Who Stole Our Rites of Passage?

Is Decay of Society Directly Linked to Lack of Meaningful Rites of Passage?

In traditional societies, life is full of rites of passage — public affirmations of a person’s movement through life.

Some spare remnants of traditional passage rites continue in modern societies, primarily in religious communities. Mormons have their missionary period, Amish have Rumspringa, Jews have Bar Mitzvah, and so on. Boys and Girls Scouts once provided a form of rite of passage that spanned the religious and secular worlds, but a combination of lax leadership and recent attacks by politically correct thought police, have weakened the ability of those organisations to provide meaningful competencies of passage.

In secular society, the concept of rites of passage has been transferred largely to the educational system, which has mangled the process badly. College, for example, has too often become the place where youth go to binge, fornicate, and be indoctrinated. A minority of college students work through solid fields of study, and achieve skills that provide the foundation for economic self-sufficiency and family creation. For these relative few, the educational system does work as an extended and roundabout rite of passage.

But most children are left without meaningful rites of passage other than initiation into a decadent pop-peer culture.

The most meaningful surviving rite of passage for older youth from secular families who do not build early skills, is military service. Switzerland, for example, has traditionally trained its young men in military skills to resist outside invasion:

Military service for Swiss men is obligatory according to the Federal Constitution, and includes 18 or 21 weeks of basic training (depending on troop category) as well as annual 3-week-refresher courses until a number of service days which increases with rank (260 days for privates) is reached. (It is also possible to serve the whole requirement at one piece, meaning no refresher courses are required.) Service for women is voluntary, but identical in all respects. Conscientious objectors can choose 390 days of community service instead of military service. Medical deferments and dismissals from basic training (often on somewhat dubious grounds) have increased significantly in the last years. Therefore, only about 55% to 60% of Swiss men actually complete basic training. _Wikipedia on Swiss Military Service

Volunteer service in organisations such as the Peace Corps provides another alternative to those youth who were not given early childhood skills, or carefully guided through the developmentally sensitive periods.

For girls in many dysfunctional sub-populations, having a child and going on welfare serves as a rite of passage — often into lifelong dysfunctionality, but rarely the responsibility serves as a wake-up call and a prod driving the girl into responsible adulthood.

The problem with almost all current forms of rites of passage is that the youth’s character has been largely formed by the time he is finally introduced to whatever rite he experiences. In other words, the die has already been cast to a large extent.

The Al Fin Dangerous Child Method incorporates private and public rites of passage into every stage of development, exceeding even most indigenous peoples’ schedules of rites of passage.

A brief hint of what we are talking about can be seen in the experience of the Robinson children. Arthur Robinson homeschooled his six children as a single father, using a self-teaching method of homeschooling that he devised himself. The children first taught themselves to learn, then taught themselves difficult subject matter — achieving college level mastery of calculus and physics by the age of 16.

But more, the Robinson children mastered the art of self-sufficiency in performing vital tasks on the family ranch/farm. Teaching themselves to be responsible for livestock and important household functions was likely as important as any part of their academic curriculum.

As the children aged, their level of responsibility for the household and ranch grew, along with their level of sophistication in study topics and materials.

You can see that a child raised in this manner will undergo periodic “rites of passage” as a matter of course. In the past, many boarding schools were located on farms or ranches, with students expected to perform daily chores as a matter of course. Tuition for such working students was either reduced or cancelled. Some schools of this nature still exist — from grammar schools to high schools to colleges — although one must do a bit of searching to find them.

Another wildly alternative approach to early education can be found in John David Garcia’s writings on education. Garcia’s curriculum for young children amounts to a series of rites of passage in itself.

It is true that the Garcia curriculum does not necessarily push the importance of daily chores and graduated responsibilities. It is generally assumed that parents will be responsible for those. And all outside curricula should be seen as loose guidelines to use when a parent is helping the child to shape his life’s journey.

Both Garcia and Robinson came from scholarly backgrounds, and naturally stressed academics and formal education. In The Dangerous Child Method, formal education is neither stressed nor disparaged. Certain academic competencies are required, but beyond that the wide world of real life competency takes priority.

We will look more deeply into the philosophy behind The Dangerous Child Method, and its way of incorporating rites of passage into curricula, in the future.

Another view on the need for “life transitions” for children and youth

Al Fin blog: Rites of Passage articles

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