How Race, Gender and Class May Affect Learning Essay

Laguna Pueblo/Sioux feminist literary critic Paula Gunn Allen ( 1986 ) claims, “ Westerners have for a long clip discounted the importance of background ” ( p. 243 ). For Allen, apprehension is filtered through context ; the hearer ‘s age, sex, gender, category, race, tribal association – everything that makes an single unique – drama a function in how that single listens and hears, understands and learns. “ When a traditional Keres reads the narrative of Kochinnenako, she listens with certain information about her people in head aˆ¦ ” ( Allen, 1986, p. 232 ).

The Fieldss of grownup and higher instruction have non been, historically, idols of inclusiveness, particularly in respects to developmental and larning theory. Perry ( 1999 ), for illustration, developed his theory of pupil larning based on interviews he conducted with pupils at Harvard in the mid-20th century – as if such a homogeneous population could be representative of the development of all pupils. Today, nevertheless, bookmans of development and acquisition in grownup and higher instruction do understand that it is non merely single mind or motive that affects how the single grows, alterations, and learns. Sociocultural background is besides of import. For illustration, Bee and Bjorklund ( 2004 ) place four factors impacting single development that are sociocultural in nature: gender, race and ethnicity, category, and instruction.

On the other manus, pedagogues of grownups have, since the early 1990s, begun to pay attending non merely to how sociocultural factors affect single development but besides to how sociocultural factors can show barriers to or heighten interaction with grownup and/or higher instruction ( Merriam, Caffarella, & A ; Baumgartner, 2007 ). For illustration, race and gender are associated with inequality in “ big societal, educational, and work lives ” that, in bend, can adversely impact engagement in those same societal, educational, and occupational state of affairss ( Ginsberg & A ; Wlodkowski, 2010, p. 28 ).

In this essay, I will supply a brief overview of how race, gender, category, and sexual orientation may impact the scholar – either in their developmental procedure or in their experiences in grownup and higher instruction environments.


Despite the fact that the United States elected its first Black president in 2008, we are non a post-racial state. As a society, we still must confront the fact that racism exists in our civilization, in both elusive and quite blatant signifiers. This racism frequently leads to negative effects for persons non in the dominant civilization ( Johnson-Bailey, 2001 ).

In the broader cultural context, racism can impact every facet of day-to-day lives for those who are do non suit the profile of the dominant civilization. For illustration, in the town where I live, my Mexican neighbours live in fright of being stopped for “ driving while Latino, ” even while obeying all traffic Torahs, while I, who should hold gotten at least one rushing ticket by now as I possess a major lead pes, am frequently given a free base on balls by the governments – because I appear White. Likewise, I do n’t of all time hold to worry that person walking at dark will traverse the street to acquire off from me, in fright that I will assail or rob them. I do non suit the racial profile our civilization has established for muggers. I besides am cognizant that by virtuousness of my racial visual aspect, I am afforded certain privileges that give me a greater opportunity for calling success than others who do n’t look like me.

In educational environments, as in society in general, racism plays a critical function in how minority pupils entree and experience acquisition. Minority pupils are less likely to prosecute and complete postsecondary instruction ( Swail, 2003 ). This is non because minority pupils have any organic shortage that makes them less able to larn or any less desire and motive to win than White pupils. Rather, minority pupils have non been supported for academic success.

Many frequently have attended primary and secondary schools ill funded under a racialist, classist system in which communities that are White and high-income have more money to supply instruction for their kids than do communities that are minority and low-income. Schools that serve minority, low-income pupils, for illustration, may miss up-to-date equipment, such as computing machines, entree to out-of-class plans that may heighten pupil larning such as field trips to Abbott Labs, basic equipment such as text editions for each pupil, and safe schools that do n’t leak every clip it rains.

Minority pupils who attend schools such as described above face many barriers to academic accomplishment whether they pursue instruction instantly after high school graduation or enroll in an big instruction plan in their ulterior old ages. In colleges and universities, for illustration, racism can negatively impact how minority pupils experience their instruction. Johnson-Bailey, Valentine, Cervero, and Bowles ( 2009 ) found that more than 50 % of Black alumnus pupils experienced racism on campus and suffered from “ isolation, solitariness, disjunction, and favoritism ” that could be attributed to racism ( p. 192 ). Black adult females face favoritism based on both their race and their gender. “ Talking about the influence of racism and sexism in their lives, Johnson-Bailey notes, “ Racism and sexism impact the educational experiences of Black adult females in many ways. As Blacks, they are thought to be intellectually and morally inferior. As adult females, they are held to task for the alleged insufficiency of their gender ‘s mind ” ( P. 91 ). ” ( Baumgartner, 2001, p. 32 ).

Critical race theory argues that racism is “ the enduring, all-pervasive world of American life, and suggests that grownup pedagogues acknowledge this and makes its analysis and confrontation a cardinal characteristic of survey and pattern ” ( Brookfield, 2010, p. 75 ). While non every grownup pedagogue or pedagogue in the higher instruction system will hold that facing racism should be the fulcrum for instruction and acquisition, issues of racism and internalized racism must be addressed in order for pupils to be every bit successful as they can be. Practioners in grownup and higher instruction “ aˆ¦ must go to to racism and racial stereotypes, every bit good as inquiry race-based premises ( which are permeant and internalized ) ” ( Smith & A ; Taylor, 2010, p. 53 ).

The narrative of how race affects larning and development is non wholly negative, nevertheless. Minority pupils who experience racism may be moved to more profoundly encompass their heritage and civilization, thereby repossessing individuality and hammering new waies for positive single development. “ Such bitterness can be directed by more deeply prosecuting with and repossessing one ‘s civilization, history, and heritage, and thereby redefining what it means to be ‘me, ‘ instead than defined ( be either oneself or the dominant civilization ) harmonizing to what one is non aˆ¦ “ ( Smith & A ; Taylor, 2010, p. 53 ).

This developmental procedure can, in bend, take to new paradigms in grownup instruction that lead to better success for minority pupils by integrating socioculturally appropriate beliefs and values into educational pattern. For illustration, the Africentric paradigm “ conceives big instruction as a procedure of developing African-based cognitive and socioeconomic constructions that stress community, mutuality, and corporate action ” ( Brookfield, 2010, p. 73 ). A pattern to turn out of such a paradigm is the usage of narrations and storytelling to ease the learning experiences of persons of colour ( Brookfield, 2010 ).


Like race, gender can be used by a sexist society to throw up a barrier to adult females ‘s development and negatively impact their acquisition experiences. In a civilization where the default homo is seen as a White male, the theoretical account for single homo development has been structured around White, male life experiences. As a consequence, when compared to these androcentric theoretical accounts of development, adult females are frequently seen as lacking.

For illustration, Kohlberg ( 1981 ) developed a theoretical theoretical account depicting the phases of moral development that is one of the most influential theories in psychological science today ( Haggbloom et al., 2002 ). Now matter how influential his theory is, his research findings were based merely on male participants, and other theoreticians, such as Carol Gilligan ( 1977 ) have contended that his work, hence, is unequal to explicate adult females ‘s moral development. Unlike Kohlberg ‘s ( 1981 ) theoretical account, in which a justness focal point is the next-to-last phase of moral development, Gilligan ( 1982 ) contends that adult females have an moral principle of attention, alternatively.

Merely as there have been challenges to androcentric theoretical accounts of moral development, there have been challenges to the androcentric theoretical accounts of pupil larning development. Challenging Perry ‘s ( 1999 ) theoretical account of pupil development and influenced by Gilligan ( 1982 ), Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberg, and Tarule ( 1986 ) proposed a theoretical account of adult females ‘s ways of acquisition and knowing that emphasized a sense of connexion and interrelatedness. Belenky et Al. ( 1986 ) found that work forces and adult females learn otherwise ; work forces learn in a difficult, fact-based, detached manner, whereas adult females learn best by being able to link their experiences with what they were larning. An illustration of a feminist pedagogical method based on Belenky et Al. ( 1986 ) can be found in an undergraduate Earth scientific discipline category taught by Mayberry and Rees ( 2009 ).

Mayberry and Rees ( 2009 ) set out to develop an Earth scientific discipline category that would try to better adult females ‘s battle with scientific discipline by making off with traditional scientific discipline category structures that frequently alienate adult females. For illustration, instead than holding rigorous talks and labs, Mayberry and Rees ( 2009 ) took their category into the field. In one instance, their category took a fieldtrip to Death Valley to analyze sedimentary sedimentations, something that brought their schoolroom treatments place to female pupils, who found it easier to understand theoretical geology by seeing and touching geological formations.

Admiting that adult females and work forces develop otherwise is helpful because it allows practioners to utilize a scope of manners and techniques to determine larning environments, instead than accept a one-size-fits-all theory. However, even with this widening of position, developmental theories are at danger of portraying all adult females as indistinguishable, which may make every bit much injury as theories that portrayed all worlds as identical. “ aˆ¦ this subtext can take to a simplified portraiture of reliable adult females as homogenous, unsophisticated, and harmonious, and it can besides take to some ill-conceived and simplistic efforts to be after learning experiences for them ” ( English, 2006, p. 17 ). What is true across the board, nevertheless, is that gender plays a important function in the sum of power and privilege adult females have ( Johnson-Bailey, Baumgartner, & A ; Bowles, 2010, p. 342 ).

Gender besides can forbid full engagement by adult females in grownup and higher instruction, even in the Western universe where a big bulk of postsecondary pupils are adult females ( Allen, Dean, & A ; Bracken, 2008 ). For illustration, in 1949, Harvard Divinity School Dean Willard Sperry spoke out against adult females ‘s admittance to the school because it would, he opined, lower academic criterions since adult females chiefly went into spiritual instruction and taught Sunday school, a occupation that did non necessitate academic asperity in its workers ( Braude, 2006, p. 375 ).

Womans are still more likely to be clustered into Fieldss that are seen as traditionally female or that rely on adult females ‘s socialisation as health professionals, such as instruction and nursing, and are less likely to prosecute callings in mathematics and the difficult scientific disciplines. Women besides face added barriers to the chase of grownup instruction that many work forces do non confront, peculiarly in respects to their household duties. For illustration, Maher, Ford, and Thompson ( 2004 ) found that adult females graduate pupils who were late-finishers of their doctor’s degrees faced important barriers in respects to child-care duties and matrimonial jobs as opposed to adult females who were early-finishers. As a consequence, it was hard for them to equilibrate their household and educational duties.


Class – or instead, deficiency of entree to fiscal resources – is one of the primary grounds that low-income grownups do non prosecute either postsecondary instruction or grownup instruction chances ( Merriam et al., 2007 ). Harmonizing to Ginsberg and Wlodkowski ( 2010 ), hapless grownups are among the least likely pupils to inscribe in higher instruction and, if they do go on to inscribe, they are least likely to graduate. As with minority pupils, this is non because hapless pupils go on to be lazy, unmotivated, or less intelligent than non-poor pupils, despite a research focal point that has focused chiefly on “ single ‘s motive, attitudes, beliefs, behaviours, place in the life rhythm, and so on ” ( Merriam et al., 2007, p. 67 ).

Rather, hapless pupils frequently have to do the pick between traveling to school and traveling to work ( Gollnick & A ; Chinn, 2006 ). Furthermore, in hapless households, i.e., a individual female parent with kids, the pick is made even more hard ; although a college instruction or enfranchisement might better the female parent ‘s earning capacity, the demands of her household must come foremost, and she may happen herself in a catch-22.

Sadly, everything about traveling to school is expensive. Not merely is tuition dearly-won, even at province universities, but fees, books, and room and board or transposing disbursals can be more than an grownup scholar can afford. For illustration, poorness is an of import factor in whether or non an person can take portion in engineering driven acquisition ( Norris & A ; Conceicao, 2004 ). It does non count whether the scholar wants to inscribe in an on-line grade plan or whether his or her traditional degree plan requires an on-line category. If the scholar is hapless, he or she may non hold entree to the engineering needed to take part. “ While computing machine monetary values continue to drop, the monetary value of a computing machine with proctor, talkers, package, and a pressman can be every bit much as 10 to 15 per centum of a poorness flat income for a household of four ” ( Norris & A ; Conceicao, 2004, p. 74 ). In add-on, the scholar may non hold been given computing machine direction in primary or secondary instruction and may be computing machine nonreader, and, because of work and household duties, may non hold the clip to go literate in order to take part in the on-line acquisition experience.

Computer illiteracy is non the lone barrier that low-income scholars face in accessing educational experiences. The hapless deficiency the cultural capital needed to win in an educational system designed for a middle-class civilization ( Jarvis, 1985 ). In other words, the Western instruction system is designed to run into the demands of the in-between category ; the lower category, while educated publicly up to a certain point, is non needfully welcomed and supported. For illustration, instructors may be biased against lower-income pupils and anticipate them to execute more ill academically than other pupils ( Gollnick & A ; Chinn, 2006 ). Poor high school pupils, as a consequence, may be steered toward less challenging classs that may go forth them unprepared to go to the best colleges and universities, despite the rational ability to make so.

Despite challenges, nevertheless, low-income pupils who participate in grownup instruction plans together can frequently be successful in their acquisition ends. Prins, Toso, and Schafft ( 2009 ) found that when destitute adult females participated in nonformal grownup instruction or household literacy plans, they bonded together in a familial manner, back uping each other in ways that non merely helped them accomplish their educational ends but besides improved their mental wellness every bit good.

Sexual Orientation

A pupil ‘s sexual orientation can besides negatively impact his or her development and acquisition experiences. Lesbian, bisexual, homosexual, and transgender ( LGBT ) pupils who are non out to their household, equals or instructors may confront important anxiousness about whether or non to unwrap their sexual orientation ( Messinger, 2004 ). Harmonizing to Messinger ( 2004 ), they may fear for their personal safety or they may fear that they will be judged as less competent or professional if a current or future employer knows their sexual orientation. They may besides be concerned about loss of parental emotional and fiscal support ( Freedman, 2009 ). These frights play an of import portion in pupil development in educational environments. LGBT pupils who are non out about their sexual orientation prior to college may elect to come out while at school if they perceive their abode hall environment to be supportive of their sexual individuality ( Evans & A ; Broido, 1999 ).

Unfortunately, even LGBT pupils who are out at college face challenges that impede acquisition. Their heterosexual equals may aim them for torment or injury ; Rey and Gibson ( 1997 ) found that about a 3rd of heterosexual pupils admitted perpetrating a harmful behaviour against a LGBT pupil. Out pupils may see academic reprisals every bit good as physically and emotional torment from educational decision makers and instructors who disapprove of their sexual orientation. Some colleges and universities still prevent LGBT nines from being active on campus, striping pupils of entree to societal support that could take to betterments in academic accomplishment ( Gollnick & A ; Chinn, 2006 ). Such hostile environments could negatively impact the academic public presentation of LGBT pupils ( Gollnick & A ; Chinn, 2006 ).

Openness about sexual orientation in the college environment can besides take to benefits for LGBT pupils. Newman, Bogo, and Daley ( 2008 ) found that among societal work pupils undertaking field direction, the revelation of sexual individuality improved their learning experience and potentially enhanced their interactions with their clients around issues of gender:

Self-disclosure was identified as heightening a pupil ‘s acquisition chances. For illustration, field teachers spoke about the importance of pupils ‘ self-disclosure within the context of the field instructor/student relationship to treating sexuality-related issues that arise during their work with clients. ( Newman et al., 2008, p. 222 ).

Undergraduate pupils who were out about their individuality besides experienced positive acquisition results. Harmonizing to explorative research conducted by Longerbeam, Inkelas, Johnson, and Lee ( 2007 ), out cheery work forces had “ the highest average tonss for an array of rational results, including using acquired cognition to different contexts, growing in cognitive complexness, and development of a personal doctrine ” ( p. 224 ). The challenges and barriers that gay pupils had to get the better of in their academic and societal lives may hold better prepared them for growing in critical thought accomplishments, tolerance, and credence ( Longerbeam et al., 2007 ).


Race, gender, category, and sexual orientation – in add-on to other features such as geographical location, spiritual background, and ability/disability position – affect us non merely in our development but besides in how we experience educational environments and our acquisition procedure. In many instances, our sociocultural features may intend that we face important societal inequalities. Because of racism and sexism, certain scholars may experience that they are non meriting of educational chances or may hold become convinced that they are non capable or academic accomplishment.

Members of the dominate civilization who hold racialist and sexist positions may – consciously or unconsciously – deny entree to persons who “ do non belong. ” Learners who are low-income may non hold had entree to of import educational chances and acquisition tools and, as a consequence, may hold to fight to get the better of shortages in their grownup and higher instruction experiences. Students who are sapphic, homosexual, bisexual, or transgendered may confront really existent menaces to their physical safety in educational environments. As a consequence, they may “ remain in the cupboard, ” and be denied a full blossoming of the exploratory larning procedure.

Yet, the state of affairs is non all negative. Students who face challenges related to their sociocultural features may hold really positive acquisition results because their ability to negociate and get the better of challenges makes them better prepared for advanced acquisition ( Longerbeam et al., 2007 ). Learners can be assisted on their journey by grownup pedagogues and pedagogues in the higher acquisition system that have a strong apprehension of “ how societal unfairnesss based on assorted properties including race, category, and gender affect grownup development and acquisition ” ( Baumgartner, 2001, p. 32 ). With such an pedagogue, non merely can pupils see positive educational results, but besides they may be inspired to work toward societal justness and alteration for others who besides face barriers to full development and educational chance.