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An Open Form Letter to Anybody

October 27, 2013
Netscher, Caspar - The Man Writing a Letter - ...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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).


Dear ____________: 

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?

  1. The open letter seems to be mainly for making everyone know exactly what you think, without doing anything else about it. (Also, funnily enough, I was watching College Humor’s open letter to Miley Cyrus when I saw your email. I guess open letters are everywhere these days.)

    • Yeah, there have been a few open letters directed at Miley Cyrus. I don’t think the open letters will cause her to change her behavior, though.

      • I liked the College Humor one more than others. It was very tongue-in-cheek. Just how open letters should be.

  2. I might have gotten the concept of an “Open Letter” wrong cause I wrote a very nice one on my blog to John Green… Does it always have to be negative?
    – Miranda

    • The recent open letters that I’ve heard (or read) about have been negative (or at least trying to push for some change), but I like the idea of a nice open letter. It’s probably not a good idea to use my form letter when you write a nice one. I might have to rethink this.

  3. Now that I’m thinking about it, I believe you’re right – maybe that’s why I couldn’t find any open letters to John Green, no one really has a beef with him :/

  4. Many kids do not read books today, not even ebooks, because there are too many other distractions. It is just so much easier to watch moving pictures on a screen than summon up the discipline to focus on a book.

    It is so much easier to have someone else do the imagining for you and present you with the pictures so you don’t have to conjure up your own images in your head.

    Most YA books that succeed are superficial. let’s face it the books that we now call classics wouldn’t make the cut today … all that description, all that having to think!

    Perhaps what we think of as ADD is actually the electronic age’s norm now and anything that requires sustained attention, that is not a short sound bite, is no longer required. Depressing … but possibly true. Screens and snippets are the new reading.

  5. An open letter is a “must” nowadays.This is especially true upon knowing that our society nowadays are in full “dysfunction.”Open letter is good provided that it is true,factually detailed,sincere and offers solution.That’s how an open letter should be,for me,personally.

  6. I hadn’t heard about this letter, thanks for pointing it out. I agree with you to make any open letter snappy (I just skimmed the one in the link… too long). I also agree that there should be a solution offered, not just a complaint.

    Good for you for making reading interesting for a cadre of boys in junior high. I loved The Yearling myself, but had a fabulous teacher who brought the story to life for us.

  7. The freedom to express is vital to becoming more balanced and none of us has it so good that we do not need a little more of that. Best wishes!

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