Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2093

Children’s laureate Michael Rosen is campaigning for children to be able to enjoy reading (Pic:» Guy Smallman )

Children’s laureate Michael Rosen is campaigning for children to be able to enjoy reading (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

Literacy and boredom

I strongly agree with Michael Rosen’s article on the government’s “literacy strategy” (» How not to bore the pants off kids , 8 March). I’m 18 now and I can recall the experiences he describes.

The “literacy hour” was introduced when I was about seven or eight years old. I found it boring then and I would find it boring now.

When my SATs came around I asked the teacher, “Why aren’t we reading the whole book?” She said, “We have to do it this way.” I replied, “But it’s stupid to do it this way!” – and got sent out of the classroom.

A lot of my generation have been put off reading due to the techniques being used at the time and we haven’t improved that much since.

The only way we became interested in reading was through our own efforts. But this is a hard task for a ten year old who finds school boring and feels that it is useless, or that reading is boring and uncool.

Even now we read fewer books than the previous generations. Me and many of my friends prefer to read magazines or comics because we find these sources far more interesting.

We particularly like comics (specifically Japanese manga) as we find the stories contain far more valuable messages and morals. That was the case for me in primary school and it still is the case now in sixth form.

It’s going to take a lot of hard work before the damage can be totally repaired. And I doubt any government in the near future will even realise that a problem exists.

James Churchill, Norwich

New Labour doesn’t want the majority of its citizens to be well read. Governments past and present have always tried to dumb down education. They only want people to be literate enough to suit the needs of corporations.

Being well read teaches people to question things – and that does not exactly fit in with New Labour’s “control freak” agenda.

Nick Rowland, Hastings

I’m a primary school teacher from a working class ethnic minority background, and I think it is a little unfair to condemn the government’s current literacy strategy wholesale.

A simple reduction of classroom sizes would improve any teacher’s ability to make books more interesting. Teachers would then be able to spend more time on a wider range of literature, and less time on assessment. Also many teachers are as affected by what appears to be a largely “post-literate” society as their pupils.

Kiran High, West Wales

Sexuality and silence

It was great to read the article on challenging anti-LGBT attitudes at Stoke Newington School (» School challenges anti-LGBT attitude, 8 March). Research shows that gay young people are a silent and invisible minority in school.

Some 84 percent of gay (or perceived to be gay) youngsters experience homophobic abuse in schools, with the abuse starting on average around the age of eight.

Not surprisingly these youngsters are vulnerable to mental health problems in adulthood and are considerably more likely than their peers to self-harm or commit suicide.

They report that teachers often ignore homophobic bullying and sometimes are homophobic themselves. They feel representations of themselves are missing in all aspects of the curriculum, creating a feeling that heterosexuality is compulsory.

The government has a “social justice agenda” that is embedded in various education policies. Despite this, the subject of homosexuality creates a moral panic in schools. Many teachers feel unable to even talk about the subject of LGBT pupils.

Marxists argue that the purpose of schools is to reproduce a social class to meet the needs of the labour market. The nuclear family is central to meeting this need.

That is why the ruling class finds it necessary to regulate sexuality. And that is why it is no accident that our schools are institutionally heterosexist.

There has been anti-racist training in schools for years, but the government still avoids dealing with discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Much of the work to tackle this silence is left to people who identify themselves as LGBT. As socialists we all have a responsibility to heighten awareness of the often mundane, subtle but nevertheless destructive heterosexism in schools.

As Tony Cliff wrote in 1984, “Homosexuals did not create their ghetto any more than the blacks created theirs. In both cases the people inside the ghetto are unable to break its walls by their own action alone, without the mass action of the majority outside against the walls.”

Dr Liz McIntyre, Educational psychologist, Dumfries

Anti-Tesco campaigns are driven by snobbery

Regarding your article on Tesco (» Cambridge campaign stops new Tesco store, 15 March) – can somebody tell me why Tesco has become the bogeyman of food retailing?

The fact is that for the past 40 years Tesco has provided good affordable food to working people, greatly improving their lifestyles and providing employment which would not exist in a one-man corner shop.

I cannot remember a time when Tesco workers went on strike, so they must be fairly contented with their employer.

The experience in our small town Tesco is that of the assistants knowing many of their customers on first name terms adding almost a village shop atmosphere. Many working people cannot afford the luxury of shopping at Waitrose.

Tom Woodcock has fallen into the trap of joining an elitist campaign to deny the “riff raff” freedom of choice in many aspects of our lives.

We are being told where to shop, what to eat, what to drink, what to weigh and where to go on holiday.

This is the new evangelism – prompted by the middle class climate change missionaries. The message is that working people cannot be trusted as to how they spend their own money.

Mill Road in Cambridge may well have a good case for not wanting a Tesco. But I suspect that many anti-Tesco campaigns are driven by pure snobbery.

Terry Western, Sudbury, Suffolk

Save Jodrell Bank from funding cuts

Scientists across Britain have been shocked by the recent annoucement that the Merlin array of telescopes linked to the Jodrell Bank radio telescope may close.

The threat is because of cuts in government funding of the Science and Technologies Facilities Council. The shortfall is of the order of £80 million – but the money required for Jodrell Bank is just £2.5 million.

Jodrell Bank is not just an impressive sight in the Cheshire countryside. It is responsible for some of the most important astronomical breakthroughs since the Second World War, including confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Compared to the money the government burns on killing people in Iraq and Afghanistan, the amount of money required to save Jodrell Bank is miniscule. The wider cuts in research funding will undermine important scientific study for years to come.

Once again we see that this government’s interests and priorities are those of the warmongers and of big business. I hope Socialist Worker readers will join those protesting against these cuts.

Martin Empson, Manchester
Go to »

‘Whiteness’ and the BBC

The BBC has made a huge mistake with its “White Season”. It shows a stereotypical picture of the working class as viewed by the middle class.

We should remind ourselves that the working class are not all white, that they struggle because they are working class, and that this struggle crosses racial boundaries.

This series is irresponsible. It breeds racism and segregation, and it attempts to divide the working class.

Ellie Mackay, Croydon

Time for an image change?

As a committed socialist in 21st century Britain, I ask – when is Socialist Worker going to change its name? How about “21st Century Socialist” or “The New Socialist”?

To most of the country the name “Socialist Worker” has negative connotations. It invokes images of failed Communist states and coal mines.

This image will win us few new supporters. The socialists of yesterday understood the power of image. Yet although the world has moved on, Socialist Worker’s image has not.

We must adapt. Let’s play the game and win.

Johnny Miller, North London

Terror comes from the US

What is the difference between terrorism and the so called “war on terrorism” propagated by the US? I consider both to be the same.

Just because US is a superpower, we cannot ignore the extent of the damage the US has done to countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US is snatching away peace and bread from so many people around the world.

Gorvika Rao, New Delhi, India

Obama and the Iraq war

Regarding your article on the US elections (» Racism, sexism and the US elections, 15 March), it is not true to say that Barack Obama “voted against the original US attack on Iraq”.

In 2003 Obama said the war was “unnecessary” – but he couldn’t have voted against it because he was not in the US Senate until 2005.

As Ralph Nader’s running mate Matt Gonzales wrote on Obama: “Since taking office in January 2005 he has voted to approve every war appropriation the Republicans have put forward, totaling over $300 billion.”

Doug Nielson, Seattle, US

Food prices and capitalism

Whenever I go to the local supermarket on shopping trips I’ve noticed the steady increase in the price of basic foods such as bread, milk, eggs, butter and so forth (»Food price rises will kill millions, 1 March).

The trap that working class people are in is that we either pay the extortionate price for the product or do without, which can cause health ramifications.

There may be cheaper products on offer, but they are full of E numbers, emulsifiers and other preservatives, as well as having high salt contents.

When you compare the amount of foodstuffs on the face of the earth, it is enough to feed everyone five times over.

The main problem – due to capitalism’s corrosive nature – is distribution, which means there is still an obscene amount of poverty in the world.

Charlie Dowthwaite, Barrow-in-Furness

Welfare and lone parents

In your article on New Labour’s “welfare to work” plans (» New Labour’s war on the vulnerable, 15 March) you wrote, “At the moment single parents aren’t told to look for paid work until their first child is 16. From October this will be lowered to 12 years of age, and then from 2010 to seven.”

It is actually when their youngest child reaches that age, rather than their first, that lone parents are told to look for work.

Hannah, East London

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Article information

Tue 18 Mar 2008, 19:07 GMT
Issue No. 2093
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