A Modern Call to Action: Should Students Be Encouraged To Attend Climate Strikes?

Illustration by Antonia Pavoncelli

Ever since the 1986 hit movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, there has been an inescapable attitude in school that considers playing ‘hooky’ as the deadly sin of education and the escape of the bored underachiever. Before March 2019, ASL appeared to have a similar attitude, as most schools are, but are now taking a more flexible outlook on students’ absence from school when it comes to the recent climate strikes. These changes occurred after several students, myself included, approached the middle school administration to justify their reasoning for attending a strike, and defend their right to an excused absence. The strikes are an essential part of today’s debates on global warming and students should be encouraged to attend. 

Eighth-grader Saoirse Burlingame has attended two strikes and she loved them both. “I think that what motivated me to do it and to live a more sustainable life, in general, is because this is such an incredibly huge problem that’s going to affect everyone, but the people who have power don’t care nearly enough.” 

Burlingame feels that the people in charge of taking action towards climate justice aren’t doing a sufficient amount to help and therefore young people have to rise up to make a difference. 

The Oxford English dictionary states that an environmentalist is someone who is concerned about the environment, but it is not enough to be concerned. At the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of January 2019, teen climate activist Greta Thunberg said, “I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic.” 

A student attending one climate strike, and then continuing on with their unsustainable lifestyle can not be considered an environmentalist. One needs to devote themselves to making more change individually and in their own community in order to make a real difference. 

Since these youth strikes have become so popular, millions of young people all around the world have suddenly taken an interest in politics. Before last year, many kids went through their life without giving much thought to what was on the news or even contemplating the fact that they could somehow have an impact on a problem they cared about. 

According to The Guardian newspaper, only 64 percent of registered voters aged 18-24 voted in something as important as the EU referendum for Brexit in 2016, compared to 90 percent of the older generation. This shows that in the past, the younger generation hasn’t exercised their political rights because many assume their vote doesn’t matter, and someone else will take care of it. Most grown-ups, especially teachers and parents, are spending their adulthood preparing the next generation to continue their ways of life once it’s their turn to take over. 

Young people have to take responsibility for the choices that they make if they want to inspire change. This is why adults should be encouraging kids and teenagers to go to protests and be involved in politics so that they know they can make a difference.

Some theories as to why young people have taken so much interest in environmental problems are because it is an uncomplicated issue to understand. It is relatively easy to explain to someone what is happening to the planet, but very difficult to explain political issues like Brexit to anyone. The difference is that climate change has facts, and once people hear the facts, it’s a simple choice to decide which side you’re on. With most governmental debates, there is always a rebuttal or a point of view to consider. Currently, the only relevant points of view on climate change are the planet versus the people who survive off of it. 

Middle School Assistant Principal, Ms. Erica Jones, shared the saying, “bloom where you’re planted” as a metaphor for how students can make a change in their own school instead of leaving school and trying to make a difference elsewhere. She also mentioned that she hears students talking about the Women’s Rights and Civil Rights movements and saying, ‘If I were alive then I would participate’, and how she explains to them, “You are alive now. What are you participating in?” This is an interesting insight on how people often don’t realize that history is being made right around them and this is their time to be a part of it. Ms. Jones is very supportive of students’ passion to protest and understands the urgency but makes a point that ASL students have many opportunities to make an ecological change from school and may have less of an individual effect in a protest environment. Although this is a valid point, some could argue that attending protests can make a noticeable change because each and every person who shows up is adding to the number of people and therefore making the protest more noticeable to political leaders. 

Although students are excused to attend occasional #FridaysForFuture climate strikes, there would be certain consequences if a student were to decide to strike every Friday, much like famous environmentalist Greta Thunberg. Middle School Principal Mr. Peter Lutkoski explained that although he is supportive of infrequent striking (with parental permission), ASL students are required to follow the attendance guidelines, and too many absences would cause problems with the child’s grades and academics. Students should be excused to attend strikes occasionally, with parental permission, but only if their absence doesn’t cause them to miss important classwork that will impact their education. Not only that, but all schools in the UK are expected to guarantee each child is receiving a full education and that the school is safeguarding that child’s schooling. Burlingame reassured that she did not fall behind or have trouble catching up after missing a day of classes to strike, and plans on doing it again in the future. 

This is not a debate about whether the climate strike is an important issue. This is a debate regarding the importance of school attendance when compared to global issues. The current youth climate strikes will be an important part of history soon, but they are our present right now and therefore we need to participate. This may mean missing one or two classes occasionally, but that is a sacrifice we should be willing to make for the sake of the planet. 

About Antonia Pavoncelli ('24)

Arts Editor 2019-20

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