“Polite” silence about climate justice is a dominant social norm among educational leaders across the country:
In June, 2018, a youth-adult team with Schools for Climate Action met with a long-time staffer of the California School Boards Association (CSBA). They asked the staffer if the CSBA measured climate change impacts on California schools or California school kids. The staffer laughed ironically, clearly frustrated. The staffer said something like:
We don't and if we did, we would not be able to call it that. We'd have to call it 'air quality' or something like that. The words "climate change" are considered too controversial, too political around here.
In October, 2018 the CSBA tweeted a link to their journal with a lead story about school district losses and recovery from "natural disasters" last year. In 5+ pages about the devastating fires in 2017, the words "climate change" do not appear once. One mention is made of a "warming climate" but there is nothing in the journal that would make it clear the CSBA does NOT adhere to the unscientific (and highly partisan) worldview regarding climate change that is at the root of our national climate inaction which so threatens our children. On November 13th, 2018 the CSBA tweeted a link to an 18 minute video about fire impacts and recovery on school districts. While it provides important and relevant information to help school districts suffering from fire trauma, these fires are referred to only as wildfires and natural disasters. The words “climate change” are again never spoken. This semantic tiptoeing, intentionally or unintentionally, protects those who are gaslighting the American public, including our students, about the causes, impacts, and solutions to the climate crisis.
We have seen this pattern repeated at different scales throughout the educational sector. A “polite” public silence about the impacts of national climate inaction on students and future generations is the dominant social norm within the educational sector. This silence may actually undermine young people’s psychological resilience as they do not see their lived experience of climate neglect reflected in the institutions and adults they trust. This may make it more difficult for young people to build a coherent and accurate narrative about the world they perceive and the information we teach them. Ironically, the majority of educational leaders already believe this national climate inaction is dangerous to our kids and corrosive to our institutions. Please break the silence to protect our students. We are mandated reporters. By speaking up for climate justice, we can help prevent climate harm to our students and future generations while at the same time building the resilience they need to manage this enormous challenge.