Letters: Some children are just born bright

These letters appear in the Friday 13th December edition of the Independent


The report from King’s College London has put the cat amongst the pigeons (“GCSE results are ‘mainly detertmined by genes’ ”, 12 December). You say that it is a case of left versus right. Nobody in education is more left-wing than I am, but I still think that what it says about the effects of our genes is correct. Nature has far more effect that nurture.

During my career, nothing angered me more than the refusal, on the part of parents, to allow their children to go to grammar school, on the grounds that the children might grow up to be too “posh” for their parents, and who can say how much talent was wasted by such attitudes?

We need all the talent we can get if we are to face a future full of almost unbelievable possibilities. Educate all, but do not forget the clever ones; give them every chance to stretch their wings. They are going to make the discoveries which will make life more bearable for everyone.

Bill Fletcher, Cirencester, Gloucestershire

It was interesting that your article on genes in education (12 December) was juxtaposed with a report of the demand for increased testing.

The main issue here is the imposition of the National Curriculum for all pupils. If not all children are socially, genetically or personally equipped to deal with all aspects of the National Curriculum at the same stage, what value is there in having such a National Curriculum?

One example proves the point. We remain obsessed with the desire to improve achievement in modern languages, and so force all pupils to jump through these hoops, when it is obvious that most of them will never need to use that language (whether Mandarin or French), and will never reach a satisfactory standard.

Serious questions need to be asked as to who is taught what and when. Individual tailoring is the thing that matters, rather than assuming that everybody can do everything to the same level. Very little serious discussion goes on in this regard, and it is the children and students who suffer, above all the brightest and the weakest. If education is a lifelong experience, why do we have to cram everything into these tender years?

The National Curriculum was originally imposed for a political, not educational, reason – to control aberrant teachers and LEAs. It has outlived its purpose.

Stephen Smith, Forum of Independent Day Schools, Colmworth, Bedfordshire

Before the Mayor of London and his pals jump on the latest research on the influence of genes on intelligence and infer that this a validation of some kind of master race who send their kids to places like Eton, they should note that within families there is genetic variance and innate differences of disposition. So the average difference in IQ (whatever that is) between siblings is about the same as the average difference in IQ between two random people off the street: one standard deviation, or 15 points.

I’m sure we all know families with children having different aptitudes, with academically bright kids alongside less bright.

This new research is valuable as a contribution to pedagogy but cannot be interpreted as a justification for oligarchy.

Colin Burke, Manchester


Why Netanyahu stayed away

I greatly enjoyed Matthew Norman’s analysis of the reasons for Benjamin Netanyahu’s absence from Mandela’s memorial service (11 December).

How magnanimous of the man to wish to save the Israeli taxpayers the cost of his flight to Johannesburg, but what a shame for the rest of us to have been denied his reception from the crowd; it might have trumped that for Jacob Zuma and, who knows, finally the scales might have fallen from the collective Israeli eyes.

Israel was the apartheid regime’s last friend in the developed world. There are, of course, similarities between the mistreatment of black South Africans and the subjugation of Palestinians – “Jewish only” roads on which Palestinians are banned from travelling, and the destruction of Palestinian homes to make way for Jewish homes.

Netanyahu is the  P W Botha figure in this pantomime, but there is also a Nelson Mandela figure. Marwan Bargouti is probably the only person with the integrity and support to be able to represent a single, coherent, moderate Palestinian bloc in talks with the Israelis. Consequently, Bargouti continues to languish in Israel’s prison system.

Should he be freed as Mandela was, we might dare to believe that Israel is serious about negotiating an end to its own apartheid policies.

John Dickson, Wells, Somerset

Peter Downey obviously did not fully know Mandela’s “vision and commitment” to a solution for the Arab-Israel conflict (letter 9 December). Mandela himself said in his visit to Israel in October 1999: “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing from [the territories] if Arab states do not recognise Israel within secure borders.”

Unfortunately, most Arab and Muslim states do not recognise Israel at all, regardless of borders. Even the Palestinians, who have most to gain by the peace and recognition they could gain by making compromises equivalent to those offered by Israel, have rejected every single proposal of former Israeli prime ministers and responded with murderous intifadas. Above all, their leaders have made no attempt to stop the constant incitement against Israel in their media, schools and mosques.

What hope can there be that the next generation of Palestinians will normalise relations with Israel, after decades of anti-Israel indoctrination?

Alan Halibard, Bet Shemesh, Israel

Homes bought to remain empty

Your correspondents (11 December) are only partly right about the housing shortage. We are now seeing the results of a generation of people inheriting money and using it to buy even more property. 

If all the empty housing were utilised, we would not have a housing problem. In the North the number of second homes, often used for only a few weeks a year, has rocketed. For example, in a row of six small terraced cottages nearby, the sort of affordable accommodation that Marc Vlessing would like to see, only two are let to tenants full-time. The remainder lie empty, some with heating left on, to serve as weekend retreats, holiday homes or simply investments. 

We now see buy-to-let portfolios where high rents subsidise remaining unoccupied lets; second-home buyers force up prices to unaffordable levels to keep under-used housing, which in turn affects local services; countryside is built on so that more lucky investors can purchase more than one house leaving “a generation locked out of home ownership”. We can continue building more houses on green land ad infinitum and demand will never be satisfied.

Janet Pound, Calow,  Derbyshire

Musical break at Stratford

I very much enjoyed Daniel Rosenthal’s article on mishaps in theatre productions (12 December), which brought back a memory of when my late husband, David, was a member of the Wind Band at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon in the early 1960s.

In one production he had to catch a recorder, thrown in anger by Hamlet, played by David Warner. On one occasion he failed to catch it and it hit the stage floor, causing the foot of the recorder to fly off onto the lap of a lady sitting in the front row. It was never seen again.

Gillian Munrow, Amersham, Buckinghamshire

The rewards of being a religion

If my local hotel can be registered as a venue for weddings, is there any reason Scientology couldn’t have applied for a similar licence , without recourse to the Supreme Court? Or is this just the stalking horse to allow Scientology to use its newfound status as a “religion” to gouge money out of the state?

Andrew Whyte, Shrewsbury

Grade A students at Harvard

One day, at Harvard in the late 1960s, the topic of grades came up (“Too many A grades means an epic fail for Harvard”, 6 December.)  One senior academic said he always gave As because the previous director of the unit had said that the students wouldn’t be at Harvard if they did not deserve an A.

Brian Hopkins, Chichester, West Sussex

Culture of targets spreads to the banks

Lloyds bank has incurred a record fine for a toxic culture that penalised staff for missing targets. Their management was obviously following the example of the NHS reforms enforced with such fervour by the Blair and Brown governments.

Peter Baird, Retired Orthopaedic Consultant,  Chelsea and Westminster Hospital

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