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Over the last two decades of teaching it became more and more clear to me that I was working with students who were grappling with a world that was significantly different from the one that I had grown up in.
The most significant issues included social media and technology: the massive amount of information these young people had exposure to, students spending far more time in front of screens than in front of teachers, the shift from a ‘question rich, answer poor’ society to a ‘question poor, answer rich’ one, the plethora of young men playing video games awash with ‘virtual violence’, the pervasive influence of pornography, their relationships being conducted via a screen rather than in person and the subsequent lack of human connection.
The boys I taught displayed a number of problem areas including bullying, sexism, racism, homophobia and anger management. It also seemed that their lives were becoming ‘bubble-wrapped’ and they were missing out on challenge and risk in preference for safety and predictability. The opportunities for building resilience were passing them by.
Many had family problems and perhaps the most striking of these was under-fathering: many lacked an adult male in their lives whom they trusted and who was able to provide a good, strong, gentle and positive model of manhood. The sports stars and musicians these young men admired exhibited an inappropriate treatment of women, excessive drug use and other socially destructive actions.
The girls were struggling with issues of their own. An increase in the prevalence in eating disorders amongst junior high school students reflected the increased pressure these girls were feeling regarding their appearance. Non-uniform days presented staff with challenges regarding the nature of girls’ skimpy and sexually-oriented attire, and the statistics regarding increased risk behaviours including drug use and sexual activity were alarming.
Steve Biddulph (2007) hit the nail on the head in a Sydney Morning Herald article and whilst speaking about girls his comment rang true for the experience of boys too:
“A successful and happy adolescence entails hundreds of conversations about what matters, who you are and what you stand for. Yet many girls are basically abandoned by distracted parents and the impersonal melee of large secondary schools.”
It became clear to me that I had the opportunity, as a teacher, to create a subject which was all about having these absent conversations with students, specifically exploring issues around developing into a respectful, responsible and resilient adult. My aim was to develop a low cost program which would have minimal impact on school curriculum but maximum impact on the students.
And hence The Rite Journey seed was sown.