Dismissing children as ‘woke’ could see them give up on their youthful passions, a top headteacher will warn on Monday.
Samantha Price, head of the Benenden School in Kent, which charges fees of up to £40,000 a year, suggested that all schools should host talks with parents on inclusion, diversity and gender to help them understand the “new language” of the younger generation.
Mrs Price, president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), will tell her organisation’s annual conference that some parents are “deeply unsettled” around some topics such as gender identity.
But she will call on school leaders to challenge anyone who dismisses the younger generation as “woke”, “cancel culture” or “snowflakes”.
“I think that if they are consistently dismissed in this way then what will happen is that they will just give up,” she said.
“As they go into their twenties and into further maturity, what was such a passion for them when they were younger will end up just going by the wayside.
“Therefore we probably won’t see the level of progress in society – from sustainability through to equality – that I think we have the opportunity to be able to see and sustain now if we, our generation, handle this effectively.”
In her speech to the Manchester conference, Mrs Price will criticise references to teenagers as being ‘woke’ and adults commenting that they cannot say anything without being “called out” by young people.
She will say: “It would be unforgivable for the older generation to close its mind to new ideas, to retreat to ‘the good old days’ and dismiss the energetic changes of this generation as something to be referred to in derogatory tones and sighs.
“What has really struck me is that this so-called ‘woke’ generation are actually simply young people who care about things: about causes, about the planet, about people.
“It ultimately comes down to something very simple: being kind.”
Pupils have been demanding action on an array of issues after a number of high-profile movements – including Black Lives Matter, Everyone’s Invited and climate change – gained momentum during the pandemic.
But she added that pupils should raise their ideas on how to improve the climate with their school rather than taking part in strikes during lesson time.
Her comments come after youth activists took to the streets of Glasgow during school time earlier this month to demand action on climate change from leaders as the Cop26 talks continue.
Pupils across the UK took part in a series of school strikes before the pandemic, led by climate activist Greta Thunberg, on climate change.
Mrs Price said: “I don’t think students should be walking out of class over climate.
“I do think students should be encouraged to feel passionate about things and I think that students should feel that they can go to their school and they should bang the drum on aspects around climate, and think through with the school what they can do that’s actually proactively going to make a difference.
“And I personally don’t think that standing in a street with a banner is going to make that difference.”