Courageous Learning about Race, Self, Community, and Social Action

By Cain, Ruby | Adult Learning, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Courageous Learning about Race, Self, Community, and Social Action


Cain, Ruby, Adult Learning


Exploring Racism in the Classroom

Three of the most emotionally charged terms in this era are race, racism, and White privilege. Definitions for these terms vary by individual experiences, beliefs, opinions, and perceptions. K-20 students are rarely exposed to a detailed coverage and critical analysis of the part of U.S. history that includes displacement of Native Americans; differing immigration policies and quotas by ethnicity; and involuntary enslavement of and brutality toward Africans. It is not enough for curriculum content to address one or more of these issues. The cultural heritage not consistent with the majority cultural lens is essential in the understanding of the multidimensional aspects of cultural groups. It is an even less frequent occurrence that these, and other oppressed groups, are presented as viable and valuable and their strategies of survival and unwillingness to be subjugated are addressed. Among these historical facts are the following:

* Native Americans who refused to relocate, eluded efforts to be involuntarily enslaved, and preserved their cultural heritage against all odds;

* immigrant contributions to the economic development of this country;

* the skills and professions of Africans extricated from their homeland; the first Africans in the Americas were not enslaved nor indentured servants; and

* the population of individuals of African ancestry who were college educated and professionals, prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Adult Education and Racism in the 21st Century

As we project the future of our andragogical practices in adult education, we continue our focus from the past on emancipatory acquisition of new knowledge and practical application for social action and change. Our adult learners are less representative of the Eurocentric male model that continues to pervade the adult education profession and research. The faithful minority of scholars has continued to research and publish on the necessity of dismantling the hegemonic systems and policies of structural racism and White privilege in the academic, business, and community arenas of adult education. Many of these scholars are authors of chapters in The Handbook of Race and Adult Education, edited by Sheared et al. (2010). Metelsky and Easley (2012) reviewed the book and identified the wealth of tools for the formal and nonformal adult educator in facilitating knowledge awareness, critical reflection/ analysis, guiding curricula redesign, recommending supplemental resources, developing research topics, and so forth. The dialogical model of the textbook is a sharp contrast from theoretically focused textbooks. It invites the reader into a pseudo-relationship with the author(s). The handbook provides the blending of strategies from Freire's dialogical model of engagement and Critical Race Theory's principles of racism as normalized and the quantification of racism via the lived experiences of the marginalized cultural groups.

An emerging trend is the utilization of intragroup dialogues, in addition to intergroup dialogues on issues of race, power, and racism. Two undergraduate courses by an Intergroup Relations Program were evaluated for the impact of the intragroup and intergroup dialogues (Ford & Malaney, 2012). The findings included positive perceptions from students of the creation of safe places for intragroup dialogue and development of alliances for social action and change from intergroup dialogue.

Racial Landscape

We want to believe racial discrimination is behind us, and we are now a postracial society. Yet asking what appears as an innocuous question--Does racism still exist in your community?--elicits a wide spectrum of emotions and responses. Adult educators encourage classroom discourse that includes current events such as

* the arrest of Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at his home;

* stand your ground laws and the murder of Trayvon Martin;

* the handcuffing of Jackson, Mississippi public school students to poles and railings for hours for the perceived noncriminal violations of school rules (i. …

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