Schooling for Change: Reinventing Education for Early Adolescents

By Andy Hargreaves; Jim Ryan et al. | Go to book overview
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3

Cultures of Schooling

Transition as a ‘Rite de Passage’
Adolescence in general, and the experience of transition to secondary school in particular, can usefully be viewed as a kind of ‘rite de passage’. In their longitudinal case study of transition and adaptation to secondary school, Measor and Woods (1984) describe transition as precisely that. Transition to adulthood and to secondary school is one of the most important status passages that people experience in their lifetimes. Whether one is moving from childhood to adulthood in preliterate societies, from single status to being married, from marriage to divorce, or from elementary to secondary school, the movement marks a passage in status from being one kind of person with certain rights and expectations to another. These status passages are important yet traumatic. With school transfer, they are sometimes particularly traumatic, argue Measor and Woods (ibid), because transfer to secondary school involves not one status passage, but three:
the physical and cultural passage of adolescence itself that we call puberty;
the informal passage within and between peer cultures and friendship groups where different kinds of relationships are experienced and expected;
the formal passage between two different kinds of institutions, with different regulations, curriculum demands and teacher expectations.

The multiple-status passage of transition can be a particular source of anxiety because the messages and directions of the passage are not at all consistent with each other. Movement from elementary to secondary school and from child to adolescent represents an increase in status. Movement from the top of one institution to the bottom of another and from older child to younger adolescent represents lowered status. For the child, transition can be a good thing or a bad thing. Often it is both—and this can be confusing and worrying. Reflecting on their discovery of these multiple-status passages and their implications, Measor and Woods (ibid) comment that other literature on transition which ‘concentrate(s) almost exclusively on the formal aspects such as the pupil’s academic achievement, miss(es) a great deal and may come to the wrong conclusions’.

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