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An Etobicoke mother is upset that seven-and eight-year-old kids were shown a library presentation consisting of an emotional speech by child climate activist Greta Thunberg and a carbon clock predicting humans have eight years left to act before the point of no return for saving humanity from climate change.
During the presentation at least one child shouted out something to the effect of “We’re all going to die!” or “I don’t want to die!” in response to a clock showing two scenarios of global temperatures rising above the point of no return, the direr one showing a clock ticking down with only eight years left on it.
The bleak message throughout the presentation and the outburst about death upset some of the children, according to Lejla Blazevic, the mother of an eight-year-old grade three student who came home distressed after she left the presentation thinking she only had eight more years to live.
The Greta Thunberg speech played to the children was the famous one from when she spoke at the UN Climate Action Summit in September, rising to international superstardom. Blazevic is still wondering why the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) included such an emotionally charged in a presentation given to young children.
“My message is, we’ll be watching you,” says Thunberg near the start of her viral speech, addressing those in power. “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school, on the other side of the ocean. Yet, you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams, and my childhood with your empty words. And yet, I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying,” Thunberg says in the speech shown to the kids at the elementary school in Etobicoke, the western part of Toronto.
The only other part of the presentation was a popular climate change carbon clock that counts down the time certain climate scientists predict humans have left before the effects of increased carbon in the atmosphere are irreversible.
The Post Millennial was provided audio recordings of three meetings, a phone call with the superintendent and emails between Blazevic and TDSB representatives. Blazevic requested the meetings after her daughter came home distraught from seeing the presentation at Elmbank Junior Middle Academy.
“She was shocked. She was like, ‘Mommy! They told us today that we are going to die in eight years.’ She was totally shocked,” said Blazevic.
Before her first meeting with school staff, the librarian sent Blazevic an email explaining the presentation he gave to the children.
“The theme for ECO initiatives at the TDSB this year is ‘Students as Agents of Change’. Greta was 15 at the time she gave the speech. The “message” of her speech for our students was that they can make a difference and the future of our planet concerns our children most directly.
“It is our intention to use the leadership and example of Greta to spur discussion and “action” on climate change. Ms. Davis’ class will be analyzing the data referenced and discussing dissenting opinions and eventually some of the changes and solutions that are on the horizon. BTW, our own Prime Minister has yet to have the audience Greta did.
“It was not the intention to cause distress in our students. Climate change issues are facing all of us. Joylea’s concerns and fears are the very reason we need to respond. I encourage parents to discuss climate change issues. As adults, we all need to reflect on the impact our current life style choices will have on future generations.”Part of an email the librarian sent to Blazevic.
At the first meeting, the librarian further explained the reason behind showing a de facto doomsday clock.
“Well the purpose of the clock is to give a sense–there’s apparently–the scientists say there’s a C02 budget and there are two scenarios. One is 1.5 degrees of warming and the other is two degrees of warming. Two degrees of warming says that our CO2 budget is 25 years and the 1.5 degree says it’s eight years,” said librarian Timothy Du Vernet at the first meeting.
“Even though Greta is a child, here she is talking at the UN to adults, a child can make change–that was our main focus,” teacher Suzanne Petillot said at the first meeting Blazevic had with the school. Petillot explained their reasoning for showing the children the video. Petillot also told Blazevic that only one child said they were all going to die and she stepped in right away saying, “No, we are not.”
“My concern, everyone’s concern, and part of her role is mental health, so if there’s something–the unfortunate reality is, that whether it’s this video or another video, the eco elements are everywhere,” Du Vernet explained to Blazevic on why they did the presentation.
“So I think my concern at this point is … my daughter came home, she said she was taught at school that she was going to die. And she said that many of the other children in the class also exclaimed that ‘I don’t want to die.’ I think that this might of been a traumatic situation for all the children. I think we all are aware that the climate change information, especially when given to very young children such as eight- and seven-year-olds, is shown to cause a lot of depression in children, PTSD and even suicide. So I think it’s really important that I get to the bottom of what happened,” said Blazevic said to her daughter’s teacher, librarian and principal.
The teacher and librarian said the reaction from many of the other children was positive.
“I had another student that came up to me and she was really excited about this as well. She participated so much,” said Petillot in the meeting.
“Children were shaking and children were saying, ‘I don’t want to die,'” Blazevic said, retelling her daughter’s version of events.
“We were talking about climate change. We talked about how Greta is a young child … she’s been a role model for others, especially for adults in powerful positions. And even though you are kids, you too can make a change,” said Petillot shortly after in the meeting.
“We went to a workshop yesterday, where clearly the message to us was, that we need to be changing our message, and the message is not just a little about the facts, but also what we can do, the hope we can have in making a difference,” Du Vernet further explained on how they were changing the climate change lessons for young children.
“It’s very current, students walking out of school on strike for the earth. And this is happening, and it’s still going to continue to happen. So this is another reason why, it’s in the news. It’s in the news almost every day, about children walking out for the earth,” said Petillot, explaining why they chose to show Thunberg’s speech.
When Blazevic asked if the staff think it’s good or bad, the principal stepped in.
“It’s happening and current. We can’t decide good or bad, but, is it effective? Is it something having students use their voice to say to adults… ‘You guys need to do something different and we’re not happy that in 30 years the worlds going to be…”
“We’re going to suffer the consequences,” Petillot jumped in.
“We want our students to make informed decisions. And so the only way they can make informed decisions is by having information,” Du Vernet added.
“So it can be a doom and gloom scenario, especially for kids ages eight through ten, these are formative years,” Blazevic responded.
The TDSB’s curriculum also includes a theme of “Students as Agents of Change” in which teachers promote children getting active in what they believe in.
Blazevic is concerned that this theme may be inappropriate for young children who are being taught what to believe and to act on those beliefs, despite lacking critical thinking skills needed to decide for themselves.
“The issue with the presentation is that the children were traumatized. They were told they were going to die in eight years. Even if it [was a misunderstanding], because of their reaction [the clock] told them there is something wrong,” said Blazevic told The Post Millennial. “It’s not developmentally appropriate for a grade two-three class.”
“They did have a clock, but it wasn’t a countdown to the end of the earth or anything like that. What it was, I’ve seen this all over the place, is that it was a countdown clock of ‘We might be reaching the point where can no longer turn things around,'” said TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird in a phone interview with The Post Millennial.
“So then you have a boy that yells out something like, ‘We’re all going to die.’ It was said in jest, the teacher also immediately jumped on that and said, ‘No, that’s not the case.’ We followed up with that kid’s mom, and they weren’t worried,” said Bird. “‘We also followed up with the rest of the class so they knew that wasn’t the case, and no one seemed to get the sense that that was the case.”
Asked about the TDSB’s climate change curriculum, and the suggestion they’re promoting children to become climate activists, Bird said that is not the school board’s goal.
“We encourage our students to have their voices be heard. So, you know, if that’s activism then I guess that is, but we’re not trying to change them into climate change activist at all. If you believe strongly about something, whether it be the environment or something else, talk about it. You can take part, you can do things to help the environment, to help other issues that you think are important, that kind of thing,” said Bird.
“Everyone was talking about [climate change] at the time, but of course we aren’t going to do any doom and gloom kind of presentation that was suggested, we just wouldn’t do that,” said Bird.
“At the second meeting the principal actually admitted, he said, ‘If I could take that clock back I would’ve done it,'” said Lejla Blazevic.
Blazevic also says the school officials’ story changed several times.
“At the third meeting [the principal] wanted to change that. He said, “Actually, November 4 was the second time I spoke to the child. I spoke to the child for the first time before. The teachers and the librarian, we all knew who this one child was before the first meeting.'”
Blazevic says the school staff first said they learned later who the child was because of a pattern of behaviour.
“The reason why I’m here is because something doesn’t make sense. If you say this child has said this before, and when I came to the meeting, which was two weeks after the actual event, the teacher still didn’t know who that one child was. And you’re telling me the child has had a habit of saying this even before the presentation,” Blazevic said at the third meeting.
“Well I did say, he has said that before. He has said, “I’m going to die” before, he’s said, ‘Oh my God, we’re all going to die.’ He’s said that before. Which is what led the teacher to think that that was the child who had said it,” said Principal Michael George of Elmbank Junior Middle Academy.
“The teacher spoke to the class again as a follow-up and spoke to the student specifically.”
Blazevic’s says she believes her daughter’s version of events, that many of the kids said they didn’t want to die when presented with the countdown clock.
“My daughter is very clear on what happened. The majority of the class yelled out “I don’t want to die” … I spoke to a little seven-year-old girl from her classroom and she nodded her head, and she said, ‘I don’t mind dying soon.’ And me and her father were shocked, we looked at her, and she said “because that means I’m not going to get married.” So what I know 100 percent is what my daughter is telling me, who is an excellent student,” said Blazevic.
“She is very good,” George concurred. Blazevic says her daughter is the top student in her class.
“The teachers that were there … are quite sure that there was the one, maybe the two students who had said that,” George said.
Blazevic also had a phone conversation with the superintendent.
TDSB superintendentLorraine Linton told the mother that the school’s staff were going to have a celebration to flip the script on the previous stark presentation.
“The conversation shouldn’t be at any point, ‘We’re going to die in a few years.’ … Somehow this turned into somebody yelling out, ‘We’re all going to die,’ and then everybody had to address it,” Linton said in the conversation with Blazevic.
Linton also explained the school staff were working with the TDSB ECO school department to flip the script.
“The children that I spoke to, that were shown this presentation, they’re all in unison saying it was never brought up again, it was never reflected on, it was never clarified. They’re in unison all saying that,” said Blazevic in the phone conversation with the superintendent. “We don’t know how many children went home with this message, it could’ve been all of these classes that were shown this presentation.”
“They never asked the children what your voice is,” said Blazevic in a phone interview with The Post Millennial. “Instead, they are telling the children the voice they need to have and this voice you can share.”