There was a smash hit in 2001 about it’s not easy being Superman, and schoolteacher Andrew Lines sympathises with the notion as he talks about challenges facing our post-millennials.
He says the responsibility for building young people is flying out the home window at the speed of light. It is not a blame game. Everyone is busy; devices like iPhones are stopping us from engaging with surrounding humanness, clouding realisation as to whom we all really are.
Frightening, really, so when Andrew was teaching at Cornerstone College in Mount Barker about a decade ago the seed to rescue the world was planted. It started during a discussion with his home group when he realised a few boys had tendencies to be sexist, homophobic and racist.
“I noticed with them that their dad wasn’t around, or they had a step-dad whom they just didn’t get along with,” Andrew recalled. “At the time I was reading a chapter in a book Manhood by Steve Biddulph about teachers playing a co-parenting role. I thought maybe I needed to step up and be the bloke with these boys and have a few conversations.”
This experience inspired Andrew to create a program The Rite Journey which remarkably has expanded to almost 100 schools in Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, South Korea and the United Kingdom. More than 50,000 students have gone through the program since 2006, and there will be another 8000 in 2017.
Investigator College will this month introduce the program at its Goolwa campus. It is a non-academic course for Year 9 boys and girls taught separately helping them to recognise their role in the society; how they are meant to behave as they develop from being a child into young adulthood and confront the rest of the world.
The concept started as a term thing, having conversations with boys about being a decent bloke; dealing with anger, treating women properly, what the expectations were in society about being a man.
It led to a year-long rite of passage program thanks to huge input by fellow educators Graham Gallasch, Amrita Hobbs and Jane Bennett, whose commitment to supporting adolescents through challenging times is equally passionate.
When researching the program Andrew realised that of the five life moments traditionally ceremonialised – birth, child to adult, marriage, adult to elder, and death – it became clear that in the western culture we still didn’t do anything about celebrating and honouring moving into adolescence and old age.
“We don’t go to old-folks homes and sit with the elders and turn to them for wisdom,” Andrew said.
“When I was a kid there were fewer situations of both parents working, and I am definitely not suggesting that is right or wrong; it is a now a common necessity. I am just saying we need to know how to deal with this. Schools are almost the last hub or connected community of souls where everyone has a connection.
“We have become more segregated into our homes. The saying it takes a village to raise a child is not happening as much now. The kids don’t play out on the streets; they don’t see how other families interact. As a kid I had to engage with a mate’s parents first before I could go to his place and play. The phone was stuck to the wall in the kitchen; I had a conversation with other adults, and that’s all bypassed.
“With the school program there is a need for the teachers to give something of their self, and that is not always an easy thing to do. There is a great quote from an author Brené Brown: In times of struggle the most important two words are ‘me too’. There needs to be a connection with someone else who has had the experience, and as teachers we want the kids in the class and look at us to realise that we had to endure to get to where we are, that it hasn’t been smooth sailing.”
And here lay another great challenge – coping in an era where society generally shields its children too much without helping them to meet their own challenges.
Andrew, who with his wife Becky has a blended family of seven children aged 5-21, believes there is a lot of helicopter parenting where kids aren’t taking risks. “We are protecting them,” Andrew said. “We are rescuing them too early because we don’t want them to experience hardship.
“To build resilience you actually have to fail. We have to provide opportunities for kids to come up against this stuff. In the old days as a kid you assessed where the boundaries and dangers were and self-managed the situation, whereas we now put up these nets and kids bounce around and do anything.
“I realised that we need to go back to the early years; it starts at two or three when at the end of the day they pick up their toys and put them back in the box. At eight it might be you make the school lunch and at nine learning to use the washing machine. We have been babying kids all the way through.
“There are these little shifts… living with a child mindset to living with an adult mindset. The child psychology says life is easy, and I say, if you are living with that you are living as a kid. The adult mindset says life is difficult. And you know what? The irony is that as soon as you say life is difficult it is actually easier because you will just deal with the next thing that comes along.”
“Overall, I look at The Rite Journey program as shining a light on stuff about adulthood that is typically hidden. It is having conversations about creating your own experience. If you want to go through life complaining about everything then that is what your life is about, but you can also go about being positive and enjoy life.”
Andrew believes an inability to converse with those closest to you is one of mankind’s greatest misgivings.
This common thread through society led to Andrew successfully applying for a grant to create the Manmade Toolbox… growing great men. It is sold through his website, and basically consists of a box of question cards where a father or child turns a card over and reads a question to the other – things like “Do you know your birth story?” or “What is one of your happiest moments?
“There are a whole lot of questions about life that creates conversation,” Andrew said. “I discovered that dads and their kids didn’t know what conversations they could have with each other. There is nothing in the box that a father and son couldn’t chat about. Women are also buying the toolbox so they can get to know their partner.”
Goolwa Campus head of middle school Jodie O’Donnell, and home group teacher Jacob Crate will lead The Rite Journey program at Investigator College involving about 45 students. There is a smorgasbord of talk, at least 150 enlightening conversations with a natural starting order: Who am I really? It deals with rites of passage and the time to put aside the childishness when you are 14 or 15 and start becoming a young adult.
Jodie said the program was not about the school, and marking them on this course. “It’s what the students do when they are out in the rest of the world,” she said.
“It is about talking to children in an an adult way, treating them as young adults and helping them to understand the responsibility that comes with that.
Andrew said The Rite Journey was about students discovering their inner-self, and adapting to the confronting challenges of life. Much like Clark Kent, really.