Circle of Courage Philosophy

ABOUT THE CIRCLE OF COURAGE

In their book Reclaiming Youth at Risk, Augustana professors Brendtro, Brokenleg, and VanBockern proposed a model of youth empowerment called the Circle of Courage. The model is based on contemporary developmental research, the heritage of early youth pioneers, and Native American philosophies of child care. The model encompasses four core values; Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity. 

Anthropologists have long known that Indians reared courageous, respectful children without using aversive control based on the values of Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity. Nevertheless, Europeans coming to North America tried to civilize indigenous children in punitive boarding schools, unaware that Natives possessed a sophisticated philosophy that empowered children. These values are validated by contemporary child research and compare favorably with Coopersmith’s basis of self-esteem. Coppersmith identified four key components essential for a positive self-esteem: significance, competence, power, and virtue. 

BELONGING
In Indian culture, significance was nurtured in a community that celebrated the universal need for belonging. Native American anthropologist Ella Cara Deloria described the core value of belonging in Indian culture in these simple words: “Be related, somehow, to everyone you know.” Treating others as kin forged powerful social bonds of community that drew all into relationships of respect. Theologian Marty observed that throughout history the tribe, not the nuclear family, always ensured the survival of the culture. Though parents might fail, the tribe was always there to nourish and come to the aid of the next generation. 

Abraham Maslow’s theory of human needs postulates that a sense of belonging must be attained before self-esteem and self-actualization can be realized. As a student is drawn into the circle in the Spirit of Belonging, a relationship is established which is based upon mutual trust and respect. This provides the motivation to live with “a minimum of friction and maximum of good will (Brendtro, et al, 1990).” The ultimate test of this kinship is behavior. You really belong when you act like you belong!

SPIRIT OF 
BELONGING

DISTORTED SPIRIT OF BELONGING BROKEN SPIRIT OF BELONGING

Attached
Loving
Friendly
Intimate
Gregarious
Trusting

Gang loyalty
Craves affection
Craves acceptance
Promiscuous
Cult vulnerable
Overly dependent

Unattached
Guarded
Rejected
Lonely
Isolated
Distrustful

Mending a Broken Belonging Spirit

  • Create a cohesive classroom environment where each student can feel like an important member
  • Give positive encouragement
  • Recognize individuality and creative talents
  • Make sure teacher expectations are very clear so students understand classroom expectations and task assignments
  • Be specific when reinforcing a student’s positive behavior
  • With discipline and behavior, focus on the deed and not the doer

MASTERY
Competence, in Indian culture, was ensured by guaranteed opportunity for mastery. The first lesson in traditional Native American culture was that one should always observe those with more experience to learn from them. The child was taught to see someone with more skill as a model for learning, not as a rival. One must strive for mastery for personal reasons not to be superior to someone else. Humans have an innate drive to master their environments. When success is met, the desire to achieve is strengthened. 

Native education strives to develop cognitive, physical, social and spiritual competence. This holistic view of learning recognizes that all students can learn and each student must be given the opportunity to demonstrate competence in some area. Without opportunities for success, students will tend to express their frustration and lack of self-worth through inappropriate behaviors. Learning that is somehow connected to the everyday life of the student and the opportunity for student collaboration provides very powerful intrinsic motivators. In the Spirit of Mastery, success becomes “a possession of the many, not of the privileged few (Brendtro et al, 1990).”

SPIRIT OF 
MASTERY

DISTORTED SPIRIT OF MASTERY BROKEN SPIRIT OF MASTERY

Achiever
Successful
Creative
Problem solver
Motivated
Persistent
Competent

Overachiever
Arrogant
Risk seeker
Cheater
Workaholic
Perseverative
Delinquent skill

Non-achiever
Failure oriented
Avoids risks
Fears challenges
Unmotivated
Gives up easily
Inadequate

  • Connect classroom learning with student’s personal lives.
  • Make sure each student experiences success in something.
  • Help students to set realistic goals
  • Teach students problem solving strategies
  • Teach students to solve problem through collaboration
  • Encourage students to take on challenging tasks
  • Consider alternative assessment to recognize the many facets to evaluate learning.

INDEPENDENCE 

Power was fostered by deep respect for each person’s independence. In contrast to obedience models of discipline, Native teaching was designed to build respect and teach inner discipline. From earliest childhood, children were encouraged to make decisions, solve problems, and show personal responsibility. Adults modeled, nurtured, taught values, and gave feedback, but children were given abundant opportunities to make choices without coercion. 

Native child rearing philosophies place great emphasis on “guidance without interference (Brendtro et al, 1990).” Learning then becomes the responsibility of the student who can be held accountable through appropriate assessment procedures. Student empowerment is required to foster the belief that a student is in control of the learning process. This sense of autonomy is a powerful intrinsic motivator. In Native American culture the internal locus of control must be balanced by social controls. Students first need to be dependent, learning to respect and value the wisdom of “elders”. Modeling provides a basic framework which can be adjusted by each student to adapt to his/her particular learning style and multiple intelligences.

SPIRIT OF 
INDEPENDENCE

DISTORTED SPIRIT OF INDEPENDENCE BROKEN SPIRIT OF INDEPENDENCE

Autonomous
Confident
Responsible
Inner control
Self-discipline
Leadership

Dictatorial
Reckless/ macho
Sexual prowess
Manipulative
Rebellious
Defies authority

Submissive
Lacks confidence
Irresponsible
Helplessness
Undisciplined
Easily led

  • Model decision making and assist students in developing their own framework.
  • Give choices for activities to recognize multiple intelligence development
  • Involve students in participatory decision making
  • Train students how to study and to learn
  • Help students develop internal controls- an inner self discipline for student empowerment.
  • Teach alternative behaviors to improve personal control
  • Confront students with issues of personal responsibility
  • Let students face the consequences of their behavior

GENEROSITY
Finally, virtue was reflected in the preeminent value of generosity in Indian culture. The central goal in Native American child-rearing is to teach the importance of being generous and unselfish. The Education of Little Tree Carter recounted his grandfather’s overriding principal, “When you come on something good, first thing to do is share it with whoever you can find; that way, the good spreads out where no telling it will go.” In helping others, youth create their own proof of worthiness: they have the power to make a positive contribution to another human life. 
The highest virtues in Native American culture are generosity and unselfishness. Self-esteem and self-worth are greatly increased by learning to help others. There is a responsibility to consider the welfare of everyone in the community. In a classroom, peer tutoring and cooperative learning groups allow students to share their talents with others. There is a feeling of pride and joy that is experienced by helping others. Without opportunities to share their talents, students cannot become caring, responsible adults. The help given must be genuine and not equated with personal gain. Students should be encouraged to get involved in the school community through a variety of service projects.

SPIRIT OF 
GENEROSITY
DISTORTED SPIRIT OF GENEROSITY BROKEN SPIRIT OF GENEROSITY

Altruistic
Caring
Sharing
Loyal
Emphatic
Pro-social
Supportive

Noblesse oblige
Over-involved
Plays martyr
Co-dependency
Over-involvement
Servitude
Bondage

Selfish
Affectionless
Narcissistic
Disloyal
Hardened
Anti-social
Exploitative

Mending a Broken Generous Spirit

  • Foster cooperative interpersonal relationships
  • Encourage students to be a good listener and a good communicator
  • Encourage students to express their opinions
  • Understand that students may express themselves in ways that may help or hurt themselves or others.

REFERENCE
Lynn Moore, Diane Schon and Alicia Thornton – professors at The University of Calgary, who developed the website: http://www.ucalgary.ca/~dmjacobs/edts325/circle/index.htm