Posted on April 21, 2021

The U.S. adult education field is now focusing more directly on the question of how to respond to the social justice issues adult learners, their families and their communities are facing.

To contribute to this important dialogue, ProLiteracy the largest adult literacy and basic education membership organization in the U.S., is publishing A Different Way: Reorienting Adult Education toward Democracy and Social Justice, a white paper written by adult educator Paul Jurmo, Ed.D. The document outlines strategies used by educators to help learners mitigate the impacts of social injustices, navigate around those impacts, eliminate unjust policies and social practices, and create alternative ways to support human rights.

"For decades, significant numbers of adult educators in the United States have seen adult basic education as a tool for supporting democracy and social justice,” said author Paul Jurmo. “According to this view, (1) society is structured in ways that prevent adults with basic skills limitations from exercising their full civil rights and (2) adult education can help those adults overcome barriers and protect their rights and those of their families and communities.”

Underscoring the relevance of adult education to our democracy, the U.S. Department of Education estimates that more than 43 million adults in the United States cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third-grade level.1 USDOE research states that lower skilled adults have less confidence in their ability to affect government actions and, therefore, have a potentially lower rate of civic engagement2

This free resource, A Different Way, outlines examples of how adult educators, together with other partners, have integrated issues such as racism, voting rights, immigrant integration, women’s issues, social class, public health, worker rights, prisoner re-entry, and environmental sustainability into their work.

“ProLiteracy believes every adult has the right to literacy. Our mission is to help adults gain reading, writing, math, and digital skills, with the intent of giving them the power to impact major social issues and change the world around them,” said President and CEO, Kevin Morgan. “We believe education leads to equal opportunities, liberties, and protection under the law, and that we must stand up against bigotry, racism, and hatred.”

A Different Way concludes with actions that adult educators and other partners might take to better help learners respond to social justice challenges.

To download this resource, visit


About ProLiteracy

ProLiteracy is the largest adult literacy and basic education nonprofit membership organization in the nation. ProLiteracy is the leader in adult literacy content development, programs, and advocacy for more than 60 years. ProLiteracy works with its member organizations to help adults gain the reading, writing, math, English, and digital skills they need to be successful. ProLiteracy advocates on behalf of adult learners and the programs that serve them, provides training and professional development, and publishes materials used in adult literacy and basic education instruction. ProLiteracy has 1,000 member programs in all 50 states, and works with 21 nongovernmental organizations in 35 developing countries. For more information, visit You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.