Debt Ceiling Debate Got You Down? A Small Group Can Help.

Ever feel overwhelmed by the problems in our society? Or by the incredible array of issues our activism can focus on? There’s fixing the federal budget, ending the wars, taxing corporations and the rich fairly, creating jobs, and investing in renewable energy. Just to name a few.

Personally, I find the laundry list approach to activism really wearying. And similarly, some educators are frustrated by a piecemeal approach to improving our schools. There are dozens of initiatives aimed at fixing deeply connected problems: anti-drinking, anti-suicide, anti-teen pregnancy, anti-drop out, anti-racism. I had coffee with educator Roy Karp this week, who talked about a different approach to improving schools called “circles.”

Medicine Wheel

“A circle is a collaborative process that we use to bring together teens and adults in schools to build community, deepen trust and relationships, and address a wide range of problems and disciplinary issues.” he explains.  “Circles create a safe space where youth and adults can tell their story, share their experiences, and gain wisdom from each other.  The process is rooted in Native American practices and also restorative justice models, which contrast sharply with the adversarial approach of Western legal systems.”

“We don’t jump right into solutions,” he adds.  “A circle moves deliberately through four phases based on the Native American medicine wheel: first, getting to know each other; second, building trust and identifying shared values; third, exploring problems we face and identifying root causes, and then, fourth, crafting meaningful and sustainable solutions.”

This is a lot like Resilience Circles. It’s also like the 1,500 American Dream House Meetings which took place in July. At the meetings, over 20,000 Americans spent an hour listening to each others’ stories, struggles, and sources of hope, building a basis for social action. (You can tell us about your meeting here.)

The seven-session Resilience Circle Curriculum spends the first five meetings forging connections and exploring ways we can help each other.  We get to know each other and take our economic security into our own hands as much as possible: creating time banks, sharing tools and skills, helping each other with child care and household tasks.

Then, in Session 6, we tackle the questions of corporate power and social action. Previous sessions have helped us craft a vision of a different kind of economy which serves everyone in harmony with the planet. With this vision, plus functional mutual aid and stronger community ties, we are empowered to take action that can be more transformative.

To be sure, spending seven session sessions with a small group won’t fix the national budget, or even necessarily balance your personal budget. But in both schools and the wider society, the small group experience illuminates the connections among societal ills and helps create a holistic alternative vision for the future.

And, the experience transforms us so we can start building towards that vision in our communities and lives. If we can change ourselves, we have a better chance of changing that budget debate – or at least, developing the resilience to weather it.

For more information about Roy’s work using circles with Boston-area youth, visit  

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