May 31, 2018
A retired AP English teacher is the new, and potentially best, hero of the resistance
by Susan Rella
Tom Paine. Rachel Carson. Howard Zinn. Yvonne Mason?
Yes, resisters, let us welcome Mason to the ranks of Fabled American Protest Writers. Because if the former English teacher’s marked-up letter from President Donald Trump doesn’t make it into the Smithsonian ASAP, we’re all doing something incredibly wrong.
Here’s the story, as reported by many sources, including Christina Caron at the failing New York Times: Mason, a sixty-one-year-old retired high school English teacher living in Atlanta, received a
letter dated May 3 from the White House — a response to a letter she wrote the president after the Parkland school shooting. And not only did the response refuse to address her concerns (chief among them a request that Trump visit the families of the seventeen people murdered in that atrocity) — it featured totally shit grammar to boot. So Mason, a Democrat, did what she had done as an AP English teacher in South Carolina: she got out her purple pen and yellow highlighter, and edited the hell out of that letter.
“If it had been written in middle school, I’d give it a C or C-plus,” Mason told Paul Hyde at the Greenville News. “If it had been written in high school, I’d give it a D.”
Beginning with “Have y’all tried grammar & style check?” in the top left corner, and ending with “OMG this is WRONG!,” Mason’s mark-ups to the missive are glorious poetry for the petty intelligentsia among us. As she told Caron, “Poor writing is not something I abide. If someone is capable of doing better, then they should do better.” Miraculously, the White House has not yet responded — though they may have only just received the corrections, since, as Peter Wade explains at Esquire, Mason first posted the letter to Facebook, and much of the ensuing storm has gathered while it was, presumably, in the hands of the Postal Service. That’s right: the president was potentially the last person to see it. Because did we mention this is amazingly, gloriously, inspiringly petty?
We can ignore the fact that a federal government style manual contradicts her on some capitalization counts, and we’ll award extra credit for showing incredible restraint and not highlighting (but still mentioning, in interviews) the dangling modifier (“I focused mainly on mechanics,” Mason told the Times, gallantly). Because we would like to hire her as a freelance proofreader. We would like to hug her. We would avoid drunk-texting her, because she would most likely chide us for poor grammar when we were at our weakest. We are conflicted about whether or not we want her to follow us on Twitter. And we love, love, love that she ended her edits with a link to plainlanguage.gov, a government website devoted to the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which mandates that federal agencies use clear communication, accessible and understandable to the general public. As she told Wade, “language is the currency of power.” And what sort of teacher doesn’t want her students to be their best, most powerful selves?
Susan Rella is the Director of Production at Melville House, and a former bookseller.