Social justice reflects in our history of inequalities while revealing where we are today, tomorrow and the future. Social justice is about political, economic, and social rights for gender, sexual orientation, race, and class that has created heated dialogue in research, in classrooms and in everyday life which opens up dialogue concerning power and the disadvantaged. For most adult learners as our world grows, progresses, and changes it can modify values and beliefs as data is collected from numerous resources resulting in critical reflection and social change.
In my heart I know there are more than two genders in our world and the “binary system” theory has failed and in turn we are seeing an increase in social injustices for groups such as the transgenders, transsexuals, intersexed, and two-spirit. I feel that social justice needs to be in place for all genders, non-conforming sexual oriented individuals, of people in different classes, and races as society still picks and chooses who to privilege and who to place in the “other” category.
Being a woman I know firsthand the struggles for equality. I have watched one woman literally transition into a man and seen the tables of social justice turn in favor of the man he became. I witnessed this woman who only graduated high school and worked at a casino counting cash. The pay rate was nine dollars and fifty cents an hour. She had been employed by the casino for three years with only one raise and no promotion. She knew her forthcoming transition would cause a reaction at her job and so she spilled the beans at the time when being on testosterone helped in the appearance of being a man. She wore suits and ties and gained confidence on her journey. The company embraced the changes and offered her a promotion as a man and a large increase in pay. Where was the social justice in seeing a woman, suppressing her capabilities, and oppressing her career potential? As new lenses were worn a man was seen and rewarded partly due to his gender while the woman was being penalized because of her gender.
Companies have the right to create their policies and to enforce them for instance, to question whether to incorporate and value diversity and if so then the workplace culture changes and becomes more open minded and respectful of others regarding applying the principles of what social justice means to gender, sexual orientation, race and class. I have experienced as an assistant controller at a seafood company the injustice of discrimination to men. I had worked at the company for five years and in the accounting department it was only me and the Controller, a male. We were growing rapidly and becoming more international than ever before after five years. I had been chosen to interview applicants to find an assistant to help me in the workload. I interviewed many diverse individuals and narrowed it down to three women and one man. I felt the man was the most qualified for the position. In discussing my decision with my boss I was told to follow the policy of the company and that stated no men were to be hired in the accounting department. He had forgotten that I spent three months writing the company policy with their lawyers. There was nothing in the policy that backed up his personal feelings. Although, I do remember having to put in place a paragraph that went, “If the owner of the company brings in an oozy to work, no-one else can bring in an oozy to work unless they have permission to do so by the owner,” but that is for a different topic.
At that time he was my mentor and after his demand I lost total respect for the man who was implementing discrimination in the workplace. Some workplaces and schools are beginning to incorporate social justice values and beliefs in mission statements, yet we have so much further to go to balance social justice leading to justice for all genders, races, classes, and sexual orientated.
What is on my mind is how to create a society were social justice means something and to develop a plan for raising awareness. I think of educational values of schools that promote diversity as I would like to create a class based on gender studies in order to create dialogue of what is unfamiliar to most adult learners for instance, feminism or transgenderism while basing it on the acceptance and respect of other people. Merryfield (2006) stated, “The practice of critical and engaged reflection has a dramatic impact in facilitating learning around social justice, and the process is made particularly visible and interactive through the use of threaded discussions” (Guthrie & McCracken, 2010, n.p.).
It is within the practice of adult education where social justice is confronted in a collective open dialogue within a safe environment incorporating theories of gender, class, race, and sexual orientation resulting in a transformational stage of participation and inclusion. According to Kasworm, Rose & Ross-Gordon (2010), “Scholars have emphasized the dearth of literature on the LGBTTQ issues in education, (Gedro, 2007), the need to challenge the heteronormative (Grace & Wells, 2007), a call for inclusion of LGBTTQ issues in various contexts including the adult education classroom and curriculum (e.g., Misawa, 2005), sexual differences as a learning opportunity (e.g., Gedro et al., 2004), and strategies used to conter heteronormativity (Wells, 2006) and to create more inclusive environments for LGBTTQ individuals (Harley, Nowak, Gassaway, & Savage, 2002) (Johnson-Bailey, Baumgartner & Bowles cited in Kasworm, Rose & Ross-Gordon, 2010, p. 344).
Furthermore, one of my concerns that I find most troubling is the adverse reaction and negative criticisms, and the anger that people possess. It is important to tread lightly concerning religious beliefs, traditional narratives passed down through generations supporting injustices, and culture factors regarding gender, sexual orientation, class and race. History has proven there is a hierarchy in place for race, class and gender so how do you teach someone who will not listen as your words fall on deaf ears? How do you explain the social injustices of our world if they are part of the problem? We know that to motivate a learner is to teach them what is relevant and meaningful to their lives and I believe this begins with dialogue on social justice and the many different ways it affects them personally. Is it possible the learner is unaware of the injustices built into their own belief system? How can I as an educator break down those types of barriers? Is it possible for the adult learner to realize that nothing is written in stone regarding bias, racism and discrimination? Therefore communally we have the power break down the walls of stone to correct these wrongs and create positive social change. Social justice to me is where a diverse group becomes the place of a collective goal where all voices can be heard including those who were marginalized, stereotyped and disadvantaged where inclusion, participation and respect are what matters first.
The concepts of social justice are creeping into facets of our lives and affect each one of us directly or indirectly. I am finding comfort in that my beliefs and values are shared and even hopeful that social justice will continue to be on the forefront of people’s minds whether in corporation workplaces, in classroom settings and/or in daily discourse. It is through these systems that the door is open to the awareness of injustices and discriminations in society while giving the opportunity to critically reflect upon solutions in order to create social change.
I identify with adult education for social justice because as an educator it will be my responsibility to prepare students in how to deal with social injustices and how to teach problem solving methods that lead to social change hence, creating social justice. In my opinion, social justice is part of a progression in which to create change through community based learning as Freire (1993) wrote, “Problem-posing education affirms men and women as beings in the process of becoming” (p. 84).
In my future work as an educator of gender studies I know that there will be some animosity and even an unwillingness to challenge an adult learner’s perspective rather than confront them with personal beliefs leading to defensive words. I will interject with questions for reflections and begin with how do you think the other student feels after the negative comment was made?
Social justice begins with one person, and so on and so on.
Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Rev. 30th Anniversary ed. New York: Continuum.
Guthrie , K. L. & McCracken, H. (2010). Teaching and Learning Social Justice through Online
Service-Learning Courses. 11 (3). Retrieved from,
Kasworm, C., Rose, A. & Ross-Gordon, J.M. (2010). Handbook of Adult and Continuing
Education. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.