It began with one teenager who said the reality of climate change had made an absurdity of her education. One year later, millions of children, teenagers, and young adults have acquired leverage in demanding change on how they learn, and how to make what they learn relevant to the big questions facing humanity.
Some teachers and leaders seem threatened. Many others, including those of us here at Bloom School in Sarajevo , couldn’t be more excited.
Skipping school to protest is nothing new, but teens skipping school by the thousands to take education into their own hands? This sounds like a long-overdue challenge to a 19th century paradigm that, rather than producing creative and informed adults, has in too many cases stifled innovative learning for the sake of standardised testing.
Teenagers have been frustrated by the lack of adult inaction on climate change and its calamitous effects for years. So, they turned to the Internet and started reading scientific articles . Then, using social media platforms, they began sharing strategies to amplify calls for policy change. They began giving TED Talks ; organising and informing other teens; designing technological solutions; and enlisting allies to stop traffic in the streets . Loudly and clearly, they insisted that they could not afford to wait to “develop into” advocates to solve the crisis.
Think about it: teenagers are accessing, organising, and analysing data; practicing critical thinking and decision-making skills based on cross-referenced and validated evidence; dismantling fake news headlines; deploying sophisticated communication techniques to enlist others in purposeful action, and developing self-discipline to get the job done.
Through dialogue with virtual strangers they’ve come to grasp profound concepts like the global consequences of inequality and injustice, and the devastating impact of the climate crisis on other teens around the world. Believing in one’s ability to make change is invaluable when the odds are stacked against you and time is of the essence; adolescents usually don’t have a fully developed sense of intrinsic control. Yet these teens are finding the courage to stand up for values critical to mitigating the effects of the climate crisis, despite facing intense peer pressure and even harassment .
#FridaysforFuture teens who skip school have not rejected education. On the contrary, many of the teens actively protesting the climate crisis are getting a richer education in a single day than they could get while sitting behind a desk at school during the remaining four days.
Can Schools Evolve Fast Enough to Keep Up with These Students?
What should schools do in the face of purposeful, learning-rich defiance of authority for a just cause? We believe schools have an important choice to make.
Educators and leaders can either complain while students continue to walk out, or we can turn schools into places that support value-driven, innovative, and purposeful learning.
Educators don’t have to view these student protests as disruptive ; absenteeism didn’t suddenly become a problem in 2018. Instead, schools should use pivotal movements like #FridaysforFuture as a platform for dynamic, holistic, and relevant learning for today.
There isn’t a topic or skill that can’t be explored by becoming involved in responding to the crisis, if you are willing to open your mind and think creatively. Attendance improves when schools make learning relevant and engaging.
Bloom School in Sarajevo supported students to join the global protests this September. Our chants weren’t perfect, our signs were hastily crafted, our talking points weren’t polished, and our curriculum and practices need more refining. But we took a first step to accompany children and teens on their journey to unite their values and actions.
They didn’t have to skip school to get in on the action, and they certainly didn’t lose out on learning. Translating values into action starts with small acts of service – like a child picking up plastic trash in her neighbourhood, or a young boy talking to his friends about the relationship between higher average temperatures and more frequent outbreaks of deadly diseases plaguing their island nation, or a teenager sitting outside of parliament by herself every Friday to serve the best way she knew how.
Actions may be experimental and clumsy at first, like Bloom School’s first attempts to integrate learning in action. But through reflection and dedication, we can refine our capability for more ambitious acts of service.
Teens are supporting isolated protestors, allying with similar initiatives, rallying voters to get the attention of politicians and corporations, and ultimately speaking truth to power at the United Nations with an audience of millions…. they’re already learning to live in service of a greater good.
Purposeful education has the power to transform individuals, communities, and systems. Educators need to make school relevant for the 21st century.