My letter to the Carmel Pine Cone was the lead letter in the November 5-11 edition. It’s about a local issue involving a teacher who thought it was important to teach her students using the text of Martin Luther King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I learned about the MLK letter relatively late in my life, at about age 31, when my wife told me she used it in her English composition class at Santa Clara University.

The editor added a punctuation error that was partly my fault because I should have use an exclamation mark rather than a period. He replaced my period with a question mark. Here’s my letter as it should have read:

Thank you for reporting on the Pacific Grove Unified School District cracking down on a teacher who had the temerity to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She was quoting from his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which I recommend to all of your readers. Because King himself used the n-word, this teacher must have thought that it was alright for her to use it. How dare she accurately quote an historical document!

We residents of Pacific Grove and of other adjacent areas had a spirited discussion of the issue on Nextdoor on Saturday, October 23. While the person who started the discussion seemed to see it as obvious that one should not quote the whole of King’s relevant sentence, many of us disagreed. There’s a huge difference between using the word to put someone down and quoting someone who used the word to explain his hurt and anger at the word’s use. One of the main things educators can teach us is to make crucial distinctions. It’s too bad that the Pacific Grove Unified School District, which is in the business of education, does not seem able to master what seems to be a simple distinction.

The editor had the guts to write an editorial on the same page as my letter in which he quoted from the relevant passage of the King letter.

A friend on Facebook pointed me to a very nice lesson on line about the distinction between mentioning a word and using a word.