Sleepless nights at the DfE

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I've written a few times –  for example here and here – about why the DfE is reluctant to endorse the 6 asks of Teach the Future, particularly so when it comes to changing the curriculum so that school students can learn in depth about how climate breakdown will affect their lives, and what they might do about it.  At heart, DfE just thinks that students should go to school and learn what society has decided they should.  Doing so, it thinks, will educate them to play their future roles in (amongst other things) dealing with climate change.  There is something to be said for that argument.

But there is more to it than this.  This is the politics.  I don't mean party politics, but that discussion on matters around what to do about the climate breakdown would inevitably be inherently political.  Given that politics is the means whereby society makes its choices about what to do, this seems obvious.

It would be a bit of a problem when it comes to focusing on looking ahead and seeing what might happen as global heating continues as this deals with issues such as IPCC data extrapolations,  possible / probable temperature rises, inevitable ice sheet and permafrost meltings, the huge risk of positive feedback loops, possible runaway CO2, desertification, species loss and migration, economic collapse, etc., etc.  This is open-ended stuff  as it concerns what if questions, extrapolations, and speculations.  Very little of this is taught now in any systematic or coherent way.  It involves moving away from what is known now with reasonable certainty.  Some of this is political in that some groups bring their politics to bear when thinking about these data.  You don't have to though, and not everyone does.

When we come to what we might do to adapt to, or mitigate the changes, such problems multiply.  Topics to cover might include leading by example to repent for our kick-starting the industrial revolution, changing policies and practices to achieve net zero-carbon emissions by 2050 or much sooner, supporting other countries through financial transfers to make changes, or adopting a collectivist Green New Deal at home.  This not only involves moving away from what is known now with certainty, it's also the most complex and fraught of all because it definitely concerns political choices and values.
Given that most schools currently lack the expertise to deal with these issues in any comprehensive fashion, and teacher training would not be able to rectify this either effectively or efficiently, it would leave a vacuum into which a range of NGOs, charities and other groups would inevitably be drawn.  A good thing you might say as this would increase schools' connections with the wider community and world.  These would be both apolitical groups and more quietly (or overtly) political ones.  It's the latter that DfE worries about; the ones that have their preferred solutions neatly pre-packaged and for whom the idea of presenting a balanced case is a cop-out.  Put starkly, what causes senior civil servants and ministers sleepless nights in DfE HQ – the aptly named Sanctuary Buildings – is the notion that every school in the country would be inviting its local branch of XR [*] to teach about these issues in an unbalanced way.
[*] It's surely not just Extinction Rebellion that features in DfE's worst dreams, but other more mainstream and familiar organisations, some of which (according to government) have not always constructively engaged with it and its agencies to address society's problems.  This is not a new phenomenon, and wherever the balance of blame lies (it always takes two to tango), it has led to a palpable lack of trust between government and some big charities in particular.

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