Letters: Gove’s plan to keep the masses subservient

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, May 11th, 2013

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Mr Gove’s latest attempt to discredit history teachers (report, 10 May) involves the creation of yet another straw man: first there was the history teacher who was “anti-knowledge” and now the “Mr Men”, or “Eddy the Teddy” history curriculum.

I have taught history for 12 years and have never felt the need to use analogies with cartoon characters. It is not particularly difficult to dig up some light-hearted or ill-conceived teaching resource for the purpose of denigrating history teaching before you appropriate history for a political agenda.

To accuse history teaching of “infantilising” is rich coming from someone who would replace the existing approach, which encourages critical thought, with rote learning. Teachers who encourage critical thought have high expectations by definition, whereas rote learning is the method generally favoured by those wanting to keep the masses unthinkingly subservient. 

Yet again Mr Gove accuses his critics of holding back children from poorer families, but if he truly believes his new curriculum will answer the problem of underachievement in disadvantaged groups, why does he keep dangling in front of schools the prospect of freedom from it through becoming academies? The bankruptcy of his position is as obvious as the emptiness of his insulting assertions.

Katherine Edwards, Ashtead, Surrey

As I history teacher I have used all sorts of gimmicks to consolidate the understanding and hold the interest of young learners. Presumably Mr Gove has never used metaphors or a simplified diagram as a springboard to understand a complex issue or even install a new household appliance? Obviously he studied for his A-levels by reading doctoral theses.

Ian McKenzie, Lincoln

Mr Gove’s puerile attack on teaching and teachers is the typical response from someone who has lost the argument and is backed into a corner. Faced with an almost overwhelming opposition to his “plans” for the national curriculum he has decided to counter by using exaggeration and ridicule in  a particularly cheap and unpleasant way.

The students, parents and teachers of this country deserve better than to be lectured by this arrogant pipsqueak whose main aim in life seems to be to show everyone how really clever he is, rather than to improve education for all.

Simon G Gosden, Rayleigh, Essex

Alex Ferguson’s missed chances

Hunter Davies (9 May) describes how Manchester United radically altered the game off the pitch but surely, with his power within football, Sir Alex Ferguson could have done so much more to change the game on it. In fact when one reflects on what he didn’t do, his legacy isn’t all that sublime.

He did nothing to discourage his team from behaving in shameful ways – screaming obscenities at referees, opponents and fans, diving and cheating, appealing for anything and everything and wasting everybody’s time and patience in so many different ways.

He could have done something to change it all and others would have taken notice. But he didn’t and now it’s going to be a long time before someone else has that much influence within the game.

James Vickers, Redcar, Cleveland

In your otherwise comprehensive coverage of the economic consequences of Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure you failed to mention its likely catastrophic impact on the British chewing-gum industry.

Adrian Lee, Yelverton,  Devon

Don’t cry over split infinitives

English used to be a highly inflected language, with masses of endings, tenses and so on. During the Middle Ages the stage of the language that we now call “Middle English” shed most of these and replaced them, where the sense demanded, with new constructions employing prepositions, modal verbs or other particles.

Thus in modern English we ended up with “to go” (and “will go”, “am going” etc). Pedants intervened with the so-called infinitive and told us not to “split” it (letters, 2 & 3 May), though  oddly enough they were happy enough to “split” compound tenses, eg “we will often go”.

The old true infinitive survives in a few constructions, such as “help me do the washing up”, which is just as “correct” as “help me to do the washing up”, and cannot be “split” as it has no need of the particle “to”.

What a lot of needless nonsense Victorian pedants landed on us!

Richard Thomas, Winchelsea,  East Sussex

The many faces  of Shirley Temple

In his article about child stars (9 May) Kaleem Aftab states that Shirley Temple “never matched her childhood success as an adult”. 

I am not sure how he would define success, but in her long political and business career as Shirley Temple Black she served on the boards of Walt Disney Corporation, Del Monte and the National Wildlife Federation, and was appointed a US representative to the UN (not a Goodwill Ambassador, an actual representative). She also served as the US ambassador to Ghana and then as the Ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989-92, during the time when Communism was disappearing from Europe and Czechoslovakia was splitting into the Czech and Slovak Republics.

Some might even say these successes, for a woman of the mid-20th century, are almost as impressive as having starred in several hit movies. But I guess that would be a matter of opinion.

Ellen Purton, Twickenham,  Middlesex

Ban bishops from House of Lords

Frank Field (10 May) has hit the nail right on the head about gesture politics from the Lords Spiritual. It is high time that the bishops were removed from the House of Lords and spent more of their time back in the diocese with their priests and parishioners. Ability to speak on matters that are dear to the various faith communities need not be limited to bishops of the Established Church; there are some perfectly good faith adherents on the benches of both sides of the Lords. If it transpires that there are gaps which need filling then by all means let’s ask the Archbishop to appoint replacements from the varied selection of different walks of life suggested by Field.

As far as the Church of England is concerned, the bishops should be spending their time in sorting out the scenario of too many church buildings, too many parishes and not enough worshippers. The House of Lords is far removed from the reality of ordinary parish life – more episcopal input at parish level would go a long way to making the Church relevant and more able to effectively preach and live out the Gospel message.

Reverend Canon David C Capron SSC, Stratford on Avon

Frank Field’s views regarding the Lords Spiritual are published on the same day that a former Archbishop of York is alleged to have covered up sex abuse in his diocese because his Church’s insular law did not require him to report the matter to the police.

It should be painfully clear, given the ongoing global scandal in both the Catholic and Anglican churches, that religious hierarchies are no longer the self-proclaimed absolute moral authority in the land. We hear a great deal from the likes of Lord Carey and Cardinal O’Brien about the importance of Christian conscience, how its exercise is so crucial to a Christian’s identity, and how secular society must grant it special privilege. 

Perhaps Lord Carey, and indeed Cardinal O’Brien, might need to explain where this much-vaunted Christian conscience was hiding in their churches if it is found that bishops were choosing not to report sexual abuse by their clergy, because they were either not required to or were told not to?

Or will we only see this Christian conscience championed in public again when it is time once more to deny public services to gay people or vulnerable women?

Alistair McBay, National Secular Society, Edinburgh

Farage is not a picture of health

Every time I see Nigel Farage he’s smoking a cigarette, not drinking a pint (letter, 7 May). Maybe his health policies need closer scrutiny. That said, the many butts in our streets are mildly less repellent than pavements covered in molten chewing gum, as during the recent heat.

Nicholas E Gough, Swindon, Wiltshire

Manners marred by mobile phones 

One is in serious conversation with someone who receives a text message. They immediately turn away from you to read the message and text back. Adding insult to injury, they then say, “Sorry, carry on,” all the while keeping all their attention focused on the little screen of their beloved toy.

Such behaviour, now so common that it is accepted as normal, seems to me about as rude as one can be, short of a smack in the mouth.  

Chris Payne, Lupa City, Philippines

Plucky ancestors

The Coalition Government appears to be taking a firm stance against the onslaught of European immigration. It is ironic that Cameron, Osborne and Clegg are all descended from relatively recent immigrants from Europe. Had their policies been in place from the 19th century they wouldn’t be here now. Of course, their ancestors would have been hard-working people keen to get on.

Carole Lewis, Solihull, West Midlands

A loss to cinema

The IAC Film and Video Institute has many reasons for mourning the passing of Ray Harryhausen (obituary, 8 May). For many years he was our patron and friend, willing to share his enthusiasm and skills with those of us in the amateur movie-making world. His personal hands-on creativity inspired many of our members, encouraging some to set their sights on becoming professional.

Thank you Ray.

Linda Gough, President, IAC Film and Video Institute, Sunderland

Doctor, doctor

With the furore surrounding the problems with the NHS111 line, perhaps we need to set up a NHS222 line where people can get a second opinion?

Alan Gregory, Stockport

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