Strike for Action on Climate Change

Citizenship week at the French Section kicked off on Monday with an Eco-School assembly led by Phil Dawon for junior classes from all Sections of TES. The aim of the assembly was to relaunch the eco-school initiative on the primary campus for the new school year. Last week, six members of the TES Student Eco-Committee 2018-2019 were the youngest delegates invited to the Climate Action Event organised by the EU, where they shared the results of TES’ Eco-School project to date. It was inspiring to see the enthusiasm of all of the pupils in attendance at Monday’s assembly when they too learnt of the results of last year’s ecological efforts and also of this year’s ecologically-minded plans.

The primary pupils’ enthusiasm compensated to a certain extent for our secondary students’ silence on the subject. Last Friday, unlike thousands of their peers around the world, our secondary students ignored Greta Thurnberg’s call to strike for action on climate change.

Our secondary students are very reasonable people – and it’s hard not to agree with them – skipping school on a Friday won’t do much to resolve the climate crisis we are currently facing; a crisis that will have a profound effect on future generations. But I am left wondering what role our school should play in this fast growing movement. After all, one of our foremost responsibilities is to educate the citizens of the future.

Should our school continue to ignore calls for students to strike and run the risk of seeming completely cut off from current affairs and out of touch with topical issues that we should really be confronting? Should we encourage our students to strike and become a schizophrenic school that insists its students cut the classes our teachers work so hard to prepare? Should our teachers supervise the students’ involvement in the strike at the risk of sucking the soul out of what is intended as a student led movement?

They are tough questions for a head of school. On the one hand, I was reassured on Friday that my students were safe and sound at school, and on the other, a little surprised by their lack of interest in fighting for action for climate change. As citizenship week comes to an end, I think it is important to emphasise that there exists a myriad of ways to be an active citizen.

As Irène, the President of the Lycée Student Council, reminded the secondary students during the back-to-school assembly: the first step towards becoming an active citizen is to be considerate of everyone. She told us that our time is too precious to be wasted gossiping or mud-slinging. It is a pertinent remark in that it makes the link between active citizenship and wasting time – when we are being active citizens, we are never wasting our time. Two hours of class can be missed if it means students are taking their roles as citizens seriously, if they are doing something they have given a lot of thought to and if it is something that helps them develop new skills and competencies.

Not everyone can be or wants to be Greta Thurnberg, who has ditched school entirely to dedicate herself to the fight against climate change (although I have a feeling that the Ivy League will be knocking on her door regardless). But a middle ground exists between stony silence and ardent militantism, and that middle ground is ripe with other possibilities for action. I am certain that the role of our school is to firmly support any students who are interested in fighting for the environment, and also to make sure that those students reap the benefits of being active citizens.

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