STEM, Scouting and Finding Your Tribe: The Importance of Rites of Passage in Middle School

STEM, Scouting and Finding Your Tribe: The Importance of Rites of Passage in Middle School
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I take scouting seriously: my family recited the Boy Scout Law at my father’s funeral as my brother, an Eagle Scout, wept.

Last week, I started a blog about how programs like scouting and the Broadcom MASTERS® create modern-day rites of passage through which young people can find their place in a society that amplifies the positive values and aspirational interests that enables them to become adults in-full and leaders in science, engineering, letters and the arts as well as society at large.

The National Boy Scout Jamboree has been a scouting rite of passage for decades; one that all scouts are encouraged to experience as they go from Tenderfoot to the “apex of leadership and character.” Thus, I was extremely gratified by the Boy Scouts of America CEO’s public disavowal of President Trump’s address at the National Jamboree when, rather than giving guidance and inspiration from a revered elder who tapped into the values embodied in one hundred years of scouting and the United States Constitution, the president gave a toxic rambling speech laced with profanity, bigotry and libertine fantasies to 40,000 impressionable adolescents between the ages of 11 and 17.

The 2017 Jamboree snafu reignited national conversations about the power of adult influences on adolescents whose tribal instincts are awakening. Cultural anthropologists inform us that because we human beings evolve from close-knit social infrastructures, many of these tribal characteristics are hard-wired into us: we seek to belong. With the advent of functional MRI scanning, we know that the process of individuating from one’s family and gravitating into social cliques is more than cultural – it is actually part of the neurological development of the adolescent brain.

When kids are old enough to ride a bike to the grocery store or visit the mall without a parent or guardian in tow, they begin to make independent choices in interests, friends and associations, which are first steps toward integrating into a new, chosen community or tribe. This is a time of life when adolescents experience an enormous sense of power because the drive to pursue independent interests and make new circles of friends outside of the family unit is very compelling. Conversely, it is a time of tremendous instability, uncertainty and anxiety. Thus, cultures over millennia have established carefully crafted formal rites of passage to help their young safely transition to taking up the responsibilities and privileges of adulthood.

A rite of passage such a walkabout, quinceañera, bar/bat mitzvah or first communion creates a bridge across the turbulent waters of adolescence. The rituals often have common characteristics: separation from childhood ways; preparation or instruction by an elder; and a welcome celebration that formally acknowledges the young person’s change of status. Through the initiation process, an adolescent develops a strong sense of self and adheres to customs and mores of a larger social circle in which he or she take on the role of an adult.

Broadcom Foundation supported the first STEM badge for Girl Scouts and drew heavily on the positive elements of scouting when developing the Broadcom MASTERS, with the conviction that modern rites of passage help middle schoolers become confident young adults by connecting them to a community that supports their interests in STEM education.

Drawing on the archetypal rites, Broadcom MASTERS Finalists are placed in teams of like-minded peers and take up adult STEM challenges together. They find inspiration from instruction by adult role models who enjoy exciting STEM careers, and their personal growth and achievements are celebrated at a medaling ceremony before family and friends. Through this process, the Broadcom MASTERS has enabled young people from diverse backgrounds and schools where they do not have a ready peer group of science-minded kids to find their place in a global STEM community where Facebook and Snapchat help bind together their 21st century tribes.

Over the years that I have been associated with the Broadcom Foundation, my belief in the power of ancient rites of passage to help adolescents find their place in society in order to develop the adult skills and disciplines needed to become future scientists and engineers, grows stronger with every program we sponsor. While crafting this blog, I received a letter from one of our Broadcom MASTERS delegates that further strengthens my conviction.

To future participants of the Broadcom MASTERS, she wrote:

“Many of you may worry about being away from home in the care of ‘strangers’ who you may not understand, but I promise you that the moment you arrive, these ‘strangers’ will become more than just mentors but people who genuinely care about your well being, happiness and success…. do not let your fear inhibit you to enjoying yourself…. do not let the fear of loneliness, misunderstanding or a new environment hold you back because - as a Broadcom MASTER - you are limitless.”

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