Rites of Passage includes graduation from educational institutions.

From The Dawn of Humanity

In the space between childhood and fully becoming an adult, young men and women performed customs or rites to signify or test their right to become full adult members of society or their tribe. We call these Rites of Passage. Once they successfully complete those, they act as adults, fully responsible for themselves and their role in society.

For young men in pre-industrial societies, it involved challenges demonstrating their ability to hunt, farm, fight, track, or other skills. Equally important, young girls learned food preparation, rearing children, and even home defense. In some cultures, choosing a mate was an essential part of the coming of age. In hunter-gatherer cultures, the rites could include a risky life-or-death struggle. The weak or unskilled may not survive. Later, in feudal times with strict class structures, those rites depended on your station in life.

Times Change, Rites of Passages Change

In the industrial age, schools help students tackle mental challenges, even when their future work requires manual labor or soldiering. Every mechanic or tank commander learns their three “R’s” – reading, writing, and arithmetic – plus more to perform their jobs effectively. Contemporary rites of passage include graduations, proms, one’s introduction to the fine art of romance, and more. Nowadays, the rites are seldom physically dangerous, but not achieving them can lead to a lower survival potential.

In the current “information age,” the emphasis on mastering a good education is very pronounced. Unlike in the past, graduations may end without a good job waiting. Only by advancing through training within certain highly demanded positions can some find employment sufficient to support a growing family.

The full transition to adulthood is not achieved until later than the teen years. If a person is lucky, they become a fully functioning member of society by their mid-twenties.

Not So Clear-cut in Today’s World

In early societies, there was a clear-cut passage. One day, you were a boy or girl; the next, you were an adult, responsible for yourself in a sometimes harsh world.

In our modern world, no single rite of passage is agreed upon. Instead, we each must cross our own invisible line when ready. This may be the reason for much of the stress on our youth today.

With great freedoms come many choices, but also the responsibility for the results of whatever we choose. For most, there is no clear line now to cross into adulthood, resulting in immediately gaining a position of value.

Rites of Passage in Small Steps

We now travel forward by many small steps, each only a prelude to the next step, with the end goal still beckoning in the distance as we accrue skills and recognition a bit at a time. Young people in centuries past may have completed that in hours, days, or weeks. Now, that stretches to years or decades.

Each stage of humankind’s evolution brings about a longer span between childhood and adulthood. We live longer than our ancestors, but our education methods have not kept pace with our need to learn greater skills and knowledge within a short time. Research and innovation in the ways we educate are the key to solving this far longer journey to adulthood. We need to teach smarter, individually and collectively, and with better use of technology.

We can do better and should.

Jerry Society & Culture

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