Save the Schools, Save the Youth, Save the World

A Dr. Seuss quote is seen painted above a classroom door at a New York City public school on August 25, 2020.
A Dr. Seuss quote is seen painted above a classroom door at a New York City public school on August 25, 2020.
Photo: Michael Loccisano (Getty Images)

In another life, I may have been a teacher. I have a soft spot for the youth, especially the tiniest ones who don’t yet know what they’re in for. That’s probably what troubles me most about this world and all its problems: what, exactly, are we going to be handing over to them?

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The coronavirus has made crystal clear how U.S. politicians prioritize the country’s children. They don’t. While the federal government has been quick to reopen the economy, threatening everyone’s health, it’s failing at providing the guidance and resources public schools need to reopen safely. This isn’t new. This country has never placed much value on the leaders of tomorrow—especially in its segregationist history of who is even afforded a proper education or safe learning environment. The attempt to reopen schools with inadequate safeguards is only the latest example.

There are many reasons we should be outraged by the way the president and other decision makers talk about putting children (and teachers) in harm’s way, to say nothing of the toxic policies the Trump administration has put in place that worsen students’ experience and safety. But it’s even more infuriating given the role education can play in solving another massive issue: the climate crisis.

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That’s true not just in the U.S. but around the world and especially for girls and women who face disproportionate impact from climate change. With education comes power. With education comes the necessary knowledge to help individuals weather whatever the climate crisis throws their way and finding solutions to the problems we face. Improving someone’s health and education has the ability to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 85 gigatons over the next 30 years, according to Project Drawdown, a solutions group focused on reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

Per Project Drawdown:

“Education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change. They can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees, and water, even as nature’s cycles change. They have greater capacity to cope with shocks from natural disasters and extreme weather events.”

In the U.S., in particular, many kids never even learn about the climate crisis in school. A 2019 poll from NPR and Ipsos, a global market research firm, found that while 86% of teachers believe climate change should be taught in schools, only 42% actually teach it. The National Science Teachers Association also wants to see the topic become a staple in curriculums across the U.S. as well. Yet some attempts to actually add climate change into school curriculums have been met with severe opposition in the past.

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Despite this failure to invest in schools and teach children about climate change, kids clearly grasp that the climate crisis is threatening their very existence. Over the past few years, they’ve been rising up in an unprecedented manner. This outcry from the kids has been one of the most inspiring aspects of working as a climate journalist. Some of these children are barely in high school, yet they’re eloquent as hell. They know their shit. They may not all fully understand the mechanics of climate science, but they’re not afraid to speak up about what they do know: Climate change is here, and their age has nothing to do with their ability to care and do something about it.

When I was 15, I was preoccupied with making some dumb boy or girl like me. I tried to do the least amount of work to get good grades. I cared about the societal ills around me, but I had no idea how to do anything about it, so I let those problems numb me, not energize me. Eventually, in my pursuit of an avenue to affect change, I sought journalism as a way to shine a light on the issues causing people pain and help end suffering.

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The kids these days, though? They’re taking that pain and molding it into something absolutely beautiful: Power. I hope that the adults in the room take notice. If there’s anyone who can save this place, it’s the kids. At the very least, they deserve a damn education.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

In another life, I may have been a teacher.

Cool in this other life what would you be teaching?