Lincoln Rule

Technically The Mama Rule covers the other three Private Journal vs. Public Blog rules. If your mama wouldn't approve of the picture, comment, or blog post, then the writer, regardless of age, shouldn't post it. The subsequent three rules, however, go into detail and explain lasting consequences. Today's blog post will focus on "The Lincoln Rule" or do not publicly post mean comments about a named individual.

Children and adolescents will make mistakes - it is what we learn from those mistakes that makes us into better people. I am no exception. When I was in sixth grade, I sat on a friend's apartment steps blasting one of my cousins. To this day. I cringe when I remember my friend's mother not only overhearing my inappropriate comment but also blasting me for it. 

"I don't want you to be friends with Jennifer if she is going to talk like that," his mother said. I hung my head in shame and quickly learned a lesson on civility.

Mothers who want the best for their children keep us in check. The problem is that mothers appear invisible on the internet. When we shut our physical bedroom door and start texting, we mistakenly believe that our words are private. Instead, our words may appear just plain mean.

Does this mean that we - or the girl in the video - should never write angry words in our private journals? NO! Writing our angry thoughts helps to relieve stress and find ways to resolve our problems.

In Chapter 12 of Reinventing Writing, Vicki Davis explains that one of our greatest presidents wrote angry letters that were never mailed. These letters were discovered in Abraham Lincoln's desk after his death. The CoolCatTeacher suggests that we all write Lincoln Letters and never send them if only to clear our thoughts.

Maria Konnikova wrote in The New York Times article The Lost Art of the Unsent Letter that Abraham Lincoln was not the only public figure to write private letters and never mail them. Mark Twain believed that that unsent correspondence allowed "unallowable frankness & freedom." Harry S. Truman wrote a rude comment to the treasurer of the United States that remained in a private, unsent letter. Winston Churchill had his own set of unsent "hot letters."

Public posting of angry words burns bridges; it does nothing to resolve the problem. Privately writing the rage is cathartic for the individual. If I had written my angry words in a Lincoln Letter or a private journal, maybe I would have had no need to publicly say mean words about my cousin. Would writing in a private journal or an angry unsent letter have solved my temporary fight with my cousin? Not necessarily, but it would have been therapeutic.

Now, this does not mean that students must be politically correct with everything they write! Change never occurs without honesty and passion. But there is a big difference between bashing an individual and bashing a situation or idea. Naming calling limits the power of your words. By refusing to identify the person, more readers can see themselves in the writer's description and change as a result. If the critical writing gives constructive criticism about a situation (not an individual), then by all means, help the world solve its problems! 

But how do I teach the Lincoln Rule to my students? The answer is quite simple - I teach them the mantra my military father taught me, "Praise publicly; chastise privately." In other words, "Praise individuals in texts, blogs, and social media comments and images; chastise individuals in private journals or Lincoln Letters."

Basically, follow the Lincoln Rule and make your mama proud.

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Student Privacy: Four Rules to Teach Students How to Draw the Line Podcast.
  1. Privacy, Paper Blogs & Meaningful Commenting
  2. The Right to be Forgotten
  3. The Mama Rule
  4. Review - Private Journal vs. Public Blog Chart
  5. The Lincoln Rule
  6. The Common Sense Rule - Do Not Brag about Criminal Activity
  7. The One Exception 
  8. The Positive Google Footprint Rule - Your Resume
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Konnikova, Maria. The Lost Art of the Unsent Angry Letter. The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 Mar. 2014. Web. 28 Sept. 2014.

Therapeutic Writing: Six Reasons Why the Unsent Letter Is a Godsend. Worthwrite: Creative Writing for Mental Wellness. N.p., 16 July 2010. Web. 28 Sept. 2014.


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