Shakespeare in love
Sir: James Allan (“Australian Notes”, The Spectator, Australia Jan 5) correctly identifies the paucity of knowledge of grammar, writing skills and awareness of the fact that a Western Canon even exists among even the best of our secondary school graduates. He cites only Queensland but it is equally dire, if not more so, in NSW. I know because I’ve taught literature here at tertiary level – although in terms of literary skills, I prefer to call it “boot camp.”
The problem is not the students that the system is producing (they’re just the symptom) but the teachers who, themselves, would be mystified by Allan’s references to possessive case, gerunds, participles or pronouns (except, with the latter, as Allan notes, you can personally choose the one that you like the best for yourself). It is, rather, that the teachers of those students have never come into contact with any of the grammatical concepts mentioned, let alone anyone called Dickens, Dante or Austen – although they might have watched “Shakespeare in Love” and thus be passingly familiar with that chap. The teachers don’t know these things; that’s why the students don’t.
The problem began (in the 1980s?) when tertiary teacher training started to focus on method (sociology) and ignored content (literature and grammar) accompanied by a secondary syllabus which started to equate everything from a scrawled message on a toilet door to Homer’s Iliad as a “text”.
Before my tertiary teaching I was a High School English HT and, in a fit of madness, bought a class set of Bible stories for the bookroom because, even though like Allan I’m an atheist, they are important, basic stories that have shaped us and we need to at least be aware of them. As far as I know, I’m the only teacher in that fairly large English faculty who ever used those books. Now thar’s ya problem!
Robert T. Walker
Wagga Wagga, NSW
The straight dope
Sir: Much of the media and a large part of the political class in Britain seem to have fallen completely for the propaganda of one of the biggest greed lobbies in the world, the billionaire-backed campaign for cannabis legalisation. Articles such as the one by Robert Jackman (‘Homegrown industry’, 12 January) suggest that marijuana is a benign drug, and make vague claims for its supposed medical benefits. Yet across the world, as Alex Berenson’s new book on the subject, Tell Your Children, shows, worrying developments are correlated with this poorly researched, expensively hyped and brilliantly spun adventure.
In Finland, Denmark and the US, recorded instances of mental illness have sharply increased as the unfettered use of marijuana has become more widespread. In the US state of Washington, the first to legalise marijuana, the crimes of murder and aggravated assault have risen far faster than national averages. Mr Jackman rejoices that Sir John Major and Nigel Farage have both called for ‘revisiting’ Britain’s allegedly harsh drug laws, which any alert observer can see are almost wholly unenforced. I should have thought that any cause which has managed to beguile both these noted figures is one which more thoughtful, well-informed citizens should view with special suspicion. The smell which Mr Jackman describes engulfing the town of Downham Market is the distinctive, pungent scent of snake oil.
Drugs that work
Sir: Robert Jackman claims a change in law is needed to ‘break the effective monopoly’ supposedly held by GW Pharmaceuticals over cannabis-based medicines. This is not so. GW has earned its world-leading position through 20 years of painstaking research and risky, expensive investment, creating over 500 jobs here in Britain. Our work is finally bearing fruit, with one medicine for multiple sclerosis, approved in 29 countries including the UK, and another, for severe forms of childhood-onset epilepsy, approved in the US and under review in the EU. If approved, we plan to make our epilepsy treatment fully available in the UK, contrary to Mr Jackman’s claim that such treatments are being blocked. No law change is required for companies to put other cannabis-based medicines into clinical trials and we encourage them to do so. Anecdotal evidence is no substitute for the hard data required by regulators to demonstrate safety and efficacy. Far from being a cosy stitch-up, GW is a story of British innovation and entrepreneurship on the cusp of success against the odds.
GW Pharmaceuticals, London W1
Remainers on the Green
Sir: How curious that, just a few pages after your editorial on the increasing use of insult in political debate, Charles Moore should write that College Green is ‘infested’ with Remain supporters (The Spectator’s Notes, 12 January). The word clearly aligns them with rats or disease and I would imagine that a writer as clever as Moore chose it deliberately. It is with this insidious use of language that rising hysteria and intolerance (your words) gain strength and he should really know better.
No platform for protestors
Sir: We’re delighted Charles Moore has been watching the BBC’s politics coverage (12 January). But far from indulging protestors on College Green, the BBC has gone to some lengths to avoid placards of any kind interfering with our camera shots, including broadcasting from double height platforms. The protestors have, in turn, made their own endeavours to get into shot by extending the height of their placards.
BBC Head of Newsgathering, London W1