I am weary of reading the obvious cures for the ailments of education. The latest advice comes from the Government's behaviour Tsar, Sir Alan Steer. "Give kids a right royal rollicking" is the latest gem. So now our headteachers are expected to bawl sergeant-major fashion at every kid who misbehaves in school. Throat lozenges will be provided.
I recently spent two terms teaching in a secondary school in education minister Ed Balls's constituency. I took over from a newly qualified teacher who would start her school day by crying into her Nescafe and quaking with fear. As far as I could see there was more scorn than support given to her from the senior management.
The GSCE classes consisted of 30 pupils. Four of these had trouble staying in the class longer than 10 minutes before destroying any hope of learning. "Who the fuck are you?" was my greeting from an obese 14-year-old, feet on desk and baseball cap back to front. Forty minutes later, after a fracas and admonishment, I commenced teaching.
Another six pupils would spend the lesson spitting pellets through straws and a dozen more would simply go through the motions and offer nothing positive. The poor kids who desperately wanted to learn had no chance, and I salute the ones who manage to get a decent grade against such odds.
The GSCE class was one of the better ones. Most of the classes I was given consisted of kids who despised everything about a system that was not designed for them. It was an ill-fitting suit that made them look, feel and act like clowns, and this they resented. I couldn't blame them. At the age of 14 they wanted and needed to feel like young adults, but the curriculum only sufficed to create dissenters. Our education system needs to tailor a suit for these children, one that fits and can be worn with pride.
Corrupt MPs are just like us
The furore over the expenses of Members of Parliament makes me warm to them; they are just like the vast majority of the population after all. They really are not in a position to tell us what is good for us.
The vast majority of this country's citizens are out to get whatever they can for themselves. Ask anyone involved in the insurance industry: the number of exaggerated, if not actually false, claims gives rise to enhanced premiums. But when I claim for the damage to my car from the shunt at the back I'll just add in the scratch on the offside front wing when I clipped the gate post. Why not? Everyone does it.
For years mortgage holders have increased their loans as the value of their houses rose, just to fund another holiday. In all the talk about what has to happen so that "we will never have another credit crunch" all the blame is put on the regulators and the banks and the Government, but really we are all to blame. My parents never bought anything on the "never-never" – they waited for a washing machine till they could buy it outright.
So the MPs are just like the rest of us. That is, all of you – I'm not like that!
Voters may want to remove an expenses-abusing MP at the next election but be faced then with the prospect of voting against a party whose manifesto they support.
When we go into the polling booth, we should be allowed to pick candidates within parties as well as between parties. One voting system that makes this possible is the single transferable vote, though there are others.
We could then tackle the problem of MPs in safe seats knowing that only a few party activists stand between them and another term in Westminster. No wonder they were so relaxed about using "expenses" as a top-up.
Like so many taxpayers, I am appalled by what MPs think is legitimate, even under rules they have made for themselves. For most of my life I have been self-employed. Had I tried to claim as expenses some of the things MPs claim for, the taxman would have been down in days to examine my books.
I certainly would not claim for TVs (entertainment), make-up (vanity) or clothing (I do not think MPs are in need of protective clothing – or perhaps they are now).
Why should I struggle to pay taxes that pay for a political gravy train?
Buckland Newton, Dorset
After recording a long list of dubious, not to say fraudulent, expense claims by MPs ("The shaming of Parliament", 9 May), you quote Sir Stuart Bell MP as saying: "There is clear theft. The House for Commons can accept many things, but that is not acceptable."
But of course he's not referring to the many patently crooked dealings by his colleagues, but to the fact that these dealings have been exposed to the light of day.
Could anything better illustrate the clear contempt in which MPs hold those who are obliged to pay for their blatant and loathsome greed?
Steve Richards uses the fact that MPs have a "precarious vocation" as some sort of explanation of the culture of expenses claims rampant in Parliament.
I'm sure many ordinary workers would like a vocation which gives you a four- to five-year contract on an MP's salary. A precarious vocation is one where the threat of redundancy hangs over one while our politicians attempt to sort out the mess we are in, in between juggling second, third and fourth residences.
Most people I know, myself included, do their own cleaning; those I know who don't, pay others to do so out of their own salary. I know of no one who gets their own cleaning paid on expenses.
Why did the Prime Minister, and more pertinently the officials who deal with expenses, consider for one minute this was a legitimate claim?
I only hope at least one candid MP has the guts to admit that there has been blatant abuse of the system. At least then we need not hear the MPs sing together like a flock of parrots that no rules were violated.
Emotional drama of modern football
The criticism of professional football for promoting the culture of bullying and abuse misses one point. Football has become more like professional wrestling as a dramatic spectacle.
No one would attack professional wrestling for the histrionics of its performers or for their conduct towards the referee. Chelsea's Didier Drogba epitomises the new football-as-spectacle. He performs to the crowd, feigning offence before bathetically scoring a beautiful goal. His style is more Mick McManus or Jackie Pallo than Bobby Charlton, for those who remember Saturday wrestling on TV in the 1970s. Football crowds, too, behave far more like WWF crowds than they did 20 years ago, baying at every emotional reaction from the players.
Drogba's behaviour toward the referee last week was unsporting and abusive but it was in keeping with his understanding of the game as a histrionic performance designed to wring as much emotion as possible out of the watching crowd. That is what they pay for.
Israel's agenda for the Palestinians
Howard Jacobson is right ("A letter to an anti-Semite who isn't", 9 May). There are undoubtedly Israelis who would not hurt a fly. Ditto Palestinians. But he is obfuscating the main thrust of Zionism.
Its founding father, Theodore Herzl, favoured the transfer of Palestinians. Israel's first President, Chaim Weizmann, wanted Palestine "to be as Jewish as England is English and Poland is Polish". How could that be achieved when 90 per cent of Palestinians were Muslim or Christian? So he leaped at the idea of transfer too.
Israel's first Prime Minster, David Ben Gurion, established a Transfer Committee in 1936 to study how transfer could be achieved. And he was angered in 1948 that commanders in Galilee failed to ensure the departure of its native population. And when the chance was there in 1948 to allow the Arab peasantry to return to their villages, the UN mediator found Israel's leadership unyielding, "as hard as rock".
Today two-thirds of its Jewish electorate cannot accept the prospect that Israel's growing minority might one day outnumber Jews. Transfer is openly discussed.
Ahmedinejad's words may be odious but they are a distraction. So is Holocaust denial. I share Jacobson's disgust at both, but he should stop using them to distract us from Israel's fell agenda for its captive people.
Howard Jacobson asserts that no one who has read the history of Zionism will be aware that the aim of Zionism "was to dispossess the Arabs". Well he should read what Golda Meir had to say on the subject. In 1969, the Prime Minister of Israel addressed the question of Israeli settlement policy: "There is no such thing as Palestinians. It is not as though there was a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist."
So, perhaps this explains why Jacobson is so sure that there is no need to dispossess the Arabs.
Howard Jacobson, in his thoughtful meditation on anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, refers to "Primo Levi's greatest dread – that those who suffered would never be believed". Ah yes, the Primo Levi who said: "Someone is always someone's Jew, and the Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis", not a remark an Auschwitz survivor is likely to have made in jest.
Birch tries to arouse Scottish anglophobia to support republicanism, by describing the Royal Family as English (The Luvvies, 8 May). The Duke of Edinburgh is Graeco-German, the late Queen Mother was Scottish, and King George VI was German (Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) with Scottish (Stuart) and Welsh (Tudor) ancestry. I suspect that the Queen and most of her family, like many descendants of foreign incomers, are more likely to consider themselves British rather than English.
You report on the reopening of access to the crown of the Statue of Liberty (9 May). Doubtless the newly arrived immigrant would have found the sight of the statue a moving one. The statue itself, however, has not moved. Far from being situated on Ellis Island, it is in fact situated on Liberty Island (formerly Bedloe's Island) . Had she arrived at Ellis Island, the site of New York's immigrant facility, there might have been a danger of her being sent back to France, on the grounds that she was considerably larger than normal.
Science in Whitehall
John Redwood ("Doing the unthinkable", 2 May) describes the appointment of a chief scientific adviser to each Whitehall department as "expensive" and "a luxury". We have few scientists in public life, yet are crying out for role-models to encourage talented young people from every background to study science at the top level. When even the Minister for Energy and Climate Change (a PPE graduate) confesses he does not understand the National Grid (as he did at a meeting in Cambridge in December), we need more scientific advisers in Whitehall, not fewer.
D L Summerbell
Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
Danger from Sweden
I agree with Nick Meyer (letter, 8 May) that we should invite Sweden to invade us and introduce the Swedish way of life to Britain in order to restore democracy and justice. However there is one possible side effect. Years ago Swedish grammarians decided, in a sensible Swedish way, not to use an apostrophe to mark the genitive, so for example "Olle's daughter" in Swedish is "Olles dotter". We might have to suffer months, if not years, of letters in the newspapers from appalled language pedants concerned that the world was about to end.
Mother-in-law of all
I was disappointed that "First mother-in-law" (Letters, 8 May) did not headline one of these theological debates which give such delight unto the heathen. Who was the first mother-in-law? Eve was unique in that she was the only spouse in all history never to have had a mother-in-law, so she must also have been first mother and first mother-in-law simultaneously. Or did God create the first mother-in-law from a rib of the first father-in-law outside of Paradise? The Bible plays mum on the subject.