Playground antics

From schoolyard to campus, Caroline Roddis explores how anti-shooting groups target youngsters in their formative years.

Antis are using the pheasants near Reading University to create student-focused propaganda against field sports

Caroline Roddis is a freelance journalist with a passion for field sports. Her monthly column, ‘Shooting In The Media’, is an opinion article which explores topical issues.

I took a different route into work the other day and, in consequence, walked past the gates of the local school. Normally this is something I studiously avoid, as watching stressed parents jostle for car parking space in front of schools is my least favourite of all the blood sports, but in this instance I was horrendously late and thus my path was clear.

The absence of slouching kids on their phones and dithering adults in their unfeasibly large cars – often on their phones too, I’m sad to say – allowed me to view the sign hung on the school gates.

Much like those star stickers they put on the doors of restaurants to let you know that no rodents have actively been involved in the cuisine, this was an encouraging quote from an Ofsted report designed to reassure parents their children weren’t going to end up as feral members of street gangs, or feral members of boy bands, or something.

The thing that really struck me about this quote, however, was the second of the two sentences. ‘The students find the staff helpful and respectful.’

Now, helpful, I understand, that’s pretty much part of a teacher’s job description whether they want to admit it or not. But respectful? The closest my teachers got to respecting me was when they paused to let me catch breath while they were chasing me around the classroom with a ruler.

Given that the first sentence of the quote on the board was some other fluff that basically said something along the lines of ‘The school has lots of power sockets so students never have to worry about their phone battery’, I was amazed by the second.

Not only because it made no reference whatsoever to the quality of teaching or students’ academic attainment, but because I had to read it twice to be sure that the teachers were respecting the students and not the other way round.

Why is teacher respect something you’d want to use as a selling point for your school? Is it more important to parents that Constanza gets to eat a portion of fried onion rings every day and doesn’t have to attend science lessons if she doesn’t feel like it, than whether or not the child is being taught values like discipline, intellectual curiosity and respect for a system that is, most of the time, trying to ensure they have a brighter future?

I might be overreacting, but the whole thing genuinely baffled me, much like any news article about university life and university students does these days.

The idea that you can ban a speaker because you don’t agree with their views, or force your professors to re-grade your final papers with the tacit understanding that you’ll probably be given a better grade so you don’t kick up a fuss, is really challenging my comprehension, not ot mention my sanity.

The latter is a bit like shooting a round of 50 Sporting and insisting to the poor chap on the button that he was mistaken, you really did chip that second bird, and therefore he should change that humiliating zero to a one. Although, come to think of it, I have seen people try just that – so perhaps it’s not the best example…

The latest thing to rile me on the university news front is, of course, the coverage of the League Against Cruel Sports’ attack on Reading University, which was deliberately timed to coincide with the start of freshers’ week and thus stir up maximum outrage among the latest intake of spotty 18-year-olds.

Knowing that the shooting lease on Reading’s agricultural land, which it owns for teaching and research, was expiring next year, LACS spotted an opportunity to apply pressure in the only way they know how: trial by media.

As such, their statement to The Times included the following: “Students and alumni will be shocked to hear this is happening at their university and no doubt consternation will grow if the university doesn’t act quickly to end it. With 69 per cent of the public opposing shooting birds for sport, there is clear support for the University of Reading to commit to ending shooting at Hall Farm.”

As The Times pointed out, the 69 per cent figure actually comes from a LACS and Animal Aid commissioned survey, which is hardly the most reliable of sources, but which of course is a memorable enough figure for people who want it to be true. (Or who have dirty minds, but that’s another issue.)

The statement ‘students will be shocked’ is of course pure speculation and in reality utter nonsense. Fortunately, however, the BBC, in their normal pursuit of journalistic excellence, decided the right thing to do was to investigate this claim by speaking to a set of average, unbiased students.

Just kidding! What the BBC Online article actually stated was that: “A Reading University Vegetarian and Vegan Society spokeswoman said: ‘We had no clue it was happening – it was quite a big shock to find out what our university was doing. We encourage the university to end the shooting.’”

Now, I’m all for journalists not just rewriting press releases and actually talking to people. But, really? The society presumably would also encourage the end of all meat-eating and leather-wearing at the university, but that doesn’t mean anyone needs to listen.

The problem is, though, that in the new climate where students are consumers of education and actively feel the need to be respected, universities feel they do have to listen.

Reading University issued a statement to the effect that they were reviewing the matter ‘following discussions within the University community and external groups’ and it looks depressingly like they might go the same way as the University of Wales and halt shooting in the new year.

It is looking particularly likely because LACS didn’t just stop at talking to the media, but also used Facebook to organise leafletting campaigns on campus during freshers’ week, ensuring the maximum number of students were aware of, and took offence at, the shooting of ‘factory farmed’ pheasants on university-owned land.

Reading even gave LACS permission to canvass students’ opinion, either not realising or not caring that the only outcome of this will be that the panel reviewing the lease is presented with yet another set of massaged figures. I thought that a university would be one of the more likely establishments to understand the principles of unbiased research, but there you go…

Read either traditional or social media, and it seems that terror at students taking offence seems to be driving every decision of our educational establishments, and that campaigning groups are fast waking up to the power of manipulating the student psyche in their favour.

Perhaps it’s time to erect different signs outside every one, simply saying ‘Open to manipulation, speculation and hysteria. Facts not welcome.’ Oh, wait, LACS are already using that as their strapline.

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