Derrida, special needs and others

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Derrida shows us the way to deconstruct the warmongers

Sir: Johann Hari hopes that Jacques Derrida's ideas will die along with the man (Opinion, 13 October). This is unlikely to happen as Derrida's thought contains, as Hari himself admits, several "kernels of truth".

That there is no such thing as one objective truth should no longer be denied. The most advanced scientific research has discovered many things that seem bizarre to common sense: the possibility of quantum particles existing in two positions at the same time, for example, or Einstein proving time is relative rather than the Newtonian linear progression we perceive.

Perhaps what we need is a paradigm shift in the way in which we think about ourselves and our relation to the world. As John Grey and others have pointed out, our culture is fixated on the Enlightenment. All our thought is based on a belief in the power of reason and empiricism to further human progress. While advances in science cannot be denied and are rightly celebrated, the belief that technological progress equals human progress is delusional. The 20th century, the most destructive in history, stands as testament to the danger of Enlightenment thought and of the seductive power of truth.

Our political leaders continue the prosecution of their specious "war on terror" while spinning the world out of shape. The distortions of language they employed to make the case for war are surely proof of Derrida's claims about the nature of words. These are fundamentalist minds acting, like the Islamic fundementalists they call the enemy, in the belief that there is one truth and it is known to them. The world is then twisted to fit.

Until we can learn to respect and engage with other views contrary to our own there will be no peace or any meaningful human progress. We need to think more and think better if we are to survive the challenges the 21st century presents us with. Dismissing important thinkers is unhelpful. Postmodernism is a "dead end" only because we have not yet learned to think in a way that allows us to move beyond it.

London SE5

Shifts in policy harm vulnerable children

Sir: News that Mary Warnock is calling for a further review of polices on the integration of young people with special needs in education is predictable but depressing (report, 12 October).

For many of us who work intimately day-to-day with children with special needs it was entirely predictable that the idea of a universalist inclusion policy was a fantasy that could never work in practice. Specialist environments can be characterised as ghetto or haven: the trouble with such simplistic polarisation is the resulting pendulum shifts of policy in a complex area, further amplified and made cruder during implementation.

Good specialist environments for children with significant special needs have always been necessary places where creative professional solutions to their care can be worked through. Parents generally know exactly what their children need: they like well-functioning specialist institutions for this reason. There is a group of more subtle difficulties that can and should be properly managed in inclusive mainstream environments and Warnock was right on this. But the wholesale closure of so many excellent specialist environments over the past generation, driven largely by cost-cutting legitimised by polarised policies, has meant a terrible loss of capacity and expertise within specialist education. Vulnerable children adrift from environments adapted to their needs get stressed, develop "behaviour problems" and become further marginalised; but it is really the planning process that has the behaviour problem.

Specialist environments are currently being reinvented apace and perhaps in the future some kind of balance can be struck. But these pendulum shifts in public policy continue to waste time and talent and disrupt families' lives.

Senior Lecturer, Dept of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
University of Manchester

Sir: We are concerned at the suggestion that including disabled pupils in mainstream schools isn't working ("Mainstreaming fails 'fragile' disabled pupils", 12 October). Just because inclusion is difficult doesn't mean it is a mistake or can't be achieved. Given the right attitude and resources, it can provide educational and social benefits for disabled and non-disabled children alike.

As Monday's Ofsted report makes clear, disabled children can do well when mainstream schools adapt to their needs. The challenge for the Government, local authorities and schools is to ensure that every disabled child, wherever taught, receives the right educational support and that this support is better resourced than now.

In particular, we urge more training for teachers to recognise and support pupils with special educational needs (SEN), more specialist back-up for SEN co-ordinators in the classroom, and more partnership between mainstream and special schools.

All parents should care about inclusion: if their child's school is sensitive and committed enough to get it right for disabled children, it is more likely to get it right for all pupils, whatever their needs.

Chair, Special Educational Consortium

Director, Council for Disabled Children

Chief Executive, Contact a Family

Chief Executive, Mencap
London EC1

Sir: How much more evidence does the Government need to see that its policy on special education is flawed and needs a complete rethink? This week not only saw Baroness Warnock calling for such a rethink, but also the publication of the Ofsted report, "Special educational needs and disability: towards inclusive schools".

The report confirmed all that we as parents/carers of disabled children know and probably have lived through. Inclusion fails many children. I would like to ask the Government where would the children failed by the mainstream system get a meaningful education (as is their right) with the Government doing nothing to stop the closure of special schools through the country. If nothing is done soon, a vital layer of education will be lost.

Witham St Hughs, Lincolnshire

Blair's UN charade

Sir: Replying to Charles Kennedy in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Tony Blair defended the decision to go to war with Iraq by saying, "If [Mr Kennedy] had had his way, let's be clear about this: Saddam Hussein and his sons would still be running Iraq. And that was why I took the stand that I did."

In that case let's be clear about this also: if Hans Blix had reported to the UN Security Council that all proscribed weapons and their means of production had been destroyed, then Tony Blair is now saying that he would still have gone to war; which would have been absolute proof that the whole business at the UN was a public relations exercise. The UN might have been useful as a legal rubber stamp, but was irrelevant otherwise.

Had Mr Blair been honest and told us all at the time that he wanted not a legal war to enforce UN resolutions, but an illegal one to enforce regime change, he would not now be caught in the spider-web of deceit, confusion and disbelief which he has spun for himself. Just weeks before the start of the war, however, as part of the charade in the UN, he said that Saddam could stay in power if he would only destroy his WMD. Consequently his statement to Charles Kennedy does nothing except to add to his increasingly absurd predicament.

London SW17

Sir: Charles Kennedy is the latest senior politician to describe the Iraq War as the greatest foreign policy disaster since Suez (14 October).

The Suez campaign saw fewer than 1,000 casualties (almost none of them civilian) and merely caused embarrassment to two former colonial powers (Britain and France) who were firmly put into their place in the new world order by the USA.

Contrast Iraq, with a minimum of 10,000 civilian casualties, instabilities is the region that will last for decades and a vastly increased risk to British citizens, both at home and abroad.

Suez didn't come close. But the prime minister did have the decency to resign.

London SE7

Age of freedom

Sir: Paula Jones expresses justified anger at society's treatment of the elderly (letter, 15 October). However, there is a tinge of Dylan Thomas' "Old age should burn and rave at close of day/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light" in her words too.

Advancing years have many drawbacks, but also great advantages. Within health and financial constraints, pensioners have freedom to be themselves. No longer do they have to conform to norms. They can be eccentric and outspoken. They can do new things, limited only by their own imaginations. They should not feel like aged outcasts, but should get involved.

My morale was boosted when a small girl whom I was taking round Canterbury Cathedral asked me how I knew so much. "Well," said I, "I read a lot. You learn a lot from books." "Oh yes," she replied. "I read lots too, and I bet you take notice of what your granddad tells you as well." Years slipped off me!

Sittingbourne, Kent

Sir: In support of Janet Street-Porter's plea (14 October) for the UK's state pensioners to be as generously treated as their counterparts in countries like France, Sweden and the Netherlands, it could be argued that many, far from being a drain on the community, contribute much to it.

Look at most voluntary organisations, and you will find that their work is partly, or even largely, sustained by pensioners. These same organisations are increasingly expected to provide community services on which the Government and other authorities are reluctant to spend money. Their contribution not only to community welfare but also to GDP is much greater than may be generally realised. Those who serve them voluntarily do so out of public-spiritedness and expect no tangible return for their services. However some government recognition would do no harm.

Faversham, Kent

Police casualties

Sir: Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, did not "sex up" police injuries at the Countryside Alliance demonstration in Parliament Square (Pandora, 14 October).

Injuries to officers are properly documented in the police service. Whatever spin others may try to put on things, our records show that 60 officers were injured. These included an officer with broken fingers, one with broken ribs and another with burns caused by an explosive device.

The vast majority of these 60 officers continued with their policing duties despite their injuries. The Met did not release this figure on the day as these officers reported their injuries to us and, where necessary, sought treatment after their shifts ended.

Acting Assistant Commissioner
Metropolitan Police Service
London SW1

Trucks and spend  

Sir: I agree with Lord Bach (letter: "Ministry of Defence truck deal", 14 October); it would indeed be foolish and irresponsible to agree a deal that represents a poor deal to British taxpayers. Perhaps he would care to explain how on earth buying 5,000 trucks at £200,000 each could be considered anything but a poor deal to this long-suffering taxpayer?

London SE14

A Shaw thing

Sir: In his report on the football match between Wales and Poland, Tim Rich states that Mark Hughes had quoted Robert Kennedy (about "dreaming of things that never were"). The original quotation comes from George Bernard Shaw, but it is often mis-attributed to Robert F (Bobby) Kennedy, who used a slight variant in a speech which his brother, Edward F (Teddy) Kennedy, quoted at RFK's funeral.


Primary urges

Sir: Asexual people do not exist? Sexuality is a gift from God? The National Religious Vocation Conference needs to check primary sources. Whatever happened to: "It is good for a man not to touch a woman ... I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God ... it is better to marry than to burn." (1 Corinthians 7)? Obviously, the true gift is asexuality. Or is it the NRVC's position that St Paul didn't exist?

London NW3

Foreign manners

Sir: According to David Davis, our "treasured" British values are under threat; yet, of the last seven times that I have been offered a seat on the Tube, only once was it by a white person. Can we learn courtesy from immigrants?

Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire