MATTHEW PYE

I only found out by chance.

 

In 2011, I attended a talk on Sustainability that vividly demonstrated the extraordinary scale and threat of the ecological debt that was building up in the background to all the usual headlines that occupy us. I thought I was well educated, I was the head of Philosophy in a European School. I was not.

 

It was not just the fact that all the graphs and data pointed towards a catastrophic conclusion for humans within the lifetimes of my own children and the students that I teach, the really alarming thing was that I had found out by chance. Attending that talk was not compulsory.

 

It remains true today, 10 years later, that our education systems across the world are not meeting the challenge. We expect politicians, businesses and global leaders to square up to the science. Education should be no different, it is not because we achieve so many other fantastically powerful and enriching things for young people that we have to sell them short on climate change and sustainability.

 

Whilst the latest scientific research analyses system collapses, tipping points, and a profound destabilisation of the most basic requirements required for the ambitions of our human civilisation, Education is still entrenched in a set of shockingly timid responses.

 

Students will have learnt about the basics of climate change from a dozen teachers, but their understanding of the crisis will rarely progress beyond what a primary school child understands

(typically, that we should make an effort to recycle, reduce plastic waste, increase efficiencies and respect nature). In 2011, it shook me up to think through the contrast between the way we teach Maths, Science and the other core subjects, and the way we consider Ecological education: we do not applaud a student who is 18 for completing a set of simple additions and subtractions, yet we might earnestly applaud them for a project in recycling.

A student of 18 who is about to enter university will have an advanced understanding of a range of subjects, they will have been pushed and extended to think in complex, interconnected, systemic and nuanced way about Biology, Economics, History, Physics or Psychology. And yet, their understanding of the climate crisis might easily not extend much further than a concern for polar bears, more stormy weather and a fairly remote awareness of sea level rises. We should be shocked by this.

We do not dare send students to university to study Architecture with only a casual and infantile understanding of Maths and Physics. Yet we allow millions of young people to graduate into a world as voters, consumers and citizens with such a limited and timid view of an existential crisis.

 

This is my story. I had always wanted to be a teacher, I will always love the classroom, but in 2011 the game changed. There was a challenge to bridge the gap between the science and the social reality for my students, and do it in a way that was more empowering than disempowering.