The Rites of Passage and Outdoor Education: Critical Concerns for Effective Programming


Rites of passage practices have caught the attention of educators seeking better methods of teaching adolescents. The fascination with the rites of passage model (ROP) is especially strong among outdoor educators. Once Van Gennep (1960) defined the rites of passage, a three-stage system of social transformation mediating role changes in a community, anthropologists were able to observe his social conception throughout all cultures. Outdoor educators have demonstrated interest in framing outdoor programs as rites of passage because of the structural similarities between outdoor programs and Van Gennep's first and second stages of a rite of passage. While the ROP model has similarities to outdoor programs, the model is generally ineffective in most contemporary contexts because of challenges associated with the third stage of the ROP model. It is important for outdoor programs to understand these challenges prior to investing effort into using ROP models to achieve expected lasting benefits. Most outdoor adventure programs use a Contemporary Adventure Model to mediate change, a fundamentally different rite of passage from the classic anthropological model. Outdoor educators need to decide among three choices with a ROP: abandon the ROP framework based upon a lack of goal congruence, follow a classic model and answer the many challenges the model brings with it, or follow a contemporary adventure model while cognizant of the model's weaknesses.



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Journal of Experiential Education


Sage Publications

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