Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Kurt Hahn 80th birthday celebration: the Round Square Movement is born


On June 5th, 1966, a group of educators gathered in Salem (Germany) to celebrate the 80th birthday of their mentor, Kurt Hahn (1886-1974). The location of the meeting was highly symbolic, because it was in this city where Kurt Hahn started his educational work in 1920, when he co-founded and became the Headmaster of the Salem Secondary School. His work at Salem was abruptly interrupted in 1933, when Hahn was imprisoned by the Nazis and then forced to go into exile in Scotland. There, the following year he founded another secondary school called Gordonstoun, which was based on similar principles to the school in Salem.

The 1966 gathering was initiated by Jocelin Winthrop Young, a former pupil of Hahn, and was chaired by King Constantine of Greece. It was attended by the Headmasters of several European schools that had been inspired by Hahn’s educational philosophy and its implementation in Salem and Gordonstoun. The representatives of the schools assembled that day in 1966 were determined to find a way to bind together the schools that were either founded or influenced by Hahn. They were determined to keep alive the ‘educational-humanitarian spirit’ that Hahn fostered with his educational initiatives (Miner & Boldt, 1981:369). One of the ideas discussed at this gathering was to start a conference of Hahn Schools. The idea was accepted, and it was decided that the first conference would take place the following year in Scotland, at Gordonstoun. This decision sparked the creation of the Round Square, which eventually would become a worldwide movement of independent schools.


The origins of the Round Square School Movement

At the Salem meeting, when the idea of starting a regular conference of kindred schools was floated, it was also proposed to call this initiative the "Hahn Schools Conference". Kurt Hahn, however, refused to let his name be used,as he believed it might later inhibit suitable schools with no affiliation with him from joining. A different name was needed, and at the first conference -which took place in 1967 at Gordonstoun- Jocelin Winthrop Young proposed the name "Round Square".

The name "Round Square" derived from a distinctive building at Gordonstoun where the first conference was held. Originally built in the 17th century as the estate square, serving as a stable and as the governance and commerce center of the Gordon estate, the structure had a circular design inspired by Italian architecture.



The Gordonstoun Building in Scotland


In Scotland, the word ‘square’ has been used to call the administrative centre of an estate. This anomaly led to the paradoxical name ‘Round Square’, which first was used to refer to the regular conferences of a few schools and eventually to a worldwide educational movement inspired by the ideas of Kurt Hahn.

Kurt Hahn has been considered “one of the century’s most innovative and influential educators” (Flavin, 1996, p. xi). His main educational innovations are not to be found in individual classrooms. Instead, they came in the form of principles and practices for the organization of the school, with the purpose of fostering character development among youth. Hahn believed that it was the role of schools to cultivate good character traits among youth and that these traits would develop by impelling youth into experience. Hahn believed that experiences of adventure and service help uncover deeper layers of the human personality as they provide opportunities for self-discovery and demonstrate that challenges and adversity could be overcome.


Kurt Hahn (1886-1974)


Hahn believed that experience would teach youth “to lead responsibly, serve society with compassion, and see through the nationalistic enthusiasm” which had blinded people in his own generation (Tacy, 2006, p.41). These beliefs led Hahn to give training for leadership, service to others, and adventure “curricular” value within his schools. One of his mottos for youth education was Plus est en vous, suggesting that there is more in you than you think. He also pointed out that “it is the sin of the soul to force young people into opinions- indoctrination is of the devil; but it is culpable neglect not to impel young people into experience”. For Hahn, the main task of education is to ensure the survival of certain qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self denial, and above all, compassion." During his like, he gave speeches about different topics, including peace education and outdoor education.

Although the Round Square movement was formally born at that gathering in Salem in the summer of 1966, the original idea of creating a network of like-minded schools can be traced back to 1954. That year, Jocelin Winthrop Young, a former student of Hahn and later the founder of Anavryta, a Hahnaian school in Greece, witnessed a collaborative humanitarian act that brought together 120 students from Hahn’s three influenced schools:  Salem, Gordonstoun and Anavryta. Devastated by an earthquake only months earlier, the students gathered on the island of Cephalonia in Greece to help with the reconstruction of an elderly home. Young watched the removal of national prejudices as students from eight countries learned to understand each other’s differences as they co-operated in an act of service.

The seeds of a global perspective in education began to germinate as Young witnessed how the international contingent of students bonded and gained enrichment from their varied cultures and mentalities. The students who participated in the Cephalonia work project described the experience as life-changing and a high point in their lives. Seeing the potential of such service projects that stayed true to Hahn’s ideals, along with a keen resolve by many of Hahn’s followers to keep alive the principles and practices of their mentor, a plan was finally approved in 1966 to create a permanent organization of like-minded schools formed and Round Square was born.

While Kurt Hahn played an important role in the historical development of Round Square, it is important to note that this movement gained a breath of its own. Through his refusal to lend his name to the association of like-minded schools, Hahn freed the organization from using a specific model of practice: his model. For this reason, as Tacy cautions in his book on Round Square, “it is not appropriate to dwell on [Hahn’s] particular life and career too extensively” (2006:40). This position is further supported by noting that at present-day, the majority of Round Square member schools are “non-Hahn” schools that emerged in “nations where Hahn was of little influence or in fact was entirely unknown” (47).

What binds these schools together, therefore, is not a single pedagogical template, rather it is a commitment to shared ideals and objectives, many of which, but not all, are indeed derived from Hahn’s educational philosophy. These ‘pillars’ form the foundation of Round Square and are considered “educational matters of essential importance by each of the participating schools” (Tacy, 2006, p.33). The six pillars of Round Square can be summed up by the word IDEALS:

International Understanding






In the effort to stay relevant, it is inevitable that with time new ideas and priorities will materialize within the Round Square community and will perhaps lead to the emergence of new ‘pillars’.


The Expansion of the Round Square Movement

Through local and global programming and activities, which are often in addition to the ‘core curriculum’ of each school, member schools must demonstrate an active commitment to the IDEALS.  These commitments challenge what secondary education can do, as they require students to rise to personal challenges, take on real responsibilities, and better the lives of others (Tacy, 2006:17) In short, they help students discover that there is more in them than they think. Since its inception in 1966, Round Square has grown from 7 member schools in 3 nations to more than 80 schools in 23 nations on 5 continents. In 2009, there were Round Square schools in the following countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Bermuda, Botswana, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, India, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Oman, Peru, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, and United States of America. The expansion of Round Square parallels what has been called a ‘movement in international education’ (Bunnell, 2007) and is attributed to two main factors.

The first factor was concern for peace during the period that followed the end of the Second World War, characterized by a huge spike in interest among educators to use schools as avenues to eliminate national prejudice and increase international understanding as a means to promote world peace. Indeed, the 1954 project in Cephalonia, Greece, where Young witnessed the removal of national prejudices as students from different nations cooperated in an act of service, took place during the height of the Cold War. There is little coincidence that all but one of Round Square’s original member schools were found in Germany and Britain and that Round Square continued to grow as primarily European for a handful of years after that (Tacy, 2006). European independent schools were doing their part to create transnational relations as a contribution to prevent another war.

The second factor that led to the expansion of Round Square outside of Europe was the intensification of communications that came along with globalization dynamics. As these dynamics ‘flattened’ the world and made it an easier place to navigate and to communicate, the desire for schools to create global citizens and promote international understanding has moved to the centre of the pedagogical debate (Brosnan, 2007). Amid the rise of a global consciousness, Round Square presents a reasonable option to help schools move away from a narrow, national curriculum, to one with a multi-national context. Its unique ideals helps to prepare students of member schools to live in, understand, and provide leadership in the global environment of the 21st century. Through its global network of schools, Round Square provides a platform for the creation of international partnerships, where schools cooperate and influence each other, and where good ideas are shared and often replicated around the world (Tacy, 2006).


Summary and Conclusions

Round Square is an international association of experientially minded schools that share a commitment, beyond academic excellence, to the individual development of each student. Through an experiential, humanistic education system that combines the outdoors, adventure, and service, Round Square schools prepare students for life by having them face it directly. Originally inspired by the theories of experiential educator Kurt Hahn, who believed that ‘extra-curricular activities’ deserved ‘curricular value’, Round Square students participate in work projects, community service, conferences, adventuring, and exchange programs which often take students half way around the world. Through these activities that bring together students from a multitude of backgrounds, Round Square seeks to promote self-discovery, international understanding, and global perspectives in order to empower youth and develop their abilities to become committed, responsible, global citizens, and the guardian’s of tomorrow’s world.

Referred to as “one of the more distinct and interesting experiments in independent secondary education” (Brosnan, 2007, p.129), what makes Round Square successful and unique within the ‘international education movement’ is that it does not promote a specific model of practice. Rather, Round Square and its member schools are united by a set of common goals that inspire youth to “discover the world and make a difference” ( How schools achieve these goals is left up to them. It is this flexibility in practice that has allowed Round Square to thrive and expand in countries and schools with remarkably different structures and makeup. For this reason alone, Round Square deserves to be studied and understood as it has the potential to be used as a template by other schools in their quest to create global, educational alliances. Based on its past development and present vitality, it is possible to predict that the Round Square Movement will continue to grow and expand to other countries. Further information about Round Square, including member schools, activities, and criteria for membership, can be found on the Round Square website:



Anderson, W. (2007). An articulation and formalization of Kurt Hahn's model of adventure education. (Ed.D., La Sierra University).

Brosnan, M. (2007). Round square and the evolution of global education. Independent School, 66(3), 129-131.

Bunnell, T. (2007). The international education industry: An introductory framework for conceptualizing the potential scale of an `alliance'. Journal of Research in International Education, 6(3), 349-367.

Miner, J. L., & Boldt, J. R. (1981). Outward bound U.S.A. : Learning through experience in adventure-based education. New York: William Morrow and Company Inc.

Röhrs, H. (1966). The realm of education in the thought of Kurt Hahn. Comparative Education, 3(1), 21-32.

Flavin, M. (1996). Kurt Hahn's schools and legacy: To discover you can be more and do more than you believed. Wilmington, Delaware: Middle Atlantic Press.

Tacy, P. (2006). Ideals at work education for world stewardship in the round square schools. Massachusetts: Deerfield Academy Press.

Young, W. J. (1992). The Muscles of Friendship. Valedictory Speech by Founding Director of Round Square. October, Bishop’s College.


Prepared by Monica Kronfli and Daniel Schugurensky
OISE/University of Toronto, 2009.



Citation: Author (2009). Title. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available:  (date accessed).

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