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Rites of Passage – An Education In Manhood

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It has become clear, again, in recent days for the need to teach our boys about consent.
In the past week we have learned of the rape of a young woman in Parliament House followed by a petition started by a Sydney woman which listed a lengthy array of allegations of sexual assault from respondents which occurred during high school or shortly after. The petition implores that ‘sexual consent education’ happens earlier in schools.
I fully agree with the necessity for sexual consent education, and as an educator and parent have spent many years considering how this might be best done.
One of the more common approaches in schools is to conduct ‘day programs’ with external providers coming in.
There is a solid amount of evidence to suggest that these approaches aren’t effective.
The US National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Division of Violence Prevention notes in their publication ‘STOP SV:A Technical Package to Prevent Sexual Violence’
“There is evidence that some approaches, such as brief, one-session educational programs aimed at raising awareness and knowledge about SV (sexual violence), do not work to prevent SV perpetration.
And closer to home, Michael Currie in his book ‘Doing Anger Differently’ observes, “The best programs are integrated into the school curriculum and involve substantial weekly contact over a year or two. Shorter programs than this appear to have little effect.”
So given that day or short term programs have little effect how might we best educate our young men about sexual consent?
For millennia a Rite of Passage process has been used to guide boys into manhood.
A number of factors contributed to that initiation, there was a community of men supporting the boy, an education in what it meant to be a man, ceremony and ritual to deepen the process, challenges to teach the boy resilience and grit, an experience to let him know that he is a small part of a large universe, an opportunity to consider the man he wants to be and then an expectation from the community that he steps into the responsibilities of being a man.
This series of processes, over a period of time, have been used by culture after culture to transition males from an immature boy psychology of ‘life is about me and what I can get’ to a mature adult male psychology of ‘life is about others and what I can give’.
If we are to truly change the culture for our boys in our schools we need to invest time.
The Rite Journey is a carefully crafted process which has been designed to work with boys over a year – and includes all of the elements mentioned above.
Our Rite Journey team works with schools to help them design ceremony which is particular to their ethos, families and students using a contemporary framework of a Hero’s Journey. Parents/carers are included in the process as we recognise the need for support, encouragement and ultimately a shift in expectation to help our boys step up.
Throughout the year there are dozens of conversations that build a solid framework of understanding for the boys, including exploring ‘Who am I, really?’, gender construction and identity, the effects of ‘the man box’ and then how they get along with others.
Spending months exploring these topics with a trusted male mentor builds the foundation to then explore relationships and sexuality, including consent.
There is also a vast difference between a day program, offered by someone who effectively steps into the students’ lives for a few hours and then leaves, compared to a year-long program where teachers, who have a vested interest in the students’ lives, ride the bumps of life with them throughout the year…and then continue to be present and support them – and hold them to account – beyond the program.
As you can see, a stand alone day on consent with an external provider, without the substantial support of everything mentioned above – has very little chance of creating any sustainable change in an individual or a school culture.
As Steve Biddulph writes:
“A rite-of-passage process is the timeless way in which boys are transitioned into life-affirming kinds of men, and this takes time. Until we provide this, we will continue to have defective and dangerous men in every sphere of public and private life. Rape culture has multiple causes, but it always arises when there are not enough good adults deeply involved in the lives of boys.”
(in ‘We Know What It Takes To Raise Men Who Don’t Rape So Why Don’t We Act On It?, SMH, Feb 23, 2021)
Schools that truly want to invest in the social, emotional well-being of their students, that want to help develop respectful and responsible young men, must look beyond the occasional day program and find programs and processes that have substantial part of the school curriculum throughout a year, .
Here’s to using contemporary Rites of Passage in our schools to help develop respectful and responsible men.
“The Rite Journey is one of the most exciting and well conceived ideas in boys’ education for a very long time.
It brings together the key concerns of initiating boys into fine young men, with its focus on the pressing concerns of safety, dealing with emotions, values, responsibility, and self awareness. It is dense in content and interaction, and uses powerful but simple ritual stages that will be long remembered and treasured.
It builds community among fathers, mothers, and teachers which would otherwise have been absent, and from this strength offers boys a real chance to become parts of something larger and long term.
Real manhood is about connectedness, not individualism, about giving, not self-centredness. There are lots of good programs about, but nothing I have seen that is so comprehensive, sustained over time, and potentially so life changing for the boys involved. That it is accessible for all boys, regardless of income or family circumstance, at what is traditionally a rather uninspiring phase of their schooling is wonderful news.
It has potential for wide dissemination, turning a problematic time of life into a force for good.”
Steve Biddulph, author The New Manhood, Raising Boys in the 21st Century.
In 2021 The Rite Journey will be taught in over 120 schools to over 11,000 students bringing the total number of students having done the year long program to over 80,000

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