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Living Democracy

Communities as Classrooms, Students as Citizens

Nan Fairley Mindy LaBreck Mark Wilson

144 pages
Kettering Foundation Press

At Auburn University, in Alabama, students may take part in a summer-long embedded community experience called “Living Democracy.” This project has its roots in higher education's long history of civic engagement, but it takes a different perspective than traditional service learning programs. Rather than pose the question, “What does your community need?” the project organizers asked, “What could a student learn about democratic civic engagement while living in your community for ten weeks over the summer?”

In Living Democracy: Communities as Classrooms, Students as Citizens, authors Mark Wilson, Director of Civic Learning Initiatives in the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn, and Nan Fairley, Associate Professor of Journalism, describe the inception of the Living Democracy program and the work of students and community members who have made, and continue to make, the Living Democracy journey with them. Chapter One provides context for higher education. Chapter Two summarizes the project, including the opportunities and expectations of students as they participate. Chapter Three looks at the importance of relationships, both harmonious and contentious. Chapter Four illustrates the real-world challenges citizens face, and the ways in which students have an opportunity to experience the tension of tough decisions. Chapter Five discusses what students report as the benefits of the living-learning experience in communities.

In concluding the book, an alumna of the program reflects on her experience in Living Democracy: “Life in real time makes one of the best classrooms. Sending young, eager college students to poke around in a community allows for self-reflection on the part of communities. This allows for conversation and collaboration in new and creative ways. Students, in turn, learn the power (and messiness) of community residents working together as they build projects with others.”

Author Bio

Nan Fairley is an associate professor in the School of Communication & Journalism at Auburn University. She teaches a variety of courses ranging from feature writing to community journalism. She joined the Auburn faculty in 1992. She received her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Alabama in 1988 and completed her undergraduate education at Mississippi University for Women.

The recipient of the 2011 AU Award for Excellence in Faculty Outreach, Fairley is a College of Liberal Arts Engaged Scholar. She worked for a variety of newspapers in the South before beginning her teaching career. In her journalism classes, Fairley encourages her students to understand and honor communities through a wide range of civic journalism projects.

Fairley, the author of book chapters on engaged learning and journalism history, is co-author of Living Democracy: Communities as Classrooms, Students as Citizens. She is a writing consultant for the David Mathews Center of Civic Life.​

Mindy LaBreck is director of administrative services and program officer at the Kettering Foundation.

As director of administrative services, LaBreck is heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the foundation relating to facilities, technology, personnel, and publications.

Her research focus is on exploring the relationship between public administrators and citizens. She is also engaged in the civic education research at the foundation.

LaBreck holds a BA and an MA from Antioch University.

Dr. Mark Wilson is Director of Civic Learning Initiatives and the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University. He holds degrees from the University of Mobile (B.A. Religion), McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University (Master of Divinity), and Auburn University (Ph.D. History). He is the author of William Owen Carver’s Controversies in the Baptist South (Mercer University), co-author of Living Democracy: Communities as Classrooms, Students as Citizens (Kettering Foundation Press) and several articles.

Wilson is an Appalachian Teaching Fellow with the Appalachian Regional Commission and Secretary of the Alabama Historical Association. His teaching duties at Auburn University include Introduction to Community and Civic Engagement and practicum courses which provide living-learning experiences for students in rural, Alabama communities and beyond.

Wilson has coordinated contracts and grants with the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Appalachian Regional Commission, Kettering Foundation, David Mathews Center for Civic Life, Alabama Humanities Foundation, and others. He is a member of the Board of Directors for the National Issues Forums Institute.