A shockingly small percentage of our childhood education happens in the classroom. Not the kind that matters, anyway — not the kind that shapes us as people and we remember until we’re old and raising kids ourselves. That is why I’m taking my 7-year-old daughter out of school this Friday to participate in the Global Climate Strike. That, and I want her to see what it means to be a steward of the planet and to be a participant in the political process. These issues are important to me and I want them to be important to her.
The day of the Climate Strike itself, her time outside of the brick and mortar of her 143-year-old school building won’t, in all likelihood, look like an education. There will be little in the way of reading materials, no group learning projects, a lot of stuff won’t be super pertinent, and a lot of it will be mundane. It will look, more or less, like a protest. She’ll learn, at the least, to be comfortable standing in a crowd of like conviction and how to show oneself as a representative.
There will also be a lot of waiting around. She’ll do some voluntary reading, probably a Dog Man book or two; she’ll snack; she’ll stand watching people gather, moving from one place to the next to hear protests; and through on our prodding she’ll try to get a glimpse, from the inside, as tens of thousands march through the streets of New York City. We’ll go to my nearby office afterwards — Fatherly headquarters, where the toys are — and reflect on what we just went through. Well, I’ll reflect. She’ll probably grab a bite and play with some cool not-yet-to-market toys, the lucky kid.
And yet, there’s so much value in this excursion.
First of all, she is not going in blind. Climate change is a cause that she gets (“We have to protect nature because it doesn’t do it itself,” she told me the other day), but doesn’t fully grasp. She’s in third grade, so the greenhouse effect is about the point where her scientific understanding ends. The lessons that she takes from this day will be broad and a little bit sketchy. I can only hope that between the snacks and people-watching and discussions with her mom, who has a decorated career in environmental journalism, she will take one thing away: There’s life outside of the classroom walls. It is big, it is complex, and it is a little ruthless. Also, it isn’t waiting for you to graduate.
Schools can be stifling. The light of the world leaks in to public schools, but it definitely doesn’t shine. Real-world lessons are too often overpowered by a state testing culture that is so busy assessing whether the kids are testing well for The One Test that makes or breaks them, it can miss the point of education altogether. Great teachers can juggle (impressively) life lessons mixed with multiple-choice drudgery, but even they can only teach so many real-world skills. Common Core isn’t used in the real world and a curriculum that is a fit for millions is rigid by design. Mass education is complicated. The classroom is a flawed learning environment. Life, too, is flawed. It’s on the parent to teach kids to be able to work within a system and see outside of it.
There’s one other thing my daughter is going to see: Empowered kids working outside the system. The Climate Strike is built around kids working hard to communicate with the adults in power — to send a clear message that they understand what’s going on and don’t at all approve. The climate strike is a “youth movement” that looks a lot less like the Woodstock of the Boomers, where those crazy kids did some countercultural stuff, and looks more like a level-headed lobbying effort. A giant mass of people — most under the age of thirty — have recognized the shit hand they’ve been dealt and are shouting, clearly and concisely, for those in power to do something about it, before it’s too late. The students are trying to give the rest of the world an education on the limits of myopic thinking, on the limits of a classroom-only view of the world. After all, kids have a lot to teach adults.
Now there’s a lesson if ever there was one.