Under the leadership of the Deputy Head of Middle School, Simon Bergin, the College co-constructed a scope and sequence for wellbeing 7-12 called, Living Well (2019). The scope and sequence is underpinned by a ‘Philosophy of Personhood’ which reiterates that humans are made in God’s image person and captures the multiple domains of being human.
The Living Well program operates through 20 x 55 minutes periods per year, a camp for Years 7 and 9 and with some scope to supplement this in Mentor Group time daily. Years 8-12 remain with the same mentor and year coordinator throughout their time at the College, in order to prioritise relationship. Each of the year groups is framed around different themes: Awe and Wonder – Year 7, Growth – Year 8, Story and Challenge – Year 9. It is upon the latter where Simon has focused, where we use aspects of the Rites of Passage, and to which this article now turns.
Rites of Passage (n.d) is the work of Dr Arne Rubinstein, an experienced physician whose time in emergency impelled him to think differently about how we transition our young people into rich and meaningful adulthood – the active, engaged and responsible citizens to which current international and national educational policies aspire. At the core of Rites of Passage (n.d) lies transformation: from child to healthy adult behaviour. Rubinstein, like others, is drawn to anthropological examples of indigenous and traditional communities around the world, where transition of young people safely into adulthood is intentional and community-driven. An example includes circumcision in Australian Aborigines and Massi cultures. Some traditional rites of passage are dramatic and even life threatening – a boy hunting a lion, or jumping head-first off a bamboo tower with a vine tied around his ankles in Vanuatu. Another transition event is the Mescalero Apache Girls Puberty Ceremony, “an annual event celebrating the initial menses of selected girls, as well as the perpetuation of the tribe” (Farrer,1987, p.240). Each girl has a mentor who prepares her for the ceremony. The ceremony spans four nights of dancing by the girls accompanied by tribal singers who recount tribal history with 64 different songs.
Story is essential to the Apache event. The ritual drama is deeply spiritual, ‘a reunion with the primary life force the Creator God and his consort Mother Earth’ (Farrer,1987, p.241). The long nights of dancing intertwined with other rituals by day, are tests of endurance required for motherhood, and much more. At the heart of each rite of passage is a challenge, a challenge which upon successful completion marks entry into adulthood. Rubinstein has adopted some of these features into his program: separation, transition and integration forming the core steps (Rubinstein, n.d). Sadly, today many teenagers generate their own destructive forms of challenge – schoolies perhaps being a prime example.
Dr Rubinstein has worked alongside the Deputy Head of Middle School, other members of our pastoral team and parents. Each time we are moved by his passion and personal integrity. Last year I had the privilege of attending Rubinstein’s leadership training camp where he taught us in more detail, where, as participants we experienced each of steps, and which gave me a wonderful opportunity to think theologically.
Although they imbue all aspects of the program, story and challenge, sit most firmly within the transition phase. Narratology, framing process with story, telling stories, sharing stories and living story, aligns thoroughly with a Christian worldview. The Bible’s metanarrative, the accounts in each testament, its message, the parables, its systematic theology, are all story driven. In Rites of Passage (n.d), story is used to generate empathy, share values, and to forge relationships. Swan Christian College’s iteration seeks to emulate this by embedding a ‘talking stick’ into activities, replacing expository teaching with narrative, using Rubinstein’s stepped process, listening more to students, guest speakers inspiring students with accounts of life’s adventures, team building games and character development activities. Story and Challenge is currently a gendered program seeking to speak directly into the maturation of young men and young women in explicit ways.
Yet it would be remiss if our program didn’t include the redemptive story of Jesus. In the end, narratology in Rites of Passage (n.d) is a tool, one in which “stories allow for multiple interpretations, offering participants the freedom to choose what they take way from the story” (Rubinstein, n.d). For Christians, the Biblical story is true. For Christians, the Biblical story points to relationship with Jesus. Unlike Rubinstein, the Christian story also has an ending not yet fully realised. It is worth noting that while our program is based in scriptural concepts, we do not use the program as a tool to evangelise – rather point to, and affirm relationship.
It has been a blessing to work alongside staff as the Story and Challenge program has come to fruition. Our story is not complete. In some ways our story provides continuity with the past, and in some ways, it points forward. Further, we understand that there is more to story than simply hearing stories, responding to others’ and living out our own. G K Chesterton (1908) explained it like this: “I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.” As a Middle School team, we believe there is a bigger story, a storyteller who brings us hope, a future, a purpose. Life is not simply a series of emotions, images, characters, conversations, forms or life experiences. Our heart is made to live in a larger story. The storyteller is God and it is in him, and his son Jesus that all human stories culminate. Ultimately, it is this story, this storyteller that drives everything we do in Middle School at Swan Christian College.
Farrer, C. (1987). Singing for Life: the Mescalero Apache Girls Puberty Ceremony.
In: L. Mahdi, S. Foster, & M. Little, ed., Betwixt & between: patterns of masculine and feminine initiation (1st ed.). La Salle: Open Court, pp.239-253.
Peterson, E., quoted in Curtis, B., & Eledge, J. (2001). The Sacred Romance. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson.
Rubinstein, A. (2018). Level 1 Leadership Training: Handbook. Mullumbimby: The Rites of Passage Institute.
Swan Christian College (2019) Living Well: Wellbeing for Life. Middle Swan, Australia: Simon Bergin.
Mrs Christine Crump
Head of Middle School