We are not sheep: A student response to the Daily Mail
Ned Watkinson, one of the winners of our Jean Monnet Chair’s ‘Blog on Europe Competition‘, responds to Eleanor Harding and Tom Witherow who singled out his blog post in their Daily Mail article but not only misrepresented his point but also failed to comprehend that students are not sheep that can be ‘brainwashed’ by their lecturers.
The recent Daily Mail article, as a proxy justification to the recent actions of Chris Heaton-Harris MP, accuses university lecturers of marking down students who write pro Brexit essays. They cited Canterbury Christ Church’s Jean Monnet blog contest as an example, stating that “Ten of the 12 winning entries were pro EU, one was Neutral, and only one- talking about the EU’s failure to intervene in Catalonia – was negative”.
As the student responsible for writing the “only one” negative EU blog post, I would like to correct Eleanor Harding and Tom Witherow who seem to have entirely missed the point of my piece. Being critical about certain EU policies does not mean I hold the EU in a negative light as the article states.
In addition, to include my piece under a subheading titled “top prizes go to remainers” is disingenuous and I resent my work being used in such a fashion. If the editors of The Daily Mail had read my piece they would know that as it has no content related to Brexit whatsoever. Regarding said subheading, as Professor Amelia Hadfield corrected the Daily Mail, we as students are under no pressure to write positive essays. The Jean Monnet funding is not given for writing about the positive aspects of the EU, but objective and analytical teaching and research on Europe.
I will also take a moment to clarify: the attempt by Heaton-Harris to create a ‘hit list’ of university lecturers personal political stance is in equal parts horrifying and contemptible. It is pleasing that he was so quickly rebutted by academics, officials and members of his own party. Academic freedom is enshrined in law, to explore ideas and events free from government intervention.
The assumption underpinning this entire debate, and the request by Heaton Harris, is that students are easy to manipulate and mislead. This is not a new phenomenon; when Sir Julian Brazier lost Canterbury after being its MP for 30 years, he blamed his loss on Labours promises to ‘naïve young people’. A statement showing a lack of cognisance and a less than graceful defeat. It is very sad that it has become the norm to think universities are creating brainwashed pro-remain students. It is sad that this discourse is commonplace, and is used as a shield from criticism. If you seek to brainwash a population, you don’t start with universities. As students we are, by nature, critical, self-driven and independently minded. I would also like to state that I am not a fresher. I am a third-year politics student, and so were many others who wrote blogs for the competition. I have studied the EU in modules and independent study in my first and second years, and I have spent the best part of three years studying politics and international relations. I am entitled to have my work free from this insinuation that I have been brainwashed by my lecturers, I am entitled to be taken seriously. The Mail is more welcome to contact me to discuss the meaning of my piece, and my personal conclusions from my studies, free from university interference.
It is no secret that the majority of young people voted to remain in the EU, so what is more likely: That every anti-Brexit or pro-EU article written by students results from systematic brainwashing, or that students see for themselves that there is some truth to the notion that we stand to lose more than we gain by leaving the European Union?! If politicians, newspapers and older generations, choose to ignore and dismiss the opinions of the next generation, they are digging themselves into a hole. Then they are in a far better position to stick their heads into the sand while the world goes to buggery. No matter how abhorrent the political situation gets, and how those in power try to curtail freedom of speech and expression, we will not be intimidated, we will not be dismissed. We are not sheep.
The blog posts of Ned Watkinson and the other winners of the Jean Monnet ‘Blog on Europe’ competition can be found here.
Professor Amelia Hadfield’s reponses to the letter by Chris Heaton-Harris and to the Daily Mail article can be found here: