The Diploma in Local Democracy’s set of assignments and activities are designed to approach the class’ theme from different perspectives. Each helps structure and centre our collective learning while giving ample room for people’s unique contributions, for usefully meandering conversations, and new surprises all the time. Our activities include:
Definition Exploration - We have declined giving a firm definition of local democracy. Instead we facilitate several activities spread through the first half of the class which sees the group collectively defining the meaning of local democracy. The process of open conversation helps all of our best, most out-of-the-box and yet perceptive thinking rise to the surface. In practice this process yields a definition that then evolves, changes and develops as conversation continues in our class.
Jane’s Walk – At the beginning of the class we hold an hour long Jane’s Walk through the Working Centre’s neighbourhood. We learn about two centuries and beyond here on Queen and Benton St – from our aboriginal forbearers, to early European settlement, stories of mutual aid, community and the influence on the world of our small little corner of downtown Kitchener. The walk lasts an hour and is done in early January. Dress for the weather!
Biographies of Democracy – This is the heart of the first half of our class. Each participant will have about twenty-five minutes in class to tell their life-story through the lens of democracy. Where was democracy present or absent in people’s life experiences – in their families, workplaces, schools and/or neighbourhoods? Very rarely do we have space in our society to reflect on such important experiences as these. Yet it is these cultures of democracy at the base that can make or break our wider democratic experiment. These stories are told because of what they have to teach all of us.
Book Reviews – This is the heart of the second half of our class. Each participant will have about twenty minutes to review a book, of their choosing, that has something to teach all of us about Local Democracy. In past classes people have reviewed books by Jane Jacobs, Martin Buber, Wendell Berry and Robert Putman – to name a few of the many authors reviewed - for this assignment. These book reviews have been so important that they have often shaped course offerings in future classes.
Final Collaborative Project – The final project of the Diploma in Local Democracy is a collaborative essay written by the whole class. The aim in this essay is for the class to collect, synthesize and express their learnings from the class. Two of our previous essays, from the class of 2015 and the class of 2016 respectively, are published on our website. The process helps the class to summarize and clarify their collective learnings from the class.