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- Arts + Ents
Monday 11 August 2008
Parents must put child-rearing on a par with paid work
Hurrah for your editorial (6 August) on the long hours that parents, or a single parent, spend at work away from their children. It is an unpopular message, and the editorial writer seems already to be trying to make it more palatable by declaring that the blame may really lie with ministers who have given primacy to paid work, rather than with working parents.
Our society, not ministers, has given priority to paid work above the raising of children. We avoid the issue by talking about economic necessity, career fulfilment, gender stereotyping and the benefits of working – anything to disguise that fact. What these terms mean is that many people who choose to become parents think that it is acceptable that their children are farmed out to others for the greater part of the time during their formative years. Sadly, for many children, that doesn't work.
There have always been working parents, but the hours have crept up and workers commute further. Time as families has shrunk. Primary school teachers are increasingly having to deal, as surrogate parents, with children who are insecure and neither emotionally nor intellectually ready for school. Yet the curriculum is littered with more and more initiatives in the hope that teachers, social workers – anyone – will find yet another way to disguise the blindingly obvious. Work has been allowed to come before children's interests.
How I agree with Sarah Churchwell's excellent piece on working women ("Don't tell me my place is in the home", 7 August). It both depressed me and uplifted me, because as a woman in her fifties who has worked since 1968, brought up a family and trained as a nurse, I had hoped that 30 years later the work-life balance debate between the genders would have moved on.
I find it refreshing that she points out that men have a raw deal at times, too, because of the assumption that females are mostly responsible for "caring" and running the household. I brought my son up to accept the nurturing role and he is now a real hands-on dad and a good cook and shares bringing up my new granddaughter with his wife. My daughter has grown into a confident professional woman who shares running the house, too.
Recently, however, I heard this question in my own family when I took a new part-time job: "Does your husband mind you going back to work doing shifts?" When is the basic belief that men and women can share home responsibilities going to be accepted? When employers accept this, too – and also journalists
West's responsibility for South Ossetia
After the First World War, the League of Nations successfully supervised plebiscites in many areas to settle the borders of the new Europe. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there should have been a vote in several areas on their future allegiance simply because Soviet boundaries had been constructed on divide-and-rule principles.
The vote would probably have been in favour of Russia in Transdnestr, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and against Russia in Chechnya. In Nagorno-Karabakh, instead of a vote there was a war, won by Armenia.
It does look as if the West, in its desire to do down Russia, bears at least some responsibility for instability in the Caucasus. It could have pressed very hard for a vote-based solution in all the disputed areas at any time in the past 18 years.
The US President's support for national territorial integrity in Georgia (report, 8 August) will come as a surprise to the minorities driven out of Kosovo so that the US could support its secession, in contravention of an explicit UN Resolution affirming the territorial integrity of Serbia. When it comes to an autonomous province of a more compliant country, it would appear that territorial integrity is suddenly an absolute – and that neither the bombardment of a city nor reports of ethnic cleansing will make a jot of difference.
Put nature areas at the heart of towns
Sir David Attenborough is right to sound an alarm over the way children are losing touch with the natural world (report, 1 August).
All the evidence suggests that children who experience the natural world are much more likely to engage with it later in life, but their ability to do so has rapidly diminished. Indeed, in the last 20 years, the "home range" where an average eight-year-old can roam on their own has shrunk by nearly 90 per cent.
We have to reverse the damage that decades of unthinking urban development and public neglect have inflicted on our children's ability to interact with the natural world. Housing growth areas – including the proposed new eco-towns – must have green infrastructure at their hearts, creating new spaces for children to enjoy the natural environment and new habitats for wildlife.
Sir Martin Doughty
Chair, Natural England, Sheffield
As a recently retired biology teacher I would link the inability of 10- and 11-year-olds to recognise common fauna and flora to the imposition of the SATs. Anne Palmer (letter, 1 August) is correct to highlight the enormous waste of money and paper (ie trees) expended on SATs. The time spent teaching science for the SATs in primary schools would be more usefully spent doing some old-fashioned "nature study". Below the age of 10 and 11, children do not have the intellectual development to appreciate some of the scientific concepts they are tested on, and often the teachers have insufficient knowledge themselves to avoid embedding misconceptions in the children's minds. Research has shown how difficult it is to reverse "personal science" to the correct version: people in fact use one explanation in everyday life and another specially for answering school work and tests.
For example, many people cannot distinguish between melting and dissolving and they will say magnetism is a property of all metals. Such topics, if learnt soundly by Key Stage 2, should be in place for secondary science – but they are not. Since around 2000, my sixth-form students have not recognised catkins!
Please, let teachers excite children with some "biology" and "astronomy" and perhaps some history of scientific ideas (stories) in primary school, and they will come to secondary school enthusiastic for "real" science in the laboratory. My experience suggests a correlation between pupils finding science more difficult and less appealing with the introduction of the national curriculum and the changes to the testing regime during the 1990s.
Olympic 'ideals' had military origins
I am not convinced by your notion of the "original ideals" of the Olympic Games (leader, 7 August). The "noble ideals" of Baron de Coubertin were surely most noble in the sense that they were aristocratic and elitist.
Just as the Victorian upper classes invented coats of arms or tartans for themselves or built bogus medieval follies in their gardens, so they requisitioned and reinvented the Olympics as an amateur and elitist phenomenon in their own image.
In contrast, the original Greek Olympics were open to professional sportsmen. Also, most events – fighting, running, throwing – had a military application. They were not the whimsical pursuits of the leisured classes but rather were directly relevant to the mass of citizen soldiers.
The Greek Olympics provided an arena in which rival states could compete for glory against one another without actually having to go to war. In this sense, perhaps the Beijing Olympics represent a renaissance rather than a subversion of this original Olympic ideal. For Athens versus Sparta, read USA versus China.
The organisers of the 2012 London Olympics must have watched the stupendous spectacle of the opening of the Beijing games with absolute horror. How could any nation follow that? Human rights may not be China's strongpoint, but when it comes to organising a mass spectacle, who can compete? No need to ask who invented fireworks!
Transsexual couples need legal marriage
Nick Chadwick (Letters, 4 August) asks why gay and lesbian couples need to ape heterosexual marriage when they have legal equivalence in civil partnerships. He should remember that the only reasons that civil partnership exists as a separate legal entity is because certain religious groups regard homosexual people as beyond the pale when it comes to marriage. The distinction between the two legal institutions simply panders to the prejudices of those to whom this difference matters.
He also forgets the blameless victims of the separation between marriage and civil partnerships. These are the husbands and wives of transsexual people, whose marriages have been strong enough to survive the trauma of their spouse's gender reassignment, but who have to annul their marriages if their transsexual partner is to get the gender recognition that will allow them to avoid the creep of legal discrimination against those without gender recognition.
Although we could immediately enter into a civil partnership, this has unfortunate consequences. For example, it could lose me, as the innocent wife, some £6,000 of pension annually should my partner predecease me, and all because civil partnerships and marriage are not quite equal in all respects.
Although we are legally husband and wife, we look like two women in a marriage and society hasn't ground to a halt as a result, nor would it do so even if we were both legally female. If religions wish to discriminate against same-sex couples, then let the divide be between religious marriage and civil marriage, so that everyone can make their own choice whether to accept or reject the prejudices that are no longer justifiable in today's society.
Heathfield, East Sussex
Costs of keeping kidney patients alive
I cringe every time I read about some drugs not being available due partly to cost (report, 8 August), knowing that I am costing the NHS in the order of £50,000 a year (including transport costs) to be kept alive on kidney dialysis.
I totally lost kidney function due to an auto-immune reaction. This is relatively rare and so by the time I was diagnosed I was in extremis and the crash team was called. Everyone rallied round and saved my life: there was no question of eventual cost, no totting up of my "qualys", no "she's got no dependants, she's getting on a bit, so is this justified?"
I have by no means solved this kind of dilemma in my own mind, but it deserves some thought.
Don't blame the Americans. As John Cornwell points out (letter, 8 August), "soccer" and "rugger" have been familiar public school terms for many years, with many a mention in school stories also of "footer". Australia always used "soccer" to differentiate it from Australian rules, the home-grown game now officially known as "Australian football". Until 2005, the association-football governing body there was the Australian Soccer Association: it is now Football Federation Australia. Confused? You should be.
At Clifton, where we played "football", aka rugby, I once had a call from Downside from the person who called himself "Master i/c Association Soccer". To make it quite clear, I suppose.
Care for the elderly
Why so much fuss about who is going to care for the elderly (Independent Magazine, 9 August)? It's really a fairly low-tech job. All that's needed is a service-style scheme where fit, trained and supervised pensioners look after the non-medical needs of their less-fit peers. Participation could be a requirement for drawing a state pension. Of course, this should logically be accompanied by legalised voluntary euthanasia /assisted suicide for failing elderly – another ideal job for the fit elderly to do.
St Ola, Orkney
Complaints to Ofcom
Ofcom has no intention of creeping its mission into censuring broadcasters who show people smoking on TV (leader, 8 August). It is a fact of life, offensive to many, but nonetheless legal, which is acceptable on TV provided it is not glamorised to children. Whether Marco Pierre White's tobacco habit is capable of glamorising such activity is open to debate. In any case, the show went out after 9pm and Ofcom is obliged to look at every single complaint, whether trivial or not.
Ofcom, London SE1
Lads' mags models
Elizabeth Mueller's letter (7 August), in which she suggests that girls' mags encourage a promiscuous lifestyle, adds nothing to the debate about lads' mags, since the issue is the objectification of women. Her comment that the naked models in lads' mags are well paid is equally irrelevant: sadly, many people of both sexes – especially, but not always, the ignorant and under-educated – are paid to do work that their employers would think much too dirty, degrading or humiliating for members of their own families.
You say the "Starfish house" (9 August) will be a "32,000ft neo-classical mansion". Will it have the requisite lights to warn passing aircraft?
Mountain Ash Rhondda Cynon Taff
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