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Adult Ed. Tipsheet

Adult Education in Practice
Women, Gender, and Ethnicity

'Feminism loves another science: the sciences and politics of interpretation, translation, stuttering, and the partly understood. Feminism is about the sciences of the multiple subject with (at least) double vision. Feminism is about a critical vision consequent upon critical positioning in unhomogeneous gendered social space.'
Donna Haraway

The primary purpose of these pages is the presentation of research pertaining to the education of women. However, a great deal of the research on women and gender issues has been limited to white, middle-class women. (P. 129-133, Caffarella, et al.) Women do not form a homogenous population. They are divided according to class, race, ethnicity, religion, politics, and culture. It would be a mistake to assume that information about women in general also applies to women of color. (Imel) It would also be a mistake to assume that the socialization of disadvantaged women is the same as that of women from the middle class. Disadvantaged women are disproportionately represented in minority and immigrant groups. Therefore, I am including in this section minority and ethnic research in education in an attempt to guarantee inclusion of educational issues pertaining to all women.

The purpose of this section is not to imply that there is one way of teaching women or of teaching various ethnic groups. Neither is the purpose to imply that women are innately different from men or that different ethnic groups have differing characteristics. However, few would argue that whether men and women, ethnic groups, citizens of various regions of the country, etc. are fundamentally different or not, they usually are socialized differently. The purpose of this section is to help the instructor to begin to question personal assumptions about learners and the effect of their socialization. We all tend to think that others have experienced the same things we have experienced and we teach with that expectation in mind. We use language which reflects our assumptions about learners. When we do that, we unintentionally exclude those who are 'others'. If we can begin to question our assumptions, we can begin to see the exceptions to our assumptions.

Here you will find teaching tips, highlights from the research, and, hopefully, food for thought:

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Women's talk is devalued in both style (hesitant, qualified, question-posing, high pitched) and in content (concern for the everyday, the practical, and the interpersonal) by men and women both. Yet, paradoxically, women are generally better than men at expressing themselves orally and show a strong predisposition toward conversation at a very early age. (P.17, Belenky et al.) It is important to allow women to use talk in the construction of knowledge. The following are some quick tips or research results on using dialogue as a learning tool.



True dialogue cannot occur without disclosing our personal biases or situatedness. According to Donna Haraway, no one can claim complete objectivity. (P.575-576, Haraway) We are all shaped by our 'situatedness' or experiences, culture, ethnicity, sex, etc. Production of knowledge is a social activity embedded in a particular world view. Thus, in the name of equitable relations, it is important to disclose to your audience your situatedness(P.11, Braidotti)

Many postmodern feminists consider knowledge to be the result of invention, or imposition, of form on the world. However, post-modern feminists are not the only people who take this viewpoint. Those interested in the spirituality of teaching take a similar viewpoint and claim our teaching style is a composite of our values, beliefs, and attitudes. Education is not neutral and value-free (P.26, Zinn) as anyone faced with teaching theories of the origin of humankind can attest. Clarifying our values will give us a clearer picture of our situatedness.

In addition to clarifying our own values, it is important to remember that disciplines reflect the preference of those most instrumental in developing them. We need to examine our assumptions about our disciplines and consider the possibility of allowing for plurality and difference.(P.45, Braidotti et al) Some questions we should ask are: (P.6, Cunningham)

For the most part, women have not participated in the designing of procedures for acquiring knowledge developed by the various disciplines. Thus, these alien ways of thinking may make it difficult or impossible for women to acquire knowledge in those areas. (P.95-96, Belenky et al.) In fact, often those ways of thinking which were steered in a particular direction by white, European males are not only difficult for women, they are difficult for those in other ethnic groups, male or female, to learn. If we are not careful we can take things like the Scientific Method to be 'the truth' and forget that they are literally a man-made construct.

For some learners, form takes precedent over content. These learners will read carefully and pay close attention and believe they have learned. They do not understand that the material must be internalized. (P.95-96, Belenky et al.) How do we deal with this as instructors? The first step is to be aware that the 'truths' we teach may not be self-evident. The next step is to help our students see more than one perspective (P.139-141, Belenky et al.). We can ask for their ways of knowing and consider these openly. We can then ask learners to consider if there might be other ways of knowing. By showing respect for the learner's way of knowing, we can then ask for respect for the way of knowing we are espousing.

We should consider not only our own situatedness but also that of the learner. Learners seek formal education for a wide variety of reasons. Citing research which enlarges on Houle's three original typologies, Merriam and Caffarella add additional perspectives and list the following reasons adult women seek education:

Understanding the wildly varying reasons women seek educational experiences can help us to provide satisfying and rewarding experience.


Group Learning and Collaboration

Increasingly, educators are using groupwork as a teaching strategy. Group learning is a good strategy to use with adults because it allows them to draw on their experiences. In addition, cooperative learning provides a forum for the social construction of knowledge as well as promoting democratic practices between the learner and the instructor (P.13, Walker). Collaboration appears to be particularly important in the teaching of women. However, placing students in groups and assuming learning will occur is not a good strategy. The following are tips and research on women and group learning.


Assignments and Assessment

By simply adding some accommodations or making some adjustments, an instructor can begin to make a class more inclusive. The following are some short tips or research results that might be taken into consideration when designing a course which includes women.


Barriers to Education

When considering the education of women, it is important to consider the barriers that exist. Patricia Cross lists the following categories of barriers to learning: (P.88-89, Merriam et al)

It can be argued that participation in higher education is a middle-class endeavor. Knowledge and presentation is middle class both in language and content. In this case, participation or nonparticipation can be seen as a function of social structure (P.93-95, Merriam et al.). Hence, in order to recruit students from traditionally lower-class segments of society, these societal structures must be addressed.

While universities have opened their doors to marginalised women, they have not changed the balance of power. Many institutions demand that women (especially minority women) make a radical break with other bodies of knowledge. In addition, the institutions often negate women's experiences with systemic racism and sexism. (P.3,Mojab)

The lack of true inclusiveness can serve as a psychological barrier to education. An instructor can begin the process of inclusiveness by uncovering and acknowledging the voice of each student and recognizing that the knowledge of the instructor is grounded in a particular political, social, historical, sexual, racial, and economic context. (P.31-32, Sheared)

Barriers to education can lie within race, sex, culture, ethnicity, or a combination of these. Hispanics are more likely to be placed in classes for educable mentally retarded, limited-English proficient, and bilingual education than in classes for the gifted. The quality of education for Mexican American women nationally lags behind other groups. They are underrepresented in higher education not only because of the lower quality of their educations but also because of sexism, economics, family responsibilites, support networks, lack of role models, and lack of mentors. Mexican American culture does not place a high premium on using women's success in the labor market as a gauge fore determing their worth. (Ortiz)

There is increasing research into the impact of cultural relevance on a student's ability to learn. In a review of the literature on race and cultural relevance, Promise & Possibility: A Case For Culturally Relevant Curriculum In A Postsecondary English Classroom of African American Adult Learners, Yolanda Sealy-Ruiz argues the case for relevance from the viewpoint of someone who has personally experienced the power of culturally relevant material. top


Apps, Jerold W., The Adult Learner on Campus. Follet Publishing Co., Chicago, 1981.
Though some of the material may be dated, this book contains many useful examples of exemplary practices.

Belenky, Mary Field, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger, Jill Mattuck, Tarule, Women's Ways of Knowing. Basic Books, New York, 1997. This book, written in 1986 and recently re-released by a division of Harper Collins, is a classic on the silence of women.

Braidotti, Rosi, Ewa Charkiewicz, Sabine Hausler, Saskia Wieringa, Women, the Environment, and Sustainable Environment, Zed Books, London, 1994.
This book asks the reader to examine assumptions about the meaning of progress and development.

Caffarella, Rosemary S., and Sandra K. Olson,Psychosocial Development of Women: A Critical Review of the Literature.Adult Education Quarterly: Vol. 43, No. 3, Spring 1993.
A critical review of the literature yields evidence that women do not develop on the same timetable as men and do not move toward autonomy but rather interconnectedness.

Carfagna, Rosemarie, A Developmental Core Curriculum for Adult Women Learners. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No.65, Spring 1995.
In this article, 'Women's Ways of Knowing' provides the theoretical framework for a core curriculum designed to meet the learning needs of women.

Cross, Patricia, Adults as Learners, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1981.
This book is a relative 'oldie' but nonetheless a goodie.

Droegkamp, Jan and Kathleen Taylor, Prior Learning Assessment, Critical Self-Reflection, and Reentry Women's Development. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No.65, Spring 1995.
Assessment of prior learning can be a powerful educational tool. This author tells how.

Gajdusek, Linda and Helen Gillotte, Teaching to the Developmental Needs of Nonmainstream Learners. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No.65, Spring, 1995.
The author looks at 'Women's Ways of Knowing' and discusses its implications for nonmainstream learners.

Grossi, F. Vio and D. Palma, Latin America: Adult Education. ? Unesco.
This article from UNESCO is a short one about the history of adult education in Latin America.

Haraway, Donna, Situated Knowledged: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies, No.3, 1988.
The author discusses the issue of the situatedness of an instructor.

Heath, Shirley Brice, Questioning at Home and at School: A Comparative Study. Waveland Press, Inc: Illinois, 1982.
This chapter is one of many interesting ones from the book Doing the Ethnography of Schooling, ed. by George Spindler.

hooks, bell, Talking Back, Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black. South End Press, Boston, MA, 1989.
This reflective and thoughtful book tells the story of one woman's exploration of feminism and race.

Imel, Susan, Inclusive Adult Learning Environments.Digest No. 162, ERIC:, 1995.
This short article is well worth the read.

Imel, Susan, Race and Gender in Adult Education. ERIC:, 1995.
This article has an extensive list of print resources.

Johnson-Bailey, Juanita and Ronald M. Cervero, An Analysis of the Educational Narratives of Reentry Black Women. Adult Education Quarterly: Vol.46, No.3, Spring 1996.
This study examines the narratives of reentry Black women and the diversity of their experiences.

Kerka, Sandra, Adult Learner Retention Revisited. ERIC, 1995.
This short but helpful article looks at both ABE and adult higher education.

Kerka, Sandra, Women, Human Development, and Learning.ERIC:, 1993.
This article constrasts the view that women's voices either do or do not differ from men's.

Kuh, George D., C. Robert Pace, and Nick Vesper,The Development of Process Indicators to Extimate Student Gains Associated with Good Practices in Undergraduate Education. Research in Higher Education: Vol. 38, No. 4, 1997. This wonderful paper looks at process indicators for both male and female students.

LePage-Lees, Pamela,Exploring Patterns of Achievement and Intellectual Development Among Academically Successful Women from Disadvantaged Backgrounds. Journal of College Student Development: Vol. 38, No. 5, Sept/Oct. 1997.
The author recommends ways to foster high-acheiving in girls and women with disadvantaged backgrounds.

Marienau, Catherine, In Their Own Voices: Women Learning About Their Own Development. New Directions For Adult and Continuing Education: No. 65, Spring 1995.

Merriam, Sharan B. and Rosemary S. Caffarella,Learning in Adulthood. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1991.
This adult education handbook has a social conscience and is an excellent addition to an educator's library.

Mojab, Shahrzad, Minority Women at the Iron Borders of Academe. ERIC:, 27th Annual SCUTREA Conference Proceedings, 1997.
The author discusses her situatedness and personal experiences with adademe.

Ortiz, Flora Ida, Mexican American Women: Schooling, Work, and Family.ERIC:, Oct. 1995.
This report shows the interdendence of schooling, work, and family within the lives of Mexican American women.

Sheared, Vanessa, Giving Voice: An Inclusive Model of Instruction-A Womanist Perspective. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No.61, Spring 1994.
The author argues for incorporating an africentric feminist viewpoint of inclusion of the importance of culture and race into discussions of women's issues and provides ways to do this.

Shoenecker, Timothy S., Kathryn D. Martell, and Joseph F. MichlitschDiversity, Performance, and Satisfaction in Student Group Projects: An Empirical Study. Research in Higher Education: Vol. 38, No. 4, 1997.

Taylor, Kathleen and Catherine Marienau, Bridging Practice and Theory. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 65, Spring, 1995.
This article serves as the introduction to a New Direction For Adult Education volume entitled 'Learning Environments for Women's Adult Development: Bridges Toward Change'.

Tennant, Mark and Philip Pogson, Learning and Change in the Adult Years: A Developmental Perspective (Chapters 1-3). Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco,

Turoczy, Cheryl, Question Well to Teach Well. Adult Learning, Vol.8, #5 & 6, p.22.

Walden, Phyllis, Journal Writing: A Tool for Women Developing as Knowers. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education: No. 65, Spring 1995.
This article presents numerous ideas for effective journal writing.

Walker, Deborah and Linda Lambert, The Constructivist Leader: Chapter 1 - Learning and Leading Theory.
Constructivism and the relationship between learner and leader is discussed in this chapter.

Zinn, Lorraine M.,Spirituality in Adult Education. Adult Learning: Vol. 8, #5 & 6, P.26.

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Last edited: January, 2002
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