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6-7s Building Study: Progressive Education

MCS Students Support the Youth Climate Strike

MCS Students Support the Youth Climate Strike

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The School Strike 4 Climate on September 20, 2019 energized over a million students to organize massive demonstrations in New York and across the globe on a school day. Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist who embodies  our ideals of a youth leader, moved to act with her weekly act of defiance outside the Swedish Parliament. A global youth movement aiming its collective voice at a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly animated students and schools to announce they would take part.

Questions about MCS participation came up in mid-summer when the strike was first gathering steam. Members of the MCS community looked to MCS for guidance. How would a school educating to an authentic commitment to sustainability and environmental justice treat this opportunity? Comparisons to the #Enough Walkout, Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the Women’s March came up. Experiencing collective action is powerful and also sometimes scary (as some students could articulate). 

Faculty and staff took time to define our participation further during the opening weeks of school. From beginning to end, this became a collaborative effort among the staff. Student Council was brought into the planning too. Resources, videos and Ted Talks were shared. Leadership emerged among both experienced and new staff as decisions had to be reached. To act? Or not? As a whole school, or separately as Lower and Upper Schools? With or without families? 

“Climate change,” “global warming,” and other sophisticated vocabulary for various age groups became the focus of conversation. The decision was made to support strikers, organize a teach-in for the day and convene the Lower School in Central Park. How could we support a variety of experiences to mark the occasion that would be impactful for children? What relevant songs are already part of the Lower School repertoire? How might students’ creativity be incorporated? What connections to last year’s Green New Deal activism project could be drawn? How would the debates about race and class in the environmental movement shape our participation? 

There was a lot to appreciate when it all came together. 85th Street neighbors, who weren’t always the voices of welcome, watched in admiration and with smiles as Lower School classes chanted and sang their way to the “March for our Planet” in Central Park. Upper School students who did not attend the march spent the afternoon working on climate change related activism projects and activities that consisted of mind-stretching data challenges and playfully combative court battles from “Rethinking Schools’ A People’s Curriculum for the Earth.”

Greta Thunberg is the youthful hero who inspired so many that day. Only a week later she continues to be the object of admiration even as hope of the United Nations embracing substantive change fades. Having so deliberately and creatively made a day of the School Strike for Climate, this September will forever be an experience that was meaningful for MCS students. 

Who are other young champions of environmental justice that deserve to be recognized too? How many more times it will feel right to organize a collective school experience? That is still a question. Who among our students will emerge as young leaders devoted to protecting the earth’s resources in equitable and just ways? That is still a work-in-progress. How many more science classes, social studies projects, trips to Central Park or trips to the Farm will help them figure out the answer? The School Strike for Climate will be another memory that will shape our individual and collective commitment to living lightly and justly on earth.