Heroes and role models: What does public statuary tell young people about the qualities which we revere?

I have taken this evenings rain storm to enjoy a coffee on Mother Teresa Avenue here in Pristina and watch the world go by. It is a privilege to travel – it always gives me time to reflect on the day and when working abroad, the day is often full of surprises. Today it was a great joy to spend time with two enthusiastic career development practitioners, both eager to develop Kosovo’s career education and guidance provision. It was fascinating to hear about their determination to get careers embedded in a full range of school curricula.  I am working on a project in the UK the findings of which indicate that one of the big training needs in UK schools is to develop teachers’ knowledge and skills in embedding careers into the curriculum!

As often happens when I have some time to myself, my mind turns to what the immediate surroundings tell me about the wide world of career development. Sitting on Mother Teresa Avenue tonight my eye was drawn to two large public statues. The first is an imposing statue outside the parliament building. The statue depicts a fifteen century sword wielding warrior astride a horse. This is Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeu who was an Albanian whose military skills presented a major obstacle to Ottoman expansion in northern Albania and he was considered by many in Western Europe to be a model of Christian resistance against the Ottoman Muslims. Skanderbeu represents everything society has come to see as male strength and valour. His statue is huge. He is a massive, muscled, powerful and fierce man.

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Further down Mother Theresa Avenue is a statue of Mother Theresa who is known by many as Mother Theresa of Calcutta for her work with the street children of that city. I had not realised until I came to Kosovo that Mother Theresa was actually born in Macedonia which at the time of her birth was part of a larger Kosovo.  Her birth name in Albanian meant ‘Rosebud’ or ‘little flower’. The statue of Mother Theresa shows a small, meek and humble woman, with her arm around a little child. The statue is set slightly off the road in a treed grove and portrays the characteristics which we have come to associate with a good and worthy woman.

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What strikes me as interesting about these statues is not just that they portray such stereotypes but equally, neither really tells the stories of these interesting people. Skanderbeu for example was used as a political hostage and spent a large part of his life in the Ottoman court. He deserted and fled back to his homeland where he was able to unite parts of his homeland to fight against his captors. Mother Theresa left her home for Ireland and then later for India where her battles against poverty resulted in great recognition. I would suggest that although taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience she was no shrinking violet and must have been quite an indomitable character who spoke her truth quietly and bravely.

 

Both of these characters make great subjects for career learning. They provide young people with an opportunity to think about which characteristics our society values and how we portray strength and valour. It could lead to conversations about stereotypes: about life and career narratives.  Both characters provide an opportunity to think about value based decisions. A conversation about these characters could take place in history lessons, religion, faith and belief, art or drama.

 

Research tells us that very young people develop views about the world from their daily experiences and apply this to their career thinking and aspirations. Public art is no exception.  How we choose who to portray in our statuary is a bit of a mystery to me. I have no idea how public art is commissioned and which people decide who should be commemorated in this way but my guess is that little thought is given to the subliminal messages these installations convey. Perhaps we should look around and see these statues as material for innovative career lessons both in the UK and in Kosovo!