and Learning in Circle
(Page 2 of 9)
Circles in Formal Education: The Need for a Paradigm Shift
drew a circle to keep me out,
A thing of scorn, a thing to flout
But love I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took him in."
- Edwin Markhamre text
was sitting in a community circle at ROCA (ROCA is a grassroots,
multicultural human development and community building
organization based in Chelsea, Massachusetts) a couple
of months ago. One of the women in the circle, who
runs a day care center and does prison volunteer work,
said "I spend
half my time with kids and the rest in prison."
the talking piece came around to me I asked her what she
saw as the difference.
recalled my five- year old daughter Michaela and her lament
at the end of April vacation – "tomorrow I go
back to prison". I gave her the standard talk about
how much freedom she had compared to someone in prison and
how she would never really want to go to prison. She responded
that she doesn’t really want to go to school –
even though she is very successful there socially and academically.
also recalled the last day of school this year. My wife
and I waited in front of the school to mark the transition
– and to get a look at report cards. Our nine year
old Zoe, came bounding out of the building, bolted past
us fell to the ground and kissed it yelling "free at
last, free at last. " Her report card was outstanding
and noted that she is "thoroughly invested in school."
What gives rise to these feelings? How can children love
learning and hate school?
answer that resonates with me is provided by Peter Senge
et. al. In their groundbreaking book Schools That Learn,
they note that:
of the rapid learning of very young children is tied to
purpose and vision. Children learn to ride a bike because
they want to play with their friends who have bikes….They
learn new skills because they want them. The same is true
for adults…Lifelong learning, then, is the fundamental
means by which people engage with life and create their
But when children enter schools, the system often presents
them with new purposes unrelated to their own desires
and aspirations – to please teachers, to get good
marks on assignments, to receive rewards and honors and
to be ranked high" 
disconnect comes, Senge posits, from an outmoded paradigm.
Schools are still cast in a mid-nineteenth century modeled
on the assembly line – uniform speed, uniform product,
uniform outcomes. These outcomes are broken into smaller
parts (academic disciplines) so that the individual workers
only impact on the part of the product – diploma –
for which they are "responsible." 
is needed is a paradigm shift:
shift is a word meant to convey the changing of the way
we view of the world: the turning or shifting of our perceptions,
our overall concept of reality. It is not so much a matter
of a change in the content of our world, as it is shift
in our understanding. It is not so much a change of pitch
on a musical scale, as a change in tone. It is not so
much a change in shape, as a change in how the shapes
fit together. It is not the fact that the images in a
picture change, but that the color of the entire picture
changes. It is how the facts fall into a new place for
us. A paradigm shift is the turning of the wheel in a
kaleidoscope, where the same shapes produce an entirely
new picture. 
Senge et al. Maintain that schools in this paradigm would
share certain qualities:
- Learner centered rather than teacher centered learning
- Encouraging variety, not homogeneity – embracing
multiple intelligences and diverse learning styles: and
- Understanding a world of interdependency and change
rather than memorizing facts and striving for right answers.
ideas don’t only impact me as a parent. This fall
I will begin my 22nd year as a teacher. For fifteen years
I have also worked with young people committed to the Department
of Youth Services in Massachusetts. These are youth who
have been ajudicated delinquent by the Commonwealth and
are to receive treatment until (at least) their eighteenth
birthday. I always considered myself to be very successful
at both of my jobs. Then I was introduced to Circles.
the past year and a half I have taught all of my classes
in a circle format. I have taught in a high school environment
at Mount St. Joseph Academy in Brighton, Massachusetts.
MSJA is an all women’s Catholic High School with
an enrollment of about 300 that draws from Boston and
20 surrounding urban and suburban communities. The Academy
promotes the development of the whole person by instilling
spiritual values, inspiring love of learning, sharing knowledge,
and practicing skills. Mount Saint Joseph Academy encourages
young women to assume leadership in fostering reconciliation
and community in family, neighborhood, Church, country
what its name may connote, the Mount is an urban school,
with all of the challenges and opportunities that the label
implies. It is a school that celebrates its diversity–of-culture,
learning styles and experiences.
the last three years I have also taught in the Juvenile
Justice Concentration at Cambridge College. Cambridge
offers a unique learning environment. Working adults
bring their experience in the "real world" and build
on it an academic environment. The model for teaching and
for learning is refreshing and creative. Both learner and
teacher need to be innovative and responsive to meet the
challenges and opportunities offered by such an environment.
combination of these two experiences has given me a base
of learners ranging in age from sixteen to sixty, from diverse
cultures and with myriad learning styles. Circle has made
teaching and learning a profound and shared experience.
Circle brings both teacher and learner to new levels of
responsibility, inquiry and community.
project of Campus Conflict Resolution
Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo
to CMHE Report
(Attn: Bill Warters)
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
Department of Communication
585 Manoogian Hall
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48201.
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