“Mentoring” as a Technique of Enrichment in the Public Schools

November 1988 / Abell Reports / Education

What is it? What does it cost? How much risk is it taking out of our ”at-risk” students? The history, reality and hope.

“Plato’s meeting with Socrates had been a turning point in his life.”

So notes Will Durant, the eminent historian writing in his “Story of Philosophy” (Simon and Schuster, New York, N.Y., 1926) of the importance in Plato’s life of the relationship he had developed with the older Socrates. “Plato’s subtle soul, had found a new joy in the dialectic games of Socrates; it was a delight for him to behold the master. He became a passionate lover of wisdom and of his teacher.” Was the first recorded men­toring relationship Socrates to Plato?

But mentoring goes back even fur­ther. (In Homer’s Odyssey, Athene as­sumes the shape of Mentor–the trusted friend of Odysseus–and whispers advice to Odysseus’s son Telemachus.) It is as old as the notion that the young will want to emulate the old; the ignorant, the wise; the have-nots, the haves. Always, there have been men and women who have had aspirations (these, the mentees) and other men and women (the mentors) willing to help them achieve them.

Mentors and mentees come in all shapes and sizes. They are old and young and rich and poor, white and black and yellow. They come off of the streets, out of the classrooms, out of the boardrooms.

There are differences among them. But what mentees have in common is a belief in the notion that there is a better life out there, and that one way to get it is to learn from someone who has it. Mentors share the notion that because they have made it in the world, they have a commitment to help others make it.

History supports both notions. Counselors and teachers and sociologists, par­ents and professors and clergymen, ob­serving at every level of society through the years, appear to be unanimous that mentoring works as a positive influence to turn lives around, or in some cases, to save them. Today, in growing numbers, candidates for teenage pregnancy and the school drop-out and drug-addiction popu­lation who choose a mentoring relation­ship seem, evidence suggests, to be choos­ing a way out–and up.

It is not surprising, then, that community leaders sensitive to the problems of educating “at-risk” students find them­selves supporting growing numbers of both new and existing mentoring pro­grams. Given the community’s invest­ment in time, money and hope in the institution of mentoring, The Abell Foun­dation believes it serves the community’s best interests to examine mentoring pro­ grams as they are currently meeting needs, and to set out a realistic view of how they might serve future needs.