Many institutions and thousands of teachers and lecturers take the climate and ecological emergency seriously. But the structure of our education system does not: its priorities are league tables and funding. Individual client-students are pushed to compete with their peers in discrete, exam-focused subjects. According to the national curriculum, a student could easily leave school at 18 having heard climate change mentioned in as few as 10 lessons. There is no reference to the extinction of species, ecosystem breakdown or the injustice of climate disasters hitting those least responsible first and hardest. Only those few students who study subjects directly relating to these issues will learn about them at university. Our current system, moreover, is built around reward, punishment and the shaming of failure and misbehaviour. The future we are facing requires, more than ever, emotional and psychological resilience, a sense of genuine community and solidarity between peers and also between young people and adults. Despite the efforts of so many compassionate educators and institutions, our system is structurally opposed to achieving such resilience.
The real world is full of complex systems and problems, some of which we are now seeing manifest as terrible and destructive crises. A Victorian education system that separates, divides and compartmentalises both knowledge and students so that they can be more efficiently tested is no preparation for the real world or for the very real crises we now face.
As a group within Extinction Rebellion, XR Educators are committed to demanding that the government tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency, act now to reduce our emissions to net zero by 2025 and go beyond politics with a citizens’ assembly to inform policy in this emergency. But we are also committed to working with other groups to achieve radical reform in our education systems – which is needed aside from the climate emergency. The huge progress that has been made by the collective environmental movement in the last year and a half would have been impossible without such powerful and decisive action from students. As educators, we feel it is our responsibility to support students to make the change that we all need.
It has been wonderful to see the progress of youth-led movements, particularly of the Teach The Future campaign. To have gained such momentum and the attention of political decision makers is an incredible achievement and we are honoured to express our full support for this essential work. As educators, we must support this movement, despite how hard it is to accept that we must disrupt our own lives in order to realise the change we need: our investments, our jobs, our pensions, our politics are all rooted in the toxic system that is killing our planet. Young people understand the reality of climate and ecological breakdown, often better than adults who have learned to ignore it. The courage, dedication and resilience demonstrated by the organisers of this campaign and the youth strike movement is an inspiring and urgent lesson to anyone with any power or resources to act in this time of emergency.