As a veteran college composition teacher, I am compelled to offer my services to the community in hopes of refining the level of discourse that I am reading and hearing daily, particularly with regard to the election. I will focus on a letter and some very large display ads currently running.
My intention is not to serve any one person, but to help folks think about the issues with clarity and precision, not emotion, which is what we teach in Comp. 101.
Much of the discourse is marred by imprecision of thought and tainted by emotion, producing some very unstable statements and questionable logic, what I call "dirty tricks," which seem to come naturally, and which require training if they are to be avoided by both reader and writer.
If I were to receive the letters and ads in question as an instructor, I would have to give them an "unacceptable" rating, not because I agree or disagree with the thesis or position, which is not my job, but because they simply do not stand up to the academic standards that apply -- to wit, fair and accurate reporting of objective information. I would give them my favorite grade these days, an R, which means "rewrite," which means, "go back and think, gather data, revise."
Let's take the letter by David Davis, "Someone is lying about the Mormon comment" because it is so pernicious. It is so because the writer very cleverly cloaks his argument in the appearance of objectivity. He is merely doing research with an open mind. He writes, "Someone needs to investigate who is telling the truth." Yet, as we read through the letter we find most of it to contain his statements based on his preconceived notion of the truth, not a litany of data.
What destroys his credibility the most is the misuse of quotation, relying on the nightmare phrase, "something to the effect that," which has no legal or logical credibility. Imagine being on a witness stand and using the phrase.
I find this trick so horrifying because I have seen careers destroyed by this particular dirty trick, teachers especially.
When I teach punctuation, at any grade level, I emphasize the importance of the quotation marks. When you use them, you are taking on a legal as well as ethical responsibility of immense proportions.
People's lives are at stake. Think about it.
P. M. Hutchison, Payson
Editor's note: This letter was cut to fit within the 400-word limit policy for Letters to the Editor.