Developing Your Own Rite-Of-Passage Programs (page 2)
Before considering a rite of passage you can adapt and use right now in your family and community, let's review current other rites of passage that exist around you already (through your son's everyday growth events), and specific pieces of rite of passage that boys need in order to feel they have moved from boyhood to manhood with a sense of purpose.
Rite-of-Passage Possibilities We Have Right Now
Like Bret Stephenson's mastery of theft, boys already have ways of passage in our culture. In your own community, you should be able to find some or all of the following rites of passage. Looking at them briefly can be the best starting place for making your own judgments about how much more rite of passage your son may need between the age of ten (when prepuberty starts) and the age of twenty or so (when he is becoming independent of you).
- Athletics and sports (coaches can lead boys through some passages)
- School (schools and colleges can help with rites of passage if they understand boys and young men)
- Religious ceremonies (such as bar mitzvah in Judaism, confirmation in Catholicism, two-year mission in the Mormon faith)
- Extracurricular activities (such as debate team, chess team, chemistry club, Boy Scouts, a rock band, city orchestra, any structured process in which tasks are laid out for the gradual development of a young man's gifts and character)
- Crisis intervention (drug and alcohol rehab, juvenile justice system, Big Brothers programs for boys raised by single moms … all of these can inculcate rites of passage)
- Paid work, possibly at a parent's workplace, or volunteer work, in which boys learn as early as possible what is expected of them if they are to "earn it" in life can be a rite of passage
- Random risk taking among boys, like Bret Stephenson's stealing, is unstructured by society, and often rebellious toward it, but provides rites of passage
- The military, later in adolescence
And of course, along with these formal rites, sexual courting and early sexual experiences can be a rite of passage, as can be a simple thing like driving for the first time. Nearly any risky act can become a developmental rite of passage for the boy.
All of these possibilities are available, all of them can help a boy direct his energy, and all can help each of us feel that our sons are learning to direct their risk taking toward the greater good. But are these options enough? Generally, they can use augmentation in order to make sure a boy gets the full developmental completion of passage into manhood. Often, none of the above are a complete substitute for one or more rite- of- passage activities.
As you appraise the rite-of-passage activities around you right now, look at this checklist of specifics. It includes fundamental elements of successful rites of passage from around the world. Check off in the margin which ones you feel are being successfully applied in the rite-of-passage experiences your son is naturally and socially involved in right now; and see where there are gaps in his developmental opportunities.
In rites of passage throughout the world:
- A boy is provided with (and chooses) a number of successful and powerful mentors. Early on, some of these may be women; as adolescence continues, most of these will be men. These men become partly responsible for his character development (thus, his understanding of HEROIC manhood: honor, enterprise, responsibility, originality, intimacy, creativity).
- The boy is provided with (and chooses) ongoing challenges; through these, he meets obstacles, gains tools for embracing failure, becomes involved in opportunities to succeed. Throughout this adventure, there is always built-in time for solitude and reflection.
- The boy is placed in emotion-laden situations, over a period of years, wherein he feels life's fears, pain, grief, empathy, love, valor, courage, honor, sacrifice, and peace. He is guided through life experience, everyday actions, and self-questioning processes, to know the wide range of feeling inside the human soul, and especially, the man.
- The boy discovers a set of individuals with whom he can ask any question, feel any fear, find any support he needs—this structured rite-of-passage community feels emotionally and spiritually safe to him because it goes through challenges together with him.
- Important family, community, religious, and other traditions are passed down from the elder generations to the boy. He spends time learning what these traditions are, deciding which ones to take on for himself, and then making moral and social promises to his family and community.
- The boy is given or decides on a new name—either literally, such as "Dad (or Mom), stop calling me Mikey, I'm Mike now," or in his role association, such as "I'm a letterman now," or "I'm a Marine," or in his internal sense that "I am now a man, not a boy, so don't call me 'boy' anymore."
- The boy earns emblems, badges, or other physical expressions of his successes, and may keep a record in a scrapbook or develop a "box" of souvenirs. In Boy Scouts, the emblems are literally badges; in a bar mitzvah ceremony, the "badge" could be a "tallith" (a prayer shawl); in a summer workplace, they could be raises in pay. These will be important enough that twenty years down the road, the man will take the "badges," literally or figuratively, out of a box, and look at them and remember what his hopes and dreams had been when he was a boy.
- In a community ceremony, the boy is judged and encouraged by his parents and mentors, who speak directly to him about what they hope his purpose in life will bring to community and the world.
- The young man speaks aloud, in a prepared speech at a ceremony, or at a number of times during his adolescence in social groups, about his heroes, what he will do with his life, what sacrifices he wants to make, what he is seeking, what he wants to improve upon in himself, the man he wants to become.
- When the rite of passage is done, it is done. The boy leaves the mentors and marks the end of his adolescence and the beginning of manhood by often moving out of his parents' house or earning, completely, his own living. A rite of passage is not complete until the boy becomes a man, but once he does, he moves on. A boy who stays in a rite of passage for too long remains always a boy.
As you ponder these ten elements, look at your son carefully and talk to others about your son. If your son is old enough, talk to him yourself about these elements. Ultimately, you are looking to see whether your son is getting what he needs right now from the structures in which the three-family system currently has him enrolled.
If he is ten or eleven, he might just be enrolling in some of these structures. He might just be bonding with a coach, teacher, or other mentor.
If he is twelve or thirteen, he will probably be hungry for formalized rites of passage. If you have Jewish friends, go to a bar or bat mitzvah. You can model a rite of passage after that if you wish. You can also find reference to similar rites of passage in this book's Resources and Appendix.
If your son is in his middle teens, he needs to be involved in one or more powerful rites of passage. This is a pivotal time, and one quite suitable for the "Here I Am" rite of passage that we'll discuss in a moment.
If your son is in his late teens or early twenties (or grown), see what you think of his life—is he becoming the man you know he can be? At this age, you can talk to him about nearly anything, even though he will not always listen to you. And, especially, if he is not flourishing as a man, mentors will be crucial to his rite of passage.
Questions of Purpose
Son, Who Are You?
Here is a group of questions that helps you determine just how much your son needs a rite-of-passage structure—and if he already is in one, whether he is developing well within it. If your son can't answer any of these questions with texture, substance, humor, or a modicum of self-understanding (this is true even if he is only ten years old), you might want to put more energy into helping develop a rite of passage for him.
- Son, who are you? (When asking this question, you will probably need to model an appropriate answer, something like, "I am Michael Gurian, a writer and teacher, a husband and father, son of Jack and Julia Gurian …")
- What makes you different from your friends? In what ways are you the same as your friends? (If you are asking this of a younger boy, you may need to model an answer.)
- What do you learn from your friends about being a man? (This is a good time to explore with your son what masculine and male models he is learning.)
- Where do you think you fit in best? In school? In athletics? In band? Reading a book? (You may need to fill in the question with these sorts of individualized prompts because this is a "niche" question—gaining answers to it can help you determine what area of life already motivates your son, and might be the right place to look for or create new rites of passage, and find new mentors.)
- Where are you going in your life? (This is a question about what his future might look like, and what kind of future he is seeking. Watch for pride and self-esteem in your son's eyes as he answers, but also for anxiety and sadness—your son may have no sense of where he's going, and this might be a call to action for you, a reason to create a new rite-of-passage structure for him.)
- Son, what gives you the most joy in life?
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