Circles

(2011, 20 minutes, SD, Color, Sound)

This video is a no-budget experimental documentary, made over the course of several weeks at the 27th Street School in Milwaukee’s inner city. The school was closed shortly after the video was made, destroying the social networks these children formed at school, as the children were subsequently dispersed to different schools throughout the Milwaukee Pulic School (MPS) system. The school was remodeled with public dollars just before it closed, and it then re-opened as a charter school. This video was made in collaboration with Doug Smith, an MPS instructor.

The “talking circle” is a social mechanism for collaborative conflict mediation and resolution. The “talking circle” involves seating school children in a circle, where they are given a prompt, and they take turns contributing to a discussion of that prompt. As the children take turns talking, they pass a “talking piece” around the circle, which signifies whose turn it is to speak.

Although circles might benefit any number of students, the students in this video were all asked to participate because of consistent behavioral problems. The students who participated regularly in circles frequently exhibited a decline in the number of suspensions they were issued. In this light, circles can serve as an effective alternative to disciplinary action.

As an alternative to suspension, circles benefit both students — who don’t get stigmatized by repeated suspensions — and instructors, who don’t necessarily like issuing suspensions, but who want an orderly classroom environment. An additional benefit that circles provides is the opportunity for these students to develop vocabulary skills, verbal expression skills, and listening skills. As such, circles also represent an alternative means of instruction, compared to the traditional classroom.