Skipping class makes for a great education

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Cartoon: Paul Dorin

OUR future is in good hands. Young people skipping school to protest the lack of action on climate change are taking politics into their own hands. Great citizenship. Excellent education. Appropriate priorities.

Michael Moore.

School student protests are not new. How many of my contemporaries slipped out of school in the late 1960s and early 1970s to protest the war in Vietnam? The impact of the moratoriums of our generation was profound. They turned around an unjust, ideological war. The lack of citizenship teaching in Australian schools has not politically disempowered these young people.

The exclusive Barker College in Sydney is even encouraging students to attend and is sending a couple of staff members. Headmaster Phillip Heath explained: “As a school we are supportive of providing for student voices”. More telling is his follow up statement: “How can I refuse to support them?” He recognises “their passion about policies and decision making”.

A similar approach has been taken by a series of other schools in Sydney. Congratulations to them on making it easy for their students. The principal of Queenwood School for Girls in Mosman, Elizabeth Stone, was supportive, although argued that it was a tactical mistake for the students to set the protest on a school day. She said that way “the debate would have been about climate change, not school attendance”.

I could not disagree more strongly. The criticism they have received has poured fuel on the fire of the protest. Conflict will bring media attention and no one doubts the protest is about climate change and their future. This makes the protest even more successful.

Other students will simply skip school to attend the rallies without the permission of the school or their parents. Good on them. Taking risks to further your beliefs, to drive for change are part and parcel of what effective politics should be. If only more of our politicians would do the same.

I join with these vibrant young Australians in thumbing my nose at the narrow-minded comments of conservative academics and commentators along with senior politicians. Catholic University’s Dr Kevin Donnelly told the ABC that the protest was the “product of ‘biased’ education”, failings in education and “politically correct” teaching.

Year 10 Adelaide student Nyah Bacon put the lie to these comments. She recently participated in the Sweden school strikes with worldwide initiator Greta Thunberg. Nyah was reported by the ABC as identifying “the School Strike 4 Climate movement had three goals: to stop Queensland’s Adani coal mine, to ban new fossil fuel exploration and to have Australia commit to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030”. These are hardly the words of an uneducated, ignorant student. She is certainly not one of Kevin Donnelly’s “barely literate or numerate”.

Late last year Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan argued that children should be in school learning about geology, building mines and studying how to drill for oil and gas. He went further arguing “taking off school and protesting? You don’t learn anything from that” and then claimed “the best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue. Because that’s what your future life will look like”.

His comments are reminiscent of the conservative politicians during the Vietnam War era. The involvement in that war was wrong. The students are telling him the approach to climate change is also wrong.

Canavan and his colleagues are so caught up in their own ideology that they miss the very point of the protest. These students do not have an electoral cycle time frame. Nor are they concerned about the short-term profits of international corporations in the mining sector. They are thinking about the next half century and beyond. The protestors can see the need for action to ensure a better world. Why can’t he?

The protestors are in step with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which identify the path to a more sustainable world by 2030. It is so embarrassing for governments to have these students exposing their failure to implement appropriate action on climate.

Political columnist Michael Moore was once a senior school teacher.


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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

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