Activism in Schools

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations

Last evening, I took part in an event organised by the Ministry of Eco Ed on activism in schools / education.

It set out to explore these 'key questions':

  • What do we mean by activism?
  • What examples have you seen of activism working well in schools?
  • Where, for you, is the line? *
  • How can we encourage and facilitate more activism in schools?

The expert panel was:

  • Rowan Ryrie - Parents for Future UK
  • Paul Atkin - NEU Climate Network
  • Morgan Phillips - Global Action Plan
  • Emma de Saram - Activist (Exeter University)
  • Alison Body - University of Kent
  • Emily Grossman - XR Scientists
  • a Student - Teach the Future

Being encouraged to submit a question, I did:

What are the values that underpin the sort of activism you are talking about?  That’s to say, what in your view distinguishes the sort of activism you approve of, and the sort you’d like to see prevented?
I did this because, implicit in the blurb (despite the idea * that there is a line), is the idea that student activism is something that needs to be encouraged.  And maybe teacher activism as well.  I'm not necessarily against this, but there are issues.
I can't believe that anyone on the panel would be in favour of all kinds of activism.  For example, no one is surely going to think that racist or homophobic activism would be appropriate.  So where's the line, and how do you draw it?  It can't just be because you don't like something.
For me, one line is illegality.  But would activism to change the law be ok?  Or would this depend on which law?  Would activism to decriminalise all drug use be ok?  Would activism to bring back the death penalty?  Then I suppose there is activism that is pro a particular political party, religion or organisation.  I wonder how many of such issues will be discussed?
Well, I wondered in vain.  I thought that this was a most unsatisfactory 90 minutes, and a missed opportunity.  For me:
  • it began unforgivably late
  • there were too many speakers, especially as the convener seemed determined to give everyone a say on everything
  • it was never clear what the activism was that was supposed to be being discussed
  • it might be an old fashioned idea, but it cried out for an introduction to explore the idea of activism and pose questions for the panel.  Morgan Phillips would have done that well.
  • the speakers were too similar; it was a classic echo chamber with added happy-clappy self-promotion
  • there was little if any challenge to anything that was said no matter how startling
  • the convenor was pretty ineffective at convening given that not all the key questions were given an airing and the focus just meandered along
  • and I was miffed that my question wasn't raised in any form; I still think it's important.

I thought it would never end.  Cleary others did as well judging by the number that slipped away into the night before we has that last ramble round the panel.  It might be better next time, but I'll not be there.  You can access the recording here but I don't recommend it.

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations


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  • This is something I've noticed over here in the States when it comes to climate change/environmental education. There's a really blinkered assumption that everyone shares everyone's normative ethical/political goals and that shapes engagement accordingly. Have been working on EE and how it facilitates ecofascist thinking these past few years and the limits of this approach are just blindingly obvious once you see it. Which reminds me, whatever happened to the philosophers of education? Seems the neoliberal decimation of foundations programs has really limited the kinds of normative conversations we need to have in the EE space, no?