How Learning in the Lab Is Structured

The Democracy Learning Lab Guide

How Learning in the Lab Is Structured

There is a particular structure to the learning process with which you and your Lab Fellows will be engaging. It has four parts:

  • the four paths,
  • the ground—or foundation—over which those paths will unfold, 
  • the formats—or situations—in which you will be learning, and
  • proactive learning.

The Four Paths

The goal of the Growing Democracy Project is to make democracy the dominant sociopolitical force in the country. This cannot be done without enabling legions of everyday people to take major responsibility for making this happen. This will require building, over time, a transformative civic education system spread across our country.

The purpose of the Democracy Learning Lab is to equip a diversity of motivated people to begin working together toward this goal. Four interacting paths will provide you and your lab Fellows with an intense field of learning throughout your Lab session. They are learning paths that that will take you into the hows of

  • developing your personal democratic practice,
  • managing a democratic group,
  • organizing a democratic network of groups, and
  • strategizing how to develop a democratic learning system across the country.

The Ground of the Four Paths

Rethinking Democracy

All four paths will flow and swirl around a unifying dynamic: rethinking democracy from the ground up in terms of what it means to you as a human being and as a citizen. Your learning will come through your interactive experience with other Lab Fellows and your study of objective material. 

All of your learning will swirl in, around, and through this core dynamic:

The bottom line for a democratic group to work well is its capacity to talk about how members talk with each other. If a group cannot talk about how  they are talking about an issue at hand, very little will get worked out. Our resistance to wanting to hear and understand each other, especially when there is conflict, is culturally deep and fierce. 

If our resistance wins, problem-solving will be very limited. If problem-solving is very limited, the problem at hand cannot be addressed effectively. And everyone will know that, or will be denying it.

Overall, the group will be ineffective in reducing selfishness and maximizing cooperation. Doing poorly at this means the group will not work well. 

And this is the whole point of democracy. The members of a group will not be able to make it a group that is  of, by, or for its members, unless those members are rich in the capacity 1) to talk about how they talk together whenever they need to, and 2) continuously evolve that capacity.  

Our resistance to wanting to change our minds is fierce whenever information threatens what is near and dear to us personally or collectively. So the desire to learn how to want to hear and understand each other when we are in conflict is simply the roots of what we call democracy.

Understanding the power of culture

Also, all four learning paths will immerse you and your Lab Fellows in the role of culture experientially. Labs will vary somewhat in length and structure of time, but from the beginning of your Lab you and your Fellows will be working together to create your own group culture. All the while you all will be drawing on objective materials—writings and videos of several kinds—that focus on culture.

Culture is the driving force of human life. The challenge for you here is to begin figuring out how to use this awesome power to bring everyday people—such as you and your Fellows—out of our deference to the ways things are so we can develop our intelligence, compassion, and personal power to grow democracy. 

Transformative Learning

The Democracy Learning Lab is a transformative learning vehicle from start to finish.

Our culture has shaped and conditioned us to fit into itself. This provides us with the means to live the life we were gifted. In turn, we reproduce our culture as we live out our lives. We also adapt it to changes in the environment.

That may have been enough for our ancestors for the past 400,000 years, but over the past 300 years technology has transformed the speed of change in ways they could never have imagined. Our old ways of learning and adapting have to evolve to meet the challenges that these deep and rapid fire changes are now confronting us with. That is, we have to become far more active and intentional in shaping the culture that shapes us.

There are many forms and methodologies for transformative learning. What they all have in common is a shared purpose: to enable people to take fuller and more compassionate responsibility for their lives so they can play a more dynamic role in shaping their lives and the world they live in. 

Proactive Learning

A schedule of discussions and a lot of study material will be in place at the start. This should serve as a solid beginning. Also, there will be skilled coaching and a supportive environment throughout the whole time of the Lab.  

However, you will be “taught” as little as possible in the Growing Democracy Learning Lab. From the outset you will be encouraged to take-charge of your learning within the structure of the Lab program. As you and your Lab Fellows get grounded and hone a groove to work from, you all will become more responsible for shaping schedules and the study material you all want to focus on. 

The objective here is two-fold. One, for you all to become as much of an autonomous group as you can, one that is part of the Growing Democracy Project and embedded in the Ganas Community. 

Two, for each of you to become as proactive as you can in your individual learning. And the core of that learning was highlighted above, root democracy.

The more this proactive learning evolves from day one onward, the more you all will be struggling with making decisions together within a context of interdependence. This is how life works well when it does. More often than not, however, this usually turns into one where the few make the decisions and the many going along with the few. 

When our effort to hear and understand each other, goes off-course, we will seize the opportunity. That will become the focus of our discussion in order to see how it happened, and to figure out ways we can reverse it. 

By following this trial-and-error process through to where it takes us, each of us will be developing the know-how for making a group work well. So seeing and understanding what goes wrong will be as valuable, if not more valuable, as your successes. 


The Learning Formats

Six learning formats or situations are built into the Democratic Learning Lab:

  1. Face-to-face exploration of relational problems between Lab Fellows.
  2. Participant observation in the democratic management of the Ganas Community.
  3. Pragmatic discussions of the group’s household matters.
  4. In-depth discussion of written study material.
  5. In-depth discussion of video material.
  6. Conversations with outside resources by zoom, or in-person at the 138 House, or visiting a site.

The first one is the core format of your Democratic Learning Lab. The rubber of democracy hits the road, when there is conflict. Conflict provides the opportunity to see how your learned ways of dealing with conflict work and don’t work. Sometimes finding out how your ways don’t work will be rather straight forward and not that uncomfortable. 

Other times, when what you are hearing from your Lab Fellows is difficult to take-in, the experience will be challenging. When this happens, everyone will be charged with being as open-minded and open-hearted as they can be. There will be, in Cornel West’s words, “absolutely no condemnation of anyone.” 

If it is your stuff that is up for reflection, your challenge will be to hear and understand the others as well as you can. At the same time, the others will be challenged to be as truthful and as compassionate as they can. This is how people think together, and how they learn to think together. In a group that works well, members come to know that the others have their back, but that they also want the group to work well, and honesty is essential for that to happen. The others also know they need all that you personally bring to our joint endeavor.  

This is a big order, and no one is expected to learn more than they can, and that will take time. This is far more than “skill development.” Hopefully, the Learning lab will be a big step on a lifelong learning journey. But that will be your decision.

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How Learning in the Lab Is Structured