Every fall, I loved to teach folktales and fairy tales, setting the stage for the most imaginative holiday, Halloween. One of my favorite stories was The Emperor’s New Clothes. Remember that story? -- The Emperor was a dull, boorish, clotheshorse who fell under the spell of thieves and “bought” or really imagined he bought, beautiful new clothes from the thieves who pretended to be weavers.
Those pretend weavers told the Emperor that the so-called clothes would be invisible to simpletons or to those not fit for their positions. Many in the land heard this fabricated story, and when the Emperor sent nobility to check on the clothes, the nobles, for fear of losing their jobs, told the Emperor that the thieves’ invisible garments were beautiful.
Yes, this story sounds a lot like today’s times…
There are different versions of the Emperor’s response to the finished product. Some say the Emperor believed that he saw the beautiful outfits right away; others disagreed, claiming the Emperor was not so sure, but decided to pretend and participate in a royal parade, sporting nothing but his underwear.
Disagreement is okay, because democratic schooling values multiple perspectives and the exchange of ideas and views.
This Emperor, however, was not of that ilk. He refused to tolerate disagreement. He proceeded with the parade walking in his underwear, just like some of our leaders continue this day. The Emperor walked past a child who was shouting the truth; that the Emperor was not wearing any clothes. Some of the courtesans heard that child and saw through the the fake weaver's charade. And they, too, chimed in that the Emperor was parading in his underwear.
Activist Greta Thunberg is a student, not a child, but the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes is an apt metaphor for her experience. Some key adults who have the power to mitigate the climate crisis are averting their eyes, not listening to her presentations (or reviewing the science)—and even mocking Greta. Thankfully, the majority of U.S. citizens recognize the climate hoax and know how to treat every person with dignity.
We all should be grateful to Greta for modeling how to persist in spite of fabrications from those in power. Greta is building a climate change/activism curriculum for parents and teachers as she continues with her climate strikes, aiming to reduce emissions by sailing (rather than flying) to her destinations. I went to the UN to try to meet Greta last month, but failed to find her. Nonetheless, I continue to be inspired by her activism and her TED talks. I understand that she is in California today, witnessing the fires firsthand.
For many years, like the Emperor's fake clothes, climate change was an invisible issue. But, you can't fool Mother Nature. Today, we can walk Lake Michigan and see firsthand the rising sea levels just as students in California can watch the fires. Rising temperatures have impacted all of us, wherever we are in the world, but most notably in the Polar Regions. As educators, we must make students comfortable talking about the climate crisis, dealing with the problem and devising solutions. As a start (and Greta I hope you are listening because we would love to have you), we invite you to present at a summit on climate change, aimed at students, ages 9-14.
What: Kids Climate Summit
Date: May 2, 2020
Time: 8:30 am-2 pm
Location: Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy
Please don’t remain invisible. Please participate in our Summit! We are accepting proposals from teachers, students, families, and coaches interested in fielding a team of students to present at the Summit. For more information, take a look at chicagogiftedcommunity.org/kids-climate-summit. If you have questions, email KidsSummit@chicagogifted community.org.
Don’t be spooked by the climate crisis. Act, imagine, and rethink alternatives.