Fionnuala’s Story

Should children protest?

Fionnuala Ward is Educate Together’s Primary Education Officer

“Another Climate Action protest is taking place today under the hashtag of #Fridays4Future. Students from schools all over the country will join their counterparts from countries worldwide to make their frustrations known at the lack of political will to tackle the issue in any substantive way.

The protests take the form of children leaving their classrooms to march to government buildings to make their voices heard. Follow #SchoolStrike4Climate to see just how big a movement this has become.

A similar protest took place last month, with primary school pupils to the forefront. They had banners and slogans and crayon drawings, of oceans filled with plastic, of plants and animals dying, of barren and lifeless landscapes.

It all elicited a very visceral response. On the one hand, there was much head-shaking with some tut-tutting thrown in for good measure. “These children were being used”. ”They were being manipulated”. “It was a disgrace”.

And on the other, there was a descent into platitudes. “It was all so lovely”. “It was all so cute!”

Neither response gave the protesters any credit. Neither recognised that children and young people can indeed have a voice, can indeed have opinions. Neither in any way addressed the issues at hand.

It all became about the children protesting and not what they were protesting about.

So, should children protest?

The protest last month was entirely student-led as is the one today, March 15.

Primary school pupils in Donabate and Portrane ETNS said enough was enough. They were fed up with learning about Climate Change (and for the uninitiated, it is on the primary school curriculum) and not having some kind of say in the matter.

They were fed up with analysing this issue – an issue that presents an apocalyptic threat to their future existence – and then being expected to close their books and move away from their devices and begin work on another subject.

After all, isn’t our education system supposed to be better than this? Isn’t critical thinking supposed to be in there somewhere? Isn’t it supposed to have moved away from the relentless reproduction of a docile population?

Which brings us to the issue, itself.

I am 54. Climate Change is already affecting me. Summers have become warmer. Seasons have merged into each other. There have been more winter storms than I remember as a child. Frost has become a novelty, instead of that thing you had to regularly get rid of on the windscreen of your Da’s car.

And then there are the water shortages and wild fires. And trees falling down at the first sign of a gale, their root systems undermined by a lack of rain.

But this is all small change. Tiddly stuff.

The current cohort of primary and secondary school students will be dealing with food shortages and extreme weather events when they are adults. They’ll be dealing with the decimation of animal populations as well as populations of insects and bees and yes, trees.

They’ll be dealing with the mass movement of peoples, environmental migrants, streaming out of countries which no longer exist as a result of rising sea levels or out of countries that have become impossibly hot to live in.

They’ll be dealing with societal instability on every level.

As today’s grown-ups, some of us will be right there with them. The UN talks about 12 years remaining to reverse this trajectory.

And some of us won’t.

Ireland is ranked the worst in Europe when it comes to tackling climate change. So why shouldn’t these kids be out there screaming at government buildings? It is by far the most rational response to what happening around them.

So let’s abandon all that tut-tutting and head-patting.

Let’s actually listen to what they have to say and do something about it.

Real stories from the Educate Together community

Educate Together’s schools mean so much to the lives of the children and young people who attend them, and to the communities that they are a part of. You can read, watch and listen to real stories from the students, staff and families involved in the Educate Together school movement on this page and at the links above. Do you have an experience from an Educate Together school which you would like to share? Share your story: