Predictions of our earth’s future are often full of doom-laden and eschatological (fantastic word by the way) hyperbole.
‘12 years to limit climate change catastrophe’,
‘Planet on the brink of destruction’
Climate sceptics cry ‘Project Fear’ and carry on gas-guzzling.
Last week, there were great grounds for optimism after thevisit of author Arlene Gormley to our school. Not satisfied with building her own school in Cambodia, Arlene has written and illustrated a beautiful book entitled ‘2030: Not a Fairytale’. It takes very young children on a journey through the 17 Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). It’s delightful, so simple and clear.
SDG 3 for example concerns health for all. As Arlene puts it,
‘Let’s make sure sick people can get medicine and rest in bed until they are better again.’
Not even Donald Trump could disagree with that, surely.
Arlene and her colleague, Bernie Hollywood, himself a UN ambassador for the SDGs, spent a good time with our school council to discuss both their current work, and what they might do in the future to help our planet, creating a just and fair world for all. There was not a hint of cynicism or pessimism –that’s normally what happens when you involve young children.
And yet the evidence tells us that children are becoming more and more pessimistic, unhappy and stressed. Snowflake generation? Hmm, not sure.
I think it’s more than that. Last week, I slept little, so worried was I about my ‘petite obsession’ – the kidnapping of a curriculum through standardised testing. I cannot get it off my mind – that our pupils, at an age where their imagination and dispositions are at an acutely sensitive and creative gestation, are branded as standardised numbers and the school is measured accordingly: I cannot think of anything more depressing for them and us.
And this at a time when, arguably, there can be nothing more important than the future of our planet?
Arlene and Bernie both belong to an organisation called World Merit, which seeks to train young leaders in every country on the planet, moulding their ideas so that they can lead on the SDGs in their communities.
Such initiatives are positive and optimistic, rooted in leadership, communication and encounter. I strongly believe that our curricula should reflect this development.
For example, whilst handwriting in undoubtedly important, and may remain so even in a digital world, verbal agility is surely more importantfor our modern age. Yet schools, bullied into pursuing arbitrary targets, offer too little time for debate and discussion. And whilst hour after hour of calculations can provide good training in ‘mastery’ for mathematics, doing so at the exclusion of existential issues such as the decline of species and fuel,can only be detrimental to our young people.
Our societal tendency to veer sharply in one direction or the other only makes things worse. The English system has wilted under its obsession with a back to basics world of Dickensian zero-tolerance, whilst the Scottish ‘Curriculumfor Excellence’ has been excoriated for its neglect of core knowledge.
The 2030 Global Goals should be a central part of a balanced curriculum that promotes debate, enquiry and communication. But not at the expense of other core skills and knowledge. The two can co-exist to the benefit of all.
And with that, our children really can change the world.