Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mapping Boundaries -- Defining our Lives @ Crown Community Academy

The idea of a “circle of obligation” emerges out of conversations on the “ethics of care” initiated by philosophers such as Nel Noddings and Carol Gilligan. Educators involved with Facing History & Ourselves, a social justice education organization based in Boston, MA, also use the “circle of obligation” metaphor to encourage young people to consider the relationships they value most – to think about the people, ideas, places, and things they would most defend and protect – and why. The nesting circle is a powerful visual metaphor with which to experiment in attempting to express these layers of obligation – in identifying these circles within circles, we create “domains” or categories, inevitably leading to questions of belonging, inclusivity/exclusivity, human relationships, and to whom or what we are ultimately responsible for in developing an “ethics of care” in both our personal and public lives. How do we visually organize our feelings of love and responsibility, and what is the criteria we set for our “ethics of care?” This helps us navigate the complex conversation of self and other – pushing students and ourselves to consider who or what we exclude when we make decisions about who to include in our circles.

Step One: Brainstorm

Think of the people who have been on your mind most today

Think of the places that are most taking your attention today

Think of the ideas or concepts that are most taking your attention today

Think of what or who you’ve been most worried about lately or today

Step Two: Draw a “circle of obligation” using the “bull’s eye” or “nesting circle” image. Start with yourself at the center and consider the rings of obligation that surround you. Who, what, and where would you include?

Step Three: Set Domains/Restraints

Draw a second version that only includes people and places.

Draw a third version that only includes ideas.

The main challenge of this exercise is to really engage in conversation on the concept of obligation, ethics, care, and responsibility. Once we create our visual maps of obligation – how can we engage students in interpreting these maps and making meaning out of them? Also, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to decide who or what is most important to you – don’t let this turn into a battle of which superstar is the best, or which friend likes who better. Really push students to think globally as well as personally about this concept of care – how far do our circles stretch – what do our lives have to do with lives lived across the continent? How can we encourage our students to even begin to consider the interrelational nature of life? This is a good beginning exercise to a longer unit or conversation on the personal vs. the universal, generating awareness about the boundaries that human beings shape and challenge in trying to navigate a complex world of power. Drawing these circles of obligation without leaving room for conversation could leave students feeling like this was a popularity contest of ideas and people in our lives instead a real exploration of why and how we care – and what that might have to do with justice and spirituality. We would recommend returning to this same drawing/writing exercise at the end of a unit of study on borders, mapping, boundaries, inclusion/exclusion, etc. as a way to gauge a sense of growth and heightening of awareness of self as it relates to other.

- Create a collaborative circle of obligation for the whole classroom/school

- Create multiple layers of circles on vellum and attached them so that the layers of obligation are visible

- Further explore the boundaries between two circles of obligation by asking students to imagine standing on the border and connecting to both at once.

- Further explore conversation by asking students to think about the distance between the closest and farthest circle, and to push themselves in either direction to name new layers.

Ask students to create conditions or situations in which these circles of obligations could be challenged – or think about situations in their own lives when they’ve been conflicted about caring for others.

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