Sir: I was interested to read your interview with the mother-of-four who decided to home-educate after seeing how stressed her children were at school ("Our children, tested to destruction", 8 February).
The one aspect of the article that surprised me was that her action was described as "extreme". Home education is nothing of the kind.
The psychologist Frank Smith in The Book of Learning and Forgetting chronicles how the current schooling model has only been in existence for the last 120 years. It was based on a plan used to produce soldiers for the Prussian army.
Corralling children in groups of 30, segregating them according to age, and perceived ability, forcing them all to attend to the same material at the same time ... none of these approaches favour learning and all fly in the face of years of experience, which show us that the most effective way to learn is the classic one: that of being apprenticed to someone with whom you identify and whose skill you wish to learn. Although I am a qualified teacher, I would be the first to acknowledge that some of the very best home-educators have no teaching qualification, just a desire to help their children and an open mind.
Our LEA here estimates that there are around 700 home-educated children in Cambridgeshire and the numbers are growing very rapidly, as parents take a look at the conventional model of schooling, see how it is failing their children and return to the classic approach.
In the light of growing evidence of the way in which conventional schooling actively disrupts children's learning, growing numbers of parents are coming to the conclusion that parent-led cooperatives and other forms of family-based education offer in fact probably the most supportive and positive learning environment for their children.
A travesty of what the Archbishop said
Sir: We never thought we would be moved to write to the press in defence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, or indeed any other religious leader. However we have been dismayed and outraged by the press and radio reaction to his lecture of Thursday evening.
We were there, and when we left the Royal Courts we felt we had heard a cogent, thoughtful argument, eloquently delivered, which is not to say we agreed with the points being made. It occurred to neither of us that we had heard anything scandalous or unduly controversial, and our resolve to get hold of a transcript was largely due to the inadequacy of the acoustics.
The reports we read the following day, and the sensational furore that they created, were a travesty of what we had heard for ourselves. If this is an example of a responsible press, then we despair. If newspaper editors had any sense of responsibility, they would print the lecture in full, so that their readers could see for themselves just how unwarranted and unjust has been the ignorant and uninformed criticism of Dr Williams.
As for the members of his own church, who have been calling for his resignation, what an example of bigotry and intolerance they exhibit, being unable to admit to any reasoned debate on subjects that concern both them and the community at large.
Richard & Liz Ackland
Sir: The Archbishop of Canterbury's views on reaching an accommodation with sharia law are to be welcomed, not because he is necessarily right but because of the overwhelming need for rational debate on Islam's place in a modern world.
The "closing of the gates of ijtihad" by the mujtahid means Islam has been in an intellectual time warp for a thousand years, never subjected to rigorous self-examination in the way that, for example, Christianity was from the Reformation onwards.
If Islam is not to become dangerously isolated, it needs to engage in its own enlightenment with modernisers and fundamentalists coming together to find solutions to the issues of the 21st century. Rowan Williams's remarks, unacceptable though they are to many, are a necessary part of the discourse that needs to take place both inside and outside Islam.
Sir: We do not promote the welfare of our multicultural society by further extending to other religious groups the outdated constitutional privileges enjoyed by the established church. Rather, we should ensure that none has special rights. We have a duty to defend the rights of our citizens to worship, or not, as they please, and for all to exercise freedom of conscience, without discrimination. However, these are private matters. Individuals' rights, however, must not extend to exemption from constraints and rules imposed upon the rest of us. Even-handedness between our communities is most readily achieved by rigorous secularity of the state.
Sir: The contrasting articles by Deborah Orr and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (9 February) reminded me of the debate between Sydney and Beatrice Webb and Malcolm Muggeridge about communism in the 1930s. They had all visited the Soviet Union, but whereas the Webbs discussed what they thought communism could be in Soviet Communism: a New Civilization, Muggeridge reported the stark reality of Stalin's regime.
Ms Alibhai-Brown knows the horrors of sharia and why religious law has no place in our society. Her pragmatism contrasts with Orr's dreams about a reformed sharia snuggling neatly into our legal system – a delusion as fanciful as the Webbs'. Law tied to religious texts can never be reformed to the standards required by a democracy.
Clara Vale, Tyne & Wear
Sir: One of the basic teachings of Jesus of Nazareth is that all people must be free from dogma and religious law when unjust. It was the main reason why the clerics of his time required him to be tortured to death.
"Those who depend on obeying the (religious) law live under a curse," it says in Galatians. British law can help us all, women in particular, to free ourselves from religious laws that do great damage. That we allow any religion, Christian, Muslim and others, still to be repressive is regrettable.
Let us not give way to the idea that we must compromise with any who impose "holy" law that denies us our basic human rights. These laws are too often made for the advantage of those using religion for their own power and prejudice. The Archbishop of Canterbury seems to have been speaking about law and not justice, a very unchristian thing to do.
Settle North Yorkshire
Sir: Sadly for Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's bid to blame Islamic barbarism towards women on "medieval" sharia ("What he wishes on us is an abomination", 9 February), the 10 Islamic gynophobic commandments are all in the Koran. The most notorious are: "Your women are your fields, so go into them as you like" and "Good women are obedient ... as for those from whom you fear disobedience ... beat them."
Sir: Why are we worrying about what the Archbishop of Canterbury has to say about sharia law? It has been obvious for years that we have several different systems of law in operation: one for the rich and one for the poor – and yet another for MPs.
Sir: We just cannot have our legal system determined by bearded men, of whatever persuasion, wearing frocks and funny hats!
Let's get away from obsession with race
Sir: I am upset that even Diane Abbott (7 February) sees Barack Obama as a "black man". He is in fact precisely as "white" as he is "black" – just like my little grand-daughter, Kiera, whose pink/grey/seasonally light tan English father and dark brown Nigerian mother share my concern that Kiera, still oblivious of skin colour, should not grow up into a society obsessively asking her, "What race are you?"
Standing in the National Mall in Washington on 28 August 1963, I heard Martin Luther King tell of his dream, where "my little children will be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character".
In those days, everyone in the civil rights movement agreed that only white racists (and black Muslims) were bothered by or even interested in skin colour, that "race" was biologically insignificant anyway (black and white men have only a 0.002 per cent difference in their DNA, while men and women have nearer two per cent), and that calling people with a discernible trace of African ancestry "black" made no more sense than calling those with a trace of Caucasian "white".
We all aimed for a colour-blind society, where skin colour is no more interesting than hair colour. I still do. But bewilderingly, much of the liberal-left nowadays seems to obsess away about the amount of melanin in the middle skin tissues – just as the Klu Klux Klan did of old.
End detention in the asylum system
Sir: Lin Homer, chief executive of the Border and Immigration Agency, states that there is "no truth" in your claim that people in Britain's detention centres are held in cruel and unsafe conditions (letter, 7 February). She adds that "everyone within the immigration system is treated with care and compassion".
As if in support, Ms Homer points out that all detention centres are regularly inspected by the independent Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers. However, Ms Owers has been highly critical of these centres in her recent reports. Harmondsworth: "Over 60 per cent of detainees said they had felt unsafe. More worryingly, the main fear was of bullying by staff: 44 per cent of detainees described custody officers as 'aggressive', 'intimidating', 'rude'." Campsfield House: "Safety procedures required strengthening". Dungavel: "Women reported feeling intimidated". Colnbrook: "Significantly less safe than previous inspections", with violent and sexual offenders being held alongside other detainees. Dover: "BIA's failings jeopardise safety". Yarl's Wood: "Significant concerns about safety". Oakington: "Activity and welfare support remained inadequate".
Overall, Ms Owers reported that 60 per cent of detainees felt unsafe in UK detention centres, expressing particular concern for the treatment of women and children. The detention of children, something that Britain alone practises in Europe, prompted Ms Owers to call for "a complete overhaul of the detention of children in IRCs".
These independent reports do not paint a picture of a "caring" and "compassionate" immigration system.
It is time to end the routine use of detention as part of the asylum process, and children, as well as other particularly vulnerable groups, should never be detained.
Chief Executive, Scottish Refugee Council, Glasgow
GPs blamed too much for sick notes
Sir: Yet another health policy has been released. This time it is a revelatory idea to persuade all scroungers on disability allowance back into work (report, 31 January). Once again, it has been insinuated that GPs are to blame for the situation, this time for writing too many sick notes.
New Labour wants to rebrand patients as consumers with "consumer rights" and "choice". How then, as a GP, can I tell a patient he cannot have such a sick note? Won't he simply exercise his rights and "choose" another doctor? Possibly one down the road at the new private health centre, where, since the customer is always right, he'll get his note ...
Sir: Dominic Lawson can perhaps take comfort from Stravinsky's view of Herbert von Karajan (1 February): "A sheep in wolf's clothing".
No ear for music
Sir: In "Channel Five to showcase new talents from folk scene" (8 February), when does your reporter think this time was, "not long ago, when folk music was about little more that sticking your finger in your ear, donning your best woolly jumper and pining for bygone times"? I don't read The Independent to be subjected to half-witted vulgarities like that.
MICHAEL GROSVENOR MYER
Sir: I was interested and amused to see that the Premier League's website item on overseas games carries a prominent advert for the Government's carbon-footprint calculator. Does this mean we can expect the clubs to be offsetting the additional carbon emissions that this proposal will inevitably lead to?
Kingston upon Thames
Sir: In addition to the excellent tributes you have paid to the late Miles Kington, may I draw your attention to his abiding hatred of cricket? I can vouch for this when I was occasionally asked to play for the Instant Sunshine & Friends team. Miles would always insist on being the captain, and would require to know about the skills of our "stumper", as Miles called him. If these were excellent, he would station himself at deep long-stop. If not, he would "retire hurt" during our bowler's first run-up. As to the other innings of the match, he was often described as "a bat out of hell". Farewell, Miles, like your catching, sorely missed.
Sir, Howard Jacobson would have us suppress what is surely a legitimate concern about over-surveillance on the grounds that, by doing so, "we cheapen the suffering" of those who do live in a totalitarian regime (9 February). Worry not, Mr Jacobson. While we have writers like you to browbeat us into silence, no physical means of repression will ever be necessary.
Crossgates, North Yorkshire
Time to think
Sir: In "Is time travel possible?" (The Big Question, 8 February), you state that the possibility of time travel is considered because of Einstein's general theory of relativity in 1905. Einstein published his paper on general relativity in 1915. His 1905 paper became known as special relativity. Unless of course he found a way to make it travel through time.
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