Tag Archives: climate change

Climate strikes by school children, which erupted in 2019, continue

This week IEN re-posts a blog from the team at the GEM report that looks at the leading role that youth continue to play addressing the global climate emergency. The post provides a follow-up to IEN’s roundup of the decade from 2010-2020 that highlighted a series of stories on youth activism

In the middle of the pandemic, the world’s youth has not lost its focus on the planet’s biggest challenge. School children in Germany are setting up a political party, Klimaliste, standing in local elections. The party has policies aimed at ensuring the Paris agreement climate pledges are not breached. It’s also born out of annoyance at support that the Green party is giving to the local car industry rather than to renewable energy. After years of environmental activism and little change, it seems children’s anger may be the most important and effective campaign for climate action.

As many of the communities most affected by climate change are in low- and middle-income countries, it is unsurprising that climate justice activism by children emerged there. In Latin America, Belizean Madison Pearl Edwards and Ecuadorian Nina Gualinga have stood against threats to biodiversity from climate change and fossil fuel industries since ages 9 and 8. Established in 2006, the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change links the issue with sustainable development, including poverty reduction, and allows youth activists across the continent to share ideas, strategies and lessons.

Government failure to curb carbon emissions, long after the damaging impact on future generations has been established, is the basis of constitutional lawsuits by youth in Europe and in countries elsewhere, including Canada, Colombia, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Uganda and the United States.

Although the recent spotlight on Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg arguably reflects media bias towards Western stories, there is a compelling logic to climate activism in the form of school strikes. One week in September 2019 saw the largest climate mobilization in history, with some 7.6 million taking to the streets. Greta reached her 131st week of school strikes this month. Her strikes inspired the birth of a youth movement, Fridays For Future, whose next day of action is on March 18th, entitled #NoMoreEmptyPromises. Their website details an impressive database of school strikes per country per month. No region is left untouched.

Even though school closures have put a dampener on some of these organised movements this past year, youth activists have found alternative movements. When the COP-20 was postponed, for instance, youth organisations set up their own “Mock COP“, a two-week virtual meeting with dozens of delegates from 140 countries, to show what they would do if they were in charge.

Image: Victoria Pickering

While built on scientific consensus, schoolchildren’s leading role on climate is justified. Younger generations will be more exposed than political decision makers to climate change’s long-term impact. Behind the school strikes is the fact that today’s schooling, devised and provided by adults, will be irrelevant if tomorrow’s planet is uninhabitable. “What will we do with all this development if we are not going to have a future?” asked Ridhima Pandey, who, aged nine, filed a lawsuit against the Indian government in 2017 for failing to take action against climate change.

Education has immediate benefits, but from a capability perspective, which values individual agency, it can also deliver on the promise of greater future capability. Older generations undermine this promise by claiming a bright future through education while destroying its very possibility.

What is certain is that students are more likely to engage in politics with well-designed civics education and an open learning environment that supports discussion of controversial topics and allows students to hear and express differing opinions. A study of 35 countries showed that openness in classroom discussion led to an increase in the intention to participate in politics. Note the peaceful nature of protests by school children as well. The 2016 GEM Report showed that, across 106 countries, people with higher levels of education were more likely to engage in non-violent protests.

It should not be surprising, therefore, that teachers have supported school boycotts. An Education International resolution encouraged affiliates to ‘stand in full solidarity with all students striking or protesting against climate change’ and schools ‘not to take action against students’. Schools for Climate Action argues that schools and educators have legal child protection mandates, and inaction on climate change amounts to child neglect. Academics have set up petitions as well, each signed by well over 1000 in support of school strikes for climate.

It is a shame that children are being forced to miss days of school in order to wake adults up to their wrongdoings. But a wake up call is certainly needed. We stand with teachers and academics in saying that this is a peaceful, and justified movement we should support.

An Interview with Dennis Shirley: The 100th Anniversary Issue of the Lead the Change Series

This week’s post features an interview with Dennis Shirley, is Professor of Education at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development, author most recently of The New Imperatives of Educational Change:  Achievement with Integrity. This 100th Anniversary issue is one of a set of interviews this year in which previous interviewees in the Lead the Change (LtC) Series review their previous responses and consider how they might modify/ adjust/add to what they wrote based on their experiences and insights since publication. The fully formatted interview can be found on the LtC website of the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association.

LtC: How, and in what ways, has your work evolved since the first publication of this piece? What ideas/points still hold true? Which might you revise?

Dennis Shirley: Since I published my original contribution in Lead the Change in 2012, I have studied school networks and innovations in the US, Canada, Germany, Norway, and South Korea.  This research shows just how transformative joint work by educators across schools and systems can be. In the original 2012 contribution, I was most enthusiastic about community organizing for educational change; since then, however, I have seen how community organizations can be co-opted by powerful corporations and their philanthropic agencies. In one particularly egregious case, a community organizing effort in a struggling inner-city high school that had shown signs of improvement led to half of the school being turned over to a charter management organization. The irony here was that the traditional public school continued improving and the charter school part did not in spite of generous philanthropic support. So, there is good and bad community organizing, and I’m more discriminating about promoting that model now.

The one statement that stands out the most for me from my previous piece is “Educators can help to allay nationalist anxieties that have been exploited in times of economic insecurity.” I wish I had stated that point more emphatically in my 2012 Lead the Change submission, given all that has happened since then with the rise of authoritarian populism and contemporary political polarization. I also wish I had been more outspoken about the challenge of climate change and situated that more centrally in contemporary curriculum reform. Finally, at the time of the submission, I was optimistic about the capacity of policy makers to attend to important research findings and to integrate them into their strategies, but now it is apparent that the educational profession will have to find other ways to influence governments than evidence alone, so that political advocacy and coalition-building must become more central components of our professional identities.

LtC: What do these shifts suggest to you about the field of educational change more broadly?

DS: On the one hand, the field of educational change is a small enterprise in what Amitai Etzioni once called the “semi-professional” of teaching, so we have little impact on our large and often unwieldy school systems.  On the other hand, I think we’ve done a good job punching above our weight and nudging systems in good directions, given the magnitude of the challenges that confront us. Even though the larger political environment is marked by

increased insularity in many countries, including my own, I’m encouraged by the overall tenor of our profession and by educators’ determination to question dangerous political ideologies and their ramifications for our students. Because younger generations are less nostalgic for an idealized past, more curious and open to interactions with others from different cultures, and more concerned about climate change than older generations, we have reason for optimism about the future. New technologies are helpful here, by providing for ease of communication and by enabling students to learn how to check facts and to distinguish conspiracy theories from evidence.  I would like to see these tools used more intentionally and skillfully in our schools—which does not mean that we should be blind to the dangerous aspects of the Internet and social media.

“The righteous indignation of youth at the condition of the world they are inheriting deserves honest acknowledgment and continual encouragement.”

What most excites you about the direction of the field of educational change is going? What are the future research directions that should be addressed in the field of educational change?

Several years ago, I was alarmed by the rise of nationalism and decided that it was time to create an on-line masters’ degree program called “Global Perspectives: Teaching, Curricula, and Learning Environments” at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College. I credit this program with providing some of the richest and most rewarding cross-cultural encounters and exchanges I’ve ever experienced. It’s one thing to read about teaching strategies in different places; it’s quite another to have an on-line class with students from Kenya, Nigeria, Germany, Korea, and the US in their classrooms all around the world engaging in spirited debates with one another. Contrary to my worries, students quickly bonded with one another and shared lesson plans and assessment tools in a spirit of collegial generosity. I hope these kinds of experiences both on and off-line will help to promote a new movement of fundamental human solidarity in our schools and societies that will overcome the regrettable tendency to stigmatize outsiders and to impute negative motives to them when none exist. “Love of your country is a beautiful thing,” the cellist Pablo Casals once said, “but why should the love stop at the border?”

LtC: What advice might you have for those interested in affecting change and improvement?

DS: The major piece of advice I would give to anyone entering educational change today would be to avoid the temptation of groupthink. Too often in education, we fall into a kind of mindless parroting of whatever the research du jour is.  Think of the “self-esteem movement,” “emotional intelligence,” “multiple intelligences,” and “growth mindsets,” for example. Each of these ideas spawned a cottage industry of professional development workshops that became all the rage in our schools for years. Eventually, however, it was shown that while each development effort had some basis in fact, each easily became open to misinterpretation and often was implemented in ways damaging for positive youth development. Right now, we are in the midst of a fascination with social and emotional learning in the US (generally referred to well-being elsewhere). I encourage all of us to distinguish between what is positive in this new trend and will help our young people to flourish, and that which is silly happy-talk.  The young know when they are being patronized and appreciate honesty and direct feedback more than we give them credit for. There are serious social and ecological crises that await a rising generation, and the righteous indignation of youth at the condition of the world they are inheriting deserves honest acknowledgment and continual encouragement.

“I would like to see the field of educational change take up this climate challenge in our schools seriously and sustainably.”

LtC: What are the future research directions that should be addressed in the field of educational change?

Political philosopher Hannah Arendt once wrote that “Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it.”  Do we love the world, in this specific sense?  I’m not so sure. Confronting the magnitude of the climate change crisis upon us, I can’t help wondering if we’ve been overlooking some fundamental realities about our human condition:  That we are embodied, that we are interdependent with nature, that we exist in a historical chronology in which we are reliant upon one another for sustenance and shelter. It seems we have been evading these ontological truths, have become caught up in other transient pursuits, and now are having to confront our essential contingency in a planet of breathtaking beauty that we have taken for granted and exploited shamelessly. It’s time for a major pivot for all of us. I would like to see the field of educational change take up this climate challenge in our schools seriously and sustainably.

ABOUT THE LTC SERIES: The Lead the Change series, featuring renowned educational change experts from around the globe, serves to highlight promising research and practice, to offer expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change, and to spark collaboration within the Educational Change SIG; Kristin Kew, Chair; Mireille Hubers; Program Chair; Na Mi Bang, Secretary/Treasurer; Jennie Weiner, LtC Series Editor; Alexandra Lamb, Production Editor