Len Fleisher brings to his section of Thinking and Writing professional experiences as a licensed clinical psychologist, professor of education and counseling (formerly at Antioch University and currently at Keene State College) and guide of wilderness-based rites of passage journeys for youth and adults at the Animas Valley Institute in Colorado. Len’s course, “Encountering Adulthood,” draws on the fields of psychology, education, mythology, sociology, anthropology, and spirituality to help students explore the transition from adolescent identity to taking a place in the adult world.
“Encountering Adulthood” is a cross-cultural study of how adults initiate their young into adulthood, with a particular emphasis on modern American rites of passage, that helps students explore a series of consequential questions: What does it really mean to be an adult? And what does adolescence have to do with it? What does our culture tell young people about what it means to be an adult? Where are the messages coming from, and who is offering them? Who in our culture consciously and intentionally initiates young people into an adult life of purpose and intention? How are you being mentored, and by whom? Len’s students consider these questions in relation to their own coming-of-age adventure, in the context of cross-cultural efforts to prepare young people for a life of meaning and passion, with particular focus on cultural constructs of what constitutes genuine or authentic maturity. Students also consider how literature, music, film, and poetry offer resources for emerging adults in American society.
One question “Encountering Adulthood” considers is whether the adult world is really showing up. For young people essentially initiate each other into what they think it means to be an adult, and those surface markers of what the adult world portrays as independence—alcohol, drugs, sex, having a car, money to spend. At the same time, Len’s experience with these young adult students suggests that they are looking for more. They are seeking the guidance of initiated adults who are living lives of integrity, generativity, and responsibility. Len reports that for many of his students this is a revelatory process, as they experience and articulate for the first time through their writing their emerging identity/self, and what it might mean to them to be an adult—what it might mean to them to be fully human.