September 27, 2023

Should Our Students Participate in the Climate Change Protests…and Should we Support Them?

Author: Justine Hughes
Go to Source

Over the last while you will have seen the news articles in the print media, seen reports on the news and in social media about the upcoming Global Protest Against Climate Change on March 15, 2019.

Article from Stuff 09/03/19

You will have heard the arguments for and against.  So should our young people be protesting and should we support them in this protest against climate change – a global movement?

The short answer is yes, they absolutely should and we should absolutely support them.

We keep saying that our students don’t care, don’t have empathy, aren’t interested in current events and issues and yet, the minute that they do show an interest or a passion for change, we want to shut them down and we belittle their efforts with comments in the vein of the students just wanting time off school.  So some are saying to mark them as truant. This is just plain wrong and smacks of someone throwing a tantrum.  Why not mark it as an unjustified absence? Why choose truant?  Or could we perhaps do the right thing, in my opinion, and mark them as a justified absence?

Are we really listening to – and understanding – what they’re saying – and do we really believe that this is just about a day off?  Yes, that may be the case for some but we’re really doing our young people a huge disservice if we continue to minimise their beliefs and opinions. To be honest, it’s insulting to our younger generation.

The New Zealand Curriculum (2007)

The New Zealand Curriculum is held up to be a world-leading document. Perhaps it’s time for some of our educators to carefully revisit its content and intent. It is full of examples of requiring our learners to be “…lifelong learners who are confident and creative, connected, and actively involved” (NZC, 2007, p.4).  This statement, by the then Secretary for Education, Karen Sewell, appears in the Foreword of the document and underpins everything else.  This is the “…starting point…” (ibid).

The Values, Vision, Principles and Key Competencies sections all go on to discuss participation and contribution as essential aspects of learning and teaching programmes (see for example pp.7-10).
According to our document from which all learning and teaching is derived, our goals are to help our learners become individuals who can contribute locally and globally and stand up for what they believe in. We want them to connect to their wider communities – again both local and global.  We want and need them to be critical, creative thinkers who problem solve and problem create – that’s how change happens.  Isn’t the current local and global protest the perfect opportunity to connect our learners to the real world context – to apply learning and teaching in a meaningful and connected way.  It’s making learning real and flattening the classroom walls.  In 2012 I blogged about this in a post It’s About Authentic Learning – Dancing with Change.  My thoughts have not changed on this. Students will lead the way and are encouraged to do so in the NZC – if we facilitate this for them – and trust them.

At every level of the Social Sciences section of the NZC, the Achievement Objectives include those designed to encourage this independence – with our support and guidance – the goal is to help them become confident and connected individuals who can think locally and act globally. Again, the current protest is the perfect opportunity for this. What better way to connect the current situation and learning to the events of the past, to economic and social issues, to place and environment. If we fail to support them in this, we are missing a valuable learning and teaching opportunity and, even more importantly, our students are also missing out on this valuable opportunity.

This is agentic learning at its best – it’s what we as teachers strive for in our students. They’re taking responsibility for their learning and applying it in an authentic context.

We say that they’re too young to make a difference, that what they’re doing will not change anything but then we turn around and want to stop them from even trying.  History is full of people who were told that they couldn’t make a difference because they were too young.  We only have to think back to the protests of the 1960s and 1970s against the Vietnam War and to protest Treaty of Waitangi issues, and what about the 1981 Springbok Tour?  As a very young student I attended some of these marches and was proud to do so. Was it because I wanted time off school or to follow the crowd – no, it was because I strongly believed that this was the right thing to do and I wanted to be part of a collective voice. Why should it be any different for today’s young people.  For so many, this is also about having their voices heard – locally and globally, also one of the goals of the New Zealand Curriculum (see for example pages 8, 12, 13, 30, 39).

The upcoming protest on March 15 is a global one.  Instead of shutting down our students who want to have a voice in this issue, should we not be supporting the fact that they want to take action so that there is a brighter future for our planet.  Have they struck a nerve with some of us…because we know we should have done more…should have done what they are doing now?  It’s time for the adults to support them – not shut them down.