I imagine there are a number of vegan/vegetarian parents who dread having to send their children to school for the whole environment is unlikely to reflect any of their highly-principled ideals on diet and animal welfare. But there are some positive moves which parents can make to protect their children's interests.
Hopefully things have improved since my schooldays when I was the only vegetarian in a huge comprehensive school. I had to run a gauntlet of good-natured abuse every lunchtime. No doubt vegan kids today will receive similar treatment from their omnivore peers.
My most distressing incident was at primary school. The first and only time I stayed for lunch a member of staff tried to force-feed me sausages! But institutions in the fifties were a good deal harsher than they are now.
As a vegan teacher I have found myself in the contrary position, whereby I have had to serve and encourage children to eat their meat whilst feeling thoroughly repulsed by the whole situation. Fortunately teachers cannot be forced to supervise school meals, so I can usually opt out.
Children are quick to perceive their teacher's ideals, no matter how hard one tries to cover them up. When they ask me why I am a vegetarian I try to reply in a matter-of-fact manner and not make a big deal out of it. It is weird when children tell me they want to be vegetarians and ask for advice. I have to swallow hard, curb my enthusiasm, and insist on a note from their parents first. As a rule of thumb a teacher has to play a restrained role in these ethical matters otherwise the child is exposed to conflicts between parents and school, which is undesirable especially in the primary or lower age-range. Headteachers are particularly wary of fostering middle-class values upon children whose home environments might seem unsuitable.
Secondary schools are a more flexible sphere for ideas and vegetarianism is probably covered by a Domestic Science programme, although no doubt in a very muted, harmless way.
I have to suffer in silence when children are called for their inoculation shots. I remember dictatorial teachers and medical staff giving me a grilling at school. I was told I was virtually dicing with death. I am not sure that things have improved very much. It certainly grieves me to contemplate the disgusting, potentially cancer-inducing filth which is injected into innocent children each year. I have taught children who suffer from physical handicaps as a result of vaccine side-effects so it is an emotional area for me. In these medical matters the teacher is powerless to intervene, except to proffer occasional advice to parents. (Homoeopathy can be used as a viable alternative to vaccines and can also provide an antidote to many vaccines.)
My friend Denise Bennett has recently written to a reputable educational body complaining of a dichotomy of values presented to children in schools. On the one hand they are taught in primary school to love creatures and have rabbits, guinea pigs, mice and such like in the school room to care for, and on the other they are taught to dissect the same type of creatures in the secondary school. If children in the primary school were to cut up a pet mouse they would be severely punished as sadists. In the secondary school they might well be given a merit mark! With such blurred borderlines between sadistic behaviour and scientific behaviour we ought not to be so surprised at the minority of children who do treat animals in a shocking way.
Children often have a strange response to dissection. They both dread it yet have a morbid curiosity about death. They sometimes test each other's moral fibre by putting on a callous front. Personally I think this inversion of love and care is very bad for children and I cannot imagine they learn much about life by tampering with dead flesh. The film "E.T." dealt beautifully with this topic by having frogs escape from a biology lab. We should all work towards getting schools to change their whole approach to experiments on animals. It should be known that teachers cannot force children to take part in dissection lessons.
Animal Aid have helped produce an excellent audio slide 'Animal Liberation' lesson kit for teachers' use in schools. It raises most of the important issues very strongly whilst appearing balanced by giving the opposition's viewpoint. Vegetarian teachers can probably do their cause the greatest service by promoting this programme and in the process influence fellow teachers.
Parents should always state their views very clearly to both class and Headteachers. By doing so they can
protect their children from the insidious pressures I had to endure as a youngster. The 1981 Education Act has
given parents a stronger voice in what happens at school and teachers are very wary about opposing the wishes of
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