Featured Partner: The Rite Journey
Starting this newsletter, we will be bringing you interviews with some of our partners, both to help us get to know our community more in depth and to share lessons and resources cultivated through our accumulated experiences. Kicking this off is Andrew Lines, co-developer of The Rite Journey, based in Australia.
Andrew is first and foremost father of two daughters and two sons. He also happens to be a Physical Education / Outdoor Education teacher who has been teaching for 20 years. Growing out of this exchange between movement, play, and education, Andrew turned his passion to providing relevant learning experiences for students, especially in the social, emotional and spiritual realms and this has led him to being a deeply influential contemporary Rites of Passage creator and one of Australia’s most recognised boys’ educators. More than 6000 young people in over 60 schools were initiated into adulthood in 2014 through his school based year-long Rite of Passage program ‘The Rite Journey’ totaling 20,000 students since its beginnings in 2005. He has worked with thousands of teachers in hundreds of schools to facilitate a process which honours the transition of our children into a responsible, respectful and resilient adulthood. His contemporary methodologies for working with students in middle years’ classrooms are being used by schools throughout Australia and New Zealand and now in South Korea and Europe.
Describe your work in your own words, how do you define rites of passage or talk about it in relationship to that work? What brought you to this work? Are there specific mentors or teachers that come to mind?
As a teacher, over many years I had been somewhat surprised by the young males who are placed in my care. A significant number of them struggled with bullying, family problems, anger, sexism, homophobia and racism. I found myself asking the same question over and over again: “Who is helping these boys learn to be responsible and respectful males, whilst acknowledging and celebrating their transition into manhood?”
In thinking about my own personal development two decades ago I read Steve Biddulph’s book Manhood (1994) which presented some revolutionary ideas to me as a man (an “early twenties generation x’er”). I was called to action by Biddulph’s statement regarding “helping teachers develop a co-parenting and mentoring role in boys’ emotional development (so that school is an extension of family, and the ‘whole boy’ is the focus and aim)” (p. 149).
A proposal was presented to my school which would see Year-9 boys in single gender classes undertake a program aimed at developing the “whole boy” that focussed on guiding the boys through elements of becoming responsible and respectful adult males.
The program was initially presented over one term (three 50-minute lessons per week) covering areas such as gender construction and identity, feelings and beliefs, non-violence, problem-solving skills, and pathways to change. The program ran successfully from 1996 until 2004, when I began to dream of a full-year course that would allow more interaction with the class, a richer relationship between teacher and student, and an exploration of the field of initiation and rites of passage.
In early 2004 I got together with a colleague and we started to explore various options and began to formulate the structure of a year-long program for Year-9 students that we believed would speak to their hearts and satisfy a yearning in their souls. Just as this concept was being given tentative approval, we heard internationally acclaimed Australian futurist Peter Ellyard, speak these words at a national education conference:
“I propose that Year 9 be totally reconstructed. The traditional program should be scrapped and replaced with a comprehensive Preparation for Adulthood program…On the threshold of adulthood young people mostly lose their commitment to learning the traditional fare which is offered to them. However, there is much they want to learn at this critical time in their lives, when they are leaving childhood and are anxious to learn about the mysteries of adulthood. What they want instead is to learn how can I become a successful adult?” (Ellyard, 2004, p. 18).
Ellyard put forward the idea that on the threshold of adulthood, young people do not tend to learn what they are being traditionally have been offered. However, if they are offered a curriculum of developing the capabilities required for successful 21st century adulthood there is evidence that they will become passionate and committed learners again.
Ellyard suggested that some of the tasks of a Preparation for Adulthood initiative would be to develop system-wide programs to enable young people to:
- nurture their own self esteem;
- respect others, including parents and elders;
- initiate, nurture and maintain successful relationships;
- develop healthy and sustainable lifestyles;
- become enterprising, self-actualizing individuals;
- become leaders of self and then of others;
- become lifelong, learner-driven learners;
- create career paths which bring economic and social security;
- understand that individual rights should be balanced by reciprocal responsibilities and service to others and the community;
- respect and know how to nurture the environment and other species; and
- respect and tolerate other cultures and religions, particularly indigenous cultures (Ellyard, 2008, p. 386)
In our endeavor to realize such an expansive selection of aims we decided to devise a program which we believed offered the above opportunities but also fitted within the context of our school. So we set about individualizing our objectives and arrived at the following principles:
- Show students by example that they are loved.
- Lead students on a journey from being “overgrown children” towards being “developing adults” and celebrate this transition.
- Introduce health topics in an organized, coherent way.
- Cover gender-specific issues in single-sex classes.
- Develop strong relationships: student to student and student to teacher.
- Employ mentoring by “elders.”
- Confront students with their own talents and abilities.
- Help students move beyond “self” towards “others.”
- Celebrate the physical, social, emotional and spiritual growth of students throughout the year.
- Nurture the self-esteem of students.
- Help students understand that individual rights should be balanced by reciprocal responsibilities and service to others.
- Encourage students to respect and tolerate other cultures and faiths, especially indigenous religions.
- Lead students to become enterprising, self-actualising individuals.
- Incorporate a variety of methodologies to stimulate the student learning
Once all of this was in place it was time to develop a girls’ program to run parallel to the boys’ program and to begin formulating the structure of what came to known as “The Rite Journey.”
The Form of “The Rite Journey” – Ceremony, Celebration, Ritual and Rites of Passage
“Boys everywhere have a need for rituals marking their passage to manhood. If society does not provide them, they will inevitably invent their own.” (Campbell, cited in Pinnock, 1997, p. 17).
For centuries traditional societies have celebrated rites of passage associated with coming of age that provided boys with guidance through the ending of one phase of their lives into the beginning of a new phase.
In today’s Western capitalist society, young people looking for a defining rite of passage to move from childhood to adulthood often have only the options of binge drinking, vandalism, drink driving, gang activity, sexual activity and self-harm or suicide attempts.
The last few decades have seen a renewal in the creation of rites of passage for young people in the West. There are a number of wonderful initiatives reaching young men. A common point amongst most of them is that boys require a significant adult male in their lives to acknowledge the need for a rite of passage and then to call them on it. Sadly, there are many boys who do not have this adult male in their life. Therefore, we believe, in an attempt to reach all boys, the school system is the most effective route.
Generally current Western rites of passage programs involve a one-time camping experience that is usually expensive. Within the school setting, the process is affordable to the individual, and a teacher-guide can offer a year-long program in which he works alongside boys, both providing such rites but also exploring with them throughout the year what it means to be a respectful and responsible adult male in society. The teacher-guide meets with the boys a number of times each week (often adding up to 100 hours over the year), providing a suitable framework for discussing and working through issues that are being experienced during the year. The Rite Journey then becomes a central part of guiding boys into the adult phase of their lives.
One of the most important and indeed unique aspects of The Rite Journey is the place of ceremony and celebration throughout the year. We believe that the experience of young people is deeply enriched by offering symbol-rich ceremonies to celebrate their journey. The program is been based on the concept of the hero’s journey, which consists of the following phases:
- The Calling
- The Departure
- The Following
- The Challenges
- The Abyss
- The Return
- The Homecoming
These seven stages structure the course and frame the ceremonies and celebrations that occur throughout the year.
Workshops with school staff help them to acknowledge the absence of rites of passage in our culture. Staff gain an understanding of the purpose of the rites and learn about the benefits to schools of rediscovering such initiatives. The sessions with a school staff further help them develop ceremonies specific to their context and often involve seeking out local landmarks which are meaningful to the students that help symbolise their journey and provide appropriate venues for the celebration.
What have been your greatest lessons and in turn greatest joys in establishing it?
My greatest lessons in establishing The Rite Journey have been:
- The importance of empowering others to do this work…even those for whom this is on their ‘learning edge’!
- For us to reach hundreds of thousands of young people requires us to empower thousands of men and women to mentor, support and transition our young people.
- Not taking things personally…especially when working in a field which can ‘press the buttons’ of parents and educators.
- Learning to ‘live in the mystery’ when things don’t necessarily go as I had hoped.
My greatest joys in establishing The Rite Journey have been:
- Sharing in the lives and hearing the stories of my own Rite Journey students.
- Watching the program grow to transition 40,000 young people into a responsible, respectful and resilient adulthood.
- Creating a community of over 300 like-minded teachers and educators devoted to transitioning students.
- Seeing the program be effective internationally.
- Working with fellow educators/facilitators who are passionate about creating this process for young people.
- Creating a flexible program which ‘meets’ students from all cultures, backgrounds, faiths, socio-economic levels, academic abilities etc.
- What is your hope or vision for the work/field as a whole, what do you see as our learning edges as a community?
It is my dream to have every young person on the planet offered a Rite of Passage of some description, relevant to them in their situation.
In the context of the response to the initial part of the question I see our learning edge as being the ability to trust and empower a large number of people to carry this work which will then enable us to reach hundreds of thousands if not millions of young people.
What interested you about being part of the Youth Passageways community-network, what do you see as the main benefit from being a partner?
In my dream to have every young person on the planet offered a Rite of Passage I think it is vital for us to share our ideas globally. I am hoping that there are perhaps other educators around the world who are interested in adapting and trialling The Rite Journey in their country. At present we have schools in Australia, New Zealand, UK, South Korea and (soon to be) Belgium. I am also keen to see what other processes are being offered around the world and to receive and give support and ideas to other practitioners in the field.
Part of Youth Passageways’ focus in the coming year is on growing an intergenerational learning community. What does that mean to you? How would you seed it?
I see an intergenerational community as a system of mentorship which donates the roles that each generation has to play in society. As Robert Bly notes in his book ‘The Sibling Society’ we live in very much a horizontal system… where there is not much honouring of the various stages of eldership. The Rite Journey deliberately encourages cross-generational conversation and also a mentoring process with a same sex adult which is chosen by the parents/carers in consultation with the student. The mentor and student spend a few hours a month together working on a project and present their efforts at and expo at the end of year ‘Homecoming’ ceremony.
Is there a specific tool are resource that has been the most useful to you?
The human resource has been the most useful to me, along with continuing to work on my own personal development. I have two monthly men’s groups that I am a part of along with a biannual ‘Celebrating Manhood’ weekend which I help facilitate and have attended now for 11 years…our 22nd weekend is coming up later in May. My connection with other men of all ages (my own sourcing of an intergenerational learning community) is by far the richest resource in my life…both personally and professionally.
For more information, visit the Rite Journey website.