A couple of weeks back, I was in my classroom with a few of my Year 7 students when one asked what our plan for PSHE was. I went into our staff shared area and pulled up the centrally prepared slides for the next week, and as they loaded, that same pupil saw the title and said, “We are so having a debate about that.” We’d had a few debates by this point, so perhaps I should have expected it, but I’ve also seen endless stories about how the kids today are all climate change alarmists, struggling from the clinically diagnosable ‘climate anxiety’, so to hear a pupil say they wanted a debate about climate change with a tone that implied their implicit disagreement with what they assumed would be in the centrally planned slides was undeniably exciting.
I had a flick through the slides, and it was exactly as you might expect: doom and gloom on every single slide; no wonder the kids are so terrified. I decided to prepare my own climate change PSHE over that weekend, splitting it into three lessons:
- Climate change in context — discussing 500 million years of changing temperatures and atmospheric composition, including how two thirds of that time was supposedly too hot for ice to form in the arctic, the ice ages, the younger dryas, and as much climatological history I could squeeze in;
- The good news — highlighting the speed and efficiency with which humans have adapted to climate-related disasters, ensuring that it was abundantly clear that this speed was undoubtably outpacing any increases in said disasters, but then also presenting the data around those disasters which shows no clear signal of increase in the last 100 years; and
- The energy debate — how renewables are not solving any claimed problem of rising atmospheric CO2 levels, but are causing untold (literally in the mainstream media) environmental damage, and that investment in nuclear, which is demonstrably safe, energy-dense, and cost-effective, is being neglected for the ostensibly virtuous and Green energy sources.
Once this was all prepped, I went to my Head of Year and asked if I would be able to lead the climate change sessions with an alternative perspective. I explained that the pupils had an appetite for a debate on the topic, and that it would be important to provide an insight into the opposition apocalypse-sceptic view for that to be an effective and informed debate. He told me to run with it and that if I ever wanted to modify the PSHE content to “make my tutor sessions my own” then I should go ahead. And go ahead I did.
My sessions started on that Tuesday, and the debate, motioned as ‘Climate change is a serious problem that requires serious and immediate attention’, was scheduled for the following Wednesday, a PSHE session that this head of year would attend. I won’t waste much time going through the sessions, just to say that the way in which the pupils responded, listened, focused, and engaged was fantastic.
As was the debate itself: both sides conducted themselves admirably and presented excellent, well thought out, and evidenced cases; with the best speech, in my opinion, coming from the proposers of the motion. However, overall, it was decided in a blind vote that the sceptics had delivered the most convincing argument, taking the debate 15-7.
Of course, this is a small sample size, but I do believe two valuable messages come out of this story: the first, that not all children happily lap up the proposed narratives (there’s also been a request to debate the benefits of the covid jabs); and second, not all PSHE in school has to be promoting those narratives. And so I will leave you with two pleas: don’t underestimate our country’s young — they are very much prepared to think for themselves; and, if there are any other teachers reading this, have more confidence to not just parrot the PSHE content you’re told to from central teams, because, if the kids can think for themselves, surely you can too.
The author is a teacher at a large comprehensive who would prefer to remain anonymous.
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