Author: Deborah Eyre    Posted: 30 Nov 2016

When I was in school we used to learn about heroes. From Grace Darling to Albert Schweitzer. Martin Luther King to Dr Barnardo. This all seems very old fashioned now. They were presented to us as important and untarnished – glorious individuals. As people who made their mark on the world and made the world a better place. It may be that in real life their stories were more nuanced, but that didn’t matter. As we looked across the lives of these people my classmates and I were introduced to a series of ideas which would influence us not just in school but throughout our lives.


We learnt that each of us as an individual has it within ourselves to make a difference. These were not special people but normal people who took it upon themselves to do special things.

We learnt that no one told them to take action. No one gave them permission or nurtured or coached them. They themselves took the decision to step up and lead in order to make change because they thought it was important.

We learnt that this major change, which was so admirable, had often started with a small step or an incident which could easily have been ignored but instead was the trigger to start to take action and take a stance.

We learnt that in making a difference the journey was inevitably fraught with problems, frustrations and even danger but that in order to succeed you needed to forbear through the dark times and hold fast to your ambition.

So it occurs to me that if we want to instil these same kinds of values, attitudes and attributes then maybe we need to talk more about heroes. We have plenty we can use, and not just those of the more recent past such as Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa, but also those active today – and not just famous people, but also people who achieve great things locally or quietly.

Why is this important?

Well, if we are serious about wanting better social mobility these types of role models are important ones. They demonstrate that anyone, regardless of background, has it within themselves to succeed. They just need to want it enough and be prepared to be unswerving in their efforts to achieve it. It gives individuals the confidence to take action and shape their own destiny. They don’t need to wait to be helped.

Equally, if we want a more compassionate society then these types of role models teach us that it is each of us who makes that happen by our own actions. By having empathy for the plight of others and being prepared to step in on their behalf. Big problems are not the preserve of others – they belong to us all.

Romantic ideas, maybe, in the twenty first century where the media routinely creates heroes and then routinely destroys them. But I would suggest that if in school we want to counter the cult of celebrity and instead focus on individuals becoming high performers through their own efforts, then we need to provide the heroes and their stories for them to emulate.