If there’s anything I’ve learnt from my education in activism, then it’s that true hope exists only in action, in the solidarity which arises from a shared and deep fear.
‘For engineers to make more electric things and not diesel things!’ These words do not belong to me, but instead are Freddy’s. He is seven, and last week, stood in front of a crowd of hundreds to give a speech.
Like a great offering to something beyond himself, he spoke with an aching rawness, lost in the voice of policy. But no parent or teacher shadowed him, and the only hand he held was his own, as he grappled with the microphone.
Freddy didn’t say these words at school. For while he might have learnt about cars and electricity in the classroom of his primary, a platform for speaking so intensely has been peeled from the fabric of the curriculum.
Children in schools are voiceless.
We swear allegiance to textbook litanies, binding ourselves to the task of passing a test - a bitter, acidic symbiosis during which we’re forced to devote our existence to memorisation. The prize at the end of this, is empty, and lonely - the hollow reward of self-interest: grades. The higher they are, the worse everyone else did.
Barred from sports, art, and the outdoors, we are split from our peers as education wheezes under the burden of its own standards. Values integral to our development: independent thought, social action, and citizenship are dropped from the foreground and relegated to the shadows of ‘extracurricular’.
But in schools what is really extinct is the voice of the student. Kids on school councils have little influence other than the location of a picnic bench, sixteen year olds are yet to receive the vote, and with the youth parliament left unnoticed, our generation can speak only in silence. Like our planet, and the people most at risk of its destruction, we are pushed aside by the power of big government, big business, and big voices.
But, teenagers seem to me to understand the reality of climate destruction far more vividly than politicians, as our futures quake underneath our feet. Quaking like the news of storms which hit us month after month. Another hurricane, another drought, another famine.
Human tragedies spiral out of control every day as climate destruction proves that the populations already the most vulnerable to even small changes in the environment will suffer the fastest and hardest at its collapse.
Such truths are elementary to us now, moulding into our vocabulary. But we didn’t learn them at school. For education on climate change is restricted to diagrams and data, failing to teach us the true nature of the nightmare world we will inhabit. Instead, schools leave us to fumble over turning off the lights as a way to avoid total global collapse.
I think we see now, why so many textbooks heralded this as an effective solution to avoiding the destruction of the climate. Perhaps they did not want us to see through their lies. Perhaps they want to keep us in the dark.
Young eyes see collapse where adults do not. But we now know where the truth lies - we are the eye of the storm, we are the point from which destruction spirals, the final calm before everything falls apart.
This is our world now, one which our education leaves us unprepared to grow up in. Our futures will be marked by floods, fires, and famine, but education does little to recognise our fears, let alone help us build new ways in which to avoid their realisation.
So, as students we striked from school so that our absence makes you realise what education lacks. A sense of humans that live beyond the textbooks, and especially the textbook definitions of climate change which forgo all talk of social consequence.
And we are learning. Learning about how to speak in a public space, learning how to talk to the press, learning how to communicate, coordinate ourselves, and find a sense of community where all else fractures around us at the hands of politicians more in control of our futures than we are.
School taught us history, we are subverting the power structures which have dictated it. Our education does not end with a school strike, but will be improved by it.
If there’s anything I’ve learnt from my education in activism, then it’s that true hope exists only in action, in the solidarity which arises from a shared and deep fear. Solidarity which rarely exists in a school system which pushes us against each other to fight for grades, grit, and greed.
Reforming education starts, but does not end with fixing the way we teach climate. It requires a school system in which self-interest is not the end goal, but the creation of a culture in which we pay attention to the ecological principles abandoned in order to fulfil the consumerism we’ve been raised on.
Education for the future we will we inherit requires teachers, textbooks, and tests alike to change, and as we see this not really happening, we’ve decided to take matters into our own hands, in the only way we can.
By making you feel the absence we feel everyday.
Sophie Sleeman, 17, from Devon is an activist with the UK Student Climate Network, the organization mobilizing the Youth Strike 4 Climate movement. Sophie tweets at @SleemanSophie.