Letter writer undermines his own case

The guest editorial on page A5 of this issue represents the sort of ethical dilemma we get to grapple with occasionally. In this case, rather than simply making an arbitrary ruling and letting it go at that, it seemed like the fair thing to do was to walk you — the readers — through the reasoning process we employed in deciding how to handle it.

On its face, the editorial is a fairly well-reasoned critique of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) test that every fourth, seventh and 10th grader in the state must take during the spring.

The writer, a 2002 graduate of South Kitsap High School, makes the case that when the test becomes a requirement for graduation by 2008, students will be so preoccupied with preparing for the WASL — which emphasizes the basics of reading, writing, science and math — that they’ll be less inclined to partake of elective courses like art, drama, music, etc., which are also beneficial to the student’s long-term development.

Likewise, he argues that schools, in order to maintain acceptable passing rates on the WASL, will divert resources and funding from these other worthy programs in order to beef up the English, math and science departments.

It’s an important issue and the author raises some valid points. Unfortunately, he undermines his case by making it with a letter to the editor riddled with spelling, punctuation, grammar and syntax errors. Almost literally, every other sentence of the original e-mail he sent us contained a mistake that needed to be corrected in order to make it readable.

Our dilemma is this: Should we simply correct the errors — as is done in the majority of letters we receive — and let the writer make the point he’s trying to make without any additional commentary? Or do we have an obligation to inform our readers that the same person insisting the WASL places an “over-emphasis on specialization” apparently graduated from South Kitsap High School unable to consistently compose a complete sentence?

As a rule, it’s not our policy to call attention to the writing deficiencies found in letters to the editor. For one thing, not everyone is a trained writer. More importantly, just because someone makes a grammatical error in their letter doesn’t invalidate the larger point they’re trying to make about property taxes, salmon runs, prayer in schools or whatever they happen to be writing about.

In this case, however, we can’t help thinking we’d be doing a disservice to our readers — arguably even deceiving them — if we were to allow the letter in question to run without some sort of disclaimer.

We have no desire to embarrass the writer, so our choice is to remove his byline but correct his errors. In the interest of fairness, we’re going to let him make his case as best he can. If he persuades you with the sheer force of his logic, so be it. If not, that’s OK, too.

We just thought you ought to know the whole story before you made up your mind. The Independent welcomes your comments on whether or not this is the appropriate way to have handled this situation.

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