Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Diane Goodman provides new insights for educating privileged people about social justice

This year, progress in the field of social justice education takes a jump forward with the release of Diane J. Goodman’s Promoting Diversity and Social Justice: Educating people from privileged groups. This outstanding book, with its understated title, serves to provide both broad and deep insights into an emerging area of educational work: pedagogy for the privileged.

Building on the political necessity of such work, and recognizing that most educators have not been aptly trained for this practice, primarily relying on their intuition, Goodman’s contribution provides extraordinary insights for pedagogical practice with privileged learners. The transformative potential for this practice is considerable, since with success, privileged learners would come to understand their role in sustaining unjust power relations and be motivated to create change.

Goodman’s book may appear modest but great wisdom is embedded within. In fact, she is etching out the creation of this new pedagogy. She pieces together reflections of her own practice and an extensive synthesis of the literature. Although various authors have addressed theoretical and practical elements of a pedagogy for the privileged before the publication of this volume, Promoting Diversity and Social Justice is the first work that both extricated and compiled this emergent perspective in a single location.

Goodman stops short of synthesizing this work as pedagogy. She identifies many elements of such practice yet chooses not to attempt a synthesis. This is perhaps wise as the field is so new that such integration would likely be found to fall short. This leaves the book as offering considerable insights – akin to giving us the pieces of the puzzle without putting them together for us. Pedagogical recommendations are embedded in each section – as she addresses issues of resistance, motivation, and challenges for educators in working in such classrooms.

Significance of this contribution

What is the political significance of this work? Within the academic arena, the new field of “whiteness studies” emerged during the nineties as a significant attempt to examine the agency of whites as both agents of oppression as well as potential forces for ending racial dominance. This field broadens the focus of social justice education from an exclusive emphasis on the emancipation of racial minorities to one that includes the role of whites in unravelling their racial identities. In many communities it is possible to find workshops on anti-oppression or dismantling privilege, as part of serious cohesive attempts to deal with privileged learners and their roles in ending racism. At the practice level, this field is very fertile, with many organizations and educators performing well ahead of the theory.

Goodman’s work connects clearly to that of social justice education. She was, in fact, a student in the social justice program at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), a program at the growing edge of this area and responsible for generating serious scholars and practitioners. Indeed, social justice education is becoming recognized as a distinct field within adult education. This advance has been generated by some texts that preceded Goodman’s book, like Educating for Diversity and Social Justice (Adams, Bell and Griffin, 1997), Teaching for Social Justice (Ayers, Hunt and Quinn, 1998) or Educating for a Change (Arnold, Burke, James, Martin and Thomas, 1991). Working largely within this framework, Goodman provides the much-needed customizing of such pedagogy for privileged learners. Required is much more than the “adding on” of issues – in fact, it appears that the needs of privileged learners are so significantly different from those of marginalized learners that a different pedagogy is called for. Although not articulated in this manner, Goodman is implicitly calling for specific educator training in this field, for educators to recognize the unique learning needs of privileged learners, and for their curriculum, methods and strategies to reflect these needs.

To many, this will undoubtedly sound like there is a revision of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed in motion. More than a revision, this is an expansion of the model, extending the onus of social change beyond the oppressed to the privileged, and in doing so adding another significant force to the toolbox that educators for social change already possess. It is critical to acknowledge the significance that Freire’s popular education model has had on adult education. He has impacted the field like no other in the last 50 years. Freire’s work has provided educators with a handle to remedy unjust power relations. His framework has stimulated social movements to embrace this educational approach as the vehicle through which to create social change. Freire’s approach has focused on the marginalized to raise their awareness of the structural forces that oppress them, and to undertake actions to challenge such oppression. A Freirian-based popular education approach has contributed significantly to social change in some countries during the twentieth century, but it may not be sufficient to address certain contemporary social realities like the education of privileged groups in countries like Canada or the USA.

In considering a remedy to this situation, what would an action-sensitive pedagogy for the privileged look like? At this juncture, the approach taken by Goodman is to frame such behaviour as that of an “ally.” Goodman’s perspective is that allies “make intentional choices to support of work for the rights of those from disadvantaged groups of which they are not a part” (p.164). This is a crucial issue that is increasingly discussed in popular education circles, at least in the ones I am part of. The dilemma is usually put forward in the following terms: should all the popular education efforts be put in supporting movements to end oppression, or is it as important to develop allies among privileged groups who could actively work at dismantling privilege? While they may be two sides of the same coin, the two approaches usually point to radically different organizing work and to pedagogical/political strategies.

Goodman’s work is a form of political education. Working from a top-down approach, rather than Freire’s bottom-up approach, a pedagogy for the privileged offers hope that social and political imperatives can be built to compel the privileged to dismantle systems of domination.  Popular education also compels us to nurture praxis, the integration of reflection and action to complete the learning cycle. Hence, appropriate curriculum for the privileged should integrate action with this learning. Followers of Freire’s work may be disappointed with the relatively scant attention (p.163-66) that Goodman gives to the action side of the praxis. This may be the reason that there has been little attention to this book beyond academic circles. It may also simply be due to poor marketing efforts.

Context and Content

Goodman’s work moves beyond the context of whiteness (where the vast majority of privilege-based theory and practice has evolved) and incorporates various forms of privilege, including gender, class, disability, sexual orientation, age and religion. One query the reader may have is whether this is possible – although Goodman asserts that there are generic features of the transformation process (such as its hidden nature, its normalcy and the resistance that learners embody) that transcend the various forms of privilege. Goodman has clearly avoided the pitfall of placing these forms of privilege in a hierarchical relationship and clearly recognizes the multiplicity of factors interacting in our identities.

Poststructural and postmodern theorists may have problems with the author’s handling of the theory on privilege. Relatively little effort has been made to define privilege and Goodman recognizes that the use of categories to define the agents and targets of oppression may, in themselves, “promote dualistic and dichotomous thinking” (p.7). Yet as inadequate as they may be, categories reflect the manner in which “society views and names individuals, not necessarily on the basis of how people define themselves” (p.7). Tying this issue to pedagogy, Goodman recognizes that all learners typically have an array of privileged and oppressed identities. To address this, she advocates for educators and learners to “temporarily narrow the lens to focus on [one] dimension of one’s experience” (p.9).

The Text

The text is organized to cover a few specific elements of the unique learning needs of privileged learners. Following an introductory chapter that builds the rationale for the book, chapter two addresses the specific context with which privileged learners come to learning environments is addressed. These can loosely be referred to as the unique baggage (drawing from McIntosh’s concept of “unpacking white privilege”) that privileged learners carry with them such as the invisibility of privilege and the normalcy with which superiority and domination function. Chapter three is essentially a literature review of the various contributions made to understanding individual change and development on this theme. An array of individual learning models are presented, including Hardiman and Jackson, Helms, Brookfield, and Kegan. Following the lead of Adams (1997), Goodman draws in Perry’s model of intellectual development and overlays this lens of intellectual capacity on other change models. For the reader, the cumulative effect of these change models is sobering to the impatience and frustration that so frequents the learning environment.

Chapters four and five cover the topic of resistance and how to overcome it. These chapters illustrate Goodman’s keen sense of attention to the lived realities of the privileged learner. It underscores the need for patience in responding to the difficulty privileged learners have in this change process. The next three chapters focus on the vehicles through which privileged learners are motivated to go through this process. One chapter is dedicated to the losses that the privileged learner incurs in living with systems of dominance. This chapter is an extraordinary offering to the educator. It stands to provide us with non-traditional ways to engage the privileged learner in social change. By pausing to consider the harms that come to the privileged from oppression, it creates lifelines that we might throw to these learners – an emancipatory lifeline that might liberate their social identity, both individually and collectively. As educators, we can now offer them clear benefits from being engaged in this transformation process. This might also point community-based educators towards new forms of social marketing of these concepts and workshops.

Chapter nine is a powerful one, written with authenticity and critical self-reflection. It models tremendous courage to face difficult subjects, such as the judgments that educators have of their learners and the times we fall into segregating some as the enemy, or even evil. Illustrating this self-in-process becomes encouraging for the reader, to embark on our own journey of discovery as educators. Also in this chapter, Goodman profiles unique resources to help the educator through difficult times. The mindfulness meditation of Kabat-Zinn is profiled as an aid to help us respond to our triggers and judgments. Buddhist mediations are also drawn upon to promote our compassion towards difficult learners. Martin Luther King, Jr., is also a resource to help us connect to the power of loving our enemies.

The last chapter focuses on hope and possibilities, with Goodman drawing forth concepts from Eisler’s Chalice and the Blade that serve to profile the status quo as the dominator model and the alternative being the equality-based partnership model. This closing chapter provides hope for broad societal change although obviously curtailed by the power and pervasiveness of systems of domination that exist throughout society. It may have been a wiser choice to focus on the hope for what pedagogy for the privileged could bring us elites with a social conscience, whites whose liberation is tied to that of racialized communities and peace processes that problematize privilege, not just oppression.

In sum, what are the elements of the new pedagogy proposed in this book? The primary foundation is that privileged learners have unique needs in coming to understand the nature of this privilege. From a place of principles within adult education, Goodman calls forth our capacity for empathy and acceptance (explicitly) and patience (implicitly), owing to the scope and difficulty of the transformation tasks that face the privileged learner. These shine forth as her starting values.

Steps Forward

This text is written from the perspective of unravelling the needs of privileged learners from those learners who are oppressed. Falling short of the task of re-ravelling, and considering the application of the pedagogy to mixed learning environments (a typical situation for many transformative educators), it is still very worthy to have a comprehensive understanding of the transformative terrain that faces privileged learners. Objectives for the field must include the task of re-ravelling the learning needs of privileged and oppressed learners. There are some very initial writings on this topic (Bell et al, 2003) as they document some of the competing needs of privileged and oppressed learners in the classroom. 

The final question we must pose is whether such an approach to educating privileged learners is overly sympathetic to them and if the patience being advocated serves to thwart the urgency for social justice, or as a colleague recently noted, “hunger is in a hurry.” While we know that the answer must develop as this educational effort is put into practice (and we will grow into an answer), Goodman has made a convincing argument that the transformation process for privileged learners is significantly different from that of oppressed learners. These tasks include making the invisible visible, working through considerable resistance, dealing with the emotional fallout of recognizing the complicity of oneself and one’s kin in oppression and staying motivated to work all this through. If this transformation process is, in fact, unique, then our pedagogy must reflect that reality. Goodman’s book provides the first comprehensive step in understanding that social reality and in guiding educators towards their educational tasks.

Educators engaged in this practice must support the assertion that this transformation process differs for the privileged learner and accordingly must dedicate the required time and resources to the task – a political choice that may or may not be embraced by social movements (this is an easier task for academically-based educators). Accordingly, pedagogy for the privileged stands on fragile and contested ground. The embedded tensions will likely surface in the years to come.


Adams, Maurianne (1997) Pedagogical Frameworks for Social Justice Education. In Adams, Bell and Griffin (Eds) Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge (pp.30-43).

Adams, Maurianne, L. Bell and P. Griffin (1997) Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A sourcebook. New York: Routledge.

Arnold, Rick, B. Burke, C. James, D. Martin, and B. Thomas (1991) Educating for a Change. Toronto: Between the Lines.

Ayers, William, J.A. Hunt and T. Quinn, Editors. (1998) Teaching for Social Justice: A Democracy and Education Reader. New York: The New Press and Teachers College Press. 

Bell, Lee Anne, S. Washington, G. Weinstein and B. Love (2003) Knowing Ourselves as Instructors. In Darder  A, Baltodano, M. and Torres, R. (Eds)  The Critical Pedagogy Reader. New York: Routledge Falmer (pp.464-478).

Bowser, Benjamin and R. Hunt, Editors (1996) Impacts of Racism on White Americans, Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications Ltd.

Curry-Stevens, Ann (2003) An Educator’s Guide for Changing the World: Methods, models and materials for anti-oppression and social justice workshops. Toronto: CSJ Foundation for Research and Education.

Fears, Darryl (2003) Hue and Cry on “Whiteness Studies”: An academic field’s take on race stirs interest and anger. In Washington Post, June 20, 2003, Page A1.

Friedman, Susan (1995) Beyond White and Other: Relationality and narratives of race in feminist discourse. In Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol.21, No.1, (pp.1-49). 

Goodman, Diane (2000) Promoting Diversity and Social Justice: Educating people from privileged groups. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Hardiman, Rita and B. Jackson (1997) Conceptual Foundations for Social Justice Courses. In Adams, Bell and Griffin (Eds.) Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge (pp. 16-29).

Kivel, Paul (1996) Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

Manglitz, Elaine (2003) Challenging White Privilege in Adult Education: A critical review of the literature in Adult Education Quarterly, Vol. 53, Iss. 2 (pp.119-135).

O’Grady, Carolyn (2001) Book Review of Promoting Diversity and Social Justice: Educating people from privileged groups in Transformations, Spring (pp.130-135).

Romney, Patricia, B. Tatum and J. Jones (1992) Feminist Strategies for Teaching about Oppression: The Importance of Process. In Women’s Studies Quarterly, 1&2. (pp.95-110).

Swadener, Beth and H. Harnza (2002) Book Review of Promoting Diversity and Social Justice: Educating people from privileged groups in Multicultural Perspectives, Vol. 4, No.2 (pp.45-46).

By Ann Curry-Stevens (OISE/UT), 2004

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