Dictionary.com chose “existential” as its 2019 word of the year (“ ‘Existential’ defined discourse as we pondered our survival,” Dec. 3). I hope “false equivalency” claims the top spot in 2020, as our society is in dire need of this concept. (Yes, I do realize “false equivalency” is two words, but apparently that is OK — I see Oxford Dictionaries picked “climate emergency.”)

The phrases “they’re all the same” or “everybody does it” are thrown around loosely in order to deflect criticism of indefensible behavior. And yes, of course, I’m referring to President Donald Trump. Some of my Republican friends try to excuse or rationalize Trump’s dishonesty, vulgarity and immorality by saying all politicians do it. They are guilty of employing false equivalency.

If I’m a murderer and you drive over the speed limit, you wouldn’t claim we’re the same since we both broke the law. Similarly, it is not accurate or fair to equate a serial liar — a cheating, philandering, bribing narcissist — with the exaggeration and occasional dishonesty of traditional politicians. Trump is in a league of his own, bereft of decency, unique in his level of depravity. Equating him with other politicians is not only false, it is dangerous.

Ryan Pulkrabek, Minneapolis

• • •

To all who believe that Trump’s conduct regarding Ukraine was “perfect,” I pose this hypothetical situation:

It is June 2024, and President Elizabeth Warren is far behind her probable challenger, Donald Trump Jr. She knows that South Korea, a recipient of significant military aid from the U.S., has a crack computer-hacking unit in its army that can obtain personal and political dirt on anyone in the world.

Using that knowledge, she calls the leader of South Korea. In that phone call and in later actions by cabinet members and staff, she makes it clear to that leader that all of their previously approved military aid will be withheld unless the South Koreans launch an investigation into Donald Trump Jr. and his personal and business dealings in South Korea.

Based on their current positions, I am sure that the House and Senate Republicans would state that President Warren’s conduct did not amount to impeachable conduct, right?

Peter Timmons, Bloomington


With all this netting, why go at all?

Major League Baseball is being dragged in new directions, and unfortunately, not kicking and screaming.

Some changes: pitch clocks (good), automated strike zones (bad) and now the walling off of the playing field with nanny-state netting (ugly).

Twins management propagates a safe environment as the priority (“Twins will add to netting at Target Field to protect fans from flying bats, balls,” Dec. 5). A better plan would be to advise those ticket holders in foul ball territory to not bring children or the elderly to sit in those seats.

Two questions for Twins President and CEO Dave St. Peter and Executive VP Derek Falvey: When was the last time you left your suite to sit in the stands beyond the dugout? The view toward the plate stinks. And are the Twins going to reduce prices in those sections that are newly netted?

But make sure to raise the netting around the dugout, because 1 in 1,000 foul balls come in hot.

I do not want fans injured. Who does? But at the risk of being a dinosaur, I think that baseball is robbing its fans of one of the key attractions of attending a game: close-up, unobtrusive viewing of a sporting event at semi-reasonable costs.

Joe Carr, Eden Prairie

• • •

I remember in 2002 when a 13-year-old girl died after being hit in the head by a hockey puck at a National Hockey League game in Columbus, Ohio. This caused the NHL to put up safety nets at all of the league stadiums, including the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

So, I think it is great that the Twins are being proactive in protecting the safety and security of their fans by increasing the safety netting around the field-grounds. Preventing a fatal accident from happening here is better than waiting for one and then putting proper safety protections in place.

William Cory Labovitch, South St. Paul


Teach kids how to read — really

Maybe the latest in a long string of news items regarding the status of our nation’s reading and math students (see “School reforms haven’t raised U.S. reading scores,” Dec. 4) will help convince administrators, from teacher-training institutions on down to school principals, that we must return to phonics instruction in order to better serve our young readers (and writers, I would add).

There have been several articles and reports in the recent past that have given this former writing teacher hope, the most comprehensive being a piece by Emily Hanford of American Public Media Reports from Aug. 22. It’s titled “At a Loss for Words,” and it delves deeply into the history and wrongheadedness of the move away from phonics instruction to “whole language” in the late 1960s.

And now, a report by Education Week has not only revealed more evidence of the value of phonemic awareness; it has documented precisely the untenable position our teachers are in, how they strive to overcome it, and who’s to blame for their situation.

Ed Week’s research showed that most teachers use the “three cueing” method of learning words: They ask children to look at pictures and use “context clues” to derive their meaning instead of teaching them the sounds that letters, and their combinations, make; that is, phonics. But the most powerful part of the article is contained in a graph.

When researchers asked teachers where they learned most of what they know about reading instruction, here’s how they responded: 33% said “professional development/coaches in my district,” 17% indicated “personal experiences with students in the classroom,” 15% chose “other,” 14% credited “school-provided curriculum or program,” 8% did their “own research,” 7% looked to “other teachers and mentors,” but only 5% learned most of what they know from “pre-service training.”

If we care about our young readers and writers, we have to face up to what we’re doing wrong. The skill gap that students of color are drowning in is unacceptable and unnecessary. Our education establishment needs to wake up. Teachers — those at the bottom — know exactly what they need, but they’re not getting it from “the system.”


• • •

I couldn’t (note the proper use of the apostrophe) help but notice the irony in the juxtaposition of the two articles on page A2 of the Dec. 4 issue of the Star Tribune (“School reforms haven’t raised U.S. reading scores” and “Apostrophe battle is declared lost”).

With regard to the second article, I applaud Mr. John Richards and his effort to defend the importance of proper punctuation with his Apostrophe Protection Society. Sadly, it’s a slippery slope from carelessness on the apostrophe front to improper comma and period usage, to spelling indifference, to overall poor sentence structure and paragraph development. We can point to a variety of culprits, starting with an overreliance on texting and a fascination with creative grammar on social media in general and Twitter in particular. English language proficiency consists of four primary domains: listening, speaking, reading and writing. These domains are related and develop in order. Therefore, as long as we continue to de-emphasize the importance of writing as a skill in school, is it any wonder our reading scores continue to slide?

As the first article indicates, there are a variety of potential causes for our poor reading results, from funding inequities to family poverty. While many of these seem to be entrenched in one way or another, perhaps we should focus on a simpler goal in the near-term: Eliminate phones from school and dedicate more time to writing.

Matthew Loucks, Edina

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