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Wednesday 2 September 2009
Letters: Teachers' morale
Crushing negativity that destroys teachers' morale
Mary Wakefield ("Teaching, a job with no kudos", 22 August) needs to go deeper than her anecdotal evidence, and talk to lots of teachers, to understand why their morale is so low that it sometimes makes them physically ill.
When teachers become managers, they seem unable to transfer their people skills from classroom to staffroom. The official criteria for "success" are so narrow that they leave no room for individuality .
I was in my 40s when I trained as a primary school teacher and opted to teach in an inner city area. Of course there was a huge amount I needed to learn from my colleagues. I did make some good friends along the way, but more often than not I found myself up against a wall of inverted snobbery, and a deep suspicion of my "highbrow" education and middle-class background.
The emphasis was constantly on my struggle with using the correct jargon on lesson plans, and poor wall-stapling skills, rather than on my empathy with the pupils and the fact that they responded positively to the academic and social boundaries that I set them. At the time, I did not have the confidence to question the patronising and self-defeating belief that inner city pupils must not be subjected to "posh" expectations. Fear of "dullness" only leads to dumbing down lessons into all-singing, all dancing shows.
Luckily, I escaped from this crushing negativity and have now built a successful career in supply teaching. I have seen happy staffrooms in both inner-city and leafy-lane schools. There are headteachers and school managers who can use the human resources positively so that morale is high amongst both staff and pupils. I know of teachers who have inspired their own children to take up the profession - we need more of these role models to create "kudos" for teaching.
Knaresborough, North Yorkshire
Ignorance breeds the Taliban terror
Lal Mohammed's tragic story ("Mutilated for voting in defiance of the Taliban", 31 August) is a horrific manifestation of the Taliban's incomprehensible behaviour, committed by Muslims by birth, not faith, against the innocent, including those practising their Islamically sanctioned freedom to vote.
It is impossible that the Taliban understand true Islam, which prohibits all violence except in self-defence. Even in war, Muslims are forbidden to kill civilians and animals (except as food). The Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and warring parties in Iraq are illiterate, ignorant, and close-minded terrorists.
Ignorance and illiteracy are a far greater danger to one's self, family, and society than any military weapon. Muslim governments shoulder the responsibility for their youth's purposeless lives, having ignored the political, economic, religious, and social development of their people, thereby allowing misguided martyrdom to be their sole salvation.
All Muslims must fight terrorism in their own lands and not avoid such a religious obligation, allowing western powers to use this pretext to invade, destroy, and occupy their lands. Invading and destroying Iraq and Afghanistan is the greatest terrorism of our time, not to mention Israel's war crimes in Gaza.
Terrorism is best rooted out by education and social justice, both sorely lacking in Muslim countries.
Winchester, Virginia, USA
What use are the super-rich?
The flattering article (24 August) regarding the tiny number of phenomenally rich people such as Nat Rothschild who seem to have captured most of the world's wealth misses what will seem obvious to many: extreme wealth goes hand in hand with extreme poverty and needs political action to reverse it.
Politicians the world over seem to pander to the idea that we need more super-rich to solve our problems, but the super rich simply get richer. The money in their bulging deposit accounts has to come from somewhere.
The tone of the article hints that such people are to be admired. Surely the heroes in society are those who devote their lives to others without ever expecting to be praised for it.
This is worth more than the billionaires have in their bank accounts, and worth more than the lifetime's earnings of a chief executive of many of the useless, indeed damaging organisations that provide the platform for the few to prosper, by draining the cash from the pockets of the many.
The so called success of the super-rich represents a failure of politics, and its price is to be seen wherever you look.
Myth of the French health service
Alas, despite the well-founded thrust of Ian Birrell's polemic on the National Health Service (21 August), your writer perpetuates one of the standing myths about the service's French counterpart.
The French health service is – still – astonishingly inefficient; and, for those under-60s who have to pay for it, damned expensive. One inefficiency was abolished a year or so ago, that under which a patient could take the same set of symptoms to any and every GP until he or she got the desired answer.
Others remain. My French GP prescribes me drugs – hypertension, cholesterol controllers, that sort of thing – by the "box". I am supposed to renew my prescription, without another GP appointment, month by month. But the boxes never contain the same number of tablets, so one is always running out before the other ones do; and in consequence, I end up with too much of one drug and not enough of another.
Another important point is one that I have never seen mentioned in the UK press. If you need to call on the French health service, never, ever have eye trouble. In mid-April, I consulted my GP about what I considered a serious and potentially urgent eye problem. He sent me to phone the ophthalmologist, who gave me an appointment for the end of November. For eye care, that is a typical wait interval.
If it gets worse, I shall catch a ferry to England.
David J Boggis
Profitable side of a Tobin tax
In his article on Tobin taxes (28 August) Hamish McRae argues US and German public officials are unlikely to favour a global tax on the profits of aircraft and car manufacturers respectively. While this is almost certainly the case, this may not necessarily be a bad idea given that both industries suffer from chronic over-capacity.
As he rightly says, the UK is the world's largest foreign exchange market and a Tobin tax would affect it disproportionately. However, there may be a benefit to industry given presumably it would reduce exchange rate volatility and save it money on currency hedging.
In the case of financial transactions, he neglects to point out that banks only account for around half of UK financial services, the other half being a miscellany of accounting, insurance firms etc. If Tobin taxes did reduce bonuses for the former they might encourage a flow of talent to the latter which is still a big earner for the UK economy.
Russians know when war started
Norman Davies ("We must not forget the real causes of the war", 29 August) states that "it will indeed be news in Moscow if the Russian media have to report that war did not break out in 1941".
As a schoolgirl at the end of the 1980s, before the democratic revolution in the Soviet Union, I was taught that the Second World War started in 1939 in Europe and Germany attacked Russia in 1941. The years 1941-45 are what Russians call the Great Patriotic War, not the entire Second World War.
Stalin's crimes became widely known in Russia after Krushchev's speech in the 1960s, not after 1989.
Norman Davies should understand that most Russians are far better informed than he gives them credit for.
Marina Pikoul Lloyd
Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal
No justice at Lockerbie trial
Dominic Lawson (25 August) claims that "justice" was "honoured" when Megrahi was jailed for life for the Lockerbie bombing.
There was no jury at Megrahi's trial. One key witness, Tony Gauci, was shown a magazine article with a photo claiming Megrahi was the bomber before identifying him days later. Another, Edwin Bollier, said his views were ignored and he saw evidence tampered with. Would Dominic Lawson consider that "justice" if he was on trial?
Carluke, South Lanarkshire
As a Labour Party member I am at a loss to know why some senior Labour people are trying to out-macho the American right wing and the Tories on the release of Ali al-Megrahi.
Labour principles should be about compassion and decency. It is what sets us apart from the people who plant bombs and marks us out as progressive and civilised. The Scottish government were right to take the action they did. We should not pander to the politics of revenge.
As Libya has hinted that it may consider compensating IRA victims, can we assume that the UK government is also in talks with the US on this subject?
High-speed rail to the wrong place
Let us hope that Network Rail's grandiose plan to build a high-speed rail line linking London to Glasgow and Edinburgh at great expense to the taxpayer doesn't come to fruition, but if we must have improvements to the rail network, why the emphasis on Scotland? And why in particular the branch line to Edinburgh?
Greater Glasgow may be the fifth largest conurbation in the UK but Edinburgh is only the 13th and over half the proposed line is aimed primarily at benefiting just those two urban areas.
Cut the northern extension off and you would still have a high-speed network linking Greater London (the largest of our conurbations) with the second largest conurbation (West Midlands), third (Greater Manchester) and seventh (Liverpool).
And a high speed line linking London with Newcastle upon Tyne (sixth) would be much the same length as that needed to link north-west England with central Scotland, but that line could also pass through the fouth, eighth, ninth, 15th and 18th largest conurbations, serving many more people.
Keighley, West Yorkshire
Stephen Mendes believes that legalising heroin would ruin Afghan farmers (letter, 31 August). As the Afghans would produce it, or at least the poppies, far cheaper than any grown in Europe, they would corner the market and so prosper.
Polite to cows
Delphine Penfold is on to something (letter, 29 August) when she writes that perhaps it is about time we referred to animals such as cows as "he" or "she" rather than "it", but I don't think she goes far enough. Why can't we just refer to them by their first names in these more casual times? After all it should not be too hard, they are all called Daisy are they not?
Rivals in the air
In your article on the Red Arrows (31 August), you quote Sqn Ldr Ben Murphy as saying: "This job is the last 100 per cent flying experience in the Air Force." I yield to no one in my admiration for the Red Arrows, but the pilots of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, flying vintage Spitfires, Hurricanes and a Lancaster, might well take issue with this claim.
Terence Blacker's article on the role of "celebrities in politics" (25 August) was both waspish and unfortunate. Both Terry Waite and Martin Bell have proved themselves honest and courageous in their separate ways. By contrast, even those MPs who were not guilty of milking the system did nothing to bring these abuses to light. The present House of Commons seems incapable of holding the Government to account on any issue that concerns the public, so why not bring in some honest independent members?
Peter J Holloway
Cricket on screen
The coming-of-age film P'tang Yang Kipperbang throws a very affectionate nod towards 1950s cricket, but the best cricket film is the Indian Lagaan (2001) about a cricket match in 1893 India between heavily taxed villagers and British army officers (letter, 1 September). Quite a challenge at nearly four hours long, and also a musical, but well worth it.
MPs in new expenses row over London homes
Naomi Klein interview: The 'No Logo' author and climate change activist talks compost, Cameron, and the irresistible humour of otters
Russia and the US will build a new space station together
James Bond Spectre trailer drops on YouTube
Facebook test flies solar-powered drones over the UK in attempt to increase internet access
Keanu Reeves tipped as Top Gear contender by Jonathan Ross: 'He's got petrol instead of blood!'
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