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Millions of Citizens Use Study Circles



Study circles were born in New York in the 1870s. By their peak in 1915, 700,000 people were participating in 15,000 study circles in the U.S. The idea was carried to Sweden by union, co-op, and temperance organizers and by the fledgeling Social Democratic Party to educate their followers. Study circles flourished in Sweden even as it died away in the U.S. Today nearly three million Swedes participate in over 300,000 study circles annually, most funded (but not controlled) by the government with a per-participant subsidy. Swedish communities have even convened study circles to work through major issues facing their towns, with study circle participants turning into activists who then have a significant impact on events.

The U.S. is now blooming with renewed interest in study circles. In 1992, for example, in the small city of Lima Ohio, the Mayor's Office, Ohio State University and a multi-racial Clergy Task Force initiated grassroots study circles on race relations involving hundreds of people. These were so successful that participants created further waves of study circles involving businesses, neighborhood associations and schools -- and the next year created a conference in which 40 community leaders from around the Midwest came to learn how to create community-wide dialogues on race in their own cities, triggering a movement that has now grown nation-wide.