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Let’s all strive for a higher level of writing

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POSTED March 12, 2009 4:31 a.m.
Editor, Manteca Bulletin,

I’m reluctant to waste readers’ time by engaging in a personal debate with Scott McComas on the pages of the Bulletin. Mostly, these back-and-forths are purely political and often boring. However, some statements in his latest letter need a measured response. After thanking me for “presenting three good points to use when evaluating writers,” Mr. McComas proceeds to twist my words, quote half-sentence to support his points, cherry pick his facts, and generally ignore the reason I wrote my letter in the first place — which was to dispute his claim that the general public is under-educated and lazy.

He ignores the inconsistencies of the statistics which he, himself, supplied (if 45% of the American population has a high school education or less, then 55% of the population would have some form of higher education, undermining his assertion), and instead chooses to focus on discrediting me personally. In criticizing the Exxon-Mobil profit figure he attributes to me, he neglects to mention that I got that figure from a letter that he had previously written. It was his own original number, which he has since denied. Not content with attacking me for quoting his own mistaken numbers, he must insult me further by stating, “Your inability to discern even the most basic facts from fiction shows that you can’t think critically and are not able to comprehend this complex world.”

While technically not name-calling, this is not a respectful response that provides reasoned counterpoints. It is basically just a dressed-up insult. This aligns with his previous comments where he insulted the general public with his characterization of people as under-educated (“through note learning process”), lazy (“do not have the desire to understand this information because they have become lazy”), and incapable of critical thought (“do not have the ability to think critically.”) He also misses my first point, by ignoring my suggestion that we should examine the sources of facts to be sure they are reputable and unbiased and not just look at facts themselves.

Mr. McComas trots out the old “smoke and mirrors” play of distracting readers from my legitimate points by complaining that I “have only chastised Republicans (for name-calling), while allowing the Democrats to continue.” Mr. McComas, please stop hiding behind that tired accusation which I have rebutted on numerous occasions. For the record: No one, of any political party, should need to resort to name-calling to make his point. It is unnecessary and degrading. If I have an issue with Mr. McComas, it is because of his word choices and the thoughts or arguments he expresses, not because of his political party. I’m also not interested in constantly refereeing the verbal smack-down between McComas and Larry Baca. I’ve backed away from that politically charged, no-win situation. But it is hard to sympathize with McComas’ supposed dislike of those who “ridicule facts with sarcastic wit,” when he, himself engages in put-downs and demeaning language.

McComas condemns me by saying that I “have failed on all three of your points many times.” This means that I succumb to name calling. I disagree. It would be hypocritical of me to crusade against the use of name-calling, while indulging in it myself. I’ve tried to stay above name-calling, despite provocation.

McComas asserts that the main point of his previous letter “was that people forget what they learn.” But it seems like his main point was actually that “America’s media have engaged in manipulating popular opinion of the lazy masses” as an explanation of “why did the American population blame the Republicans and believe the Democrat lies without any objective proof?” If his main point had truly been that “people forget what they learn”, I wouldn’t have written my rebuttal because, obviously, we cannot retain every little piece of information that we learn throughout life. However, we do remember the larger, important concepts that we have learned and practiced since childhood. McComas quotes only half my sentence of “I may not recollect every theorem or formula from high school math class or every fact from college courses,” while deleting the significant second half which states, “but I did not forget how to think critically or how to use learned interpretive skills to skeptically examine and challenge those who pretend they have all the answers.” Cherry-picking words or half-sentences to support his point only presents a partial picture and is a use of deceptive tactics.

There is an important difference, which McComas seems unwilling to recognize, between leading a busy life filled with time constraints, and being lazy. Acknowledging that most busy people “have little time for a detailed analysis of some writer’s input” (my words) does not prove that, in McComas’ view, “people get lazy and let others think for them.” Nor should McComas make the assumption (especially since I didn’t use the word “I”) that I was referring to myself. In fact, I took the time, in my original rebuttal letter, to carefully scrutinize what McComas wrote and examine his “facts.” That is what he is really incensed over.

Finally, where is McComas getting his facts for his claims about “undergrad or graduate classes in the last 5 years?” He states that students in their 40’s and 50’s are going back to school because they can no longer think critically. Shouldn’t he realize that sometimes people lose their jobs or want better career opportunities, so they go back to school, at any age, to learn new educational or job skills? Contrary to what he implies, this has little to do with needing a refresher course on critical thinking skills. He then states that older students “earn C’s and D’s just as easily as the 20 - 25-year-old students.” Where does he get these numbers? He claims that if older students had retained their critical thinking skills, they would all be earning A’s. This fails to take into account all the complex factors involved with older students returning to school. While some are highly motivated, many face challenges such as jobs, family responsibilities and other pressures, which, despite their intellectual ability, could negatively affect their grades. His theory that younger students “would get D’s and F’s because they lack the wisdom of age” is also faulty. A young adult and a mature student both can possess excellent critical thinking skills. The key is to keep these skills well-honed by constantly using them.

As writers, we need to stay focused on the issues and challenge each other’s perspectives, ideas, or tactics. Leave personal attacks out of the paper. There is a huge difference between writing, “this is a complex issue” and “you are intellectually incapable of understanding its complexity.” Let’s all strive for a higher level of writing.

Karen Pearsall
Manteca
March 11, 2009
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