More than 10,000 children and young people across the UK skipped school in February in a planned protest against political apathy toward climate change as part of a wider global movement called Youth Strike 4 Climate. And pupils are continuing to strike as part of Global Climate Strike. But, should we encourage children and young people to take part in civil disobedience?
Yes, we should
The purpose of the protest was to show just a glimpse of the disruption we are facing if we do not take drastic action against climate change. Not speaking out against injustice will allow it to flourish, and honestly I am proud that this generation has started so young.
I personally feel that discussing whether or not the children should have missed school for the protest ignores the very reason they were protesting in the first place. The harsh reality is that climate change is going to significantly affect their way of life. We have gone past the point of complete reversal, and are now trying to perform basic damage control.
Children and young people have been handed a lifestyle that is completely unsustainable; not just from the perspective of the environment, but from the manner in which our economies are built on the exploitation of people and resources in a way that is incompatible with the values of God’s kingdom. This means we have to find a new way to do things, and that inevitably means upsetting some of the traditions and systems that prop up the old ways.
Jesus repeatedly performs, and therefore calls us to perform, non-violent disruptive action to target injustice. In Matthew 21 he carries out two incredibly political acts: the entry into Jerusalem, which was a protest against Caesar’s claim to power; and the cleansing of the temple, where Jesus expresses righteous anger and disruptive protest by flipping the tables.
I understand young people’s frustration (and still consider myself a young person at 21). What’s the point of going to school to get an education for a future that may not even exist? Education should not only prepare us for exams and qualifications, but equip us to be engaged and responsible citizens. This protest was an education in how to stand up for your rights, find your voice and create change for the better. We should be listening to the prophetic voice of our children and working harder to protect their future.
Naomi Bennett - employed by Newbigin School of Urban Leadership and Red Letter Christians UK. She is currently seconded to Newbigin Trust as operations manager.
No, we shouldn’t
I admire the conviction of the students involved in these protests, and in many ways I applaud their courage in wanting to do something about a cause they strongly believe in. However, here lies the issue: strongly held beliefs are usually subjective to the belief holders. It is this subjectivity that is problematic and could ultimately undermine the integrity of not just our school system but of society.
If we grant every child and young person the option to opt out of education in protest of climate change, what grounds do we have to stop them opting out of future classes in protest of something else they feel strongly about, such as housing, immigration, Brexit or anything else? Their protests are also quite inconsiderate of the other students whose education will be disrupted by something they may not believe in or care about.
I’m up for protesting against things we do not agree with, but I think we should do it in our own free time. If something means so much to you, surely you will be prepared to sacrifice your personal pleasures and free time for it without trying to take time away from essential education. These protests inevitably open the door for the significant few who will use this as an excuse to miss school.
Let’s apply wisdom in all that we do. “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).In encouraging our young people to be active in society, let’s do so with these virtues in mind and not to the detriment of society itself.
Kenneth Jimah - a volunteer children’s worker and youth leader at the Upper Room Foursquare Chapel.