Rites

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Louie has a knife. A small, blue handled Opinel. It’s round ended blade folds into it’s wooden self, small collar locking it into place.

The sun is shining into the kitchen. A week before he turns seven he wakes and finds a small present in place of breakfast. Face open with surprised excitement he rips it open. He gasps. Mouth agape, eyes wide. He is delighted with this gift. Breakfast forgotten he runs outside, still pyjama clad, to find a stick to carve. He settles himself happily, outside the kitchen door, working away. Later this day he has a carving session at his forest school. His favourite activity there. He is proud to take his own knife. Enabled to work continuously throughout the session without turn-taking with the shared equipment. He sits in the sun, eschewing all other activities to focus on his new tool.

He understands how to use this knife. How and why to correctly position himself. Back in the garden neighbours and friends come to watch him work.

‘You’re in my blood bubble’ he tells them. Pausing his activity to explain where they may safely observe. He is engaged, vital. Commanding his activity.

In a former life I spent many years working with ‘disengaged’ youth. Young folks not buying into the main currents of education, society, civilisation. Described by those who ‘knew’ as not engaging, disenfranchised, offending. Powerful words to paint a youth that consciously choose to distance themselves, set themselves against ‘proper folk’. These young people were neither in control nor choosing of their circumstance. They are disempowered. Caught and trapped in the entanglement of disadvantage.

A large part of working with young folks involved teaching weapons awareness. Large numbers of urban boys carry knives. Not knowing why, other than it is exciting, empowering, what others do. Many hours were spent explaining the dangers of carrying a knife. Describing the horrific aftershocks of an attack. Breaking down the effects of escalation.

Time after time we told these boys ‘You must never carry a knife’.

Louie takes his knife. Carefully folds and locks it before passing it to me to store in the agreed safe spot. He follows safety rules and advice. He whittles away at various sticks. He carries it safely. He feels empowered. He respects this tool for it’s uses and dangers. He feels respected that he is regarded old enough. Responsible enough to own such an instrument. At seven he has experienced a small rite of passage. It gives him power.

Knives masquerade power for the city boys. Without teacher or mentor in how and why we use such a tool it becomes a weapon. A dislocated, confused rite without passage. a desperate search for empowerment.

Western civilisation is not a one-size-fits-all arrangement. It’s expectations, structure, ensnares many. Holds them down, clips their wings…

And scapegoats them for societies ills.

These boys needs are manyfold and complex. But perhaps a shift in curriculum focus. Change of perception. Perhaps allowing mentored time outdoors. Using tools, building fire – The basic elements that set humans apart – could offer them a foundation to use tools safely, appropriately. To understand a knife is not necessarily a destructive force. That there is power in using this item to make. To create. Could offer them rites to pass into and through childhood.

Louie carves butter knives, tent pegs, toy daggers and swords. He carves decoration into magical wands and walking staffs. Endlessly returning to his projects. His own knife. His own tool. One of his own creative forces.

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