Unbiased history syllabus, Middle East peace and others

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Place of the British Empire in an unbiased history syllabus

Place of the British Empire in an unbiased history syllabus

Sir: May I support the head of history of York College (letter, 5 February) in opposing the attempt of the Government to impose upon our young people a politically biased history syllabus; and I agree with him that education should engender a critical faculty fit to appraise justly the accumulated wisdom of former generations.

For example, on 10 June 1833 Thomas Macaulay said in the House of Commons: "The destinies of our Indian Empire are covered with thick darkness. It is difficult to form any conjecture as to the fate reserved for a state which resembles no other in history ... It may be that the public mind of India may expand under our system till it has outgrown that system ... that, having become instructed in European knowledge, they may, in some future age, demand European institutions ... Whenever it comes it will be the proudest day in English history ... The sceptre may pass away from us."

That day came in August 1947. And in 1961 it was heartening to meet a Minister for Education in Pakistan who said that when he faced a problem he turned to Macaulay's minutes for help; and to attend the Legislative Assembly in Delhi, where Mr Speaker, in keeping order, had recourse to Erskine May's Parliamentary Procedure.

Let us hope that, with or without governmental prompting, our children will continue to learn how, in 1931, the Statute of Westminster created out of Empire a radical Commonwealth of freely associated peoples, of many races and creeds but equal in status; nothing to be ashamed of.

Vice-Admiral Sir IAN McGEOCH
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Fair dealing essential for Middle East peace

Sir: Robert Fisk asserts that "there will be no Middle East peace without justice" (Opinion, 9 February). He is right, but I hope those in negotiation will have the courage and foresight to negotiate all aspects of their engagement.

This is an early point and it is unsurprising that details such as the "right of return" or "settlements" were not discussed at Sharm el-Sheikh. Robert Fisk, despite his acclaimed objectivity, only seems to address those things dear to Palestinians - why did he not look also at Israeli concerns, fears, needs?

Clearly, the Palestinians have their requirements and so, too, do the Israelis. Some of those requirements may be at odds and that is where real statesmen come into their own and recognise that they may have to compromise. The Palestinian "right of return" for example. Who has identified that as a right? Is it negotiable? If there are two states, why would such a right need to be invoked?

Settlements, about which Robert Fisk makes much play, are clearly something which need to be negotiated away as part of a wider agreement as they are, in my view, as much at odds with the establishment of a Palestinian state as is the right of return at odds with the future of an Israeli one. That is objectivity.

Harrow, Middlesex

Sir: Apart from the horlicks of the population tables, the Herzliya Institute's proposal (report, 8 February) demonstrates precisely why the international community must be involved in the Middle East peacemaking: to protect the weak from the strong. For the Institute proposes a swap of the highest value Palestinian territory into Israeli hands in return for scraps of semi-desert.

If a durable peace is to be transacted it can only be because both parties accept they have been fairly, if painfully, dealt with. Only the application of international law and norms can do this, namely the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Hague Regulations (1908) and UNSCR 242's overarching principle: "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war". After 37 years of military occupation involving illegal land and water expropriation, the international community has yet to insist on the application of these laws. It must find the courage.

If Israel wishes to cherrypick from the territories there must be reciprocation: the Palestinians free to state what they require in return. There must be a genuinely free and fair exchange. It must not be one-sided. Otherwise both sides will be dragged back into war.

Richmond, Surrey

Brought to book

Sir: It was reassuring to note in your article "Read all about it: low standard of libraries is damaging learning ... " (7 February) that the Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, has turned attention to the lamentable state of many school libraries in his recent report.

It is pleasing to see he has deduced that a well-staffed, well-resourced school library can have an impact on learning. Best of all, he points out that the expertise of qualified school librarians is frequently under-used. My only criticism is his "outdated" linking of the library with the English department. As a scientist with a master's degree in information science, I find much of the teaching and advisory work that I am involved in is cross-curricular.

Unlike many of my colleagues I also receive appropriate remuneration for my qualifications. If school librarians are permitted to help raise standards, by teaching pupils about the effective use of education resources, then their postgraduate and professional qualifications need recognition too and that means a respectable basic salary. Many experienced chartered librarians are employed by schools at less than two-thirds the wages of a newly qualified teacher - not much of an incentive Mr Bell.

College Librarian
Epsom College
Epsom, Surrey

Sir: Commenting on the low quality of libraries in schools, David Bell stated that "children need books to read" and "the school library is often a primary source of reading material ...".

Not mentioned in The Independent's report is the fact that Mr Bell's opinion is backed up by a great deal of research. Studies done over many years both in the UK and the USA have consistently shown that children get a surprising percentage of their books from libraries. More recent research has found a consistent and positive relationship between school library quality and the amount children read and how well they read.

Quality school libraries are especially important for children of poverty. Studies show that children of low-income families tend to live in neighbourhoods with inferior public libraries and few bookstores, and have few books in their homes. The first step in improving levels of literacy for these children is to improve school libraries.

Malibu, California, USA

Doctors and AA

Sir: It is usually impossible to pick an argument with Deborah Orr and so this proved with her last piece until she unexpectedly rounded on "professionals" for, as she put it, "despising" the Alcoholics Anonymous movement.

As a Scot she should be aware that nothing could be further from the truth. In the guidelines for "Management of harmful drinking and alcohol dependence in primary care", which all general practitioners in Scotland ignore at their peril, AA is recommended for immediate intervention when there is no other serious psychiatric disorder and, further, it is specifically stated that all alcohol-dependent patients should be encouraged to attend AA. In the "useful information" at the end of the guideline, the only references are to self-help groups (Al-Anon, as well as to the AA and self-help web sites).

Plockton, Highland

Our debt to Africa

Sir: Peter Popham's article "The desperate plight of a dispossessed people" (7 February) was a fine piece of reporting, appropriately given front page status and followed by a courageous leader railing against the "dangerous myth of fortress Europe".

I used to live in Madrid and was horrified by the regular news images of half-dead Africans washed up on the Spanish coast. In Britain these images are not seen often enough to prick the public consciousness. Once he arrives in Britain the immigrant's story is well documented, but, unless a tragedy of vast proportions occurs in the back of a lorry from Calais to Dover, the public is generally spared the details of his hellish journey into Europe.

Britain has plundered Africa's wealth, propped up dictators and kept its people in servitude for centuries. The Chancellor's African Aid plan is laudable, but, coming with Charles Clarke's proposals to tighten immigration controls, it is further proof that what is given with one hand is taken away with the other.

Britain has a duty to actively help resettle people from countries whose economies it has ruined. Unfortunately it is left to papers like The Independent to keep the pressure on and behave responsibly when the Government does not.


Papal fallibility

Sir: Colin Jeffrey (letter, 9 February) would seem not to have had much contact with Catholics.

The Catholic church, like every other major religion, political and financial institution, has been hijacked by a group of power-hungry, controlling men, whose dictates and opinions are largely irrelevant to the majority of the organisation's coherents. The Pope is not our ruler: I am ruled by my conscience, and guided by my church, and then only on very distinct principles.

Of course the Pope should retire, as Mr Jeffrey suggests, but he has packed the College of Cardinals so effectively with his clones that any successor is unlikely to make much of a difference.

Frodsham, Cheshire

Lone sailors off watch

Sir: While Ellen MacArthur's latest round-the-world bid ended in success, I wonder how she managed to complete this while breaking international law.

The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea clearly state: "Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision."

Nowhere in these rules is there a section which allows you to break them if you are on a solo round-the-world bid. There are reports that she had no more than four hours' sleep per day, but during these four hours there is no way she could be keeping a lookout by sight. I am a merchant navy officer and have seen many of my professional colleagues fined or indeed facing jail sentences for failing to keep a proper lookout.

These are the same people who would have to risk their lives in a rescue attempt if these solo yachtspersons get into difficulties.

Chirnside, Berwickshire

Sir: Congratulations to Ellen MacArthur on an extraordinary achievement. At the same time it would be apt to remember and raise a glass to previous world-rounders who have achieved the same single-handed feat, albeit slower, without the daily security of satellite navigation systems.

Teddington, Middlesex

Sir: My journey to work, approximately three miles, normally takes me about 10 minutes. Today I managed it in just over nine minutes. I'm seeking sponsorship for an attempt on the sub-nine-minute run. Call me mad, but I believe it can be done.

Merstham, Surrey

Ambivalent anatomist

Sir: Maggie O'Farrell delightfully captured the ambivalent character of the 18th-century surgeon-anatomist John Hunter ( Independent Magazine, 29 January). She may not be surprised to hear that his house gave Robert Louis Stevenson the setting for his gothic tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Georgian patients knew that Hunter might save their lives - but if he didn't they would most likely end up on his dissecting bench and ultimately in his collection. She rightly describes the Hunterian Museum as "one of the most extraordinary sights in the world", just as Hunter was an extraordinary man.

While in no way seeking to defend Hunter's macabre body quests, as his current biographer I should point out that it was not Hunter who obtained the corpse of the "Sicilian Fairy", Caroline Crachami, when she died in 1824 (he was long dead when she made her brief and tragic visit to Britain). That was the real villain of Hunter's story, his brother-in-law, Sir Everard Home, who roundly plagiarised his work and burnt his manuscripts.

London SE9

Outrage against spelling

Sir: A case of blatant anti-Semitism? In the Property section of 9 February, Canford Cliffs Village is described as "gentile". I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few Jews living there.

London, SW19

Short measure

Sir: Postmen in shorts? Shiver my timbers! (letter, 8 February). My father, who was a postman in the 1920s, wore a shako with red piping, blue trousers with red piping down the seams, blue jacket buttoned to the neck and regulation, highly polished boots. Summer and winter. I think the regulation uniform relaxed a little in 1935 when the shako was replaced by a peaked cap.

Hassocks, West Sussex

Sir: My father, a dairy farmer, has always worn shorts throughout the year because, he says, legs are easier to wash than trousers. Our local pest controller also wears shorts in winter to stop rats from running up his legs. Global warming is not the cause of every strange phenomenon.

Mickle Trafford, Chester

Cause of Christmas

Sir: The answer to Joe Boswell's conundrum (letter, 8 February) is straightforward. Christmas cards are sent in response to those received a year previously. Hence the rule of cause before effect is preserved.

Disley, Stockport