Glenn Doughty's tapes might not inspire the same hushed attention as, say, a rerun of "All My Children." But they just might make a difference in the lives of a good many of our children.
Doughty, the former Baltimore Colts receiver, has been in town drumming up interest in an experimental "Takeoff" series, a sort of prerecorded role model, guidance counselor and career adviser.
It is a simple idea: really just a series of vignettes of people on the job. But the sense here is that it could be of enormous help to school counselors and far more useful to students than the traditional "career day" visits of a few superstars.
Says Doughty: "The kids have constantly drummed into them the glamour of the athletic world. But that is not realistic. What these tapes will do is let kids see that there are blacks in careers as architects, plumbers, nurses, accountants, doctors -- the whole spectrum. We are represented in every industry, but often these jobs are looked upon as nothing. Our idea is that a youngster might see something on one of these tapes and say, 'I can do that,' or 'That's something I think I'd like to try.' "
Doughty may have reached a correct conclusion from a faulty premise. Most inner-city youngsters (the target of the first series) know they are not going to be the next Magic Johnson. They also know that blacks are successful in a wide variety of careers. What may be missing for them is any notion of what those careers really involve and any sense that people like themselves could succeed in them.
Career days don't do much to overcome that problem. Youngsters may sit in rapt attention while a neurosurgeon describes his work. They may admire his success. But even if that neurosurgeon is black, the youngsters seem to think that he must have been born with some special can't-miss quality. They seldom see any real link between neurosurgery and their own dismal existence.
Youngsters might get a different feeling from watching a professional or a skilled worker on the job, talking about his work and the path (academic and otherwise) that led to it.
The tape I've just seen features an auto plant supervisor, an architect, a plumber, a car dealer and a police detective.
There is Henry Peyton, telling how he "worked hard at everything I did -- including a stint as a porter washing cars -- until one of those opportunities came along." His Detroit Cadillac dealership grossed $22.5 million in 1986.
There is Donna Spaulding, an adviser (foreman) at a GM plant in Wentzville, Mo., earning close to $40,000 a year supervising the 48 operations involved in producing the front seat of a GM car.
"If you can't communicate," she tells her audience, "you might as well stay home, because there are too many things that can be fouled up through poor communication." Her secret for moving up on the job -- any job: "Open your eyes and be observant, learn how to deal with people, and NEVER QUIT!"
There is Eddie Meyer, no paragon of articulation, who makes a comfortable living (some $20 an hour) as a master plumber. "I always loved math, and I love working with my hands. I've got a comfortable home and a nice family, and that's my reward. I like to drive my family past a downtown building and tell them, 'I put the plumbing in that building.' "
The tapes, for which Doughty and his colleagues are now seeking corporate underwriting, are produced by American Heat, a St. Louis company whose main line is producing training tapes for firefighters. The plan is to give the "Takeoff" series, complete with teaching guides and sources of additional information, to any school that wants it.
"Young people just don't know all the possibilities that are available to them," Doughty says. "The problem is most acute in the black community, which is why we started with black professionals, but we plan to expand the program to include every ethnic group. We believe that video can be a vehicle to give young people career information in a short, concise fashion."
It's hard to know for sure, without having watched the tape in use in a school setting, but I think it may work.