Climate Strike protest – Truancy or Field Trip?

Friday saw children across the world walking out of schools to spend the day protesting their governments’ approaches to dealing with Climate Change and the impending doom awaiting us as the ice caps melt. Climate Change is real, but eyebrows have been raised over the effectiveness and appropriateness of children sacrificing a day of their education to hold a protest.

Is it their democratic right? Is it truancy? Is it making a stand? Are they puppets for their left-wing parents’ views? Should non-voters be involved in the policy making process? Are protests an effective way to affect change?

Many questions were raised. Few were answered. Let’s see what happened.

Greta Thunberg – The brains behind Climate Strike

The media have traced the climate strike back to Swedish school girl Greta Thunberg. She originally sat outside the Swedish parliament in the lead up to their parliamentary elections in October 2018, skipping school in favour of protesting against the Swedish government not reducing its carbon emissions. She wasn’t a complete nobody. Her mother is Melana Ernman is a famous Swedish opera singer and her father Svante Thunberg appeared in an episode of Skärgårdsdoktorn (Sweden’s answer to Doc Martin or perhaps Seachange). A cynical person would say nepotism and connections go a long way in helping raise somebody’s profile.

She’s been widely credited with planting the seed of an idea for the world-wide youth Climate Strike movement, which has seen a series of protests culminate in Friday’s global protest. In her TED talk she speaks directly about the notion we know what solutions are and that governments are not enacting them.

The Leaders

The response from leaders has been telling and obvious. By all accounts the truth of Climate Change, built on science and facts, is being largely ignored by the right. Meanwhile the left put their support behind the protests and calls for reform.

It’s certainly concerning that an issue that surely transcends politics has become more concerning for one side of the fence, and not the other.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s response to the protests in November was: “We are committed to all off these things, but I will tell you what we are also committed to – kids should go to school”.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, had the terrorist attack to deal with on Friday, but met students and said earlier in the week, “Don’t underestimate the power of your voice. I think too often we make this assessment that in order to have an impact you have to be of voting age. That is just not the case.”

French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the UN Environmental Assembly this week: “The damage that we will have to account for is immense. Immense. And now our youth wants us to hurry up. They’re saying that we’re not going fast enough. They are protesting, and rightly so. We need the anger of our young people, because it’s what’s pushing us to act faster and more forcefully.”

Donald Trump was presumably preoccupied by the Mueller report. But I think we can second-guess his opinion.

The UK Prime Minister Theresa May gave comment in February via her official spokesperson saying, “Everybody wants young people to be engaged in the issues that affect them most so that we can build a brighter future for all of us. But it is important to emphasise that disruption increases teacher’s workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for.” – Well, don’t get me started here. If she wants to win brownie points with the education system, she’ll need to meet some union demands before saccharine remarks about “carefully prepared” lessons sways opinion.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said, “I fully understand the concerns people feel. But we must also make it an opportunity. It can’t just be a fear.”

The Parents

Obviously, an event like this raises the questions about how the young protestors will get to the event. Whether they will be able to make their own way there or if they will be safe when they get there, are all concerns for parents. Wisely some parents accompanied their children to the event. Even more wisely, they took public transport, so you can’t say they are burning unnecessary fossil fuels.

Comedian and actor Kerry Godliman took her daughter:

 

Australian media personality Yumi Stynes caught the bus:

View this post on Instagram

ON OUR WAY #climatestrike #strike4climate

A post shared by Yumi Stynes (@yumichild) on

 

Instagrammer Nataly Elbaz Björklund took some babies and friends along:

View this post on Instagram

On Friday, Erik, Andreas and I joined 1.4 million youths from around the world in protesting climate change. 2,083 protests took place in 125 countries. Our future and the future of generations to come is nearing the point of no return, we have less than 12 years to undo our mistakes, to make sure that we leave a functional planet for the next generation – to make sure that they HAVE a future. 🌎 . You are never too young or too old to act, and it is up to us to do everything in our power to help solve this crisis. Change must come, there is no wealth on a dead planet. What you do makes a difference – so raise your voice for the planet and for your children, because their lives are in your hands. . . . . . #fridaysforfuture #climatestrike #climatechange #sustainableliving #climatechangeisreal #ecoliving #ecolifestyle #youthstrike4climate #extinctionrebellion #climateaction #marchforourlives #environment #sustainablefashion #schoolstrike4climate #noplanetb #climateaction #getwoketotheplanet

A post shared by Nataly Elbaz Björklund (@natalyelbaz) on

 

Jimmy Barnes and his wife Jane caught the train:

 

Thunberg’s mother posted a picture of the protestors in Italy:

The Schools

The Guardian let the school children guest edit their publication:

‘So today we walk out of school, we quit our college lessons, and we take to the streets to say enough is enough. Some adults say we shouldn’t be walking out of classes – that we should be “getting an education”. We think organising against an existential threat – and figuring out how to make our voices heard – is teaching us some important lessons.’

Sure, a lot can be learnt from protesting. But do it in your own time. Some people have argued the government won’t be sitting on weekends. So, do it on the school holidays. The attack on education is unfair for several reasons. Foremost that education must be seen to be delivered without bias. If teachers began espousing strong views in either direction on any number of issues, there would be outcry. Additionally, there are plenty of causes that warrant the attention of the youth and probably need protests held for their causes also. But if we allow one, we could be starting a nasty precedent for many more. I can think of at least 365 things to protest about, and that’s more than there are days in the school year.

Further there has been the accusation of lack of Climate Change content in the school curriculums. Again, there is only room for so many issues at a time, and Climate Change gets its fair share of curriculum space. It has not been ignored.

I remember school in the 1990s where we were educated widely about the ever-growing hole in the ozone layer, caused by the unnecessary use of aerosol cans. We were taught not to throw our plastic into the ocean, when Mr Burns stitches together thousands of plastic six-pack-rings to catch some sea life. We’ve known since Blinky Bill, Ferngully and The Lorax that chopping down trees is bad. We’ve had a climate change message for years. I find it unfair to put the burden of this lack of action upon schools.

Educators have worked further in integrating the awareness of Climate Change into curriculums with discussions around sustainable fashion, ethical food sources and entire parts of Geography curriculums dedicated to Climate Change.

To put things into practical terms, I’ve worked at a school where they banned children from bringing in any packed lunches with clingfilm wrapped sandwiches, foil wrapped food or disposable drink containers. How many work places have done the same?

The Numbers

It is estimated 2000 protests were held in 125 countries. It is thought more than one million protestors attended. It sounds like a big number. But then again five trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year.

I hope the protestors took their packed lunches in reusable shopping bags. Just saying.

The Result

We will wake up tomorrow morning and the planet will still be careering towards inevitable annihilation. The governments will still pontificate and tweak policies to delay any action. Greta and her global warriors will continue shouting to be heard. Schools will celebrate Climate Change week in October. Everyone will turn their lights off for one hour at the end of this month for Earth Hour.

People will continue to make token gestures, protest governments and offset our carbon emissions. But all these things will be in vain, if we don’t REDUCE our emissions in the first place.

Maybe our biggest problem is we’re dealing with Climate Change in the same way we deal with our individual impending dooms. We have that extra chocolate bar even though it will give us diabetes, drink that extra beer that’s damaging our liver, smoke the cigarette that shortens the lifespan of our lungs or chow down that fried breakfast despite the bacon fat lining the insides of our arteries. For Climate Change we use a plastic bag just that once, we drink coffee from a non-recyclable cup or we burn through a tank of petrol to go on a joy ride, thinking all the while it’s just one little piece of damage.

We can’t bury our head in the sand. We must take effective action. Painting some slogans on recycled cardboard won’t save the penguins from heat stroke. I wonder how many of those protestors on Friday simply jumped on the bandwagon. How many of them are well informed? Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything is a good starting point to understand the shades of grey in this issue. There are economic forces dictating the decisions made by big companies and governments. It is not as simplistic (despite being idealistic) to reduce all emissions to zero. The flow on to our own standards of living would be affected, as we’ve become dependent on the consumerism of the capitalist society.

I hope the students who took the day off school have learnt enough to make some daily choices. Here’s five starting points:

  • Always use reusable shopping bags (if you forget one, only purchase what you can carry in your arms).
  • Only purchase loose fruit and vegetable to avoid surplus packaging.
  • Only travel by foot, bicycle and public transport (no matter how average your local public transportation is – if you can’t get somewhere, maybe you don’t need to go in the first place).
  • Cook in non-stick dishes and dishes with covers to avoid ever using foil, baking paper or cling film.
  • Buy quality and ethical clothing, avoiding fast fashion. And repair your clothes. (most of the old stuff you send to charity ends in landfill).

They made a lot of noise on Friday, but please don’t make a campaign for Climate Change an attack on education.

Kid #10 – The kid who wasn’t there

The tenth kid I hated was never there.

For the first four months I taught him, I assumed he was a misprint on my register. Two months into teaching his Year 10 English class, I asked the administration staff whether he needed to be removed from the roll. I was informed he had been enrolled and the department were trying to track him down.

The department are trying to track him down? I thought to myself. How hard can it be? Is this kid the modern day Frank Abagnale of Year 10? Were we about to find him performing laparoscopic surgery at Royal Perth Hospital?

Yes, very, yes and no – respectively.

It turned out he had been spending time with his aunts and uncles in Geraldton, a major coastal port city, 400 kilometres north of Perth. Presumably he had not been attending school up there; otherwise he would have been registered on the state school database. Nor did I imagine his aunts and uncles had been providing him with the necessary pedagogical environment to further his academic education.

Things would have been a lot easier if his family had at least scrawled on a piece of paper letting the school know he had metaphorically (or actually) “gone fishing” – no doubt a rewarding decision considering he was mostly absent during rock lobster season.

When the child finally turned up, sometime in May, the other students treated him like a spectacle. His mere presence was excuse for distraction. They of course wanted to ask all the questions adults were too polite to ask. Worse than that, he was given some god-like status for his ability to have thwarted the system for so long without repercussion.

Having no background information on the child at this point, and knowing he had missed four months of learning, I started him off on Monday with a series of short Year 10 grammar exercises. Even with the teaching assistant watching over him, he struggled to string much together verbally, let alone write it down. By Friday, I had worked him down to Year 6 work, which was still not much easier than drawing blood from a stone.

The following Monday he was gone again.

I never saw him again. Ever.

Truancy for any reason is bad news. Whether or not a parent has their own views on the school system as an institutionalised whole, is irrelevant. Truanting is bound to cause an unhealthy cycle of avoidance from any future life obstacles. Additionally staying at home seems fun for a while, but inevitably there’s only so many times you can watch re runs of The Big Bang Theory, before you end up with Sheldon Cooper’s social skills minus the science doctorates.

Additionally for the child I had in my class, the root cause of his transience across the state of Western Australia, was most likely due to his Aboriginal culture. Sure, the government bureaucrats will say it’s because the indigenous people have substance abuse problems, health problems, teen pregnancy, negative school experiences and the list goes on; but there is the ever undeniable displacement of the aboriginal people which caused the problem back in January 1788.

The Aboriginal children I’ve worked with, have been nothing short of enthusiastic. There is always a strong sense of family and community. Sometimes a family may take their children to a completely different part of the countryside for a family funeral or major cultural event that involves ceremonies lasting days or even weeks. The unfortunate thing is, in the now changed and modern world it’s not always practical to rely entirely on this structure for your children’s future. Time out of school may cost them their future. There needs to be engagement between the Aboriginal communities and the school systems.

The wise and unprejudiced Australian leader Tony Abbott placed student attendance officers in some of the most rural parts of Australia at the beginning of 2014. (Not before re-allocating funds from pre-existing attendance strategies in schools1). The West Australian journalist Angela Pownall outlined how in early 2014 a government entourage followed some of these attendance officers around as they politely knocked on each of the doors of each of the homes of each of the students in Carnarvon – a coastal town situated over 450 kilometres north of Geraldton.

When the officers attended the homes there was “no response at the first two houses”; “a Year 8 student’s father is getting ready to leave for work while his daughter is still in bed”, because the daughter was “up until the early hours playing on her phone”; plus officers “carry a megaphone, mainly so they can use its high-pitched sound to ward off unfriendly dogs”.

The problem is complex and the solution is not on this blog.

But next time I head down the jetty, with my fishing rod, I doubt I’ll invite the kid I taught for one week of 52 – I probably wouldn’t be able to find him in the first place.

1Local Action to tackle truancy, Angela Pownall, Weekend West – February 8 2014