Commentary: New Zealand youth

Bronwyn Wood, faculty of Education, Victoria University of Wellington

Environmental action and New Zealand Youth

New Zealand’s School Strike4Climate [SS4C] movement had been heralded as one of the world’s most successful – led by school-aged passionate young people with little experience in political organising but with digital and social media savvy (Thomas, Cretney and Hayward, 2020). I attended the Strike4Climate protest on 15 March, 2019 with my 17 year-old son along with as many as 20 000 other young people – all leaving their classrooms to demand urgent action on the ecological crisis 

However, that same day, after we came home to cook up lunch together, I received a call from my other 19 year old son – a university student in Christchurch – to say he was locked in down the university gym as a gunman was on the loose.

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“Theatre ignited an appetite in youth to hear their voice in the world”

In a piece published in The Conversation, Dr. Gallagher highlights the importance of art for global youth expression during the pandemic. The Centre for Urban Youth Research team asked Dr. Gallagher a few questions about the role of art, theatre, and other creative forms of expression in fighting injustice for and with young people. 

Dr. Gallagher, in your short piece recently published in The Conversationyou underscore the multiplicity and connectedness of the crisis felt by marginalized youth globally. Based on your extensive ethnographic research with hundreds of young people in drama classrooms from Taiwan to Canada in the past years, could you provide a brief description of the ongoing role of art, especially theatre, in response to the multiple inequalities and injustices emerging in the twenty-first century?

My collaborative, ethnographic study Youth, Theatre, Radical Hope and the Ethical Imaginary: an intercultural investigation of drama pedagogy, performance and civic engagement (2014-2019) methodologically centred storytelling through theatre to position researchers as witness to the stories and understandings the young people we met and worked with in Canada, India, Taiwan, England and Greece wanted to share. What worries did they have about their world? What messages did they want to convey to strangers?

We immersed ourselves in their creative works which revealed the voices of many young people struggling with disenfranchisement in their schools and broader communities, in many cases personally bearing the burdens of economic and political global crises, from Brexit, to racial injustice, to gender and queer oppression, to economic and refugee crises. For the 250 youth we met, it ran the gamut of feeling empowered by theatre and education, as in India, to feeling hopeless under the weight of economic crisis in Greece.Alarmingly, across all five sites, our quantitative data revealed a positive co-relation between age and the diminishment of hope. The older youth get, the less hope they feel; a disconcerting finding.

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