An English teacher recently marked up a letter from President Donald Trump, took a picture of her corrections, and posted the marked-up result on Facebook. You can read the letter and see her corrections at this link: https://nyti.ms/2J6Ambs
She’s…wrong, on many counts:
- Her folksy feedback (such as “Have ya’ll tried grammar and style check,” yellow highlighting, and “OMG!”) isn’t organized for clarity
- I couldn’t figure out why she highlighted “I hosted,” “I brought together,” and “I signed into law”
- Her complaints about incomplete information (“explain rule,” “which agency?”) have nothing to do with grammar and style
- The alleged mistakes in capitalization (Nation, Federal, State, President) are actually prescribed practices for government correspondence, according to a style manual obtained by the New York Times. In fact those capital letters appear in letters signed by Presidents Bush and Obama.
Here’s what I found most interesting: Ms. Mason (the English teacher who wrote the letter) isn’t such a stickler herself. I was surprised to read this comment she made afterwards: “If someone is capable of doing better, they should do better.” That’s a violation of the prohibition against using a singular “they” that’s been taught in schools and colleges for more than 200 years. (Many teachers and editors would insist on changing the sentence to “he or she should do better.”)
I’ve abandoned that rule myself, so I don’t have any problem with her version. But when you’re yelling at other people – publicly! – about their alleged mistakes, I think you’d better be on your best behavior yourself.
What are my own thoughts about the original letter from the White House? One big positive is that the letter begins warmly – “Thank you for taking the time to share your views….” (I still get business letters that begin with an archaic opening like “This is in reference to…..” Gack.)
I’m also impressed that the sentences and paragraphs are well constructed, and there are specific examples to illustrate the points in the letter.
For me, the sole negative – and it’s a big one – is that the letter doesn’t even mention the suggestion Ms. Mason made in her original letter – that President Trump should visit the families of the Parkland shooting victims. Our English teacher has a legitimate gripe there.
But grammar and style? Nope – not from where I’m sitting.
Update: The President and First Lady visited the Parkland victims in February – well before the White House letter was written in May. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/trump-visits-parkland-shooting-victims-florida-hospital-n848826