One of the abiding memories of my 1970s education is that of witnessing a visiting supply teacher doing her utmost to convert a group of indolent teenagers into the next generation of green game-changers. She was young and evangelistic. We were younger and bored rigid. So the more she begged us to wake up to the crisis of pollution confronting us all, the more we just popped our bubble gum and sighed with profound indifference. Being at the back of the class, I was actually very well positioned to hear this sighing. This privileged vantage point was also no doubt helped by the fact that I was probably the prime contributor. After an hour of fruitless entreaty, the hapless teacher capitulated, defeated and clearly disgusted by the depths of our ecological stupor. We found her disgust hilarious.
How things have changed. In my day, aerosols, acid rain and global cooling were the order of the day, and you would be hard-pushed to find a kid who gave a shit. I guess we were all too distracted by the thought of nuclear annihilation and double french. Nowadays, the schoolchildren are fed on a daily diet of climate incineration and double Armageddon. You just can’t get away with the institutionalised apathy that we teenagers had perfected in the seventies.
Actually, my wife used to be a teacher but she retired long before the curriculum had centred upon how to traumatise children (before packing them off for eco-counselling). Even so, as a former member of the National Education Union (NEU), she still occasionally receives a copy of the union rag, unimprovably titled ‘Educate’. Normally, the arrival of this magazine precedes the judicious use of the recycling bin by less than five minutes, but this month a front page headline caused me to hesitate:
Eye on the planet: Pupils’ message to Cop26 – If not now, when?
I’m a lot more interested in ecology than I used to be in my bubble-gumming youth, so I broke the habit of a life-time and peered inside.
The article itself proved to be a disappointment. Apparently, a group of pupils from East London had ‘helped devise, design and paint a massive mural by the side of a busy dual carriageway used by thousands of motorists each day’. The mural featured a face ‘with Earth reflected in the eyes’. According to the article, this mural gave ‘a strong message for delegates to the COP26 climate conference in November’. Well, I suppose it might for those travelling there via Tower Hamlets, but let’s face it, the NEU’s coverage of this ‘news item’ had nothing to do with sending a message to COP26. Instead, it was a flimsy pretext for informing its own members of every stunt and spectacle with which the NEU wished to be associated in the run-up to COP26. In a footnote that is actually longer than the article itself, the reader is informed of the following ‘events and activities’:
- School packs with case studies to use in class can be found at together-for-our-planet.ukcop26.org/schools-pack-resources.
- ‘Climate in the Classroom’, a virtual climate education summit, is to be hosted by the University of Reading on 15 September (sadly too late for any of us to attend).
- The ‘Great Big Green Week’ is to be held from 18-26 September, celebrating action on climate change.
- ‘Climate and Employment Proof our Work’, a global day of action, is to be organised by the International Trade Union Confederation (sadly another day out that we have already missed).
- There is to be a global climate strike on 24 September, co-ordinated by the youth-led campaign group ‘Fridays for Future’.
- NEU member Ed Stubbs has written a guide on how to declare a climate emergency at your school or college.
- The union is planning a season of climate change sessions over the coming months. Webinars from 9-11 November are expected to include themes such as climate change anxiety, Eco-Schools, sustainability, and how to incorporate climate change into lesson plans.
- The NEU has its own climate change network.
- NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney has contributed to an Inset training session on climate breakdown recorded by the UK Schools Sustainability Network for secondary school staff.
- Campaigns group ‘Teach the Future’, led by students from across the UK, has a teachers’ network where educators can share resources and communicate with colleagues interested in climate education.
That’s an awful lot of networking going on there. ‘Organised’ is a dirty word when it comes to scepticism, but in the world of activism the word takes on a biblical resonance. And just to ram the point home, the last page of the NEU magazine is dedicated to the words of Paul Atkin, convenor of the NEU Climate Change Network, in which he bemoans the fact that there isn’t nearly enough being done in schools to raise the profile of the climate change issue. Having berated a curriculum ‘set for an imaginary planet on which climate change is not happening’, he calls for a curriculum review. ‘In the meantime’, he mournfully reports, ‘we have to do what we can with what we have got’.
Well, from what I can see, if the NEU’s efforts are anything to go by, no child in school will knowingly be left to think for themselves on this issue, irrespective of the curriculum. Furthermore, judging by the feature picture used for my own article (of a climate rally held in Islington, London, in February 2020), the children appear to be sufficiently well indoctrinated already. There’s not a pink bubble gum balloon in sight. God I miss the seventies!