I think about power dynamics a lot, partially because of unschooling, but also because oppression is born out of imbalanced power between different people.

Lately, when I’ve been thinking about power dynamics, I’ve come back to Zakiyya Ismail’s fantastic article articulating the difference between intersectional and bourgeois unschooling. In the article, she compares early feminism with the wave of unschooling that often just shifts power from parent to child. Without seeing childism as intersectional, we end up actually repeating the same oppressive power dynamics, but with someone new at the top and bottom of the relationship. I’ve heard this kind of feminism also referred to as white feminism, when practitioners (mostly white women) refuse to acknowledge racism in their feminism, simply replacing all women as the oppressed with BIPOC women as oppressed. Bourgeois feminism seeks an equal place at men’s table rather than dismantling the systems that perpetuate feminism in the first place. Likewise, bourgeois unschooling seeks to give kids the same power as adults without addressing the issues with this power-over dynamic to being with.

If we don’t acknowledge all oppression in undoing racism or feminism or childism etc, then we are just perpetuating the power-over relationship. Power-over always has to have this authority over someone else, meaning there will always be someone who is being oppressed. If our unschooling isn’t intersectional, our kids are still going to seek to have power over someone else (sometimes parents, sometimes younger siblings). Instead of seeking to re-allocate the power in our relationship with our children, we should seek to dismantle that type of relationship completely.

This is haaaard work. The power-over dynamic exists everywhere for kids: between siblings and grandparents, in classes and school, with friends and colleagues, work and play. Even when we are able to address this directly in our own relationships, I find that there is still remnants power-over learned from other cultural settings. It’s baked in everything we do. When dismantling the power-over dynamic, we need to extend our practice not only to our children, but everyone we interact with both demonstrate and practice what non-oppressive relationships can looks like in a society where oppression is everywhere.