Elementary, secondary, and postsecondary educational systems as well as adult basic education programs in the United States reflect the unequal positions that people with particular identities hold in our society (Flannery 1994). Women, African Americans, Latinos, gay, lesbian, poor, elderly, mentally ill, and physically disabled people experience numerous barriers to educational opportunities. Education, as a social institution, reproduces the power inequalities of the larger society and reinforces the way in which power is created and maintained through its function of socializing students to acceptable values and ideologies (Freire 1970).
In this chapter, I examine ways in which the relationship between teacher and student accommodates and is structured to reproduce the inequities of the broader society. Within the education system, students are at the bottom of a hierarchy of privilege and power. While the ostensible focus of all education is on students, in fact, the position of students is often not a valued one. Those in traditional adult basic education programs and those enrolled in universities normally have little, if any, say in the process or content of their educational experience.
At first glance, the situations of adult basic education students and higher education students appear very different. However, even though one clearly appears more disadvantaged than the other, when both enter into a formal classroom their knowledge and experiences are often not valued or considered meaningful in the learning environment. My experience as a social work educator and an Adult Basic Education Director validates this view and has led me to believe that these adult students in two different educational contexts share im-