The headmaster of the King’s School has responded to allegations a group of students killed a goanna at a school camp last month, saying the incident prompted “a frenzy of public shaming” by the media.
In a letter published on the private school’s website, headmaster Tony George said this year’s cadet training camp in the Singleton Military Area in the Hunter Valley was attended by more than 800 boys at the end of term 1.
“Unfortunately, this year’s camp has been marred by an incident resulting in the death of a goanna. The incident has received wide coverage and responses from various media outlets and the public. The outrage is both understandable and warranted,” he wrote.
“Not only are native animals protected by law, but animal cruelty is a heinous, inhumane act in all its forms.”
NSW Police are investigating the incident in which the reptile was killed during the afternoon of March 29 while the students attended the long-running annual corps camp. School staff reported the incident to police and the Australian Defence Force.
In the letter, George condemned the act of animal cruelty, but said schools should be places where students could take risks.
“So, when things go wrong, such as scavenger hunts or online chat rooms or alleged animal cruelty, the tabloids and virtuous trolls whip up a frenzy of public shaming and virtue signalling in blaming schools and students for causing these kinds of problems,” he wrote.
“This is not to say that these things aren’t wrong – on the contrary, they are not only wrong, but they can also be criminal. What I am saying is that the wrongful act does not justify the pillorying, shaming and vilification of students and their schools by the media or anyone else.”
He finished the note with “RIP Varanus varius”, the scientific name for lace monitor or tree goanna.
King’s, Australia’s oldest independent school, has run the cadet camp for more than a century. The event provides students with the opportunity to “test their capabilities, build resilience, and develop their leadership skills in an environment of challenge and adventure”.
George said the school immediately reported the death of the goanna to the police, but noted that “rarely are these kinds of incidents simple or straightforward”.
“On the contrary, they are often complex and complicated. As the school seeks to fairly, reasonably, and carefully understand what occurred and how to support the students and their families through the process, including any disciplinary or remedial actions required, the tabloids and virtuous trolls are quick to build a cacophony of public shaming under the clear assumption it is bad people who do bad things,” he wrote.
“If only the human condition were that simple. The real tragedy is that it is often good people who do bad things.”
In another section of the letter, George cited attachment theory and said a child’s “relational attachment style” was formed by aged 2.
“Pathological insecurity has subsequently been linked to bullying, self-harm, anxiety, domestic violence, and animal cruelty, along with a whole range of other psychological, social, and behavioural problems,” he said.
“It is also important to note that schools do not cause bullying, self-harm, or other maladaptive behaviours in children.”
King’s, which charges up to $42,000 for year 12, says the cadet corps is a compulsory activity for boys in years 9 and 10, and is optional for year 11 and 12 students.
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