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Reflexive educational praxis: Learning from, and because of, children as environmental actors


In this blog, Tanu Biswas suggests that reflexive educational praxis should go beyond individual and nation-specific acts. Her ideas are a response to the global struggle for intergenerational climate justice led primarily by children and youth. She proposes that learning from and because of children as environmental actors implies grasping children’s political participation as a way to ensure their protection and their grandchildren’s protection.


As I have previously shared on the CCYSC Blog (Biswas 2020) there is much for adults to learn by recognizing and validating children’s political agency evident in children’s civil disobedience and related activism for intergenerational climate justice. Learning from, and because of, children as environmental actors refers to destabilising dangerous global processes falsely premised on the belief that continued growth is possible and resources are inexhaustible. It is not restricted to an isolated ‘climate crisis’ which makes it to a certain ‘subject’ adults teach children in schools. Instead, the complex arguments made by young climate activists (e.g., Earth Justice 2019) calls for a reflexive approach to educational praxis that also refers back to adults’ continuous learning processes and not only children’s learning dictated by curricula (conf. Hoveid and Hoveid 2020).

I interpret reflexivity in educational praxis as something that can go beyond interpersonal, micro-level reflexivity between individual teachers and pupils. Given the global scale of intergenerational climate injustice that young activists are collectively fighting against, reflexivity in educational praxis will need systematic, macro-scale transnational cooperation that facilitates micro-level reflexivity. One of the main reasons I think in this direction is that young activists are repeatedly pointing out that the only way towards intergenerational justice is by thinking beyond national borders. On 11th October 2021, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child announced a historic ruling (UNCRC 2021b) in response to the children’s rights climate litigation case filed by 16 children against Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey (Earth Justice 2019). The Committee ruled that, “ […] a State party can be held responsible for the negative impact of its carbon emissions on the rights of children both within and outside its territory (UNCRC 2021b).” The UNCRC verdict confirms and legitimises one of the key arguments of the plaintiffs: we have to act and think beyond national borders. The same, I believe, is true for education and pedagogy globally.

From an anthropological perspective ‘climate’ is part of a larger complex problem, that is deeply entangled with economic and cultural politics and, it is fundamentally characterized by the commitment to growth and expansion which is a basic premise for capitalism and industrial modernity (Eriksen 2016; Eriksen 2018; Eriksen and Schober 2016). Jeronimo Zarco, 17-year-old climate adviser to the Child Rights International Network (CRIN) paints a clear picture of why children’s struggle for intergenerational climate justice is a political matter. In a recent discussion on children’s rights to climate justice (CRIN, 4.11.2021) Jeronimo spelled out that the young protest to denounce the financial interests driving climate change. Maya, 11-year-old member of the Scottish Children’s Parliament called out her poor climate education at school where she learns that ‘littering is bad’ and ‘plastic should be reduced’. Maya asserted that children and young people need to know more about where their food comes from, the impact of their society’s lifestyles, travel and consumption. Her view implies that she is confronted with the strong tendency of educational systems to ‘protect children’ from knowledge that determines their lives and their grandchildren’s lives. Maya’s assertion also resonates with Jeronimo’s observation in so far as most educational reforms globally today are not children-led or initiated, but OECD-led (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). Why and how would the highest contributors to global intergenerational climate injustice reform curriculums (and pedagogies) to educate about the impact of their societies’ lifestyles on the planet? Why and how would the highest contributors to global intergenerational climate injustice reform curriculums to educate about the contribution of their societies in deepening global inequalities which, to a large extent, continue to benefit from colonial networks?

Maya’s point about poor adult-led climate education that ‘protects children’ from ‘real world issues’ is poetically reflected in The Geopark, a children’s playground in the one of the world’s oil capitals Stavanger (Visit Norway, n.d.). The playground is built on an abandoned oil platform out of old oil industry scraps; its shape standing for geological layers of an oil field could serve an ‘educational’ purpose. But what it reveals to me is that ‘children in political conflict’ need not only refer to children who find themselves directly in the middle of war or protests. ‘Children in political conflict’ could look like Jeronimo who protests on the streets, Maya who sits in the Scottish Children’s Parliament lobbying for climate education, or a ‘protected child’ playing on an abandoned oil platform converted to a sophisticated playground in Norway. Whilst thinking of the ‘educational’ as reflexive praxis (Hoveid and Hoveid 2020), a high-end playground on an abandoned oil field conceals the intergenerational injustice embedded in the possibility of creating The Geopark. Protecting children in the global North from knowledge of the climate crisis also bars their access to the possibility of working towards a more just future for their generation and their grandchildren beyond their own nation states. Maya’s fight for climate education in the Scottish Children’s Parliament is one way to ensure that there is access to climate justice for children not only in Scotland, but other parts of the world too. In other words, we must act and think beyond national borders; this is one thing that children like Maya can teach their adult counterparts.

Learning from and because of children as environmental actors requires adult actors to grasp children’s political participation as way to ensure their protection and their grandchildren’s protection. From a childist standpoint this view has been described as ‘empowered inclusion’ in so far as it is responsive to the global deep interdependence that children’s struggle for intergenerational climate justice reveals (Josefsson and Wall 2020; also conf. Wall 2019). While reflexive educational praxis is key in aligning with processes of children’s empowered inclusion in adults learning processes, the onus of educational reflexivity rests on systematic, macro-scale transnational cooperation that takes intergenerational climate justice seriously.



References:

Biswas, Tanu (2020) Children’s Civil Disobedience in the Minority World and its Potential for Re-imagining the Educational. Critical Child and Youth Studies Collective, Blog.

https://www.theccysc.com/post/children-s-civil-disobedience-in-the-minority-world-and-its-potential-for-re-imagining-the-education accessed on 06/11/2021


Earth Justice (2019) Communication to the Committee on the Rights of the Child: in the Case of Chiara Sacchi (Argentina); Catarina Lorenzo (Brazil); Iris Duquesne (France); Raina Ivanova (Germany); Ridhima Pandey (India); David Ackley, Iii, Ranton Anjain, And Litokne Kabua (Marshall Islands); Deborah Adegbile (Nigeria); Carlos Manuel (Palau); Ayakha Melithafa (South Africa); Greta Thunberg And Ellen-Anne (Sweden); Raslen Jbeili (Tunisia); & Carl Smith And Alexandria Villaseñor (USA); Petitioners, V. Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany & Turkey. https://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/2019.09.23-crc-communication-sacchi-et-al-v.-argentina-et-al-redacted.pdf . 12.12.2020.


Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. (2016) Overheating: An Anthropology of Accelerated Change. Pluto Press.

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland (2016) Overheating: An Anthropology of Accelerated Change. Pluto Press.

—, ed. 2018. An Overheated World: An Anthropological History of the Early Twenty-First Century. Routledge.

— and Schober, Elisabeth eds. (2016) Identity Destabilised: Living in an Overheated World. Pluto Press


Hoveid, Halvor; Hoveid, Marit (2020): Making Education Educational. A Reflexive Approach to Teaching. Cham: Springer Nature Switzerland.

Josefsson, Jonathan ; Wall, John (2020) Empowered inclusion: theorizing global justice for children and youth, Globalizations, 17 (6), 1043-1060, DOI: 10.1080/14747731.2020.1736853


UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2021 a) General comment on children's rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change: Concept Note. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRC/Pages/CRC_GC26_concept_note.aspx accessed on 06/11/2021


UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2021 b) UN Child Rights Committee rules that countries bear cross-border responsibility for harmful impact of climate change https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=27644&LangID=E accessed on 06/11/2021


Visit Norway (n.d) The Geopark. https://www.visitnorway.com/places-to-go/fjord-norway/the-stavanger-region/listings-stavanger/the-geopark/4541/ accessed on 06/11/2021

Wall, John (2019): From Childhood Studies to Childism: Reconstructing the Scholarly and Social Imagination. In Children’s Geographies 17(6), pp. 1–15.



Tanu Biswas is an interdisciplinary philosopher of education. She researches the intersections of pedagogy, philosophy, sustainability and decoloniality from a childist standpoint. She is particularly fascinated by what and how adults can learn from children. Tanu works as an Associate Professor in Pedagogy at the University of Stavanger. She is also an affiliated researcher at the University of Bayreuth and an advisory board member of the Childism Institute of University of Rutgers – Camden.


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