I have always been fascinated with rites of passage as they make ritual from the incomprehensible space between one stage of life and the next. Rites of passage represent moments where we are between and therefore we are nowhere—not where we were and not quite where we will be. In response to such moments, we create ceremonies, we say a prayer or two, we have parties, and perhaps we wear silly hats. We used to give each other watches.
The end of high school is just such a moment, but unfortunately, too many students start to leave us before they have actually “left the building.” They enter into the “passage” before we have set up the tent for the “rite.” Perhaps this happens because what we offer them feels irrelevant to the life they are leading or to the life they believe they might live. They are already leaving us, even though they are still in our classrooms (sometimes with with years to go). Human beings want meaning, relevance, and immediacy, and if we aren’t careful our students will seek and find these things everywhere but school. We have a compelling story to tell to these kids, and we have leadership and guidance to offer them, but we have to re-gear aspects of our practice and components of our curriculum in order to execute on this potential.
At the school where I work, we have an amazingly talented student body, a group rich with creative and demanding voices. Our newly minted “Learning for Life: A Vision for Westminster” points out poignantly that we want more for and from them. When I think about what it would be like to feel as if I was forever stuck in the midst of a Rite of Passage, not where I was and not where I will be going, I feel tremendous empathy for these students. It leads me to remember what high school was like for me, and I am thus able to remember my experience un-garnished by nostalgia. I am often amazed that they handle it as well as they do. Though I want the experience to be highly demanding, I don’t want a school where students about to graduate encapsulate their experience with words like: “survive” or “endure.” What words to we do want to supplant these? Please help me with creating a list in the comments section…I’ll offer a couple to start: “relevant” and “fascinating.”