The Circle of Courage

Circle of Courage

The Circle of Courage, is a model of youth empowerment supported by contemporary research, the heritage of early youth work pioneers and Native philosophies of child care. The model is encompassed in four core values: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. The central theme of this model is that a set of shared values must exist in any community to create environments that ultimately benefit all.

In 1990, Dr. Larry Brendtro, Dr. Martin Brokenleg, and Dr. Steve Van Bockern, Augustana College faculty, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, published Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our Hope for the Future. The authors suggested that children who are often referred to as “alienated”, “troubled” or “difficult” are at risk because they live in an environment that is hazardous - one that breeds discouragement. By contrast, an environment that promotes courage is one that fosters changes to meet the needs of the young person and society and subsequently reclaims youth at risk.

The model is represented by a circle - the medicine wheel - that is divided into quadrants. The circle is sacred and suggests the interconnectedness of life. Likewise, it expresses the sacredness of the number four - the four directions, the four elements of the universe, and the four races. Each quadrant of the CIRCLE OF COURAGE stands for a central value - belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity - of an environment that can claim and reclaim all youth. It represents the “cultural birthright for all the world’s children.”

The Circle of Courage is a philosophy that integrates the best of Western educational thought with the wisdom of indigenous cultures and emerging research on positive youth development. The circle suggests the importance of the shared values of belonging, generosity, independence, and mastery. While the four dimensions of the Circle of Courage can be described individually, they must be viewed as one. Ideas from the book Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our Hope for the Future offer insight on understanding the four values: Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity.