An Open Form Letter to Anybody
The open letter has to be one of the least effective persuasive techniques around, but it’s pretty easy to do. Writing an open letter and posting it online is much easier than gathering a crowd of people to stop traffic or shout down a politician. But I’ve never heard of an open letter changing public policy.
A few days ago, a bunch of famous authors (most of whom I’ve never heard) signed an open letter to President Obama complaining about how standardized tests in the United States have made today’s kids hate reading. According to the letter (or the people who wrote it), the tests force teachers to teach to the test rather than encourage kids to love reading. I understand where these famous authors are coming from, but this open letter is not the way to go.
First of all, writing an open letter against standardized tests is not exactly taking a stand. Not many people like standardized tests. Teachers hate them. Students hate them. Even people who aren’t directly involved in public education hate the idea of having to take a standardized test. The only people who seem to like standardized tests are the standardized test makers and politicians. But the people who dislike standardized tests (which is everybody else) don’t dislike them enough to do more than write and sign an open letter. If you’re going to write an open letter, pick a topic that isn’t so safe.
Next, the open letter against standardized testing is really bland. With so many authors signing it, you’d think somebody would have found a way to make it interesting. Instead, it’s the kind of bland, uninspiring expository piece that ends up on standardized tests. With so many authors involved, one of them should have at least added a metaphor or a snarky comment. This is the kind of writing that makes authors look bad.
Plus, the authors assume that it’s the standardized tests that make kids hate reading. I’m not so sure. I went to school before standardized tests were common, and I remember a lot of teachers that made us hate reading by themselves. If a teacher uses a curriculum of The Yearling, A Separate Peace, and A Light in the Forest, then teachers don’t need standardized tests to make kids hate reading. I’m not saying the above novels are bad books. They’re probably very good. But when you’re forced to read them at school, you learn to hate reading.
Luckily, I had my own copy of Massage Parlor II when I was in junior high school, so I loved reading. Every guy in my junior high loved reading when they had my copy of Massage Parlor II. I did more to promote a love of reading in junior high than any open letter to President Obama could ever do.
The open letter to President Obama might be harmless, but with so many authors signing it, there had to be a way to make it interesting. I don’t like to be the kind of person who complains about a problem without offering a solution, so I have an idea.
If you absolutely must write an open letter, at least make it short and interesting. Write a quick inflammatory statement, and then get out. So here is my open form letter that can be used to anybody for any subject. In this case, the authors who are against standardized testing can fill in the blanks with (President Obama) and (standardized testing) and then (your name/somebody else’s name).
OPEN FORM LETTER TO ANYBODY
You suck! And so does anybody who supports ________________.
Sincerely/ Best wishes,
It might not be perfect, but nobody will stop reading it before the end. It’s almost as precise as Ernest Hemingway’s six-word short story.
I’m not the kind of person who tells people they suck, and I don’t write open letters, so maybe my suggestion isn’t very good. What changes would you make to my open form letter? How do you make an open letter about standardized testing interesting? What do you think about standardized testing? What books did you have to read in school that made you hate or love reading? Have you ever written a short story that’s less than six words?