Letters: The old see grounds for hope

These letters appear in the Friday 11th October edition of the Independent

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I have found interesting the recent article by Katherine Butler (3 October) and letters about young people’s attitude to the old. My wife and I would both be classed as “oldies”, both having lived through the Second World War, but in different countries and conditions. However we feel we have the best of it.

We have had a freedom which modern youngsters are denied. I can recall playing cricket in the middle of the main road through the village and being able to disappear on our bikes, or in my wife’s case skis, for hours without parents being terrified that we had been abducted or worse. School was fun and entry to university no problem. A visit to the cinema for two with an ice-cream and a cup of coffee afterwards and change out of 50p! Into a rewarding and fairly well-paid profession. Years of happy home life with an affordable mortgage. Now, combined ages of 158, and together for 57 years, we are still content.

I feel desperately sorry for many modern young people. They have demands from so many quarters. Terrible pressure of work, if they have job. Horrendous property prices. The Government talks continuously about “hard work”. Work should not be hard! It should be rewarding and enjoyable. One should feel that one’s efforts are making life for others a little better.

I do not believe the vast majority of young people resent or dislike us oldies. We find great helpfulness and friendliness in shops, restaurants and pubs. In one shop I saw a sign which said “If you see a customer without a smile, give them one of yours.” It works on the young. Try it.

Richard Betts, Honingham, Norfolk

 

As a cynical old man I generally believe that mankind is rapidly going backwards. The world food shortage, global warming, sectarian conflicts  and the rapid rise of international capitalism and the resulting damage to the poor of every country in the world all add up to an accelerating downhill slump for civilisation. The only people who can stop this are the ones that are responsible for it, and they show no signs of doing so. I will not be around for too much longer and my pity is for the young who will be hit by more and more very serious problems in the not too distant future.

One shining light in my dark vision became apparent on Monday morning when listening to the Today programme on Radio 4. I heard Malala Yousafzai interviewed and at the end I had a lump in my throat, she is a remarkable young woman who spoke with clarity and passionate belief about what could and should be done. As long as there are young people like this wonderful, and very brave, young woman in the world then even I must concede there is a glimmer of hope.

Michael Wood, Thornton, Lancashire

 

US right-wingers can’t wait for  the Apocalypse

Andreas Whittam Smith is broadly accurate in his assessment of  the “default’ issue in the US (Voices, 9 October), but I think he seriously underestimates the extraordinary American obsession with Apocalypse and what they  longingly refer to as “the End  of Days”.

It is difficult for Europeans to understand the level of historical and religious ignorance and bigotry implicit in the stance of the Tea Party and more extreme Republicans. Listen to Michelle Bachmann’s interview on Understanding the Times, a Christian radio show, where she gives the maddest of mullahs a run for their money; “We need to rejoice, Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, His day is at hand,” and, “we were told this, that these days would be as the days of Noah.”

These people honestly welcome the potential collapse of civilisation, fed as they are a constant stream of survivalist and disaster fiction by Hollywood, alternative history and conspiracy theory by the net, and psychopathic nonsense by the National Rifle Association.

The extreme right in America could actually welcome a US default and the chaos that they believe will result. The Obama administration cannot afford to assume otherwise. Here’s hoping they have a Plan B.

Christopher Dawes, London W11

 

Lives wrecked by Lariam

As interviewees in your most recent article on the Lariam scandal (7 October), we were delighted to learn that the former Chief of the General Staff, General Lord Dannatt, is now calling on the Ministry of Defence to cease the use of Lariam as anti-malarial prophylaxis for our armed forces. It was also encouraging to see the support offered by Lord Guthrie and Major General Patrick Cordingley. As just some of many whose lives have been wrecked by this drug, we hope that we can now count on Lord Dannatt’s support in challenging the Surgeon-General’s policy, articulated in the letter published on Wednesday 2 October, and would welcome a meeting with him at the earliest opportunity if he would care to contact us through this paper.

Bea Coldwell, Jane Casperson-Quinn, Richmond  North Yorkshire

 

Consistency is the key to learning

Julien Evans (“Why education  is failing”, Letters, 10 October)  says that UK pupils are failing  to reach the grade in numeracy  and literacy in comparison with other countries due to the fact that the English language is not phonetic, and we haven’t decided whether to use imperial or metric measuring systems.

He must have missed the statistics which showed that the older generation were better in both. Spelling hasn’t changed too much in the past few generations, and imperial and metric systems have been used together for 50 years now.

From the experience of my own children the problem seems to be inconsistency of teaching and marking at primary level. Errors in spelling or punctuation are only pointed out if the child is being tested in those areas – otherwise they are not, for fear that the child will be inhibited in their ideas.

As for maths, changing the teaching method halfway through a child’s primary years is a pretty good way of confusing pupils. This happened to my youngest child, and she finds maths a struggle. Her brothers, who were taught in what seemed to me a rather old-fashioned way (aural mental arithmetic tests, and learning tables by rote), in contrast found maths easy, the eldest going on to study physics at university.

Surely the best way of teaching a child is consistency. Constant changes in method, techniques or curriculum just serve to confuse.

Liz White, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire

 

The UK has an undoubted and longstanding literacy problem. In 1929 employers were already complaining to the Newbolt commission about the poor reading and writing skills of many of their new recruits. Numerous surveys since then have all estimated the functional illiteracy rate of English-speaking school leavers and adults at about 20 per cent. The Moser report of 1999 put it at 22 per cent. What they almost invariably also agree on is that English-speaking countries have an exceptionally “long tail of educational underachievement”.

I suspect that there is a connection between this and the fact that English-speaking children need roughly three times longer for basic literacy acquisition than the European average of one year. Greater learning difficulties, as attested by the longer learning time, inevitably also result in a higher failure rate.

The most obvious cause of this are illogical, antique English spelling habits, with umpteen different spellings for identical sounds (blue, shoe, flew, through, to ...), many  of which spell more than one sound as well (once, only, other; treat,  great, threat).

I would solve the problem with a modernisation of English spelling. Currently at least 4,000 common words necessitate the learning of individual spelling quirks. With a little more concern for the plight of underachievers, this could very easily be halved. But even reducing it by just a quarter would make English literacy acquisition far less time-consuming, because it would make the system more transparent and teachable.

Masha Bell, Wareham, Dorset

 

Decades of expert improvements devised by our gifted politicians to the education system. Perennial increases in school examination results. And the outcome – in terms of the three Rs, our children are below the standard of their grandparents.

Laurence Shields, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

 

Conspiracy theorist

Seven theories of why Norman Baker lands a job at the Home Office, but not the obvious one (Matthew Norman, 9 October). After the botched murder of Dr David Kelly how better to discredit suspicion of murder than to persuade someone to write a book suggesting a murder but making sure that the book can be easily ridiculed? Norman Baker did that and now he has his reward. 

Matthew Norman’s ignoring of the obvious shows that he is part of the conspiracy, probably. 

R F Stearn, Stowmarket,  Suffolk

 

Royal Mail sell-off  is robbery

“It’s your chance to own a bit of the Royal Mail” they claim. (report,  10 October).

I’m a British citizen, I already own a bit of the Royal Mail, thank you very much. What they mean is that they’re stealing my bit and everybody else’s bits and flogging them off very cheaply so their City friends can make a lot of money.

Paul Harper, London E15

 

Why no VAT on school fees?

If the chairman elect of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference considers that buying education is no different from buying a car (letter, 9 October) perhaps he would agree that VAT ought to be added to the fees.

John Naylor, Ascot

 

Mail Madrilenos

Reports that Madrid is considering a by-law which bans everything from busking to not sitting properly on public benches is reassuring. It means there is a place for Daily Mail readers to retreat to when we are overrun by Marxists who hate Britain.

Ian McKenzie, Lincoln

 

Badger cabal

I know that minister Owen Paterson has claimed that his cull hasn’t worked because the badgers have been moving the goalposts (report, 9 October). However he has declined to mention the militant badgers leader behind this strategy. One can only suspect that badgers have been looking at the works of the late Ralph Miliband here and are busy warrening capitalism from within.

Keith Flett, London N17

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