The educational model in ritual also assumes that the learner must be reflective in order to discover, from within, what draws them. It assumes that life has purpose and meaning and that only in an inner or spiritual process can a person come to know his or her own place and calling and the value for them. Further it insists that content and skills come at the point in the educational process when shape has been given and the learner is committed to learning and formed to acquire and retain the content and skills. It acknowledges that there is a significant role for teachers, mentors, and elders in the process. Wisdom must be passed on in thoughtful and guided ways. Risk is inherent in learning and a process that protects learners acknowledges that a spiritual danger exists in how the learner is being formed or shaped.
The foundational knowledge that in the coming-ofage period of life a formational process is happening helps us recognize that shape making is going on. It is not a question of being or not being shaped but rather what kind of shape taking is happening. The challenge for any culture, then, is to consider what influences are giving shape to a person's life through participation. If a successful learning process requires that the steps of reflection and skills acquisition are completed, there must be mentors, guides, and elders who can and will enter the difficult space of reflection to assist in the values being passed on by the culture and have them acknowledged, clarified, and affirmed. These guides also serve as role models, that is, individuals who are well formed and who can be copied for their "shape." It is critical for cultures to make explicit who the role models are and what their shape or form inspires.
Skills will be learned one way or the other, but the nature of those skills and the way they are used are dependent on an effective reflective process, at an appropriate time in the process, being part of the learning. Skills and content will be valued if they make sense and have a life container that can hold them. Rites of passage, especially coming of age, continue to go on in every culture. The formational experience is happening but is often not an intentional process. The cultural agency required to produce effective adults for a culture may be abandoned to agendas that are not interested in maturity or reflective practice. It may be that the cultural agency for formation has been turned over to impersonal processes that cannot provide the attentive and watchful guidance of a local, invested community. If young people, during their coming-of-age process, are being formed by participation, it is worth considering what sense of meaning they gain and what they learn from the values connected to the repetitive or ritualistic participation in which they engage.
Being steeped in images and repetitions of images is a type of participation that forms those who participate in the images offered. This is the knowledge that permeates traditional rituals and ceremonies. Images are steeped in meaning and values. A reflective and critical assessment of those images must happen if the shape they are giving to lives is to be understood and directed to the benefit of all. However, if the flow of participatory action never stops and there are no sites of reflection, there can be no real coming of age. There may be a lack of elders to guide the process. It is wise to consider who acts as mentors during any reflection on values and equally wise to wonder about the character of the humans being formed in any cultural process.
If the result of formational practices in a culture is adults who live with a degree of uncertainty, vulnerability, and insecurity, as well as with unclear values and meaning, there are implications for the culture and for the young being raised within. It is important to analyze cultural rituals and their embedded meanings to see what is actually being taught through participation and a formational process. It is necessary to consider whose ends are being served and what spiritual values are being offered by a culture. Cultures that are deliberate about rites of passage, especially coming of age, know that formation of lives is significant and transmits values. Rites of passage need to be intentional, deliberate, and the work of the whole community.