One head's message to students: join the climate strike

The school strikes for climate change show that 'Generation Snowflake' is tougher than we thought, says this head

Neill Lunnon

The school strikes over climate change prove that 'Generation Snowflake' aren't pushovers, writes headteacher Neill Lunnon

Our current crop of teenagers have been labelled as the "Snowflake Generation". Many believe that they lack resilience and have a heightened sense of entitlement and an inability to deal with opposing opinions. The world of social media and the "selfie" culture has – supposedly – developed children with an obsession with looking inwards and unable to reflect on something bigger than themselves.

My teenage children have always felt aggrieved and affronted with this sweeping generalisation that they belong to a group of flaky, soft and apathetic human beings. They believe that if there is truth in this generational summary, the blame should be squarely shouldered by the methods of modern parenting that look to remove all risk and danger from our children, to solve their problems for them and to micro-manage every element of their formative years.

Perhaps this generation of young people has been waiting for the right opportunity to engage and debate, to make its voice heard, to show its mettle and to look beyond itself to a higher purpose. And this purpose, it seems, is climate change. The significant risks we’re facing to the future of our beautiful planet have galvanised our young in a way which is heartening, significant and impressive. There’s no sign of melting: these snowflakes are hardening.

Many of them will have been glued to the final series of the extraordinary Game of Thrones. The winter may have been coming for the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros but our children are concerned about the opposite impact of global warming on the rising temperatures around the globe. They feel passionately that adults are letting them down and they are more than determined to get their concerns heard.

School strikes for climate change

In August 2018, a 16-year-old Greta Thunberg didn’t head to class one Friday morning. Instead, she set up her solitary protest outside the Swedish government building, starting her "Skolstrejk For Klimatet" campaign. On 15 March this year, an estimated 1.4 million children from 112 countries joined in her School Strike for the Climate.

In the past few months, Thunberg has addressed the European Parliament, spoken at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, delivered a Tedx talk and had audiences with the Pope as well as key politicians from across the world. She has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She has inspired this generation of teenagers to use their love of social media to mobilise the masses in organising protests that are increasingly difficult to ignore.

As a headteacher, I believe passionately that every day is important, with a myriad of opportunities to learn, explore and develop. I don’t want my pupils to miss a single day. However, when some of the girls asked permission to miss school to attend one of the recent student marches, I did not hesitate to offer my support. In the words of David Attenborough, their "outrage is justified".

We will take the same approach every time a strike is organised. Some of our children are still too young to take easily to the streets. Others may on occasion have exams or commitments they can’t miss. Otherwise, they are welcome to go, and to invite their parents to go with them. It’s less "take your child to work" and more "bring your parent out on strike".

Meanwhile, we plan to mark future strikes with our own events in school for all those who remain. On 24 May we will hold climate emergency events, handing the reins of the school to pupils. Children will be given the opportunity to take assemblies and run classes, telling their teachers what changes they want to see at school, and giving us their ideas.

We see this as vital not least because we are by no means the world’s most sustainable school. Like many other schools and businesses, we face a huge task to improve our operations. We don’t yet do enough.

But this protest and this action is not about us, our past failings, our future resolve. It is about pupils. They are not just learning, but leading. They are throwing down the gauntlet and asking everyone in authority over them, from class teachers to headteachers to heads of state: what are you doing for the future of our beautiful planet?

Schools exist to help the young find and raise their voices. There is nothing more important for the younger generation than to engage with the climate debate and to do everything they can, as a collective whole, to influence those in positions of responsibility to make the changes that will be needed for the long-term future of our beautiful planet.

Far from flaky, these young activists are ready to dig in and not give up until their voice has been heard and actions taken. I admire them, salute their determination and celebrate the hardening of the snowflake.

Neill Lunnon is the head of Fulham Prep School

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