First and foremost, I wish to thank you. Thank you for bravely taking your solitary stand in August. Thank you for speaking so boldly to the rich and the powerful. And, above all, thank you for inspiring millions of young people to #climatestrike alongside you.
With my own students you have been held up as an example of what youth can accomplish when they raise their voices. I have even suggested that you are, at this moment, the single most important person in the world. Many – including you – may disagree with that statement, but please allow me to make the case for those who don’t yet know what we do.
Climate change is not just about worsening fires, storms and floods that seize the headlines on a daily basis. It is also about the growing number of children who spend their days pursuing water instead of education. It is about drought and malnutrition and starvation – mostly in parts of the world that are least responsible for our thickening atmosphere. It is about the “tipping point” when melting ice will release more methane than even a zero-carbon Earth can handle. It is about the scientific consensus that we are only about a decade away from crossing this line.
Despite these facts some politicians, parents, and power brokers are telling you and your followers to return to your Friday classes. To pursue change from there. To allow the “more knowledgeable” adults to continue doing their work.
Some are worried about you. Some are anxious about their jobs or their stocks. Some are willfully blind to the realities of climate change. Some are scared. But they all have one thing in common:
They’re all wrong.
Confronting injustice has long involved bold breaks from the status quo – including the breaking of rules. Your detractors, for various reasons, seek to moderate your anger and shrink your sense of personal power. Thankfully, you and the approximately 1.5 million allies who just commanded the Ides of March seem to understand your true strength and authority. And you all have every right to be furious.
I want you to know that the vast majority of educators are on your side. To teachers everywhere I wish to acknowledge the difficult position we occupy. Entrusted with children from families of all political stripes, we are expected to separate our ideologies from our instruction. While some accuse us of indoctrinating students, others will criticize us for being unsupportive. When making your own decisions, I urge you to consider climate change action not as an ideology, but as a moral imperative that speaks to the deepest levels of common humanity.
Our students also find themselves divided. One group will die from climate change, one will fight in their names, and one will be marginally better at graphing and documenting the history of this crucial moment because they missed less class time. We, the educators, should want the second group to be larger than the third.
This does not mean that we have to organize weekly strikes; our students are doing that on their own. Some, however, will look to our faces when considering whether to participate in #FridaysForFuture. Freedom of Expression allows us to smile. Our consciences want us to dance. Our school mission statements encourage us to teach citizenship and activism. Tens of thousands of scientists and political leaders have signed letters in support of this movement. And the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, signed by every country on Earth, supersede restrictive curricula. So, yes, you can teach about climate change in any subject area.
Still, some voices will seek to silence us, too. Some voices will call for threats or punishments to students and teachers alike. But to educators reading this, please know that you can be the other voices in any setting. You can echo Greta Thunberg’s assertiveness and bravery.
You, Greta, have no doubt heard teachers say that young people can change the world. Like most adults, we love to say this. In this hypocrisy vs. heroism moment, please know that your teachers are immensely proud of you. So are the 30,000+ educators who drive the global #TeachSDGs movement. We stand united behind you. And we will encourage more of our colleagues to do the same.
Thank you again. And congratulations on the Peace Prize nomination.
Ada McKim is a co-founder of @TeachSDGs and a Canadian teacher of World Issues and Law.
TeachSDGs Team & Contributors