Education as Initiation: In Search of Self

Center LogoIn the book In Search of Self: Exploring Student Identity Development, editor Chad Hanson writes: “Students become new and different people through the course of their education. When students earn the right to say, ‘I am a college graduate,’ that new status becomes a part of who they are.”

Graduation, whether from high school, college or even the transition from primary to secondary school has been regarded as a rite of passage. And, just like rites of passage these public graduation ceremonies affirm an individual’s transition and entrust them with a different set of responsibilities and status within their culture and social setting.  However, the process of education does not focus on human development, nor does it feature a process of initiation that adequately guides an individual’s transformation and transcendence towards maturity.


Real education should educate us out of self into something far finer –
into selflessness which links us with all humanity.

Viscountess Nancy Astor (1879-1964)

In the opening chapter Dr. Hanson charts the history of higher education, which initially focused on character formation. Higher education changed in the early twentieth century when it moved from a focus on the development of the whole person to pouring in information and training students in specific skills. It no longer mattered what kind of person you were but what you knew.

In Search of Self…. explores the limited attention higher education pays to the formation of a student’s character and identity. It challenges the orientation that students are economic resources and products with certain knowledge and skill sets that can be marketed to business.

Students as People and not Products

Primary and secondary schools are the pipeline to higher education. They are the breeding ground for producing students capable of receiving information and acquiring skills to enter into the market place. Design strategies for the development of people are much different than for developing a product.

At every level education exposes students to experiences that help them find out what is important, who they are and what values and ethics will guide their behaviors. Education informs their individual narrative, their personal story that unfolds as their life.

At the end of the day all employees are people first. In fact, new research from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U, 2013) points out that business executives from the private and not-for-profit sectors look for individuals with “integrity, willing to make ethical judgments, open hearted, and intellectually curious.” Their priority is not to hire people who are full of knowledge and technical skills, but lack the wisdom that comes from life experiences for living ethically in a civil society. They want a person for their character, not just for what they know.

College as a Place of Initiation

My friend and long time collaborator, Marc Goldstein and I contributed a chapter entitled Seeing College as a Rite of Passage: What Might Be Possible. In it we wrote:

“College is a community of diversity. Whatever else college may be to such a diverse citizenry–students, staff, faculty, administration and parents–it is a place where young people come of age. It is a place where intentional rites of passage can be of service to a student’s identity and social development, the college community as well as the larger society. While many have acknowledged this to be true (e.g., Chang, 2012; Fleischer, 2010; Olkon & Smith, 2013), few institutions have fully capitalized on the natural power of college as a place of initiation.  Intentionally designed rite of passage experiences can powerfully impact students and the greater college environment.”

College campuses, like the larger society, are broken up into various constituency groups. The silo mentality on campuses segregates academic disciplines and obscures the obvious: that we all must collaborate and contribute to the full development of the next generation.” (Upton, 2010; Holden & Goldstein, 2010)

A central purpose of initiation is to bring the individual back into the awareness of their relationship with everything in and on our sacred Earth. As Hanson points out, “education offers individuals a chance to renew what it means to be themselves…. the experience of schooling holds the potential to serve as a life-changing milepost,” (pgs. 10, 12). Initiation serves to transform individuals into ethical, altruistic, and empathetic human beings. Through a public rite of passage our sense of connection and community is strengthened so it will nurture life.

Thank you to Chad Hanson and Jossey-Bass for editing and publishing this valuable resource. Kudos to Len Fleisher for his exceptional application of insights that reframed college as a place of initiation. And, again to Marc Goldstein for the magic of his wordsmithing and friendship.

Hanson, Chad. (2014) In Search of Self: Exploring Student Identity Development: New Directions for Higher Education,Number 166 June 2014 Jossey-Bass.  Check out Chapter 9: Seeing College as a Rite of Passage: What Might Be Possible,

David G. Blumenkrantz, Marc B. Goldstein



Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). (2013). It takes more than a major: Employer priorities for college learning and student success. Washington, DC.

Chang, M. (2012). College: Rite of passage. Kaleidoscope. Retrieved from

Fleisher, L. (2010). The journey to a genuine life: Mentoring the passage to adulthood. Encounter: Education for meaning and social justice, 23(2), 1-6. Retrieved from

Holden, T., & Goldstein, B. (2010, August 29). How to create a Problem-Solving Institution. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Olkon, S., & Smith, J. (2013). Rite of Passage. Retrieved from

Upton, A. (2010, August 30). Silo mentality and problem solving in higher education institutions. BCD Webmasters Blog. Retrieved from solving-in-higher-education-institutions/

© David Blumenkrantz, 2014. No permission is granted to copy, extract language or design principles, without appropriate reference and citation.

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Education as Initiation: In Search of Self© was originally published @ Paradigm Shift and has been syndicated with permission.


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