Monthly Archives: February 2014

Translating Rites of Passage

We recently began creating partnerships with youth centers and schools to build ongoing Rites of Passage programs for tween boys and girls. This process begat the question: what exactly IS a rite of passage? 

Looking online at the fabulous Wikipedia gets me this answer: “A rite of passage is a ritual event that marks a person’s transition from one status to another. The concept of rites of passage as a general theory of socialization was first formally articulated by Arnold van Gennep in his book The Rites of Passage to denote rituals marking the transitional phase between childhood and full inclusion into a tribe or social group.” This would explain why Rites of Passage groups are typically undertaken with the “tween” population, who are essentially youth transitioning to adulthood.

When we at R2B are doing Rites of Passage youth groups, we try and use rituals as a way to bring youth together under a common group activity. Ritual activities can vary from the sacred to the profane, yet when done correctly allow youth to work together as a group while also identifying important aspects of their individual self such as fear, purpose, courage, etc. Are these group rituals in themselves a rite of passage? Not exactly. We like to think of the ritual activities as a way to prepare youth to handle the real rites of passage that life will naturally bring to them.

Further investigation into the meaning of the term “rite of passage” was found when I began translating the term into Spanish. Based on the translation, there were three possible uses: rito de iniciación, rito de pasaje, and rito de paso. Looking at the first, it is a “rite of initiation”, or a process taking us into something new that we learn or are introduced to. The second use, or “rito de pasaje” literally means a “rite of passage” and signifies passing from one phase to another (as in transition from youth to adult). The most intriguing I found was the third use, or “rito de paso”. Literally translated this means “rite of a step, walkway, or place of crossing”. Taking this further it reminds me of the small steps we take in life, that when added together, make for the larger changes that inevitably will affect us and make us who we really are

The term “rite of passage” may seem easy to define on paper or to translate into a different language. The real test comes from actually working with individuals to help them express their true selves in the context of group dynamic, ongoing family drama, social pressures and daily habits. As we walk through life and interact with others, aren’t we all going through some form of rite of passage?

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Found Art on Hike

Found Art on Hike

Stumbled across a natural-material collage heart and stone cairn on a recent hike. As youth experience nature in a rites of passage program, it’s important they discover meaning for themselves in the landscape.

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Making Meaning in Education

Recently I was walking past a school playground and noticed a group of elementary school kids playing a game: two teams on either side of a central line were building hoop structures, and then throwing soft balls towards the opposing side to knock the structures down. Asking the Physical Education instructor about the game revealed its name: Castle Ball (here is a link to a high school lesson plan).

As I watched, I noticed the game required a collaborative effort on each team’s part: some had to construct the hoop structures while others threw balls to knock the opposing team’s structures down (a mixture of offense and defense, which we know from last night’s Super Bowl is VERY important). The first team to knock down all of the opposing structures won.

It was clear the kids enjoyed the physicality of the exercise, the competition AND the cooperation, yet I couldn’t help but think something was missing: how could the game be framed to make it personally meaningful to all participants? I realized that many times in education the lesson or activity is framed in a “follow these instructions but don’t ask why” framework.

I then began to think about how to make Castle Ball meaningful, even connecting it to personal responsibility and sustainability. One idea would be to start with a lesson on ecosystems, and how an ecosystem is an interconnected web of relationships that rely on each other to coexist. This could dovetail into building hoop castles where each hoop represents a key part of an ecosystem: clean water, fresh air, topsoil with nutrients, bacterial and fungal organisms, vegetation, animals, etc. Depending on the grade level, the lesson could even include socio-political aspects such as environmental legislation and responsible citizens. Once the students learned to build healthy ecosystems (in this case represented by hoops leaning against one another), the second part of the lesson would introduce what degrades ecosystems: air and water pollution, free-radical chemicals, overdevelopment, poaching of animals, erosion of topsoil, etc. Each of these “ecosystem enemies” would be represented by the balls used to throw at the hoop castles to knock them down.

Sound like a stretch? Perhaps. Yet with planning and correct framing of an exercise, any educational lesson can be imbued with meaning with metaphor and a bit of imagination. Last I checked, youth had plenty of imagination to go around, and if they don’t they should. After all, once Castle Ball becomes about protecting and destroying ecosystems, it raises the stakes considerably doesn’t it?

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The Art of Unplugging

Recently, we were tasked with the re-opening of a Youth Center in an existing town community center. The premise was to create a place for youth to come and hang-out after school, do homework in a collaborative environment, and utilize services available to them. When we talked with local youth about what activities they envisioned in a Youth Center, we were given a list of items: pool table, ping pong, computers with internet access, video games, etc. Seeking to establish credentials with the youth by providing items on their list as quickly as possible, we procured two items immediately available: a donated pool table and an X-box 360.

Since opening a month ago, we have noticed a steady shift in the youth that started coming to the Center. The first wave of youth were excited at the possibilities of accessing homework portals, yet due to unforeseen bureaucratic red tape, items such as internet enabled computers to access Edmodo and  Google Docs are still in the works. The results have been a focus shift in users – youth unable to access online information for homework either go elsewhere or have been drawn to the X-box. As facilitators overseeing how the Center is being utilized, we noticed that many of the students who originally started using the space for homework began dwindling away, and more youth who were excited at the prospect of joint gaming began showing up to do homework as quickly as possible and then “plug in”.

The dilemma this shift has caused is now in acute focus. As creators of what we call “dynamic learning environments”, R2B believes youth need to learn in many contexts with many tools. This includes the belief that in order to empower the inherent learning abilities in a student, sometimes we need to “unplug” the learning environment from technological portals so a student can see the world through their own eyes. An example of this came when we noticed students who showed up at the Center to do homework were increasingly distracted at the noise and energy of the video gaming, even when it happened in an adjoining room. We also noticed that when gaming took place, the students begin speaking to the game and not to each other. We recently watched the documentary Play Again about youth overuse of technology, and it showed a fascinating statistic stating youth engage in approximately 3 minutes of meaningful dialogue with parents on a given day, yet have over 500 minutes of “screen time” per day.

The discrepancy between leveraging what youth want and what we believe youth need is a large one. In order to engage a youthful audience and gain their trust, we need to speak their language and acknowledge their interests, without sacrificing the values that we believe to be vital for a sustainable future. Our approach at the Youth Center began by engaging youth in what their interests are, yet based on our experience with the video games, we need to begin creating models of how youth can “unplug” in order to “reconnect” to themselves. This begins next week, when the X-box will no longer be available, and youth will need to find alternative ways of “hanging out”.

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