Every week, The Post runs a collection of letters of readers’ grievances — pointing out grammatical mistakes, missing coverage and inconsistencies. These letters tell us what we did wrong and, occasionally, offer praise. Here, we present this week’s Free for All letters.

'Doctor' is in

The Dec. 29 Style article on op-eds, “How op-eds sparked outrage all year long,” provoked a chuckle because it used the question of Jill Biden’s honorific title as an example of “outrage” reactions. In fact, the appropriate use of the word “doctor” as a title has been changing and an issue in English-speaking countries for several hundred years. The word “doctor” means to educate or teach. “Doctor” was a title first bestowed on graduate theologians, then it spread out to be used with lawyers, musicians (sic!), physicians, pharmacists, chiropodists, veterinarians and “philosophers” — and quacks, provoking laws in Britain and elsewhere to limit the use to those with qualifying degrees. Until as recently as 50 years ago, the use of the term “doctor” for PhDs and lawyers was in question in this country. In the 20th century, the prestige of the term “doctor” went up and “professor” went down. 

The first doctorate in education was awarded in 1921 by Harvard. The first doctor of philosophy degree in the field of education was awarded in 1893 by Teachers College of Columbia, and has since been offered by hundreds of universities. As with any degree that stresses a research background, most schools required a dissertation and qualifying exams. 

Bottom line: A holder of an EdD degree is as entitled to the title “doctor” as a veterinarian, and certainly as much as a lawyer and much more than a chiropractor. 

David E. Silber, Bethesda

The writer holds a doctoral degree.

The Dec. 29 Style article “How op-eds sparked outrage all year long” raised some interesting  questions. Should the goal of an op-ed be inducing outrage? Are only national op-eds of importance? What happens to our democracy if we rely only on a few media sources — no matter how good — for news and commentary? 

The article put a lot of emphasis on op-eds that caused controversy over the past year, rather than op-eds that advanced public policy debates and helped to develop an informed consensus. The real story is that op-eds, when done right, make us think and help us understand — they build consensus on policy concerns and contribute to a public debate.

And it’s not just about the “elite ‘legacy’ publications” defined as two newspapers in New York and one in D.C. Having spent more than 30 years offering thought-provoking op-eds to newspapers around the country, I can attest that there are thousands of outlets with thriving op-ed pages that are trusted and needed. They help readers understand what’s going on in the nation, in their state capitals and in their local communities, whether it’s redistricting, budget priorities or environmental concerns.

When much of the action is grass-roots and outside the Beltway, we need the ideas and analysis that commentary pieces in the regional and local newspapers provide to help us better understand what’s going on around the nation and in local communities and to find solutions. Politicians, even when they’re in Washington, rely on their local papers to keep on top of their constituents’ concerns. Providing a platform for reasoned exchanges of ideas at the national, regional and local levels helps build consensus on policy concerns — and bring us together. 

The op-ed pages, as incubators of ideas, are an irreplaceable forum in our democracy that we need now more than ever.

Denice Zeck, Washington

The writer is executive director of American Forum.

An edifice to an edifying educator

I am a great fan of Catherine Rampell’s columns and loved her Dec. 25 op-ed celebrating her sixth-grade teacher, “Priceless lessons from my sixth-grade English teacher.” Like Rampell, I am the beneficiary of many excellent teachers who changed my life enormously. I am also the husband and father of teachers. I particularly enjoyed Rampell’s phrase about her teacher instructing her about “the masonry of language.” Lovely piece. 

Marc Chafetz, Washington

“Repaying a teacher for such gifts is impossible,” recalled Catherine Rampell in her Dec. 25 op-ed, “Priceless lessons from my sixth-grade English teacher.” She used her space to reflect on the influence of Mr. Greco, an educator she credited with “any success [she’s] had as a writer.”

As a former middle school English teacher, I often wonder about my students and the memories we carved out together. I wonder about the youngster whose profound and self-conscious stuttering made his ability to participate an impossibility for fear of exposure. I remember how writing poetry liberated him by providing the perfect platform for sharing his debilitating struggle with his classmates and providing them with a lesson in humanity and sensitivity.

Rampell’s words serve as a reminder that, though an educator such as Jill Biden, a woman with a doctorate, and Greco, a man with a passion for teaching, may not be able to minister to a heart attack victim on a flight from New York to Los Angeles, they provide the resources for those who can and do. No one makes it through life without teachers, many of whom save just as many if not more lives than the “doctor” on the plane. Thanks for reminding us.

Carole Tauber, Rockville

So funny we forgot to laugh

I love Dave Barry, he’s funny, and God knows we all need a laugh at the end of a year like 2020. With that said, he had no fewer than five jokes in his “Year in Review 2020” column [Washington Post Magazine, Dec. 27] making fun of President-elect Joe Biden’s age (he can’t remember things, he’s out of touch, can’t think clearly and so on).

1. New campaign slogan: “Somewhat Alert at Times.”

2. Biden’s campaign message will go viral as soon “as Joe decides what it is.”

3. The campaign focuses on finding a running mate who “has a name that Joe can remember.”

4. Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris’s criticisms: “Joe has forgotten all about that. Literally.”

5. At the presidential debate, “Biden inspires his supporters by appearing, most of the time, to be fully aware that he is participating in a debate.”  

The Post would not have tolerated homophobic or transphobic jokes in this (or any other) column, nor insensitive and stereotypic jokes at the expense of women, Black people or people with disabilities. Therefore, I am at a loss why The Post still considers such blatant ageism as falling within its editorial standards.

Riki Wilchins, Miami Beach

It appears that Dave Barry’s “Year in Review 2020” was what we all thought: no laughing matter.

Avis Fleming, Alexandria

Who's that lady?

I can’t be the only one who was intrigued — downright curious, to be honest — by the solitary, seemingly contemplative woman pictured at the Lincoln Memorial at dawn on Dec. 27, “the day President Trump signed the $900 billion relief package” [“Treasury aims to begin sending relief money this week,” news, Dec. 29]. Who is she? What was she doing there? Had she been there all night, perhaps a sentinel of some kind?

Steve Horwitz, Odenton

Georgism isn't socialism

In his Dec. 31 Style article, “Throwaway lines in the literary life? Not really.,” Michael Dirda described “Progress and Poverty” as Henry George’s “masterpiece of socialist thought.” To the contrary, George rejected socialism, and his masterful analysis of economic problems, a bestseller in the 1880s and still applicable today, includes an analysis of why governmental direction and interference were not the answer to continued poverty and unemployment amid material progress.

Neither a socialist nor a lackey of the robber barons, George favored liberty and free enterprise, but he opposed fortunes built upon special privilege, and, in particular, he advocated a single tax on the value of land and the abolition of other taxes. This would enable people to keep what they earned but not enjoy riches from the possession of land that they had done nothing to create.

Perhaps Dirda has forgotten what he learned in the correspondence course in fundamental economics he took when he was 14. Such a lover of literature as he might wish to try reading “Progress and Poverty” as an adult; it is a literary masterpiece of elegant prose and lucid reasoning.

Nicholas D. Rosen, Philadelphia

The writer is president of the Center for the Study of Economics.

The long and short of 'shrift'

The Dec. 30 editorial “A bad stimulus idea” said of the recently passed coronavirus relief bill, “In short, the measure short-shrifted the neediest and showered billions on people who suffered little or no lasting hardship from the pandemic.” I take no issue with the argument, but the writers probably meant the bill “shortchanged” the neediest, as in “gave too little money to.”

“Shrift,” from the verb “to shrive,” is confession of one’s sins to a priest and presumably forgiveness. This was a rite so important to some Christian believers that it was sometimes done by a priest on the battlefield, with less than proper time or ceremony, for a dying soldier to expiate his sins before meeting his maker. This was known as “short shrift,” an expression that has come to mean to make a rush job of something. Victims of various plagues in history also got short shrift, without priests to hear their final confessions, and, sadly, many of the more than 350,000 Americans who have died of the coronavirus were also deprived of the comfort of last rites or family in their last hours because of the dangerous contagion of this disease. 

S.R. Hankinson, Stoddard, N.H.

A failure to see — and show

We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words. So why neglect to include a photograph of the late Susan Moore, whose video alleged racist treatment as she was dying of the coronavirus with the Dec. 27 op-ed by Aletha Maybank, Camara Phyllis Jones, Uché Blackstock and Joia Crear Perry, “Say her name: Dr. Susan Moore.” Online, the piece included a photograph that featured a White woman as its primary subject. 

The lack of a photograph with the op-ed ironically underscored the very problem that the piece complained about: the failure to see Black women, to hear Black women and to listen to Black women, particularly when they are suffering.

Stacy Beck, Washington

Calming fears of a nuclear Pearl Harbor

The Dec. 27 obituary for George Blake, “British spy divulged secrets to Soviets,” did a good job capturing the remarkable life of one of the Cold War’s most dangerous spies. However, the article mistakenly reported that the famed Berlin tunnel — the 1950s CIA and MI6 operation tapping Red Army communications in East Berlin that was betrayed by Blake — produced “no worthwhile intelligence” and that the Soviets “used the phone lines for . . . disinformation.” In fact, the consensus now among intelligence historians is that the information captured by the tunnel was valuable and that the KGB likely did not plant false information on the tapped lines. The sheer volume of intercepted phone calls and teletype messages — some 90,000 over 11 months — speaks to the improbability of a disinformation campaign.

As Blake told me when I interviewed him in 2015 for my book about the Berlin tunnel, slipping disinformation into an enormous stream of genuine communications “would have been very easily spotted.” Blake was one of only a handful of American and British intelligence officers who knew about the tunnel, and he would almost certainly have been exposed as a spy had the communications been doctored. Despite learning of the tunnel before it was even dug, the KGB opted to protect Blake and not warn Red Army commanders.

 Rather than an intelligence fiasco, the tunnel provided the West with a wealth of information about Soviet military capabilities and intentions. At a time before U-2 planes and spy satellites were operating and there was high anxiety about a Soviet surprise attack, the tunnel intelligence calmed President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s fears of a nuclear Pearl Harbor.

Steve Vogel, Barnesville

The writer is a former Post reporter and the author of “Betrayal in Berlin.”

A flagrant foul

Again and again, The Post’s coverage of women’s sports is disproportionately — and discriminatingly — less than that of men’s sports.

On Jan. 1, the University of Maryland’s men’s basketball team received 50 inches of column space — starting on the section front — and a photograph, even though the team lost an unmemorable game (84-73, against Michigan) that it was expected to lose.

In contrast, the women’s basketball team received 12 inches of column space — starting on Page 5 — without a photograph, even though it won an outstanding game (96-82, against Penn State) in which Ashley Owusu scored a career-high 34 points. The highest-scoring men’s player netted 19 points.

This follows a pattern of demeaning women’s sports — yes, throughout the industry, but The Post should take the lead in reversing that pattern. 

Constance L. Belfiore, University Park

The topography of memory

I began my 50-year full- and part-time career with the U.S. Geological Survey in 1965, spending the first few years as a member of the compilation staff for the National Atlas of the United States, and I am proud to be listed on the atlas’s acknowledgments page. So I greatly enjoyed the Dec. 27 Outlook essay by Ted Widmer, “765 maps that drew us together,” even after a half-century has passed. I do not believe that I ever thought of the book as singing a “love song to America”; however, with hindsight, it may be an apt description.

I emailed the article to friends and colleagues and would have liked to notify those who worked on it with me, but to do so after 50 years would necessitate there being email in heaven, as I am one of the few survivors. Actually, I would prefer there not be Internet in the great beyond, as I want peace and tranquility when I pass on. Thanks for this review, which brought a smile to this aged cartographer at the end of a troubled 2020.

John Wittmann, Lanham

Tear down this misconception

Gillian Brockell’s Jan. 4 Retropolis article “Controversial Lincoln statue is removed in Boston, but remains in D.C.” misrepresented Frederick Douglass’s comments on the Emancipation Memorial. According to Brockell, Douglass suggested that the statue depicting Abraham Lincoln and an African American freedman “be replaced or added to.” In fact, Douglass never suggested that the statue be removed or replaced.

Historians Jonathan White and Scott Sandage, who recently rediscovered a letter discussing the memorial written by Douglass, accurately characterized Douglass’s real proposal, which “was not to remove the memorial . . . nor to replace it” but to supplement it with other works of art that would tell a more complete story.

Bret Boyce, Washington

Shining in the darkness

Now that we have closed the door on 2020, I thank The Post for being a bright spot in a terrible year. From Eli Saslow’s heartbreaking Voices From the Pandemic to Michelle Singletary’s eye-opening series on systemic racism to Robin Givhan’s insightful commentary, it was outstanding journalism across the board. I also appreciated the addition of Kate Cohen’s voice to the op-ed page. 

Although reading the news made me want to cry more often than not this year, The Post did an excellent job presenting the stories that needed to be shared. 

Jane Rooney, Oakton

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