Part 2 The Cycle of Life
Lesson 2 Rites of Passage
[When one Croatian marries another] the conversation is more in Croatian than in English. . . . The band plays a dancing piece or two of Croatian music [polkas and waltzes, and amateur musicians are likely to pull out an accordion and begin singing]. If it is the score of a popular song, the guests may break into song and sing along. During intermissions, the men form into a group and sing traditional songs.
--Milos Vujnovich, Plaquemines Parish
English Language Arts, Social Studies
Purpose of Lesson
In this lesson students search for rites of passage in their own lives and study rites of other cultural groups in Louisiana and around the world. They recognize moments of importance in people's lives and find meaning in the stages of their own and others' lives. They learn that all cultures have rites of passage for similar stages in the cycle of life.
Lesson Objectives/Louisiana Content Standards, Benchmarks, and Foundation Skills
1. Students learn that rites of passage throughout the cycle of life are universal and yet unique to each cultural group.
2. Students examine rites of passage in their own lives and the lives of other adolescents and expand their personal timelines through adolescence.
3. Students research a rite of passage in depth, including fieldwork and mapping of an event.
2-5 class periods
Popular magazines for clipping images of rites of passage; computer software or art supplies for making a timeline. If your students will be doing fieldwork, you may need digital cameras, audio recorders, or video recorders in addition to notepads and pencils as well as appropriate fieldwork forms. Print out and duplicate any worksheets or rubrics that you will be using.
Background Information for the Teacher
Some transitions to new levels of responsibility are not formal rituals but, nonetheless, are important in young people's lives: getting braces off, moving to middle school and lockers, the transition from high school freshman to senior, driver's permits and licenses, prom, and graduation. Adolescence is an important passage that some cultural groups still mark with sacred and secular rituals and ceremonies. "Sweet 16" parties are no longer prevalent, but Latina girls in the U.S. often have elaborate 15th birthdays, quinceañeras, involving many family members and friends in a religious ceremony and an elaborate secular party. At 13, many Jewish boys or girls may have a bar or a bat mitzvah, for which they spend months studying Hebrew to present in a service in a synagogue. There is also a non-religious aspect -- parties with lots of food, dancing, and gifts. In some Christian denominations, teenagers are confirmed into the church after studying the tenets of the faith. For many teens, a driver's license or first job are important milestones, which are not marked by formal rites of passage. After the school years come courtship and marriage, which still preoccupy many young people. This lesson asks adolescents to consider their rites of passage and research those of community members and of other cultures. Next, they turn to studying courtship and marriage customs at home, in Louisiana, and around the world.
Accumulate materials on rites of passages and images from popular culture magazines. Think about significant passages in your own life that you can share with students. What was the move to middle school or high school like? Were you nervous? Did older students pick on incoming students? There are many examples, from club initiations to marriage.
8th Grade Activities
1. Share a story about a rite of passage in your own life with students. Describe it in detail. Discuss the concept of rites of passage and brainstorm important milestones your students can think of. A scribe should record responses. Ask students to choose one of these milestones and write about it for just 10 minutes. Then they should pair off, read their writing to each other, and discuss how to research this topic further. They might make collages of drawings and images of rites of passage from popular magazine pictures or make squares of a "quilt" to hang on the classroom wall.
2. Next class period, ask students to list important milestones in their own lives since early childhood. They should create a personal milestone timeline by drawing or using timeline software. If they made early childhood timelines in Part 2 Lesson 1, they may take up where they left off. If they did not, then they may start with some event they find important. They should decorate the timelines with drawings, photographs, and mementos.
3. Working individually or in teams, students must choose a rite of passage from one of the cycles of life to research in depth. They should plan fieldwork research to document their choice if possible (see Unit II Fieldwork Basics). This is an excellent opportunity to deepen their fieldwork skills: close observation, notetaking, mapping, photography, audio and video recording. In addition to researching this practice in their own community, they should inquire into its history and practice in other regions of the state, nation, or world. They may use the Milestone Research Worksheet as a guide for data to include in their research. They will find online Louisiana Folklife Articles listed in Technology Options above and images in the Creole State Exhibit or Louisiana Folklife Photo Gallery that will aid in researching some topics. Final products could include electronic slide shows, publications, exhibits, or oral presentations. If these are written above your students' reading ability, refer to the Adaptation Strategies for ways to adjust and modify them to levels that students can understand.
4. Ask students to design a celebration or observation that would serve as a bridge from childhood to adolescence. What values, commitments, rituals, music, dance, food, study, relationships with others, or even promises might be included? Teams could develop and present celebrations to the class. What would students want to gain from such an experience? What would they want to say to the community about their place in it and their potential to contribute to the community? What would they want from the community and their families? Form several collaborative groups as described in Unit 9 Part 1 Lesson 3. Print, duplicate, and distribute the Rites of Passage Rubric and explain it to the students. Remind them to refer to the performance elements periodically to be sure they are accomplishing the objectives of the lesson. At the end of the lesson, students have to score themselves using the rubric. Then the teacher will evaluate the groups' performances using the same rubric. Teachers may learn background information about La Quinceañara in an online article by folklorist Norma Cantú. Use Adaptation Strategies to adapt this adult-oriented resource to your students' reading level, if necessary.
5. Courtship and marriage traditions invite study since they not only involve romance but occur in every community. Half the class might document wedding traditions and beliefs through fieldwork in your community or family interviews. The other half might research weddings elsewhere, including internationally. Consider the roles of men and women, family and friends, customs and beliefs, foodways, music, dance, ritual language, and pre-wedding events. In researching the history of the diamond ring as an engagement symbol, students will uncover another instance of commercial, popular culture influencing traditional culture. The DeBeers diamond firm launched an evocative public relations campaign in the first half of the 20th century to encourage this practice. Students can present research in many formats: Venn diagrams, computer slide shows, videos, podcasts, oral or written reports, timelines illustrating events between courtship and the wedding.
6. After reading Cajun Wedding Traditions, brainstorm a list of all the traditions mentioned. Have students categorize the list into those they know about and those that were new. Complete one "I learned" statement per student. Have students act out the Cajun wedding march as described in the article to a slow Cajun recording (in 2/4). Have students interview their elders about family wedding traditions. Compare those traditions with other classmates and the traditions listed in the article. As a cumulative writing activity, have students write a short essay addressing "What is a rite of passage?" Use what they know about wedding traditions as examples.
Technology Option: Have students create a comic strip on paper or on the computer showing the progression of events at a wedding. Small groups can collaborate to make a slide show comic strip, with each student being responsible for one slide/illustration. Create the drawings in drawing software, save them as pictures and import them into presentaiton software to create the computer comic strip.
8th Grade Explorations and Extensions
1. Record parents' and grandparents' stories about how they met, courtships, and weddings. Share audio or video recordings, photos, and mementos in a class exhibit. Interview members of a wedding party or professionals who are involved in weddings: clergy, clerks of the court, judges, bakers, florists, musicians, photographers, dressmakers, tuxedo rental companies. How do their perspectives differ from participants' perspectives? What is the economic impact of a wedding on a community? Students in the Montana Heritage Project staged a community event to honor their grandmothers. Girls wore their grandmothers' dresses in a fashion show as students read from oral histories the girls had collected from their grandmothers. A Celebration of American Family Folklore (see Unit IX Resources) features a chapter of courtship stories.
2. Read literature about rites of passage and weave discussion into classmates' discussions of their own communities. Similarly, study artworks depicting life cycle themes. Some quilters make story quilts or represent life passages in other ways, such as making quilts for special occasions or contributing a square to a communally made quilt. If your family has a story quilt, bring it to class. Make a story quilt of your life using computer software, drawings on paper or fabric, or appliqués on fabric. Ask the visual art specialist for ideas and help. The website Quilting with Children features easy techniques. (See other quilting activities in Unit VII Lesson 6 and Unit 8 Lesson 2.)
3. Like the seasonal round, the cycle of life can be represented as a circle. Draw and illustrate a cycle of life from birth to death, depicting important milestones and rites of passage of your own, a family member, or another cultural group. Which milestones are sacred? Which are secular? Are any both sacred and secular? Describe the customs, music, foodways, beliefs, clothing, or artifacts important to at least one milestone. If you want, use the Milestone Research Worksheet to guide your work.
4. Working in groups or individually, compare christening, baptism, and First Communion traditions among Christian denominations and in different regions of Louisiana. "Take Me to the Water": African American River Baptism is one resource. Teachers, use Adaptation Strategies to adapt this adult-oriented resource to your students' reading level, if necessary. Demonstrate findings in oral or written presentations or portfolios, which might include artwork, music, and stories.