Flat White

The climate strike: slacktivism and sloppy thinking

20 September 2019

11:03 AM

20 September 2019

11:03 AM

Would you rather be stuck in school at a maths lesson on a Friday afternoon or be outside stirring with your mates?

No prizes for guessing what most children would prefer.

As a result, it’s easy to dismiss today’s climate demonstration as mere ‘slacktivism’. Students giving up their Saturday morning sport to attend a protest would have been a far more powerful statement.

And besides, is it really a ‘strike’? Not going to school — which means students miss out on their own learning — isn’t even remotely comparable to not going to work as part of industrial action.

Of course, it’s great if students are interested in politics, care about global issues, and want to exercise their right to protest government policy in a liberal democracy. And yes, issues with potential long-term consequences like climate change are especially important for youth.


However, if any student really wants to improve policy in the long-term, the best way to do this is to become better educated — and learn to understand the various perspectives of every issue. Getting involved in politics should be in addition to their schooling, not ever in conflict with it.

Today’s ‘strike’ has been endorsed by education unions, among others (with shades of “How do you do, fellow kids?”). Unions are obviously free to support whatever action they want, though students shouldn’t be pressured into joining.

But do unions support the principle of all students being able to skip class to attend a protest on any issue? Or just on political issues where the union leaders happen to agree with them? Maybe unions wouldn’t be so supportive if students went on ‘strike’ to protest against inter-generational debt, advocating for budget cuts for the sake of future generations.

Students should be able to skip school occasionally, providing they have parental permission, go through the normal processes of their school, and the usual rules around attendance and truancy are still applied consistently.

Parents — not governments — are fundamentally responsible for the moral education of their children. If parents are happy for their kids to miss lessons for whatever reason, then so be it.

But in a time of growing polarisation, the last thing we need is teachers bringing political partisanship into schools.

Blaise Joseph is an education policy analyst at the Centre for Independent Studies.

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