I was dismayed but not surprised by your article "School trips suffer due to lack of teacher cover" (3 March ). The difficulties of covering for teachers out on school trips should not deter schools from running them, nor should the current irrational approach to risk. Contrary to media coverage, the risks associated with school trips are in fact small. Too often unconsidered are the enriching benefits.
That is why I support the Countryside Alliance's "Rural Manifesto", which calls for outdoor learning to feature on the school curriculum. The American writer Richard Louv, in his excellent book Last Child in the Woods, describes the growing "nature-deficit disorder" among children. Too little exposure to nature, and too much to television, leads to attention difficulties. For each hour of TV watched per day by pre-schoolers, there is a 10 per cent increase in the likelihood they will develop concentration problems by the age of seven.
By contrast, as David Willetts, shadow minister for innovation, universities and skills, has pointed out, there are vast benefits to be had from a more nature-friendly approach to education, since children develop their conceptual framework through experiencing the world in three dimensions.
Attempts to keep children safe by entombing them indoors will backfire, because young people are hard-wired to seek out risk, and in so doing they are likely to turn to the internet, where they are in fact more at risk than in the real world. The digital generational divide – with children as digital natives and parents and teachers as digital immigrants – means that many adults are not technologically savvy enough to help children to understand online safety and manage online risks.
Both in and out of school, children need to be given the opportunity for adventure, both as fundamental to the quality of their childhood – for making friends, keeping healthy, inspiring the imagination – and also as fundamental to their ability to learn when they are at school. Instead of trying (and failing) to create a risk-free, sanitised, indoor environment for young people, we need to decide the sorts of risks we are willing for our children to encounter – and thereafter, the task is to manage it, not eliminate it.
Headmaster, Warminster School, Wiltshire
Ashcroft exposes sham democracy
This country's so-called democracy never ceases to amaze me. Lord Ashcroft and other well-heeled tax-avoiders are so vital to our political parties that they can take on titles and privilege at the expense of the people. They do not even have to dirty their hands by fighting an election.
They have put the "mock" into democracy and the establishment think that is OK. What a sham, this rancid patronage which seeps into every corner of our political system. There should be no representation without taxation.
J Duncan Greig
I agree with Johann Hari's conclusions about non-doms (5 March), but not with all his arguments on the way.
It may be that Mr Cameron was not protecting Ashcroft in preference to the British people, but was protecting the Conservative Party's income stream. He may see it as in the best interests of the British people that the Conservatives win the election.
Johann Hari can by all means criticise Mr Cameron for his actions (or inactions), but the argument is weakened by criticising him for motives we can only guess at.
Goring Heath, Reading
The millions that Johann Hari says Ashcroft should have paid would not have accrued to the British people. They would have gone to the Government, and that is not the same thing.
The Government could have spent the money on extending the police state, fiendishly complicated 93-page forms or a new expenses scam for MPs.
I have now realised why the Tories are so vehemently opposed to proportional representation. Under PR, they wouldn't be able to "buy" marginal constituencies, as Ashcroft is attempting to do; to win an election, they would actually have to appeal to the majority of the population. I do see their problem.
You really do begin to compare our political system to that of a banana republic, though you might be accused of bringing banana republics into disrepute.
The revelation that the biggest funder of the Tory Party is a non-dom reinforces the impression that the party is all about looking after the rich and privileged.
The very super-rich who, by clever legal manoeuvres and slick accountancy practices, avoid paying their fair share are trying to get into power and then tell the rest of us that we have to tighten our belts and suffer for the sake of the country.
Those baying for Lord Ashcroft's blood over not paying full UK tax and still being able to have a say in our political life are the very people that only a few weeks ago were taken to task for misappropriating their own expenses. A plague on all their houses.
Powerful rituals of homeopathy
Of course glowing anecdotes are "most eloquent and relevant evidence" for homeopathy (letter, 1 March); it is not in the industry's interest to take into account the failures, as proper science does.
Homeopathic sugar pills not only contain not a single molecule of the "active ingredient", but also no water, which in any case does not (contrary to homeopaths' claims) have a "memory". Their use lies not in reality but in marketing, faith, and ritual.
In a world where so many people feel stressed, tired, unhappy and generally powerless, this must not be underestimated. Instructions for homeopathy doses contain fine-tuned directions such as "dissolve under the tongue", "do not touch with your fingers" and "do not take until an hour after eating", which, unless our fingers contain dark magic, is clearly nonsense.
However, getting this complex procedure "right", as well as memorising lists of symptoms and remedies or a bunch of New Age phrases about holistic healing, feels quite an achievement – like getting ten out of ten on a school test. If you still feel ill, it must be your fault. This allows people to feel more in control of fate, which is very much bound up with their health.
But a miserable society should not be throwing away its money on sugar, rituals, and rejecting science – the most exciting thing we have. It should accept that the odd cough and cold is normal, and meanwhile try to make its members feel a bit happier. That shouldn't be a doctor's job anyway. It should be everybody's own.
Philby's loyalty to a murderous creed
Charlotte Philby's refusal to come to terms with her grandfather's actions is appalling ("My grandfather, the traitor. In search of Kim Philby", 6 March). She seems to think that any judgement of Kim Philby's actions should be decided on the question of whether he betrayed his country.
This is a cowardly way out. The real question is whether his actions were carried out for a just cause. Astonishingly, the young Philby believes it is too soon to say. Well, let's clear it up.
Kim Philby served a cause that purposefully starved to death 3 million in the Ukraine, that sent millions to concentration camps on fabricated charges, that slaughtered many of its most devoted followers in cold blood, that forced an entire nation to live in constant fear of arrest, that brought about ecological disaster on a vast scale, that collectively punished national groups by deporting them across great distances and that used the Third World as a laboratory for military adventurism.
Charlotte Philby seems more concerned with the defence of her family name than with the sufferings of innocent millions.
'Right reasons' to vote Brown out
Gordon Brown has told the Chilcot inquiry that the decision to invade Iraq was "the right decision, made for the right reasons". Any lingering inclination I had to vote Labour at the forthcoming choice of evils has now disappeared. I, too, am capable of making the right decision for the right reasons.
Given that the legality of the war against Iraq was wholly predicated on the presence of WMD within its borders, how on earth can the Prime Minister describe the decision to go to war as "the right decision" when we all now know it was nothing of the sort?
Despite the lurid headlines, Gordon Brown is not responsible for poor provisioning of troops on the ground in Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is, however, responsible for setting a cap on out-of-control spending by each of the armed forces in 2004.
Military chiefs were told they had a finite amount of money and to spend it the best way they saw fit, given that Britain had UN and Nato obligations to be able to land anywhere in the world with a force fit for combat, if required. It's their failures of intellect in understanding post-9/11 warfare that has our army fitted-out for land-based wars in a wet, boggy northern Europe.
I can't help thinking that Gordon Brown might have been in a better position to have funded our armed forces, and supplied more helicopters, if people like the Conservative vice-chairman had been paying their income tax on the same basis as everyone else.
Why no election debate for us?
Nick Winstone-Cooper (letter, 4 March) feels that Scotland and Wales are somehow being sidelined in not being chosen to host any of the three televised election debates, pointing out that it is an election for the United Kingdom, not just England. I share his grievance, for I have noticed that none of the debates is being held in Salisbury; is this a subliminal message that the electorate of Salisbury does not matter?
Or perhaps he has unwittingly hit the nail upon the head: this is an election for the United Kingdom, which is why all three debates are being held in ... the United Kingdom.
Michael Foot was too nice a man to be Prime Minister. That is our tragedy, not his.
Fiction and theories
Howard Jacobson (6 March) admonishes the student who referred to "Jane Austen's theory of happiness", because, in his words, "Austen was a novelist not a theorist", as if novel-writing somehow precludes giving insightful accounts of the world and the human condition. Mr Jacobson himself has authored several novels but is no stranger to theorising freely, as Independent readers will verify. Perhaps poor Ms Austen should have intellectually emancipated herself by writing a newspaper column in her spare time?
Middle East 'peace'
You report that "Hopes rise for the resumption of Middle East negotiations" (4 March). Isn't it clear to everyone by now that every Israeli government is quite happy to talk about "peace" until it has occupied every square inch of Palestinian land, and that the US and the international community prefer to keep this show on the road rather than take action in support of the 1.5 million besieged in Gaza, those living under occupation in the West Bank, and the refugees?
Brian Viner is right to be pleased that we can now all pronounce the names of foreign sports players with confidence. However, he is unwise to choose Navratilova as his main example. Everyone follows the English pattern of putting the stress on the penultimate syllable, but in Czech the -ova ending with a stress accent on the a, implies a wife or daughter of Mr Navratil. The pronunciation is Navratilovah; uncomfortable on the English tongue, but the Czechs say it all the time.
Songs of sanitation
How could we do other than wish all success to the campaign to redress the lack of toilets in Bihar (report, 6 March). My attention was particularly engaged when I learnt of the efforts of the government to "raise public awareness of the need for better sanitation using plays [and] songs". Is it too much to hope that you might publish play scripts or song lyrics?
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