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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

Looking to the future

The #FridaysForFuture movement is very much a part of my home-life now. Both my daughters are engaged in their different ways, one here on the east coast of Sweden in Stockholm, and the other on the west coast of Sweden in Lysekil.

As a parent here in Sweden it is my job to make sure they go to school, it is the law that all children attend school (not get an education, but attend school - I guess the attendance means they get an education!!). As many of you who have followed me for several years know, I have not been entirely happy with how school has provided an education for my children. My daughters have managed - they have possessed that skill to be flexible to meet the requirements os going to school. My son, on the other hand has not been so lucky and to be perfectly honest I think sending him to school has been traumatic for him, for us - and probably those in his class too. he could not see the value of school for his future. It did not seem meaningful at all. And his autism and ADHD made it so much harder to access the knowledge they were dishing out at school, because it is being served for neurotypical minds that don't struggle so much with their working memory.

I know that my son is intelligent. He is capable. He can do things and learn things in his own way... and I also believe that when his brain matures he will be ready to learn... his mind seems to work like a much younger child, with the need for play and sensory, whole body interactions in order to process... in other words it feels like he never got to fully finish learning those skills to deal with sensory input and emotional regulation before being pushed into academic learning. Basically he should have been a preschooler for longer, then he would have been ready to learn.

I am really grateful that in Sweden formal schooling does not start until the year they turn 7, had my son been forced to start school even earlier, like I did in the UK, then I think the consequences would have been even worse. he would have been even less ready.

It seems like he is starting to settle down now... at the age of almost 15 into what learning is about. he did not start reading until he was 9, thankfully he had some great first teachers that did not push the reading, and when he discovered that he needed to read to be able to do Pokemon games without having to wait for me to read for him, he became motivated to learn to read and write... he hopped over the phase of sounding out... and started reading fluently (and unwillingly in school when it is not about stuff he likes) - he read aloud with inflection in his voice. Also when he was writing he was making less mistakes in spelling than his sisters did at age 9, despite the fact that they both started reading at age 6 (sounding out in the August and reading Harry Potter in both English and Swedish by the following June).

I made the decision not to teach any of my children how to read and write when they were preschoolers... but that did not mean there was a lack of literacy in our lives... I read signs, pointed out their letters, when they wanted to write I supported their process. At the age of 2 the girls had learned all the underground station names between our home and their preschool (they attended an English preschool on the other side of town)... this sometimes impressed people, they thought they could read... but what the girls were reading were the colours of the station and connecting the names to that - I did not used screens or snacks to entertain them on the 20 minute train ride... we talked, and talking about the stations was a fun thing to do, it gave them routine of knowing our journey home. My son, though, still cannot remember the train stations names, he cannot remember the names of the months, or all of the names of everyone in his class. We have even practiced with class photos - and he can retain them for a short time, then they just go. He has no connection in his brain to just remember, he has to work at it... and really that is not an efficient way to use the brain, so he chooses to just let the names go...

My son has always been very tall... at age 14 he stands over 190, (well over 6 foot...). This has never made it easy for adults to know how to interact with him. he would always look like he was a few years older than he actually is, but would behave like a few years younger than he actually is... this meant the expectation adults (and other children) had for him was always totally inappropriate. it made the situation harder.

So what has all this got to do with the future?

Well in a sense to understand the now, we have to understand our past. And by watching change in the past we can learn to accept there will be change in our future.

There is a lot of backlash about children not attending school due to the climate striking. And my initial response is that the schools are not doing a very good job if a few hours is going to affect the children's education.

I mean compulsory school in Sweden is 7,000 hours of learning sessions per year... my daughter here in Stockholm misses 2 lessons on Friday (that all the lessons she has on Fridays this year) despite the fact that she strikes for 7 hours every Friday. She hands in all her homework, she is getting good grades, she has also, in her own time, written debate articles and has become a columnist too writing about the environment and the message they are trying to communicate. As well as this she is in touch with young people around the world to organise the strikes and last week her school gave her permission to travel by train to Strasbourg to meet politicians at the European Parliament with 59 other youths aged 10-19 from Europe, and get to see just how the system works there - now there is real life learning.

My other daughter on the west coast protests during her lunch break (missing no school, but sacrificing her lunch) as that is the only time there is any kind of movement at the Commune House in the small town... when the local politicians go for their lunch. She then arranged for more to strike for slightly longer on the 15th March, to have a bigger impact.

On the whole most students/pupils that are striking - are doing it for a few hours. Even if they were to do that every week it would be about 80 school hours out of 7,000 - that is 1.14% of their education being spent on trying to bring awareness for the future of our planet. Seriously if a school fails to be able to educate children with the remaining 98.86% of the time they are in school, then there is a SERIOUS flaw in the education system around the world.

Some adults have accused children that they should stay in school and learn more to be better prepared for the future, to be able to fix it - but isn't that what adults should have already done with our education... or is it just the children of NOW that has that responsibility??? I shake my head at the stupidity, and the refusal to take responsibility of this situation.

Also having attended the semi-final of Young Researchers (Unga Forskare) in Gothenburg the other week I could see that many of the research projects were about the environment... my daughter and her research about chemicals in soap(shampoo affecting the filtration on blue mussels won her a place in the finals... this is a person that is STRIKING every Friday, who's school work and research has gained recognition. So the argument that striking is having a negative impact on education is not entirely true.

What I do find sad is the fact that many children do not attend school because school is not a welcoming place for education. many children with diagnoses struggle to find their place within the educational system. More attention needs to be spent on how to address these problems, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to get the education.

As I have pointed out many times in my blog, children that do not feel safe will not be able to learn. If we are forcing children to start learning academically before they have properly learned how to self regulate - their emotions and also their reactions to sensory input, then these children are going to be in a constant state of anxiety/stress, which will impact them and the rest of the class. There needs to be more focus on WHOLE learning... more focus on the whole child, and on secure relationships. Schools often focus on the anti-bullying, and anti-harrassment - but how much time is being REALLY spent on developing solid and positive and inclusive relationships. As I have written many many times before... working philosophically with children can be a part of this process, especially if started in preschool and carried THROUGHOUT school... children learn how to discuss ideas openly and with respect, they learn how to disagree respectfully, they learn how to listen to the ideas of others and be inspired, and not just answer to prove someone wrong like debating does.

Also isn't it a sign that in a sense schools are showing success? Isn't the job of the school to educate children to be critical thinkers and to respond to this thinking... isn't the fact that the children have learned about the environment (showing knowledge learned in school) has been critically analysed and that they have come to the conclusion that not enough is being done... especially when there is already an agreement put in place that the adult leaders are not following.

Why do children have to make agreements and stick to it, if adults are not? What are adults actually saying?

Then there are adults saying that they should strike on the weekend... well then it would not be a strike... people who strike do not strike on their days off... they can protest on their days off... The idea with a strike is civil disobedience... in the same way that civil disobedience has achieved women's rights to vote - I mean check out Iceland (you can read more about that here if you are interested) - over the years teachers have striked, nurses, miners, farmers, factory workers etc etc... all fighting to improve their own situation... the children are striking for EVERYONES situation - not just their own. The fate of the planet, the fact there are those already suffering the consequences of climate change - lost homes, livelihoods, lives....

We need change.

We need to change the education system to be more inclusive for all children and also to ensure that children are getting the education we need for the future... and if climate change is going to continue to spiral out of control, then academic skills might not be the most important... hands on survival skills might be better? Developing skills for social interactions when water and food are in short supply... the academic needs of tomorrow are so radically different from those of today... and one thing history lessons are teaching children of today is that adults do not learn... that humanity is greedy and that a few want to keep it all for themselves... power, wealth etc.

Now I am fine with people earning different amounts of money... what I am not fine with is manipulating things so that they can still keep on earning more money when it is detrimental to others, to the environment and eventually to their own future family.

We need change.

A long time ago I started writing about "play for peace" as i realised that that adults are incapable of creating peace... but that there are enough adults that can support children to be better humans and maybe in the future be able to create peace.

My time in Palestine and Israel has made me realise that this will take generations, as adults feed their children on a diet of fear.

But if we create true democratic schools... where the children learn from each other and the adults... where the adults learn from the children and their colleagues - and that they all participate in the world around them... become participants rather than being confined to the institution of school. Then maybe our future can be better than the inactive politicians we have today. Not because I think they are bad people (although there are few I actually wonder about) but because to stay in power is like a popularity contest... and therefore there is not the urge to take the risks to do the right things.

I painted in my daughter's bedroom a quote from Dumbledore in the Harry Potter books... it felt an important quote for me to share with my children

We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.

It is not easy for children to go on strike when so many vilify them. it is not easy for children to go on strike when adults belittle them. It is not easy for children to go on strike when adults fail to believe in their competence.

But they do it because it is what is right.

For me, the above words are the very essence of Original Learning... and that if we were to use this approach on schools it might prepare us better for the future....

The Swedish Young Researchers semi finals... Sophia busy talking about her school research project with the judges... it was an honour to see so many youth engaged in research and environmental issues... research projects about making the future better.

here am I with both my daughters... even on school breaks they strike... that is why both were in Stockholm.

Isabelle on stage on Friday's global strike where millions of children and youths worldwide stepped out of school to make the statement that adults need to do something about the climate. The children are not the ones RESPONSIBLE for solving the climate crisis... adults are. Adults in power are responsible for listening to the science, for making decisions that are long term economically viable, and not just short term... climate change will impact everyone economically - we need to start thinking NOW about making sure we don't aggravate and speed up the climate change so that we have more jobs now and none later... we need to be thinking about how can we ensure there is opportunity for growth within a new system... that the number of people in poverty does not increase... this requires adults to start thinking about this now, and providing the right resources to schools to ensure that the alternative thinkers (autism, adhd etc) are being included... because they may be the ones sitting with all the answers....

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