Last Updated 02 Apr 2020

Race Class and Gender in Learning

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Race, Class, and Gender in Learning Strayer University There is no simple definition or answer when one asks the question, “What is the purpose of education in adult learning. ” To justly answer or define this question one most first ask one definitive question that will provide three important variables. Ultimately, we must ask “Who is asking this question? ” simply, what is this person’s background, are they a WASP or a minority? What is their social class? Are they male or female?

The answers to these questions will provide a contextual framework and starting point in which can genuinely begin to answer our original question, “What is the purpose of education in adult learning? ” The values and norms developed in institutions such as education are authored by the dominant culture. In American society, White Anglo Saxon Protestants (WASPS) are the authors of the dominant culture. Unfortunately, there are major disparities between White European Americans and other minorities.

These inequalities are prevalent in every American institution, including education. Blacks and other people of color are underrepresented in all types of adult education (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). Traditionally, statistics show that minorities do not participate in adult education. Some researchers cite racism as a barrier to adult education. Adult educators have examined how the invisibility/norm of Whiteness has affected adult education, curriculum, theories, evaluation criteria, and instructional practices (Manglitz, 2003).

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Researchers found that racism in adult education was not intentional; many adult educators were unaware of the extent to which theories and research reinforce White racist attitudes and assumptions, thus sustaining the perpetuation of inequalities ( Colin & Preciphs, 1991). Some researchers have contended that socioeconomic status not race is the major barrier in adult education. Socioeconomic status is America is highly stratified; only a very small percentage of the population owns all of the wealth, power and influence in American society.

In adult education, when social class is the focus, the aim of the analysis and subsequent action is to bring about a change from a capitalist political economy to a classes socialist form of government (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). Some researchers argue that a classless society would result in more participation in not only adult education but in education in general. Usually those categorized in classes lower than middle class tend to have limited educational experiences. When considering race and class we must examine the inequality of gender in adult education.

Feminist have placed gender, and gender as it intersects with race and class (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). Statistics have shown that women are increasingly participating in adult education, despite this women still experience inequality in the classroom. Some argue that content knowledge, theories and research encountered in the classroom is still heavily influenced by American patriarchal dominance. Along with addressing the questions of Race, Class and Gender one most also account for the theories of Critical Theory, Postmodernism and Feminist Pedagogy.

These 3 theories will give us a clue into how educators can contextualize the learning experience for each variable (race, gender and class). Each theory offers its own explanation on how the adult learning process should be conducted or imporved. First we will examine critical theory and its context to education. Critical Theory’s aim is to transform and improve society through the use of criticism (Henslin, 2008) Critical Theory defines its social critique through the use of social problems often citing “systems” as part of the problem.

The “system” in a critical theory analysis is an institution (such as government or education) that functions to reproduce the status quo (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 253). Social institutions exist to positively regulate, order and control members of its society ( Henslin 2008), the institution of education seeks to do the same. Although ideally the institution of education is supposed to improve society, critical theorists often cite the “status quo” of education as hindering a learner’s experience.

Critical Theorist argue that in adult learning there needs to be a paradigm shift in the status quo. Should learning be centered around technology or should more attention be given to emancipatory learning? Essentially critical theorist desire critique the status quo in hopes of developing one that is appropriate and equal to all learners. Postmodernism is a term that is widely used in many fields, such as literature, art, architecture, history, and philosophy. By definition, postmodernism resists definition (Kerka 1997). Postmodernism like Critical theory questions the status quo.

Technically one cannot define postmodernism as a theory. According to Kerka postmodernism is a (Kerka, 1997)“form of questioning, an attitude, or perspective. ” Postmodernism never accepts the truth as absolute and sees truth as ever changing. One can make the contention that postmodernism is part of the foundation of adult learning. Concepts popular with adult learning such as transformative learning or narratives urge learners to question their own “truth” thus by definition, inviting the learner to practice postmodernism. As one would suspect, Feminist Pedagogy is derived from feminist theory.

The feminist theory is based in liberation and the feminist pedagogy seeks to create a liberatory learning environment and it also focuses on the concerns of women in the teaching-learning transaction (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). Traditionally a woman is characterized as a docile nurturing human being but rarely as an authority or as assertive. Feminist pedagogy seeks to liberate a woman from this role in the classroom and urges her to be assertive and firm as a learner and to “find acceptance for her ideas in the public world” (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986, p. 20). The liberatory classroom allows for this sort of transformation. As potential adult educators we have to consider “what is the purpose of education? ” for learners and how that question should be answered individually. As we have seen, that answer varies for each learner. We must be vigilant considering each learners diverse background and constantly examine and revamp the status quo to ensure that each learner’s background is included. Works Cited Henslin, J. (2008).

Sociology : A Down To Earth Approach. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. Kerka, S. (1997). Postmodernism and Adult Education. Trends and Issues Alerts. ERIC Clearing House on Adult, Career and Vocational Education. Manglitz, E. (2003, Feb). Challenging White Privilege in Adult Education : A Critical Review of Literature. Adult Education Quarterly , p. 119. Merriam, S. B. , Caffarella, R. S. , & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in Adulthood : A Comprehensive Guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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