Exams, Roughing It and Other Rites of Passage

I first proved my mettle on a canoe trip. I was 10 years old and this was an extended family ‘vacation’ on the Restigouche River in New Brunswick. It wasn’t how I would have chosen to spend a holiday, and the endless nipping of sand flies, physical exertion, sleeping on rocks, perpetual paddling, lack of plumbing and terror of rapids together represented the challenge I had to overcome. Of course I did.

As I recall, the next time I stared down a daunting challenge was my first experience with exams. I was in grade 7 and we wrote 10 exams, two each day for five days straight.

I have written before about how quickly the world is changing. You have no doubt read the work of others who say the same. Some things, however, don’t change. In fact, some things have always been. While the things that change are important, it is equally important to note the things that don’t.

One of these things is the rite of passage.

Rites of passage have served to infuse maturity throughout time and across cultures. When I first thought of the significance of this, it was in a graduate course that focused on the most jaw-dropping of examples. In some societies these rites of passage, often for mere pre-teens, can include extreme pain, deprivation and well-founded fear. In these cases, the rites of passage are often singular events where the individual begins a child and leaves an outright adult within a matter of days. However arduous the challenges, those who emerge feel proud, mighty and mature.

What in the world does this have to do with KCS?

In today’s world, rites of passage may take place in a rugged outdoor experience. They can also be a significant school or life challenge.  As I reflect on my canoe trip and my first experience with exams, they were rites of passage that left me feeling proud and mightier than I had before.

Our grade 6-8 students have just finished exams. I know exams have been a trial for many of our students, and their families. Since the Christmas holidays, life hasn’t been the same. Students have been studying daily, either willingly, or with prodding, yelling, angst and frustration. They have worked exceptionally hard preparing for this unusual academic challenge.

If your child wrote exams and at times you questioned what this was all for, it is about more than learning how to write exams. Yes, there are many ‘practical’ reasons for why writing exams is beneficial. I’ve written about them elsewhere. What I haven’t written about before, and what may even matter more, is how exams also connect our students to something timeless. Rites of passage, in whatever form they take, are proven sources of hard-won resilience and pride.

Now is the time to celebrate their rite of passage. Your child is not as he/she used to be. While they have not made a full leap into adulthood, they deserve to feel proud of themselves, mightier and more mature, and to feel that those around them see them as such.

This is also a time to share the stories of your own rites of passage.  Your child can now better understand what you mean when doing so.

What were the rites of passage that helped make you the adult you became?

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics

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