White Paper Offers Dialogue on Social Justice and Adult Education

One of the primary purposes of adult education is to give adults the skills and knowledge to become active members of their communities and exercise their democratic rights. 

In light of recent racial, economic, and political unrest in the U.S. and around the world, adult educators might be looking for ways to encourage learners to participate in their community. Leading the dialogue, adult educator Paul Jurmo, Ed.D., took a look at strategies adult educators can use to help learners respond to social injustices to maintain a democratic and just society.  

In this white paper, Jurmo reviews decades of writing about this topic and makes recommendations on where adult educators go now. Read an excerpt here: 

Adult education writers have for decades worked in, researched, reflected on, and argued for an “adult education for social justice” perspective. Their arguments have multiple roots (e.g., the U.S. civil rights movement, popular education in developing countries, labor unions, the women’s movement). They make the case for adult education as a tool to ensure equal opportunity for individuals and to maintain a democratic, just society. Promoters of this perspective come from diverse institutions (e.g., community-based organizations, universities, adult literacy resource centers, think tanks, labor unions) and points on the political continuum.  

Supporters use overlapping and sometimes confusing terms when describing this type of education (e.g., social justice, social change, democracy, civil [or human] rights, equality, equity, opportunity, civic participation, empowerment, liberatory or emancipatory, popular, critical, Freirian, dialogical, community-based, community-oriented, learner-centered, problem-posing, or problem-solving).  

A sampling of writers from the late 1970s to 2020 who have promoted adult education oriented to community needs is presented below, organized around three guidelines: (1) Focus on critical thinking and action related to learner and community needs, (2) Invest in an evidence-based, systems approach, and (3) Emphasize collaborations between adult education and other stakeholders. 

Read the full paper here 



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