Rory Stewart in Iraq 6th January 2006 Richard Barltrop’s letter (January) makes three complaints about my article on Iraq (November). He claims that I incorrectly called myself deputy governor of Maysan; that I heard the respectful Islamic term “Molai” applied to a politician and was unnecessarily surprised; and that there was an Iraqi interim governor and deputy governor in Maysan in July 2003. In each case, Barltrop is wrong about the article or wrong about Iraq. I did not call myself a deputy governor in the article—that description was placed in the sub-heading without my knowledge by Prospect. Secondly, as the article makes clear, the more respectful term “Molai” was not used for the politician but for my 20-year-old interpreter—the only time either the interpreter or I had heard such a distinction made in 14 months of official meetings in Iraq and a particular surprise to the interpreter, who is a native Arabic speaker. Finally, there was no interim Iraqi governor or deputy governor in Maysan in July 2003. The coalition governorate co-ordinator exercised the powers of the governor until the provincial council elected an interim governor in December 2003.
Rory Stewart Crieff, Perthshire
Teaching hard subjects 13rd January 2006 Michael Prowse (January) is right that the English sixth form curriculum should be broader, but I cannot join him in his route to that conclusion. Undoubtedly a modern economy needs mathematicians, but how many with high-level skills do we really need? And does the maths needed by the world-beaters bear much relation to the functional maths needed by the many? It is not evident that a course in advanced maths will best equip most A-level students for their place in the future “knowledge economy,” where jobs in the creative and service sectors are still likely to be plentiful.
Maths is said to be hard and therefore boring. No wonder young people are put off pursuing it. Fewer and fewer good maths graduates emerge to teach the next generation well. However, I doubt whether forcing teenagers to learn a subject they hate is really the recipe for a mathematical renaissance. Compulsory Christian assembly did not turn my generation into Christians. Why should compulsory advanced maths turn the next generation into mathematicians? All 17-year-old students are volunteers: offering them hard gruel may be a way of turning them off education altogether.
Rob Hull London EC1
Teaching hard subjects 223rd…