At a Fridays for Future demonstration on February 14, 2020 in Stockholm, I spotted a teenage girl holding up an extremely well-done poster. She must have worked for hours on her portrait of President Trump, his pocket bursting with gold coins. Her sign read in Swedish, “Change the system, not the climate.” A serious poster with a serious statement, created by, as I could see in her stern face, a serious girl.
I also noticed that she had two professional cameras with long lenses, hanging by straps from her neck. She had at least two roles in the demonstration today. She would participate, but she would also document . . . and use her pictures in some future statement. I was deeply glad to see a young journalist at work.
As a teacher of many years, I knew the angry look in her eyes. The look of accusation, for someone had trampled her rights. Someone had unjustly tried to control her future. Someone had tried to limit the course of her life. And now she was ready to fight back.
She was not confronting a meddlesome parent, or an unfair teacher, or a stagnant school system. She was confronting Public Enemy Number One, with his big mouth wide open, his arrogant red tie, his weird phony hair, and some creep gathering the cash behind him. She, perhaps seventeen years old, was already on her way to becoming a fearless journalist, a human rights lawyer, or perhaps—the building was close by—a member of Parliament.
She was the reason why I had spent my career as a teacher—from California to the Caribbean, from the Norwegian Arctic to Saint Petersburg, Russia—always hoping to find and encourage that special student with a fiery spirit, and a vision of a better world.
When I had caught her eye, I pointed at my own camera with its long lens, and then at her poster, asking if I might take her picture. “Du er perfekt,” I said in Norwegian, “You are perfect.” Her face unrelentingly stern, she nodded. Yes, I could take her picture. She held her poster a bit higher, proud of her statement.
Grateful, for teenagers can dash like a deer into the forest, I took one picture, with a clear blue sky framing her poster.
I showed her the picture in the window on the back of my camera. She nodded that it was fine. Then not wanting to intrude a moment longer, I told her in Norwegian, “Thank you”, and walked away.
Later, when I looked at this picture on my laptop screen, I saw more clearly her red curls, and the triangle formed by her red wool hat—with a Swedish reindeer on it—and her red wool gloves. The green sign behind her with the word “Future”. Her tight mouth, and the determination in her eyes.
She perfectly represented Fridays for Future, so I added her picture to the book I had just finished, a book which the teacher had written for her awakening generation.
Perhaps she will discover her portrait, like Michelangelo’s sculpture of the young David, filled with strength and firmness, in the final pages of Volume I. Perhaps we shall meet again, so that I can tell her with my funny Swedish, “Tach så mycket.” And so we can discuss the difficult art of taking portraits of strangers who project so much character.
* * * * *
The Climate Classroom
A Bold New Education
for the 21st Century
The two volumes are a guide for teachers and students
as they create two vibrant courses
for the autumn and spring semesters.
These courses, adapted to grade school, high school, and university,
will enable students and their communities around the world
to rise to the great challenges of the 21st Century.
What if . . . we freed ourselves from the shackles of the 20th Century
—the poverty, the pollution, the plundering, the racism, and the wars—
and together, around the planet,
built the Renaissance of the 21st Century?