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Saturday 21 March 2009
Letters: The benefits of a home education
Praise for home education from a humanist-pagan
Helena Cox (letters, 18 March) raises a spectre of insular religious home educators, presumably as part of a general push to get public support for governmental oversight of home education.
I have far greater faith in parents than the state in being able to decide on an appropriate education for their children, and the more I see reported on the state of schooling in this country and the woeful outcomes for the children mired in state education, the greater my faith grows.
I am writing as a humanist-pagan home educator who counts among his, and his children's, home-educating friends, people of all faiths and none, including as some of our closest friends a family who fit the description Helena gives to a T. I have no fears for their children, as you could not find a more loving and supportive family.
Social diversity cannot be defended by state-imposed homogeneity. Perhaps Helena should ask whether she believes that home education should only be for "people like us" and that "people not like us" should be forced to be like us.
And if she thinks faith-based home education is "tantamount to child abuse", I can only wish that she is speaking from a blissfully naive viewpoint of not having witnessed child abuse. The comparison is crass and insulting to all parties.
Helena Cox expresses concern that some children in this country are not being taught in accordance with her wishes. In a truly free society the decision as to what is and is not a suitable education for children is that of their parents, not of the state or of self-styled "experts". The truth is that the really disadvantaged children are not those whose parents take their role seriously, but those who spend little or no time in the company of loving parents with a sense of what is right and what is wrong, what is real and what is not. No amount of carefully constructed and determinedly delivered school curricula on values can fill such a void.
Population control is our only hope
Steve Connor is perfectly correct when he states that over-population is an amplifier of existing problems (Science notebook, 10 March). The world's population of nearly 7 billion is placing an enormous strain on the environment which is our sole support system. Unless something is done, it will reach 9.1 billion in 2050.
Scientific data exists from which it can be clearly inferred that, since the mid-1980s, we have been consuming resources at a rate faster than the earth can produce them. We have also been burning ever-inccreasing quantities of fossil fuels, now widely acknowledged as the prima facie cause of global warming.
There are now two coupled objectives: a) reduce emissions as fast as possible to slow down the rate of global warming; b) get the total fertility rate of the world population down to around 1.5 in order to bring about a reduction of our population to a level that can be sustained (in balance with biodiversity) in the absence of fossil fuels.
Universal availability of birth control and the will to use it responsibly is the only acceptable way. If we do not succeed, then don't worry: mother nature will lend a hand to finish the job. Our task is to try and beat her to it.
Dr Martin Desvaux
Trustee, Optimum Population Trust, Manchester
It was good to see The Big Question (20 March) used to discuss the threefold warning by Professor John Beddington of shortages in food, water and energy by the year 2030. The graphs tell it all. If the predicted rise in human numbers up to 8.3 billion takes place, the availablity per head of fresh water will fall and demand for food and energy will rise.
Yes, better use of resources, coupled with advances in science and technology, will come to our aid, but the article made no mention of the need to curb the rise in human numbers. I am aware of the many objections and difficulties which attend such a policy, but the matter must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
In the same day's paper, the review of James Lovelock's book The Vanishing Face of Gaia draws attention to the danger of a positive-feedback effect from global warming. The result of all this is that by 2030 we will begin to witness the death of human beings on a massive scale
It would surely be far better to begin controlling our numbers now than to watch many die through thirst, starvation, disease or war in the future.
East Bergholt, Suffolk
The correspondence on condoms seems to have been all about HIV (letters, 20 March). However there is a vital other element – the limiting of family size. The world population has tripled in the past century, placing huge strains on the planet in terms of wildlife extinctions and environmental degradation. Countless millions of children are born to die very young, or if they survive, to live a life of squalor, dire poverty, hunger, disease, ignorance and often violence.
The Pope says the answer is abstinence – does he really expect families with two children to abstain from sex for perhaps the next 20 years until menopause? That seems to me not just cruel, but living in cloud-cookoo-land.
Who should pay for the universities?
In answer to Hamish McRae ("So how will we fund our universities?", 18 March), I propose a tax that all graduates would pay as part of their normal income tax regardless of when they graduated. This tax would cut in at the higher rate so that low-income graduates, such as the newly qualified or graduates in low-pay sectors, would be unaffected. Considering the number of graduates in the country, the marginal increase in the tax rate would probably be very small.
I enjoyed five years of free university tuition for which I am genuinely grateful. I also agree with McRae that education is one of the best investments that a country can make. If one accepts that taxation is the main source of education funding then it seems obvious that a change in taxation is the answer to his original question.
The university vice-chancellors are right to want to protect teaching standards and keep this country's research institutions among the best in world, but they need to exercise caution with their quick-fix solution of relying on students to fund this.
Our organisation Pure Potential surveyed 6,000 bright (3Bs and above) state-school students in 2008 and found that over a third would seriously consider not going to university if fees were raised to £5,000, and a further 28 per cent would reconsider if the amount were raised to between £5,000 and £7,500.
The students' view is of course quite different from that of the vice chancellors', and the views of poorer students will be even further removed from those of VCs. While universities need to maintain and improve teaching standards, they must not forget that a diversity of students is essential to universities, the economy and the future of this country.
Pure Potential, London N1
Let Gazans suffer along with Hamas
Thank you Stan Brennan for reminding us (letter, 13 March) that "legitimacy was conferred on Hamas by the people of Gaza in a democratic election". Doesn't it therefore follow that the people of Gaza as a whole are collectively responsible for their government's open policy of never to recognise or to make peace with Israel, to continue for ever the struggle to eliminate Israel, to support the daily firing of rockets into Israeli cities and acts of terrorism and the holding of an Israeli soldier without any visitation rights from family or even the Red Cross? In this case, surely they cannot complain against collective punishment when finally Israel's patience runs out and they suffer together with their leaders?
Bet Shemesh, Israel
Alcohol rationing is no solution
Janet Street-Porter (18 March) calls for alcohol to be rationed in the way food used to be. When I lived in Australia in the late 1960s, alcohol was a major problem in a lot of Aboriginal communities. In the Northern Territory the authorities would ration alcohol for the indigenous population in the form of monthly "liquour rights".
Sadly, all that happened was that the heavy drinkers would blow all their rights in one massive drinking session over several days, and then spend the rest of the month trying to get more alcohol wherever they could. It was a federal offence for anyone to buy alcohol for an Aborigine, but somehow many still managed to get supplies. Alcohol rationing didn't stop the problem of binge-drinking there, and I doubt very much that it would here.
Worthing, West Sussex
Older jobless are the real problem
You are wrong to say that it is "youth joblessness" that will lose Labour the next election (leading article, 19 March). Youth labour at least has the benefit of being "cheap" and malleable. The main issue is those workers over 40 who are being forced out of jobs, and for whom new job opportunities are scarce.
Unlike for the younger unemployed, the level of any free re- training offered to the older, more educated worker is risible. I know of one instance where a request for computer-skills updating was met with the offer of a course for illiterate and innumerate teenagers.
This is no criticism of Jobcentre staff, who do their best, but of government action that has been so relentlessly geared towards "youth" and "hard-working families" that it ignores the needs of a huge section of the population.
The Motor Show: symbol of excess
I am glad that the Motor Show has been cancelled (report, 20 March). This glitzy extravaganza is the epitome of flagrant consumerism. We are all feeling the pinch but as in wartime, we will cope and we will be better for it, less greedy, and less selfish. What we need is a simpler, less stressful and happier society, where mutual respect and empathy are greater goods than possessions and spending power. In other words we need this recession to show us how much better we used to be.
Dr Tim Lawson
Am I alone in regarding the photographing of Vanessa Redgrave on her arrival at the hospital where her daughter was taken as an invasion of privacy? A famous family they may be, but the circumstances of Natasha Richardson's death were entirely private.
"Gay cinema steps into the limelight" (20 March) is yet more evidence, if we needed it, that lesbians have to put up with sexism as well as homophobia from the media. Despite throwing us lesbians a sop of one line mentioning I Can't Think Straight, the author proceeds to spend the whole article discussing films about gay men, Aids, or Judy Garland, with no discussion of films for women. Thanks for confirming just how invisible lesbians seem to be to the mainstream media.
When the patients of Stafford needed them, where were the BMA, the GMC, social services, the nursing unions, Unison, the local MP, the local press, the specialist healthcare press and medical correspondents? Where have all the whistleblowers gone? As in the City, we have a case of massive regulatory failure, not just by the managers, doctors and nurses directly involved, but by everyone whose job it is to monitor our institutions.
Whether the supermarkets are handing out fewer plastic bags to save money or because we, the public, are finally understanding the impact of our waste on the environment is irrelevant. I, my children, and my grandchildren, who will have to live with the results of our throw-away society, are just very glad that they are doing it. I am surprised that Patrick Powell, who writes from Cornwall (18 March), hasn't noticed that there are other more pressing issues to discuss: bags' environmental impact on the Cornish fishing industry, for example.
I was interested to read Stephen Pimenoff's letter about Polish girls picking up litter (18 March). I live near the seaport of Harwich and can always spot the foreigners – they are the ones who are well-dressed, well-behaved and use the litter bins.
George L Heath
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