Letter to the Editor

I don't make a habit of wriiting letters to newspapers.  In fact, I've done it only twice in my life.  The first time was in Lansing, Michigan, back around 1968, when I wrote to protest a move to pay private school tuition with public money.  I said I thought that was a bad idea, but when my letter was published in the paper, an editor's typo appeared to reverse my meaning, and I took a lot of flak from friends who felt I'd betrayed them.  The paper declined to print a correction--and I decided then not to write any more letters to newspapers.

However, I've just done it again--except that this time the newspaper declined to print the letter at all.  So I've decided to post it here.


Here's why.  Almost immediately after moving to Richmond, Virginia, in 1976 to teach at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, I began to notice that the local daily morning newspaper consistently reported that teachers in Virginia were paid well--among the best.  But you had to read very carefully to note that by "best" they meant "best in the southeast" or "best in the South."  The particular story differed with the time--public school teacher salaries, college teacher salaries, sanitation worker salaaries--but the editorial position was always the same:  the employees were well off already and were just greedy for even more.

Well, I had taught in a number of other states and I knew that teachers in Virginia were not as well paid as teachers in those states.  And a little research made it clear that teachers were better paid in most other states.  In general, only teachers in other southeastern states were worse off than in Virginia.  The same was true for most other public emploees.  So the newspaper was focusing on the region and ignoring the rest of the nation--and the result was to make the readers think--erroneously--that Virginia's teachers were greedy little crybabies.

Oh, I should say that collective bargaining is illegal for public employees in Virginia.  The newspaper supports--champions--that law.

After keeping quiet for 23 years, I finally wrote to the paper recently after they published an arrticle that misrepresented the situation once again--this time in the form of a factual-looking table that purported to show how well paid public school teachers are in Virginia.  As I said, they declined to print it.  Just to be sure, I mailed them a second copy of the letter ten days later, and as you can guess they again declined to print it.

Here's my unpublished letter:

6 July 1999

Letters to the Editor
Richmond Times-Dispatch
Box 85333
Richmond, VA 23293

Dear Editor:

The "Teachers' salaries" table you published on June 25 (page A-10) makes Virginia look pretty good–second only to Georgia in 1997-98.

Unfortunately, however, your table misrepresents the situation drastically by comparing Virginia to 11 other Southeastern states–still the poorest region in the US--instead of to the entire nation and the world.

Checking the facts shows that in the previous year Georgia was three states below Virginia and is raising its teachers' salaries faster than Virginia is.  And that in 1996-97, Virginia was 25th in the nation, 8 states below the national average for teachers’ salaries.  ( NEA, http://www.nea.org/nr/nr980513.html  (Opens in a new window.))

Furthermore, the US average is below that of Switzerland, Austria, West Germany, Netherlands, France, Denmark, and Canada.  (The National Center for Education Statistics, averages for 1991, http://nces.ed.gov/pubs/esn/n35ba.html  (Opens in a new window.))

In other words, you printed the truth, but not the whole truth–and in this case, your partial truth amounts to a lie because it makes Virginia’s teachers seem relatively well off when in reality they are not.  Cars, washing machines, food–all cost about the same in every region.

Virginia is a lovely state and it’s good to emphasize the best about it.  But your newspaper's provincial practice of touting Virginia as the best of the least, thereby representing mediocrity as excellence, does us all disservice.

Sincerely yours,

Don Maxwell 

Why didn't they print the letter?  I haven't a clue.

But I'm interested in your take on it.  Do you think it's a stupid thing to say?  Too trivial to bother with?  Incomprehensible?  Is it too rude--especially the final paragraph?  (I didn't intend to be rude.)  Did the Letters Editor want to protect me from potentially irate readers?

<>Or what?  Please write me and let me know what you think.

(Sorry--I've been getting a lot of SPAM lately.
Please type the address into the "To:" line of an email message,
with no spaces.  And type the other thing into the "Subject:" line.)


Other Things
Abstract Concrete Works