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April 22, 2007

Jenna's Fifth Post

I enrolled in this course hoping to learn practical ways of using learning circles in a high school setting. Now that the semester is over, I realize that I’m walking away with a lot more information to draw from than I expected! From what I learned this semester, I believe there are many different approaches to learning circles that would be great to use with high school students. Learning circles enable students to discuss controversial topics without being interrupted and misunderstood. They also arenas in which social justice can be discussed and changes can be made. However, I feel that the two most meaningful ways of using learning circles with high school students focus on the students’ moral and emotional health and development. Oftentimes in public high schools, these aspects of humanity are overlooked. It is considered the job of the family, community, religion, or other social network to encourage students morally and emotionally. However, these types of conversations can and should take place in school. In my opinion, it would help foster community and create strong relationships that could positively influence educational attainment.

The first approach to learning circles for high school students is philosophy-based. This would encourage moral development. In class, we tried out a Philosophy for Kids exercise using a Frog and Toad story. I really enjoyed this activity. Children and young people are rarely asked to give their insights and perspectives on deep, philosophical issues. Too often, public education seeks to fill students up with information instead of enabling them to think critically and discover truth on their own. High school students certainly have the cognitive ability to think deeply about philosophical topics. In fact, high school is a place where students really should tackle these tough questions. Before long, they will enter college or the workforce. They will soon start their own families. In order to be fully mature adults, they need to have a clear understanding of their belief systems and what they stand for. Learning circles can be used to encourage students to develop their opinions on love, honesty, community, peace, and other important topics. While religion may enter these conversations, it is not required to. Morality certainly exists outside of religion. In addition, many religions share similar belief structures. The goal is to develop a value-neutral area in which students can talk about what they believe and why.

Another approach to learning circles for high school students is based on personal reflection. This nurtures students’ emotional health and development. By doing learning circles, I realized that my first, natural response to a question is not usually the one that is the most true. When I sit and listen to other people speak during the learning circle, I have more time to reflect on my answer than I would have in a normal conversation. This period of time, although short, is longer than most people given themselves to respond. It enables participants to really think about what they want to say. In return, learning circle participants understand more about themselves and everyone learns a little bit more about one another.

I believe the learning circle atmosphere encourages participants to show their true selves, instead of the false front that they would like to portray. This type of experience is especially important for high school students. From what I experienced in high school, it was rare when every member of a group was paid equal attention, listened to in the same manner, and given the same amount of respect. In order to be important, students had to behave in certain ways. I think that learning circles remove some of this social pressure, even if only for an hour or so.

February 8, 2007

Some rambling thoughts on The Long Haul and other topics

There was so much that came alive for me in The Long Haul until it would take me weeks to cover the depth of what I got out of the book. I was struck so much about the teaching and learning process throughout the whole book, and how powerful his messages and methods were. Many of the things he said and did, I have heard said and done, as my mother is from that generation and grew up in the south as well. There were so many similarities in his allowing people to be their own teachers/solutions to their own problems and the way that my mother raised us. She would always say, “Bought sense is better than told,? and “Every tub must stand on its own feet.? Which means that when you experience something for yourself, whether positive or negative you learn that lesson much better, than if somebody just tells you what its like. When you learn something for yourself, it ignites in you a desire and unleashes your potential. And I see those same principles interwoven throughout the book.

I’d like to comment on our class this past Saturday as well as some of my fellow students comments and postings. The thread that seemed to be woven throughout all that we discussed in class on Saturday, seemed to center around our desire to get back to our basic roots of relationship. When Brad mentioned how responsive his students are to his spending quality time with them in the morning in circles, it just brings to mind what is missing in so many of our lives. We are so busy with life and living and so competitive in our search for satisfaction through our careers and other extracurricular activities until we have lost focus on what is important in life. And as a result our children are missing out on a fundamental part of what it means to be human. Our relationships with one another is what is important, but is missing from our lives as it has been pushed to the periphery of our existence. Replaced by our need to be and become the fastest, the greatest, the most competitive; replaced by our need to be entertained.

So instead of being understanding and concerned about others, we are only concerned about those things that affect us directly. Our children are suffering because we are so busy with our lives entertaining and being entertained and meeting the next deadline we don’t spend any quality time giving of ourselves to them or each other. As a result our marriages and families are falling apart, and our children sit by helplessly watching us, knowing that something is missing but unable to express it. If they have never seen an example of what it means to be a family, how do they know what a family is supposed to be or do? But instinctively they know something is missing. Could that be whay so many of our children so depressed and turning to drugs? Just something as simple as being able to take a moment at the beginning or the end of the day to share some quality time with another person is powerful, and has powerful results, as evidenced by Brad’s comments.

Our children are watching us say one thing, but doing other things. We say we want to be together and accepting of others different from ourselves in society, but we aren’t even together and accepting of our own family members, as we spend a considerable amount of time trying to recreate them into our image. We try to remake them into clones of ourselves. But In reality, we ourselves are miserable because we don’t have the love and relationship to self, or to others that we crave. So we go through life being miserable and making others miserable when all we need to do is to make the time to take the time to care for and about someone outside of ourselves. I once heard the axiom, "if you want to be miserable hate someone, but if you want to be happy, help someone." I was struck by Jamie’s posting and her comment about her desire to want to help, but never getting out into the community to do anything about it. Jamie, it is just a matter of shifting your priorities and making the time to take the time. . .

We are training up the next generation to be unfeeling, uncaring and so focused on being an individual and their own personal individual needs / wants until that is all that they will ever be able to do. When in reality no man is an island and no man stands alone. We all need each other. And when this next generation takes over as the baby boomers (such as myself) retire, who is going to take care of us, like we took care of and are taking care of our aging parents? Since I have colored outside the lines and went far beyond my allotted word count, I’ll stop now, but will pick up again later. . .