Can we listen to the young?

It’s been a sobering year/month/week and as I sit down to write this, in the middle of February, the 1970 song “Teach your children well” by Crosby, Stills and Nash is running through my head. “You, who are on the road/must have a code to live by,” begins the song. A young climate activist is arrested in Bengaluru for expressing a sense of injustice and supporting the call for a better world. Another young woman, many thousands of miles away, is viciously trolled on social media for tweeting solidarity with the farmers’ protest movement in India. A group of children in a small-town school use drama to make a provocative point, and they become branded as anti-national. Even as the young are acting on the realization that they have to do something to change the way the world – and the planet – is going, there is growing intolerance for anything that seems to question the power of the state and the stupidity of the establishment.

In a climate that discourages dissent and cracks down on expressions of a different vision for the world, many parents would instinctively warn their children to not get involved in politics and keep their heads down. Schools mostly try to steer clear of politics and teachers tend to avoid controversy in the classroom – except in a performative way, for debate competitions. But as Neerja Singh notes in her column in this issue of Teacher Plus, the young are getting increasingly impatient with the way the older generations have treated the world, and each other. They can see that the adults who control business, politics and social structures have failed miserably at creating a just and equitable world, that they are driven more by power and profit than by ideas of fairness that apply equally to all cultures and people, let alone the larger living world. A few of the more courageous among them, those who have discovered their own agency, have stepped out and raised their voices, risking reprisal from a machinery that has all the power, and seemingly, takes little of the responsibility – when it comes to fashioning their future.

I’ve written before of the need to nurture the idealism of the young, and for teachers to help their young wards find constructive ways to intervene when they see instances of injustice, whether social, cultural or environmental. And all of these are of course political. Instead of teaching them to be quiet and accepting, and “stay in line” even when the line is unreasonable and unjust, can we give them the strength to act on conscience, and take the consequences? And also, instead of just teaching them, can we support them in their effort to claim their future?

“Teach your parents well…feed them on your dreams…,” is how the song’s last stanza of the song begins. The children are already teaching us, in the ways they know how. It’s time for us to listen, and to amplify their voices, instead of quieting them with our fears.

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