Rites of passage as transcending the self!

I’ve neglected the rites of passage issue on this blog for a little while.  Malawi has stimulated my thinking on questions of entrepreneurship. 


Not that I haven’t been thinking about r of p at all.  In fact a couple of weeks ago I gate crashed an after school Christian club and had an interesting chat with about thirty teenagers about questions of growing up in Malawi.  More on that to come.


On rites of passage, I think three things are important:

1. That the activity engaged in is ‘meaningful’.

2. That there is recognition (probably for the completion of the activity) by the community.

3. That a period of coaching or mentorship by ‘elders’ occurs.


It seems that r of p are principally about transcending the self.  After all this is what adulthood is about isn’t it?  Finding that there are responsibilities which tie us inevitably to a wider community?


Perhaps the word ‘transcend’ brings up connotations of a middle class guy ‘finding himself’ in the third world, but it’s about the feeling we have when we work in a team, care for people around us, see a great film or listen to a great piece of music…  It’s often in the things that societies do for no productive purpose, but it can also be when we are at our most productive.


Schools must, I should think, respond to the primeval instinct to transcend the self.  They sometimes do – maybe sports days, concerts, maybe some lessons, maybe even some assemblies.  But the very structure of the school year should be built around opportunities to realise we are a part of something bigger.


And let’s not forget that the majority of pupils who cause problems (some of whom later fill our prisons) are invariably the least able to get beyond a self centred, child-like response to the world.  Our very role as educators should be that they become (young) adults.



It takes a village…

There was an interesting discussion on teenagers the other morning on the Today programme.  IPPR research has suggested that British teenagers are the worst in Europe on almost all measures of anti-social behaviour.  Identified as one of the causes for this was, I think, the relatively little time that British young people spend interacting with adults.  Another point which came up in the discussion is that Britain’s youth lack the benefits both of the support of the extended family prevalent in Catholic Europe, and of the large family focused welfare state of Nordic Europe. 

The rite of passage to adulthood requires interaction between young people and adults.  Otherwise there is little to check negative peer influence (it inevitably will sometimes be negative) and no real reference to the adult world. 

I was discussing in the pub yesterday the idea that it takes a village to raise a child.  It takes an extended ‘family’ and cross-generational interaction. 

I’d like to pursue this idea of a school ‘village’.  I’d like to see far more adults in and out of schools than currently occurs, both formally in teaching situations and informally (for example running lunch time clubs).  In fact, what about a communal space in which adults on their lunch break would interact with pupils?  There is almost a need to force interaction – to build a Post Office in the middle of the school canteen, for example.   I have a half-formed picture in my mind (half formed over a coffee with a friend of mine who works with architects and engineers) of a central space utilised by, and around which stands, small schools in a federation.  The space could include not just necessary school services (the nurse, the library), but work places for adults – offering placements and apprenticeships for young people.