This whole sorry saga could have been avoided if the Gulmarrad Public School staff member responsible for choosing articles to be submitted to The Daily Examiner had acted as a responsible educator.
One has to suspect that one or more adults having direct contact with these primary school children decided to use them as a vehicle to spread their own particular anti-flying fox bias. The level of misinformation in the short article in question defies any other explanation.
Children have a right to participate in community debate, but do not have an automatic right to always be protected from learning from their mistakes. Hopefully they will learn that one does not necessarily implicitly trust the views of another person simply because they are older in years or blindly accept the opinions of journalists because these have been published in print or online.
One has to also hope that those who learnt the most valuable lesson from this episode will be the parents and teachers of Clarence Valley school children, so that in the future they provide information supported by fact with regard to Australian native wildlife.
The Daily Examiner 23 May 2012:
Bat track success
I WRITE to thank the numerous people that assisted the Maclean High School Bat Tracking Project and contributed to providing a quality experience for the students.
The project aimed to engage local students of Maclean High School in wildlife research and forms part of their HSC Biology Course. It involved trapping and collaring flying-foxes to track their movements. Despite a few initial obstacles and very early starts, the students (and their parents) persevered and thoroughly enjoyed the field work component.
Everyone worked well as a team and learnt a lot - about each other, about bats and about the controversy of working with this particular group of animals.
The team caught a total of 63 flying-foxes at the Yamba colony and attached four satellite transmitters to adult males. Already we are getting great movement data from these tagged animals. One flying-fox (named "Wayne" by the students) is flying a huge 32km nightly to feed in coastal paperbark forest south of Sandon Village.
A lot of volunteer work by many people over many months made this project a success and I am truly grateful for all the hard work.
The project was supported by a handful of dedicated volunteers, parents of students, local businesses and community groups as well as both local and state governments. Thank you also to Deborah Novak for donating her time and expertise to produce great photos and videos of the project.
Lastly, it was a pleasure to work with these inquisitive, hard-working and bright students and I look forward to continuing to track the activities of the flying-foxes with them over the coming months. Such projects are extremely rewarding for so many people and I hope that similar wildlife project continue at local schools.
To see a small one-minute film go to http://vimeo.com/42398697.
The Gulmarrad Gazette in The Daily Examiner 29 May 2012:
Bats, bats, bats
WHAT do you think about bats? We have been around most of the classrooms at Gulmarrad School to see what students think about the bats.
A high percentage of the children recommend that that the bats should be removed from Maclean.
It is a health hazard and not to mention the destruction of our rainforest.
The bats are a big health hazard because their poo is dropped all over the school grounds and all over the kids' lunches. This is terribly bad because it spreads horrible diseases including the Hendra virus. This disease can make people and students very sick and can even result in death.
Secondly the bats are destroying the rainforest and killing all the native animals and their native habitats. Bats are also destroying our beautiful trees and shredding their branches. If the bats do not go soon there might not be a rainforest left for your child and their children to enjoy.
Thirdly students are getting distracted in class because of all the noise the bats are making. Also when a loud sound is made the bats go crazy and circle around the school creating an even louder racket.
In conclusion, the students of Gulmarrad School strongly believe that the Maclean bats should be removed immediately. It is a giant health hazard for the students of Maclean High School and members of the wider community and we hope that when we go there next year they are gone forever and only a distant memory.
Think about your kid's health and education; it might be on the line.
Kalisha Mueller and Matilda Arndell
The Daily Examiner 2 June 2012:
Flying foxes faux pas
PERHAPS the Gulmarrad Gazette Newspapers in Education pages published by the Examiner on 29/5/2012 should be called Newspapers in Miseducation.
I refer to the piece entitled "Bats, bats, bats," which contains far more fiction than fact about flying foxes. If I were a teacher at Gulmarrad School, I would be ashamed to be exposing to the general public mine and my students total lack of knowledge about these animals. Presumably a teacher read this poor excuse for an article before sending it for publication, and chose not to take the opportunity to educate these misinformed students so that they could provide a factual, useful story, instead propagating lies and unnecessary worries about the situation at Maclean High School.
Just a couple of the falsehoods in the story are:
1. the bats' "poo...spreads horrible diseases such as the Hendra virus." It doesn't. Hendra simply cannot be contracted by humans from flying foxes.
2. "Bats are destroying the rainforest and killing all the native animals and their native habitats". They aren't. Humans have already destroyed almost all of the rainforest so that flying foxes are now concentrated in the remnants. Many rainforest trees would die out if it weren't for flying foxes pollinating them and dispersing their seeds, contributing significantly to rainforest ecology. And flying foxes are herbivores, causing the deaths of no native animals.
As for the statement that when a "loud sound is made the bats go crazy and circle around ... making an even louder racket": wouldn't this be an argument against the illegal noise used by residents, and illegal and legal noise made at times by the Maclean High School, to intentionally disturb the bats?
I understand that the Examiner editorship thinks that demonising bats sells more newspapers than presenting facts, let alone good news stories about them. A case in point is the article published recently about the vandalism by residents of equipment being used in the project involving Maclean High students in satellite tracking some flying foxes.
The Examiner seemed desperate to highlight the only negative aspect of the whole fascinating project, rather than take the opportunity to present a truly good news story, where students are learning some state-of-the-art scientific techniques, and thereby gaining insights into these animals that may lead to our managing bat-human interrelations better.
But I would seriously question the ethics of a newspaper publishing misinformation, albeit presented by teachers and students, in any context, without at least acknowledging that it is not factual.
ED'S NOTE: The Gulmarrad School has since arranged for an expert to visit the school to educate pupils further on flying foxes.
The Daily Examiner 6 June 2012:
Lay off the kids!
THE Newspapers in Education offered by the DEX is a wonderful and important opportunity for local school kids to share their opinions with our community.
This opportunity for a class of Gulmarrad kids has sadly resulted in a personal attack on their efforts, their teacher and their school.
While Linda Wright's (DEX, June 2) intention may have been to highlight misinformation presented by students in regard to Maclean's bat colony, such a personal attack on children as young as 10 and 11, hard working teachers, an entire school was inappropriate.
Regardless of "the context", what will the kids ultimately learn from this experience?
Simply, that if you make a mistake in your delivery, an adult in your community will personally attack and humiliate you, your teacher and your school for it.
Have you considered the kids whose first attempts at persuasive writing you described as "a poor excuse," and worse, to be "ashamed" of their efforts?
Your intention may have been to correct misinformation, your approach was heavy handed.
I feel for the parents of the children who wrote the article, who must now explain why an adult feels it is acceptable to defame a child's character, and school, for expressing a different opinion to their own - with or without facts. We are talking about kids here.
Furthermore, teachers at Gulmarrad are not in the habit of deliberately peddling untruths as you suggest.
I am offended that you have questioned the ability of a quality teacher, without knowing anything about the dedicated professional he is.
You speak of the Maclean High School Project. I attended the counting night as an interested community member (with my two excited Gulmarrad children in tow), so that they could understand more about our fascinating colony.
On return to school, my daughter's teacher invited her to share the same facts you list in your letter.
She was so proud of her involvement in the study, and that her knowledge was valued by her teacher and shared in her classroom. Unfortunately she is now upset and offended by your letter, because you claim she is bereft of the knowledge she learnt first hand from this experience.
Linda, your passion and knowledge could have been best shared, (and so greatly appreciated), in the classroom speaking with these kids, rather than publicly shaming not only them, but their entire school.
This would at least have given the class a chance to present all their knowledge on this controversial topic.
In future, please leave Gulmarrad kids out of your ongoing argument with the Examiner.