Classroom Life

Students Teach a Lesson on Climate Justice

“We’re not here because of our passion. We’re here because we have to be.”

I stood alongside hundreds of Portland students under the school district office breezeway who were there to protest the district’s inaction on climate change. In front of me, a student’s voice rang out over the megaphone.

“Three years ago, the district passed Resolution #5272! Do you see any climate justice education in your school?”

A resounding “NO!” reverberated. A chant started up. “Five-two-seven-two! We deserve education too!”

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Hundreds of students gather at Portland Public Schools District Office after the March 15 Students Strike for the Climate rally downtown.

In 2016, Portland’s school board unanimously passed Resolution #5272, which states that the superintendent should “develop an implementation plan so that there is curriculum and educational opportunities that address climate change and climate justice education in all Portland Public Schools.” That summer, the district established a Climate Justice Committee of teachers, parents, community members and students to implement the resolution. If the resolution was fully realized, the district would have access to climate curriculum at all grade levels and all subject areas. Three years later, the committee is still waiting for full support from the district. Students are making noise in the streets, wondering why they have not benefited from the most comprehensive climate justice resolution in the nation.

Sadly, I know why.

On March 7, school administrators informed the PPS Climate Justice Committee that they were denying the committee’s proposal to fund full implementation of comprehensive climate curriculum across the district. Instead, the district is funding what it calls a Guaranteed Viable Curriculum (GVC), district-created mandates that dictate what teachers will teach. Many teachers around the district see it as an obstacle to good teaching.

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During Friday’s sit in, Yvonne Curtis, the deputy superintendent in charge of curriculum and instruction, addressed the crowd. Curtis told students that “the district will be providing [climate] curriculum,” but failed to give a timeline. Nor did she mention that the district has said that it will not support climate justice education until it develops the GVC, which could take three years. Students’ erupted in anger at Curtis’ remarks shouting, “Why is our future not in this curriculum?!”

Curtis thanked the students for their passion. One student leader responded, “We’re not here because of our passion. We’re here because we have to be.”

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Thousands of student protesters gather at Portland City Hall to demand action on climate change.

The student sit in culminated a day of climate action, following a rally at City Hall. From there students walked over a mile to the PPS District Office. Students’ protests were part of the March 15 Students Strike for the Climate, a day of youth activism that swept the world. In over 2,000 protests in more than 100 countries, more than 1 million youth took to the streets to demand that government leaders take drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report from October, we have 12 years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half in order to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius. Beyond this point, sea level rise, natural disasters, drought, and famine will leave behind an irreparable planet.

Many are overwhelmed by the issue of climate change. But locally, we have the potential to do something. Much of addressing climate change is taking care of what is right in front of us. Our students’ education is no exception.  We can fight this with facts, but this is ultimately a fight of the heart.

I am in mourning for what has already been lost and for what will be lost. I mourn knowing that my students’ children will live on a different planet than I was blessed with in all of its magnificence. Just how different it will be is up to all of us.

We have a decade. The youth are screaming at us. Will we listen? Will we act?

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