Graham Frost is headteacher of the Robert Ferguson primary school in Carlisle and he contributed a blog here earlier in the year following his school’s successful organising of a climate summit.

Late last month he contributed to the #iwill conference which featured the launch of Transform Our World – a digital repository of teaching resources for schools by Global Action Plan and others.  A video of his response to the question can be viewed here.

What Graham wrote in his blog is reprinted here with his permission:

“I was asked to give a response to the following question:

How can we all support more schools to make environmental youth social action part of their culture, and get all their students participating in it?

I identified the obstacles to schools embracing and facilitating youth social action on climate and biodiversity.  Firstly, education professionals need to see the imperative for us to make the choice to support it based on an acceptance of the science and implications.  Secondly, education professionals need to feel confident in the authorisation to facilitate youth social action.

A: Establishing the Imperative

We cannot assume everyone in education grasps or accepts the implications of climate science, or that they each start from a position of optimism regarding the potential of student agency and activism to make a difference.  We need to provide authoritative information to schools, encouraging them to:

  • recognise and acknowledging climate science;
  • recognise the implications for our students’ future;
  • recognise the strength of student feeling and increasing prevalence of eco-anxiety;
  • realise the potential of student voice to affect change.

If we consider how in a previous generation, having learned in science lessons about the health-threatening effects of smoking, children were motivated to persuade members of their family to quit smoking, it follows that when children understand the science and implications of climate change and loss of biodiversity, they take the message home.  Through education, children become agents of societal change.

B: Establishing Authorisation

There are 4 key misconceptions or obstacles which we need to debunk in order for schools to fully engage in support for student activism.

  • 1. “Teaching about climate change and biodiversity loss will cause the children to become distressed.”  There is no escaping the reality of climate change.  To refrain from teaching it is immoral.  It would be like not explaining the fire drill or not teaching about fire hazards.
    • Children will learn about it whether we teach them it ourselves or not.
    • Helping them find purpose in addressing the challenge gives them hope; to deny them the opportunity to do this is to abandon them to pessimism and despair.
  • 2. “Civil disobedience or suppression are the only options.”  A polarised view on school strikes has been widespread in the media – suggesting that schools have only two options – to condone truancy or suppress student activism.  But there is a middle way for schools.  Protests, lobbying, organised events can be incorporated into teaching. Facilitating activism is entirely compatible with a good education.  We are tasked with teaching children citizenship, democracy, freedom of speech, rule of law… all of these can be taught while affording students the opportunities to express how they feel.
  • 3. “The curriculum is already over-crowded.”Learning about climate science and biodiversity is not additional curriculum requirements – they are already in the statutory national curriculum for science and geography.  Facilitating activism is compatible with a broad and rich curriculum.  Persuasive and expressive speaking and writing opportunities abound.  Given a real audience and the sincerity and strength of student feeling, activism can be extremely fertile ground for them to produce the most inspired and inspirational work.
  • 4. “Facilitating activism is indoctrination or manipulating students to further adult aims.”While it can be argued that to allow pupil voice to have a public platform is to imply agreement with what they say, it can equally be argued that to deny pupil voice a platform is to imply disagreement.  Either way schools are influencing debate, but if taught in the right way, allowing the children to respond to the facts themselves, facilitating activism is not indoctrination.   We are talking about climate science, not climate conjecture, not climate belief – the scientific evidence is sound, compelling and grounded in tangible reality; the threat to all humanity is real.  Facilitating or hindering activism is a choice we make.  If we take seriously our duty to prepare children for the future, we must surely also work with them to safeguard that future.”

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Graham blogs at cumbriahead.wordpress.com and you can follow him @GrahamFrost  We welcome comments on the article.