Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Unbroken Circles for Schools, A New Book by Kenneth Johnson

By Stephanie Osborn

Kenneth Johnson is a fascinating guy. Principal Chief of the Florida Tribe of Cherokee Indians, folklore master, culturalist, social scientist, negotiator/mediator, teacher, and more, now he's set out to write a book for teachers about teaching -- specifically, how to handle conflict in the classroom, in a way calculated to keep bad behavior from escalating to something that requires the court system. Given some of our conversations, I'm really looking forward to reading it.



First, let me say that it is always an honor to be invited to guest blog for Stephanie Osborn. What a talented individual! NASA scientist, former detective, ordained minister, bestselling author—you name it and she has probably done it. But, that is a polymath for you.

Usually, I am talking about allegory and culture.  After all, that is what I do as a culturalist – I study cultures through the lens of a social scientist.  And with culture also comes conflict.  That is also the reason why I trained with the Florida Supreme Court’s Dispute Resolution Center (FL DRC) and the University of West Florida College of Professional Studies (UWF COPS) in the fields of Conflict Resolution (CR) and Restorative Justice (RJ).  Specifically, I am a Certified County Court Mediator through the FL DRC.  I exclusively trained at UWF COPS under a best-selling Simon & Schuster author while learning RJ.  Part of this training also required that I do some field work at Holman Prison in Atmore, Alabama – a maximum security “death house.”

Conflict is a natural part of life.  It can build you up – as in anabolic conflict.  Or it can destroy relationships – as in catabolic conflict.  Sadly, the world focuses too much on the bad and too little on the good to see the field for its dynamic complexity. 

The 1990s were my teen years.  Ironically, this decade arrested more youths than all of previous US history combined.  One academic in particular capitalized on this national fear of our youth with a Simon & Schuster best-selling book called Body CountHere, pre-teen boys were called Godless, murderous thugs who killed and raped without remorse.  This book, along with other writings from the author, proposed a myth called the “Superpredator Theory.”  Later, politicians like Florida Senator Bill McCollum used this theory to push for stronger anti-juvenile legislation at the federal level while states compounded the issue with even more onerous forms of legislation.  In particular, Florida Governor Charlie Crist pushed for as much as 7% of the juvenile population of the state to be arrested and charged as adults for felony and misdemeanor crimes. 

This book [Johnson's book, Unbroken Circles] is essentially a stand that I made.  I asked myself, “Why not me?  Why can’t I do something to stem this tide?”  Others have written books that would have helped.  However, to fully understand all of the ins and outs of the programs, a school would have to fork over to the author and his/her company thousands of dollars for program manuals, books, cards, and other tools.  So, instead, I decided I would break from the herd and give a holistic approach that would empower the community to make the changes that they felt were needed.  Best of all, I offered up everything for free.  This, I felt, would allow for the schools to develop their own programs tailor-fitted to their specific needs.

It would seem that I am not alone.  Lately, Florida is now following suit with California to no longer be the top arrester of juveniles in the country.  Just this past June, Florida Senator Greg Evers, along with other extraordinary leaders in the Legislature, passed the “Pop Tart” bill that Governor Rick Scott just signed into law.  The bill gets its name from an incident in Baltimore, Maryland where 7 year old Josh Welsh was suspended for nibbling a pop tart until it was somewhat in the shape of a gun.  Nationally, 2 million students are arrested each year.  Even more are suspended and expelled with the majority being for offenses such as what Josh Welsh did.    Sadly, the media still plays these incidences off as being trivial, weird, atypical, and rare rather than being epidemic.  And while this new law will stem the tide of many suspensions and expulsions, it does nothing to stop the 58,000 arrests per year of juveniles in Florida.

The timing of this book’s release could not have been more perfect.  Communities are hurting all over this nation with practically nothing being reported in the media.  If you are poor, of a given racial/ethnic class, a male, etc. then your chances of going to jail or prison as a juvenile are significantly higher than that of an adult.  Schools have even supported this trend by bringing in grant-funded School Resource Officers (SROs) in response to performance-based funding on standardized tests.  Social Scientists now call this the “Test-to-Prison Pipeline” since an arrested student cannot have their tests generally counted towards their overall school performance. 

Here’s how the book works – I merge CR and RJ practices into what is known as a Collaborative Justice practice.  My book Unbroken Circles SM for Schools:  Restoring Schools One Conflict at a Time is broken into two parts.  Section I is designed to give an overview of the programs needed as well as an understanding of what conflict really is.  Personally, I would buy the book just for Chapter 1.2’s discussion of the history and nature of conflict.  Meanwhile, Section II is devoted to the “nuts and bolts” of how to make a Collaborative Justice program work effectively.  It gives options to best use, and even eliminate over time, the SROs from schools.  Using Circles, Peer Mediation, Panels, Conferences, and Justice/Peace Circles the book fosters a meshing of various practices together in order to form a network of overlapping programs to eliminate catabolic conflict while fostering the benefits and transformative powers of anabolic conflict. 

Through this book, communities are urged to become empowered to address issues at the local level rather than waiting for dictates from the legislative and bureaucratic process.  Concepts such as “Community of Care” and “Reintegrative Shaming Theory” are used with proven science to back them up as being better alternatives to the status quo.

Ken Johnson is an author, lecturer, and conflict specialist.  His book Unbroken Circles SM for Schools: Restoring Schools One Conflict at a Time is published by SYP Publishing (ISBN-10: 1940869161 & ISBN-13:  978-1-940869-16-2).  He can be found on Twitter (@KenJohnsonUSA) as well as on LinkedIn (, Crokes (@KenJohnson), and Facebook (   You can learn more about Ken Johnson and his works at


Fascinating, Ken! I'm really looking forward to reading this!

-Stephanie Osborn

1 comment:

Barb Caffrey said...

I think it's an excellent book, Ken, and I will be reviewing it. (I just want to make sure I have everything set in my mind, first.) I'll also make a point of going to Amazon as well as Shiny Book Review and reviewing it there, may help and can't hurt.

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