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Next generation represents a climate for change

October 27, 2019
Tim Mulroy
Acting Senior Vice President

The level of engagement by NSW school students during the recent Global Climate Strike is a credit to the awareness of a generation of young people being educated in public schools — the people who will inherit whatever earth we leave them

The fact that our youth chose to speak and act out against generations of leaders — the “adults” who have virtually aided the planet’s environmental collapse — displays a level of maturity and understanding that should be expected of a society where education is a priority and is clearly serving its purpose.

To say otherwise brings to mind the words of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg: “How dare you.”

These young people are, after all, our future and they are more than a little disturbed that the world they will get to live in by the time they are adults — and consider having children of their own — will have passed its used-by date.

Any commentator or politician who says our students were better off in the classroom on 20 September is demeaning the children’s intelligence and their moral right to inquiry and expression.

The commentary at the same time points a finger at teachers for inciting climate-change hysteria in the classroom.

As the environment movement points out, “The science is in”, and our teachers are likely more cognisant of that science, rather than climate-denying lies. They are not press-ganged by any organisation into these beliefs and they are certainly not going to incite their students to break the law.

However, teachers were aware of the number of students who intended to protest and supported their sentiments by attending the 60,000-strong rally in the Domain. A contingent from Federation then fell in behind the students as they marched to Parliament House.

They did so with politicians, doctors, lawyers, other unions and concerned parents.

There were many parents who approached our members over the course of the day to thank us for supporting the rally and acknowledging how important it was that we were there and how much our support meant to their children.

Of course, the tide has risen further with October’s Extinction Rebellion disruptions, involving people from all walks of life, around Australia and the world.

Young people have appeared in news reports of the Extinction Rebellion rallies, proving they are increasingly concerned about the environment and the legacy they will inherit.

They need no incitement. As ice melts, sea levels rise, reefs bleach, species die out and forests burn, they realise the importance of action now … before it is too late.

Student activism is not new. Think the Vietnam Moratoriums, the widespread protests against the Greiner government’s assault on public education peaking with the rally in the Domain during the time of Terry Metherell as Minister for Education, and demonstrations against the Iraq War. They have often led the way.

As far back as 1938, Glenn Innes High School students refused to board school buses after complaining of freezing transport.

More recently, school children participate in Clean Up days around the world every year. That’s activism and school groups are encouraged to participate, but we don’t hear a negative word from the commentators about it.

When they plant trees for a school project or go whale watching, bushwalking or camping with their parents, they become informed about the environment … and that creates a desire to preserve it.

Concern for the planet is not new either. Any child of the Cold War would remember living under the real or perceived threat of nuclear annihilation. Frighteningly, the fate of the world felt out of our hands and with those in power; as it does with climate change today.

In 1972, following a strike and protest at a western Sydney high school over French nuclear testing in the South Pacific, a rally involving hundreds of students from 22 different schools was held during school hours in Martin Plaza.

Fortunately, in the end, sense prevailed and the immediate finger-onthe- button nuclear threat has diminished somewhat.

Students are entitled to express anger and dismay at the gloomy outlook for their future. They should be applauded for standing up and trying to make the world a better place for all.

Sadly, the message back from commentators seems to be that students should be taught about democracy and freedom — they are central tenets of our society — just don’t practice them on school days.

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© New South Wales Teachers Federation. All Rights Reserved.

Authorised by John Dixon, General Secretary, NSW Teachers Federation, 23-33 Mary St. Surry Hills NSW 2010

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