The final stage of coming of age is the reentry or integration into the next phase of life. The actual rite of passage is usually concluded with a ceremony that declares the task complete. Whatever is needed to be learned has been learned, and the children are now ready to be publicly declared adults and will henceforth be treated as adults. The communal celebration marks the end of a process that can be up to several years in length. After it is complete, the new adult is expected to be and act as an adult and is expected to be treated as an adult. There is a clear borderline that is crossed by the whole community. The culture surrounding the ceremony has built-in practices to ensure the success of the new adults in the community. The mentoring of elders and guides confirms and supports the new adult to meet the expectations of the community.
THE EDUCATIONAL MODEL
Step One. Part of the success of rites of passage is the educational approach embedded in ritual life that assumes humans are shaped or given form primarily by participation. By taking part in a cultural activity a person begins to acquire the shape or molding embedded in that activity, being formed like a piece of pottery. Children, for example, acquire a language by living in it. Their minds are shaped to the structure and assumptions of the language they are learning because they live in the world of that language. They learn the thinking and perspective inherent in their language along with the language. They are being shaped to a way of speaking and a way of thinking. Similarly, participants in rites of passage are involved in a series of actions that shape them in a form appropriate for their community. The shape being given includes a way of thinking that contains spiritual awareness and assumptions. The spiritual values and perspective of a culture are already there, inside its actions and rituals, and are best learned through participation, experientially.
This educational practice reverses the school-based approach that assumes one must be instructed in structure and content in order to acquire knowledge. Participation is a different kind of learning: learning through practice. It is an immersion experience and does not require understanding to precede learning.
One takes part in an experience that contains ideas and assumptions that shape a participant to a way of life. They are implanted in the learner experientially and made familiar through activity.
Step Two. In order to integrate and understand the thinking being experienced, the second stage of learning in the participatory model is a process of reflection or consideration. It requires guidance and the presence of elders or mentors who can assist learners in reflecting on what they have experienced, exploring its meaning for them, and beginning to surface the implicit values inside the activities. It requires taking time to reflect on what shape is being given, to consider what that form might mean, and to become aware of personal values, roles, responsibilities, and place in the community. Understanding grows out of the experience in a deliberate guided and supported process of reflection.
Step Three. The process of formational learning is not complete without the third stage in which there is a deliberate acquisition of skills and content appropriate to the shape that has been taken. The focus shifts to acquiring the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue a way of life as a contributing adult member of the community. There is an acknowledged need to identify what skills or content someone must have for who they are becoming in order to pursue their direction and to meet the community needs of survival and development. Elders or teachers are needed to provide support, encouragement, and skills training. This stage of education may move slowly as the learners become aware of their interests through reflection, which directs them to a vocation or career leading to an acknowledgment of needed skills and content. There is a remarkable economy of learning in the participatory approach as the learner is shaped or formed to receive specific knowledge through participation and is enthusiastic to acquire skills and content, and consequently, the learning is directed and contained. The content to be taught has a container prepared to receive it and hold it.
THE WISDOM OF RITUAL
The learning process of rites of passage has been used in many cultures and religious communities for centuries with consistent success. It recognizes that
1. Interest and engagement happen most easily through participation.
2. In taking part, the learner is already invested in an outcome.
3. Through participation the values and assumptions of the context are learned indirectly.
The process does not begin with information or content but with immersion in events and activity. It is not about filling minds with content but engaging lives through participation in forms of activity. Ritual life also assumes there will be community involvement in learning with elders or mentors who supervise the process. These elders must also be watchful, noting the habits and character of the participants, steering them to appropriate activities and eventually to appropriate teachers and instructors.