Changing the debate: schools climate conference workshops

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

There's more here on Wednesday's school climate conference organised by the Green Schools Project, School 21, and WE.  This was designed "to provide rigorous knowledge, skills and motivation to allow young people to change the debate in their schools and local communities".

This account is about the workshops.  There were 4 of these with similar themes running.  I went to a year 10 / 11 one which was skilfully designed and expertly moderated.  The young people were to the fore here.  Broken into cross-school groups of 4 and eventually into school groups, they began by sharing why they were there, did exercises on the problems of the language we use, and then carried out a role play on agreeing with someone who was a denier /a sceptic / just unsure / etc.  It was good.

Reasons why they were there ranged from “I don’t want to die” to “We need to protect the environment”.  They were asked why Greta Thunberg’s message is so powerful.  A significant comment was that it was her age that mattered.  She is “one of us”.  And she speaks because she feels it’s necessary to do so.
George Monbiot’s work on language was focused on and his suggestions that we change how we express things:
 – climate change becomes climate breakdown
 – the environment becomes the natural world
 – the planet becomes the living planet
 – global warming becomes global heating
 – biodiversity becomes wildlife
I resolved to try to use the first four of these, though global over-heating might be even better.  “wildlife” is useless, however, as a substitute for biodiversity, but I struggle to find an appropriate alternative.
The next part was a focus on myths and misconceptions which reminded me of a paper (now mislaid) Steve Gough and I wrote about 15 years ago for a conference.  The following were suggested and the students were invited to comment:
 – climate change can be solved and prevented
 – small actions will have a big impact if everyone does them
 – it’s up to individuals to make changes to solve things
There was quite a range of responses to these, but no time to do them adequate justice.  It was an example of the need for more time and fewer students if issues were to be addressed in-depth – but that's what schools are for.
Then there was a role play where, in groups of 4, one character took on a role and the other three tried to shift their position.  There was a complacent MP (Jeremy Johnson no less), an advertising executive who’s committed to her “lifestyle”, a CEO of a TV company chasing ratings, and a fossil fuel company CEO who wanted to keep mining / exploring.  These were cleverly constructed, managing that tricky balance in a role play of simplicity and conviction.  And it worked.  The room was abuzz and the reports back were convincing with some minds changed and others not.
The second workshop was about action taking back in school, and was focused around school groups (students and their teachers) developing ideas to take back to the school.  Again in groups, one person had to have an idea and the others then progressively added to this, developing it.  This was effective structuring.  It would be easy to be disappointed by the suggestions that emerged as most were rather quotidian: tree planting, solar panels, letters to the council – although putting signs up outside the school signifying its commitment was unusual.  No one mentioned energy monitoring as far as I could see.
But disappointment would be to miss the point as this was an exercise in process as much as (if not more so than) product.  In that sense it was a success, but much will depend on what happens subsequently in school.  Will the ground it falls on be fertile or stony?  This is to be monitored.
After an al fresco lunch (fruit provided) there were reports back from the four groups.  These were commendably brief and lucid.  The conference ended with a panel – a series of inputs rather than a discussion.  These included a Member of the London Authority who failed to resist making party-political points, and a member of UKSCN who wanted what I think is unreachable change by 2030.   The audience then had the chance to ask them questions, and some of these were splendidly focused.  For example:
“Have you any tips on influencing people (especially adults) who ignore you?”
“How do you deal with climate change deniers?”
“Why didn’t previous generations make appropriate changes?”
“What happens if your plans for change by 2030 aren’t workable?”
I have to say that the questions were better than most of the answers.  And then I gave my 5 minute input summarising my take-away messages from the day – see a previous post.
The audience remained alert and enthused throughout the afternoon.  Excellently done, but will it have any effect in the changing the debate in the schools?

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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