This is Part 5 of a series of posts designed to help us explore our work and leadership through the lenses of dominant power and liberatory power.

The inequities of dominant power are experienced by children in many different ways depending on their identity and social context but there are common patterns that are experienced across multiple contexts.. 

A curriculum that promotes the culture and identities of dominant groups while ignoring or demeaning the child’s own identity and culture.

  • Opening up your school books everyday and never seeing your identity represented apart from in patronising and demeaning ways. 
  • Being taught a version of history that centres the narratives of the dominant group while either hiding the narrative of your people, or only hearing them in the ways they have been interpreted by others. 
  • Being discouraged or forbidden to learn in your native language because it has been framed as inferior or irrelevant. 
  • Seeing that the knowledge you bring with you into the classroom, and the knowledge that your community holds does is not seen as valuable in the context of your ‘education’. 
  • ‘Success’ is being defined in ways that do not reflect the context, culture and aspirations of your community.
Elijah Miles Who’s Defining Success?

Dominant classroom practices and environments that enforce conformity, compliance and competition in comparison to others. 

  • Your teacher is positioned as the source of all knowledge and authority. 
  • Questioning that knowledge or authority is punished, compliance and conformity is rewarded. 
  • Your value is defined by your capacity to absorb and repeat knowledge rather than to ask why. 
  • The knowledge you bring with you from your home and community is not considered valid. Knowledge is only seen as valid when it comes from people with power. 
  • You rarely have an opportunity to critically question the injustices and inequalities you see around you and explore their underlying causes. 
  • It’s hard to find a connection between what you are learning and your everyday needs. 
  • Learning is compartmentalised and the holistic connection between things is severed through categorisation. 
  • Only your intellectual expression is validated as part of the learning process, emotional and spiritual wisdom is de-legitimised. 
  • Your worth is defined in comparison with, and competition against, others. 

The consequences of dominant classroom practices and curriculums for children who are being marginalised is the internalisation of .. ‘who I am is not valued here, and I can either choose to be rejected by this space and stay true to who I am, or believe what they are telling me and try to change myself in a way that means I will be accepted’. This can be experienced either consciously or unconsciously.  

The other consequence is that we may learn to accept the way that the world is and our place within it. Understanding that the best way to survive is to conform to power and to compete with others for the rewards that those in positions of dominance offer in exchange for our compliance. 

A hierarchical relationship between the school and your community that reflects a belief that education should be imposed upon marginalised communities in order to ‘fix’ them or help children ‘escape’ them. 

  • There are none, or very few people from the community who are in a position to make or influence decisions at the school. 
  • Your parents are only invited into the school when there is a problem, and are often seen as the source of the problem. 
  • Your school leaders and teachers do not have deep relationships with your community or feel a sense of belonging and solidarity. 
  • When you hear school staff talking about your parents and community in a mostly negative sense. 
  • What you are learning in the classroom feels disconnected from your community context and when your community is discussed it is only to address problems or things that need to be fixed. 
  • There are few spaces or opportunities for community members to participate in the learning process and rarely opportunities for your community’s identity, history and culture to be celebrated.

One of the main consequences of a dominant school/community relationship is that children can start to see their community as a place to escape from or ‘to fix’. And while there may be many challenges in their community, and sometimes there are legitimate reasons why a child would want to leave, this dynamic between the school and the community just reinforces underlying problems. 

Another consequence is that we miss out on having the wisdom and cultural nutrients that are already present in our communities as a critical part of our education.

A lack of support to help you address additional needs that come when dealing with the effects of poverty, marginalisation and trauma. 

  • You are often hungry at school. 
  • You learn differently, which can make it challenging to keep up in class but there is no one to support you. 
  • You are punished when you are late or couldn’t do your homework due to reasons outside of your control. 
  • You have nowhere safe to go when you are dealing with trauma or challenges outside or inside the school. 
  • There are no spaces for you to heal with other students who are going through similar things as you.

The consequence of going to a school that not only does not recognise or respond to your additional needs (and may even punish you for them) does deep psychological and emotional damage to students. Not only does it impede learning it can also intensify the experience of trauma by creating a toxic environment where students do not feel seen, safe or loved.

A lack of preparation to navigate and change society due to lack of awareness about (or will to address) the unjust realities facing marginalised students.. 

  • You have not had the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills needed to survive, thrive and lead in a society where you may face bias, discrimination, abuse and criminalisation. 
  • You have not had the opportunity to develop healing techniques that allow you to work with the pain and trauma you experience as you endure the effects of social oppression.
  • You have not had the opportunity to recognise and cultivate your true power and the incredible ways you can contribute towards making the world a more just place. 

The consequences of going to schools that do not prepare us to navigate and change our society is that we are left less prepared to overcome the different forces of dominant power that are working against us. Instead of being prepared to navigate oppressive systems, heal from the trauma they inflict and find creative ways to make change, we are denied opportunities to grow the awareness we need to be able to define the true nature of our reality and access the power we have within to transform it. 

Wisdom Amouzou’s experience in the US Anca Mezei’s experience in Romania Esther Rakete’s  experience in New Zealand              Seema Kamble’s experience in India 

*Videos produced for Teach For All


Take a moment to think back to your own experience as a student at school..

  • How was your experience similar or different to what has been shared above? Consider your own identities, how do you think your school experience was affected by the biases & prejudices that exist in your society? 
  • Take a moment to consider the students in the schools and classrooms where you work.. How similar or different is their experience to your own? What steps can you take to be able to better understand how education is being experienced by students in your context?

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