Thousands of schoolchildren are planning to go on ‘strike’ on Friday to protest about government inaction on climate change. Called the ‘Youth Strike 4 Climate’, it has been inspired by a 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl called Greta Thunberg who has spent every Friday since August protesting outside the Swedish parliament and has encouraged others to follow her lead. To date, there have been strikes in Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands, among other countries, with up to 70,000 children taking part each week.
From a school’s point of view, this kind of thing is a nightmare. Teachers are usually working to a detailed plan in which a syllabus is being taught in a particular sequence. If a student misses a day, they’re going to have difficulty understanding the next lessons in the classes they’ve missed because they’ll have skipped a step.
The teachers will either have to ‘catch up’ the students who were absent — at lunchtime or after school, which means extra work for them — or differentiate what they’re teaching in the next lesson, so some children are being taught the latest step and some the previous step. Plenty of schools will be forced to close because they won’t be able to cope with the logistical fall-out.
In spite of this, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has given the strike its enthusiastic blessing. A spokesman for the union said: ‘When you get older pupils making an informed decision, that kind of thing needs to be applauded. Society makes leaps forward when people are prepared to take action. A day of activity like this could be an important and valuable life experience.’
That is incredibly short-sighted. It’s not just a single ‘day of activity’ but the first of many planned by the organisers. The UK strike this Friday will be followed up by a global ‘day of action’ on 15 March in which hundreds of thousands are expected to take part. Will the NAHT condone that, too? And what if another group of students, having spotted the opportunity to take a day off school, decides to organise a ‘strike’ about something else, such as lowering the voting age to 16? If I were a member of this union I would be absolutely furious that the leader’s desire to be ‘down with the kids’ will wreak havoc on my school.
Another reason why the NAHT shouldn’t be welcoming this ‘day of activity’ is because schoolchildren are being encouraged to participate on false pretences. Greta Thunberg is everywhere, appearing at Davos, giving a TED talk, speaking at the UN Climate Conference in Katowice, and her message is always the same. Western governments are doing nothing to combat climate change.
She isn’t saying they’re not doing enough. No. She claims they’re not doing anything. ‘Everyone keeps saying that climate change is an existential threat and the most important issue of all and yet they just carry on like before,’ she says in her TED talk. ‘You would think the media and every one of our leaders would be talking about nothing else, but they never even mention it.’
Never mention it? One of the placards often held up by climate change protesters says there’s no ‘Planet B’, but Greta does appear to have been living on another planet for the past 16 years. Later in the same talk, she expressed her absolute astonishment that western governments had imposed no restrictions on carbon emissions. ‘Why were there no restrictions?’ she asked the enraptured audience. ‘It just didn’t add up.’ But the reason it ‘didn’t add up’ is because it’s not true. Every nation in the world, save for three, signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and 174 states, as well as the European Union, signed the Paris Agreement in 2016. As a result, numerous government initiatives have been taken to reduce emissions, including the Climate Change Levy in the UK, which is set to increase in July. Children are being fed ‘fake news’ by this teenage activist. Shouldn’t the NAHT be encouraging their members to teach children how to distinguish that from real news?
If children really must wag their fingers at older generations for some imaginary sin, I wish they’d do it at the weekend. Better yet, they could combine it with picking up litter, which really might do something for the environment. The fact that so many students have been taken in by Greta Thunberg’s crude propaganda is an argument for raising the voting age to 21, not lowering it to 16.