Kelly's social engineering will harm the majority of children
Sir: So Education Secretary Ruth Kelly's goal is that "By 2008 we want to have seen improvements across the country in children's readiness for school at age five" ("Outrage over tough new targets for 5-year-olds", 27 April). It cannot be denied that these targeted social-engineering policies may well be helping a small minority of children from very deprived backgrounds, but any such gains are won at the expense of the hapless majority of young children whose healthy development is positively harmed by this indiscriminate blunderbuss of an early-years policy framework.
What is most breathtaking of all is that our policy-makers are seemingly incapable of understanding that it is children's natural developmental aptitudes that should determine school readiness and school starting-age, rather than children's learning being manipulated in developmentally inappropriate ways in order to fit the expedient normalising agendas of central government diktat.
Ever since the Government began intruding into pre-school learning some years ago, the inevitable has happened, with ever-downward pressure on early-learning environments to meet the politicised needs of narrow school-based "standards" measurement, and with children's early learning being systematically distorted through the statutory imposition of that toxic agenda. In a not unrelated development, over the same period there have been unprecedented and burgeoning levels of mental ill-health and anomie in our young people.
This is all beginning to sound rather like the death rattle of a thrashing-around government and a "modernist" educational ideology in its death throes - and, many might say, not before time.
DR RICHARD HOUSE
RESEARCH CENTRE FOR THERAPEUTIC EDUCATION, ROEHAMPTON UNIVERSITY
Sir: Perhaps instead of extending the school testing regime to include infants of five years old, the Government could take inspiration from the European pupil-teacher ratio table (in your map poster of 27 April), of which we are at the very bottom, and seek instead ways of emulating that of, say, Estonia or Slovenia? Surely that would be a more effective way of raising standards.
A government without honour
Sir: In the distant past, lost in the mists of time, ministers were expected to know what went on under their watch, and if there was a lamentable failure they had the grace to resign.
But responsibility and honour have been deleted from the political vocabulary. If Tony Blair believes that Charles Clarke's lamentable and dangerous dereliction of duty is not a resigning matter, that these are the standards we are to expect, then he himself should resign, as this is no way to run a country.
Sir: Almost a thousand prisoners including murderers, some of whom judges ruled must be deported, have been released from prison, current whereabouts unknown. Home Secretary Charles Clarke says he takes full responsibility and it is a shocking state of affairs. Mr Clarke could not say, hand on heart, that all those involved would be tracked down.
Is this the same Charles Clarke who is proposing compulsory biometric identity cards, with personal bar-codes, effectively tagging the population, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding? It is more cost-effective to spend money tracking the criminals than introducing a system that gives the state the means to track the whole population.
Sir: I am sure the criminal fraternity will be delighted to adopt the Clarke defence: "All right, your honour, I admit it's my responsibility. But I blame the system."
Why Americans admire Israel
Sir: In "United States of Israel?" (27 April) Robert Fisk asserts that the mainstream US press and television are "pro-Israeli, biased and gutless". I watch the CBS, ABC and NBC news every evening on UK cable and Israel rarely, if ever, gets a mention. I read the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and Washington Post and Israel news is buried inside if at all.
Lobbyists aside, here is why Americans admire and support Israel: like the USA with its Mayo Clinic and Microsoft and Nasa, Israel has its phenomenal Weizmann Institute and Herzliya Centre for Neurological Diseases along with countless other outstanding institutions and immense cultural life that rose from the ashes of Auschwitz.
The reason why so many Americans of all faiths and backgrounds love the state of Israel is because, like the USA, it rose like a phoenix due to the sheer sweat and dedication of its founding colonists, and has been a haven for the oppressed who are willing to work hard to achieve their dreams.
Sir: Replacing the American stars with Stars of David on the US flag is the stock in trade of neo-Nazi and far right groups around the world. It is the simplest way for them to make their facile and antisemitic charge that Jews control the world's sole superpower.
The Independent will adamantly claim that Robert Fisk's allegations that "pro-Israelis" control American media, politics, and warfare is not to be confused with antisemitic conspiracy theories - but if a picture speaks a thousand words, then its chosen illustration of Stars of David on the US flag speaks volumes.
As Robert Fisk himself says in the article, referring to the views of Noam Chomsky, the well-known critic of Israel, "he [Chomsky] suggests that American corporate business has more to do with US policy in the Middle East than Israel's supporters". This makes the front page of Fisk's article (Independent Extra, 27 April) both unworthy and unjustified.
HENRY GRUNWALD QC
PRESIDENT, THE BOARD OF DEPUTIES OF BRITISH JEWS, LONDON WC1
Europe fights for rights of sex slaves
Sir: The convention on trafficked women the Government is refusing to sign is not an EU directive as Deborah Orr reported (26 April). It is a Council of Europe convention drawn up to protect the human rights of the new sex slaves working in massage parlours under the control of transnational criminals
Most other European countries have signed it. Given the positive approach of Home Office ministers to treating paid-for sex with intimidated trafficked women as rape, with the men who have such sex being charged with the crime, it is to be regretted that the UK will not sign this Convention. It sends the wrong signal to the traffickers and to their victims, who deserve the protection of this modest Council of Europe Convention.
Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs who represent Britain at the Council of Europe are united in supporting this Convention. The Prime Minister should instruct the Home Office to drop its opposition.
DENIS MACSHANE MP
UK DELEGATE TO THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE, HOUSE OF COMMONS
Face it: China has arrived
Sir: Richard Harding, in his letter of 21 April, fails to break the unfortunate American trend of oversimplification when dealing with China.
Expert assessments of China's growth potential are based on more than simple multiplication. Efficient private enterprises are replacing ponderous state-owned corporations with ever-increasing rapidity, a process made easier by China's attempts to reform the banking system and decrease nonperforming loans. Direct foreign investment levels, already higher than ever, look set to soar. Globalisation allows China's industries to exploit markets previously out of reach. China retains a massive domestic market for its goods and produce even as exports grow beyond the most optimistic estimates. This is a country that has sustained 28 years of GDP growth at an average of 8 per cent per year. China has arrived as a world power, and its potential for economic ascendancy cannot be denied.
In truth, however, Mr Harding's letter did not read like an assessment of China's economic potential. Rather, it is drenched in the fear and ignorance that the US and the west exhibit towards cultures and societies alien to our own. Labelling China as "repressive and totalitarian", he ignores the strides already made towards improving human rights, and the prospect for even greater change as our economic and cultural relations with China improve. The world should welcome the emergence of a new economic force with such potential for the betterment of the entire region.
The anti-American, Left Bank liberals Mr Harding describes do not "eagerly anticipate" the growth of China; we recognise it as a fact that must be faced. Not with the suspicion and paranoia that the US faced Russia with last century, but with a renewed spirit of co-operation.
AIRDRIE, NORTH LANARKSHIRE
Bad advice about breast-feeding
Sir: Many women have bad experiences with motherhood, but only women journalists decide to cheer themselves up by writing articles. Bronwen Eyre's article about breast-feeding (25 April) was a classic of the genre.
It is not her fault, of course, that she had patchy, highly contradictory advice on breast-feeding. For example, why did she keep sitting in a chair all the time to feed? Was she not taught how to feed a baby while reclining comfortably on her side? Was she not advised to keep up her fluid intake? Why did nobody show her how to position her baby so that she did not develop backache? Why did she get bored? One great advantage of breast-feeding is that it leaves a hand free to hold a book or a phone. And how relaxing can it have been to insist on her man making notes of which breast the baby was on, for heaven's sake?
For the confusing advice Eyre had from her midwives there is no excuse; but she could have sought more advice, perhaps from a breast-feeding counsellor. An 18th-century aristocrat would have cheerfully hired a wet-nurse and left it at that. But because Eyre is a 21st-century journalist she has to prove to everyone not only that she made the right decision in giving up breast-feeding but also that the course she rejected is an evil in itself.
There is nothing particularly wrong with her decision. What is wrong is to force her own attitude on to the many pregnant women and new mothers who will have read her article; she has sown fear and doubt; their confidence in their own ability to breastfeed has been undermined.
Sir: Bronwyn Eyre has been very brave to stick her head above the parapet on the subject of breast-feeding. Your statistics accompanying the article show that a large number of women give up breast-feeding within the first six weeks, yet articles and letters to the editor on this subject invariably give a cosy image about how rewarding and easy it is. Although this is true for some women, for a large number it is not.
Bronwyn did what was best for her son and should not be berated for this. There is more to being a good mother than how you feed your baby and if stopping breast-feeding meant she was able to enjoy her son then she should be congratulated. Unfortunately in Independent reading circles not breast-feeding is seen as some sort failure on the part of the woman. I too tried and "failed" (twice) breast-feeding despite the support of an NCT counsellor but would still encourage others to try. Perhaps if there were more honesty about the problems involved then women would not go into it with unreal expectations.
Reminder to Blair
Sir: Peter Ellway (letter, 26 April) is right to draw attention to former European CIA chief Tyler Drumheller's revelation that George Bush was informed, pre-war, about the lack of WMD in Iraq. Perhaps Tony Blair could let us know if he was told too. If he can't recall the details, I'm sure Mr Drumheller will be glad to help.
Sir: Having worked in an academic environment I can sympathise with Dr Chris Dacke's comments on GPs' salaries (letter, 24 April). However, in my experience, academics no matter how skilled or knowledgeable do not have to make life-or-death decisions that affect peoples lives daily. GPs and hospital consultants have to accept responsibility for their patients' wellbeing in a way that most academics and, I would guess, even Terry Wogan, do not have to. This is why they should be rewarded accordingly.
Sir: St George's Day on Sunday gave an opportunity to celebrate English pride, a concept which appears foreign to Arts Council England. This publicly funded quango is guilty of cultural cleansing of English folk traditions. While English folk dance and song is starved of funding, Arts Council England is pumping £5.5m into a new art gallery to promote Contemporary Latin American Art. The Arts Council funds nearly 300 galleries in England but neglects English folk traditions in a way which suggests the nation's arts policy is dictated by elitist snobbery.
BOB RUSSELL MP
(COLCHESTER, LIB DEM) HOUSE OF COMMONS
Sir: I see the Union Flag rather than the Red Hand Flag was used to represent Northern Ireland on the "UK in Facts and Figures" free map (26 April). Congratulations; this is correct. Although the Red Hand Flag is used in some quarters it is used unofficially. It was abolished in 1973 when the Belfast Stormont assembly was abolished and the Union Flag was made official for all purposes in Northern Ireland.
GATESHEAD, TYNE AND WEAR
Sir: According to your "Guide to the UK in Facts and Figures" I can expect to live to 77 if I am a citizen of the UK but not to that age if I am from one of the constituent parts. So we would all do better to give up our allegiance to the different parts and become UK-ish - that is if we prefer to live longer.