Rites of passage: honouring transition

Rites of passage are powerful social activities or ceremonies that mark an evolution from one stage in life to another. In addition to defining character and identity, they provide a sense of achievement and purpose. One of the most critical transitions, and one particularly pertinent to CBC Fremantle, is from adolescence to adulthood. This is a time when much hangs in the balance for each young person to ensure progress towards a positive and successful future of spiritual development, healthy relationships and positive community interaction.

While traditional cultures are widely known to employ symbolism and ceremony for transitioning boys and girls into adulthood, adolescent rites of passage in industrialised countries have become increasingly inconsequential. This is no doubt due in part to the overwhelming emphasis in our media-saturated society on the individual over community, the breakdown of the larger family unit and exposure to many different belief systems and traditions.

At CBC Fremantle, with more than a century of experience in the education of young men, the College recognises that boys have a need to go through rites of passage as a matter of natural progression through life's journey. Without positive and meaningful role models guiding and honouring the transition into adulthood, young men are likely to create their own ceremonies to announce their arrival into the adult social scene that can be destructive and dangerous, including binge drinking and inappropriate internet activity that fosters a lack of respect for women.

As a response to the need for positive reinforcement, several years ago CBC introduced The Rite Journey programme for Year 9 students, which focusses on this pivotal year in a boy's transition to manhood. The year-long programme has proven to be extremely successful in guiding our young men on their journey to becoming tomorrow's gentlemen.

Part of its success is the authenticity of the programme, which was developed by Australian educator and father of four, Andrew Lines, and follows a pattern initially researched early in the 20th century by French ethnographer Arnold Van Gannep, who officially coined the term 'rites of passage'. In his 1909 paper, Van Gannep recognised three periods of transition which he classified as:

  1. Separation from a previous status.
  2. A period of uncertainty between two different states.
  3. Integration of new attitudes, values and behaviours that result in a new status.

As a response to the need for positive reinforcement, several years ago CBC introduced The Rite Journey programme for Year 9 students, which focusses on this pivotal year in a boy's transition to manhood.

Each of these stages is linked to the internal psychological processes of the individual, and requires guidance and acknowledgement from the community in order for the person to make a healthy transition and promote a sense of accountability and recognition. In effect, the process involves letting go of the current personality, followed by a reconstruction of personality at the new level. The developmental focus is on empowerment, not behavioural change, with challenges and measured benchmarks providing the opportunity for the young man to integrate cognitive awareness and construct their own personal narrative, thereby taking responsibility for their own progress.

According to Dr Arne Rubinstein, who is an expert on adolescent development and rites of passage, in traditional society there are three key aspects that a person gains in a successful transition from adolescence to adulthood.

  1. A profound sense of belonging to the community.
  2. A shift from child psychology (or 'Little Boy Behaviour' in CBC terminology) to healthy adult psychology.
  3. An awareness of responsibility and the realisation of the need to form a relationship with the feminine (caring and nurturing).

Dr Rubinstein believes that we can replicate the rites of passage of traditional cultures in a manner appropriate to our own society. An effective process involves sharing our own stories to pass on wisdom and knowledge, thereby allowing open conversations about grief and loss, successes and failures and hopes for the future. It also involves creating challenges to foster confidence and providing positive affirmation. The final understanding which needs to be reached is a recognition that everyone is loved and has unique gifts and talents.

At CBC, the process of transition from boy to adult is succinctly captured in the tagline, 'Today's boys…tomorrow's gentlemen', and the journey is at the core of every College activity. The Rite Journey is the watershed programme that is pivotal in the transition, but from the moment the boy enters his new school through the Year 12 guard of honour, the College delivers a consistent message that embraces the concepts of rites of passage and which is carefully planned to foster a sense of belonging and identity in each young man.