drives youngsters further into unhappiness and anxiety by only showing them suspicion and negativity. When you see the gifts they can offer, the energy that can be released when they feel safe and loved, you see what a tragedy we so often allow to happen.”

A few weeks ago I wrote in the Telegraph about the need for the whole of our society to take responsibility for the development and education of our young people. I note that Dr Williams calls for individuals to take action in their local community, rather than any shift in government policy. I suspect that’s not because he is afraid of making political statements, but because he understands the nature of the challenge.

Working recently as a teacher, I began to understand the way many young people see the world around them. National governmental policies do have a big impact (university fees policy is a clear example), but they are superseded by local and immediate factors: an inspiring teacher in the classroom, for example, can nurture extra-ordinary talent. In the same way, every interaction with adults in society has an impact on young people.

I have an idea that I would love to see come to reality, but wasn’t brave enough to include in my Telegraph article. I would like to see all shop owners and bus drivers receive training on how to get the best out of young people. These are people who have regular, and sometimes difficult engagement with young people. They are, to use an overused phrase, on the frontline for us on this issue.

Some might say that government is in a good position to arrange such training, but wouldn’t it be better if Stagecoach, and the Association of British Newsagent Owners recognised for themselves the impact that they could have. Indeed, what if all of us were to heed Dr William’s thoughts about what kind of society in which we want our young brothers and sisters to grow up?

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