The recent school climate strikes have generated a lot of public debate and not just in relation to bringing greater attention to the issue of climate change. The question that attracted so much attention was whether students should be encouraged to strike on a legislated school day.
By law, it is compulsory for school-aged students to attend school on a legislated school day unless there is a communication provided by a parent/guardian to explain their absence. I listened to a lot of radio commentary in the lead up to the event. The NSW Premier felt students should discuss the issues during school hours while the NSW Opposition Leader offered support for youth leadership, believing the students had a case for taking the action they did.
It is my view that the decision as to whether students participate in strikes rests with parents and the school principal, not with politicians.
We are fortunate that we live in a democratic society where there are opportunities to express our opinions on issues that we are passionate about. Young people need to be afforded the same opportunities particularly when these issues will directly impact their future. So much of what we do in schools is aimed at developing in our students a sense of moral courage and conviction so that they can contribute to their world in a meaningful way – we have an obligation we to support what we teach.
Psychologist and author, Steve Biddulph, believes that adults should not be debating whether students protest or not but rather, stand in solidarity with young people. He identified research that suggests political engagement can have a positive impact on youth mental health and parents who support and join in the cause, have more resilient and hopeful kids.
Regardless of the issue – climate change, politics, social justice or gun laws – young people all over the world are demanding to have a voice on issues that directly affect them. That is as it should be.
Greg Whitby is the executive director of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta. Follow him on Twitter @gregwhitbyLearn more about Greg