[lg policy] Trump sent a retired teacher a letter about gun policy. She fixed the grammar and sent it back

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Jun 1 10:27:45 EDT 2018

 Trump sent a retired teacher a letter about gun policy. She fixed the
grammar and sent it back.
by Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/cleve-r-wootson-jr/> June 1 at 7:11
AM Email the author <cleve.wootson at washpost.com?subject=Reader feedback for
'Trump sent a retired teacher a letter about gun policy. She fixed the
grammar and sent it back.'>

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Yvonne Mason taught English for 17 years, so she couldn’t resist correcting
President Trump's grammatical errors when she received a letter from
him. (Allie
Caren/The Washington Post)

When Yvonne Mason first opened the letter, she read it all the way through.
It did, after all, have the president’s seal at the top and his signature
at the bottom.

But sometime around the third read, something began to irk the retired
teacher, who had spent 17 years of her life refining the English skills of
middle and high school students:

*Look at all these unnecessarily capitalized letters, *she thought*.  *

“Federal” and “Nation” and “State” and “States” — common nouns capitalized
as if they were proper nouns. And too many of the sentences began with the
ninth letter of the alphabet:  “I signed into law” and “I also directed.”

The letter, with her name on it, was written on heavy, official-feeling
paper. Some would see such a letter from the president as suitable for
framing. But for Mason, there was an itch that could not go unscratched.

She took out a purple pen and did something she had done countless times
with countless papers.

She started circling.

Yvonne Mason received this letter after writing to President Trump. Then,
she started to edit. (Yvonne Mason)

It began with those pesky capital letters. But by the end she had scrawled
several notes, crossed out a few punctuation marks and asked whoever wrote
the letter a question that may or may not have been rhetorical: “Have y’all
tried grammar and style check?”
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A scrawl at the end of the paper was aimed at one sentence but seemed to
sum up Mason’s opinion of the whole thing: “OMG this is WRONG!”

“If I had received this from one of my students,” she told The Washington
Post, “I would have handed it back without a grade on it and said ‘I hope
you left the real one at home.’ ”

*[‘Elected to lead, not to proofread’: Typos, spelling mistakes are
commonplace in Trump’s White House

She mailed the letter, now bleeding with purple ink, back to the White
House. But first, she snapped a photo and posted it on her Facebook page,
hoping to draw smiles from friends or former students who have been on the
business end of her crusade to protect the English language.

Days later a friend persuaded her to make the post public, and by the end
of May, it had been shared more than 4,000 times, the latest piece of
evidence for critics who believe the president and his administration play
fast and loose with the English language.

As The Washington Post’s David Nakamura wrote
in March: “The constant small mistakes — which have dogged the Trump White
House since the president’s official Inauguration Day poster boasted that
‘no challenge is to great’ — have become, critics say, symbolic of the
larger problems with Trump’s management style, in particular his lack of
attention to detail and the carelessness with which he makes policy

It’s a message Mason tried to drill into the minds of public school
students for nearly two decades: How you speak, the words you choose and
your mastery of the English language all convey something about you,
whether you’re a high school sophomore or a junior senator.

Mason, 61, who taught English rhetoric and composition in Greenville, S.C.,
and recently relocated to Atlanta, regularly writes to her elected
officials and has turned the practice into class assignments — a civics
lesson and a writing lesson all wrapped up in one.

She frequently told students they weren’t allowed to simply spout opinions;
their arguments had to be grounded in logic and backed up by facts. “They
rewrote them until they were correct and they put forth a good argument,”
she said.

To guide them, sometimes she would show copies of letters she had written,
criticizing or praising a vote or urging a particular policy stance.

But her Feb. 15 letter to Trump was about saving lives. She wrote it a
day after
17 people were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High
School in Parkland, Fla.

“I wrote urging the president to meet with every single family of a victim
individually,” she told The Post. “And to hear what they had to say and to
assure them that something was going to be done about gun control in this

But she knew that she was one of many voices on the topic and “I didn’t
expect to hear back … After I mailed it, it was over for me. I had
expressed my opinion.”

*[Teachers shelling out nearly $500 a year on school supplies, report finds

Like many of the letters she has received from politicians, she figured
Trump’s was written by someone at the White House trained to mimic the
president’s writing style, like a speechwriter. She insists that whoever
wrote the letter doesn’t need a new job, maybe just a new stylebook. She
hasn’t received any word from the White House about her suggested edits.

Mason told The Post that her catchphrase for students was “language is the
currency of power.”

“If you can’t communicate what you want or what you need … You’re not going
to get what you want,” Mason said. “Writing clearly and consistently gives
you power.”

Mason said that the attention she’s received since her letter went
viral has given her a new opportunity to share that message.

She gave up teaching English after her grandson was born. He’s 4 now, and
while he’s been talking for some time, he’s reached the point where he’s
forming complex sentences.

*Perfect* sentences.

He hurt himself a few days ago while playing with the dog, Mason said.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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