November 29:  Compulsory Education Day

On this day in 1870, the British government announced its plan to make education compulsory.  The Elementary Education Act of 1870 required that education be provided to children up to age 10.  The act was also commonly known as the Forster’s Education Act, named for William Edward Forster, a member of the House of Commons who crusaded for universal education and who drew up the act.

One nation that adopted compulsory education before Britain was Prussia.  A decree by Frederick the Great in 1763 provided an education for all girls and boys until age 13.  Under this plan teachers were paid by the citizens of the municipalities in which they taught; however, the teachers – many of whom were former soldiers — were asked to supplement their income by cultivating silk worms.  (wiki)

In the United States, Mississippi became that last state to pass a compulsory education law in 1918.

In 2012, best-selling young adult fiction author John Green published a YouTube post on compulsory education entitled “An Open Letter to Students Returning to School.”  In his letter Green challenged students to not take their education for granted and to see “compulsory” schooling as an opportunity to contribute something to society:

School doesn’t exist for your benefit or for the benefit of your parents. Schools exist for the benefit of me. The reason I pay taxes for schools even though I don’t have a kid in school is that I am better off in a well-educated world. Public education isn’t a charity project; I pay for your schools because I want you to grow up and make my life better. I want you to make me beautiful books that will bring me pleasure and consolation. I want you to make me cooler cars for me to drive, and drugs so that I can live a longer, healthier life. I’m paying for your education in the hopes that you will invent a microwave pizza with actually crispy crust and that you’ll spread the availability of the internet so I can get more YouTube views in Zambia.

Your education isn’t just about you, your nation is making an investment in you because they believe that you are worth it. So the next that you’re like half asleep fantasizing about being a kid chosen for a special mission or wizard school, or whatever, please remember something: you are special, and you’ve chosen for a special mission that was denied to 99.9% of all humans ever. We need you, we believe in you, and we’re counting on you.

Today’s Challenge:  

If you were the Secretary of Education, what class would you make mandatory for all students?  Why?  Imagine that you have been appointed to design a specific class that will be required by all students before they graduate high school.  What would you call your class, and what would be the make-up of the class’s curriculum.  In addition to describing the class, provide a rationale for why the content of the class is essential for students. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  But yes, your teachers may be stupid. So are you, so am I, so are everyone . Except Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The whole pleasure in being a human is in being stupid but learning to be less stupid together. -John Green

November 26:  Abecedarian of Awesome Day

On this day in 1789, Thanksgiving was celebrated for the first time under the new U.S. Constitution based on a proclamation signed by President George Washington.  However, it took over 150 years for Thanksgiving to be recognized as an official Federal holiday.  On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a Congressional resolution establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.

In June 200, Neil Pasricha started a blog called 1000 Awesome Things as a reminder that although there is plenty of bad news everyday, there are also a lot of things to be thankful for, things that Pasricha characterizes as “the free, easy little joys that make life sweet.”  At Pasricha’s blog each “Awesome Thing” is numbered.  Below is a small sample of numbers 498 to 492:

#498 Long comfortable silences between really close friends

#497 The moment after the show ends and before the applause begins

#496 Seeing way worse weather on TV somewhere else

#495 When it suddenly just clicks

#494 Cutting your sandwich into triangles

#493 When that zit growing on your forehead suddenly just disappears

#492 The first text message between new friends

Each numbered item is linked to a detailed entry, describing in vivid detail what makes the thing truly awesome.  For example, #477 is “Starting the Lawnmower on the First Pull”:

Time for a trim.

Yes, step into those grass-stained workboots, toss on a faded ballcap, and roll the rusty mower out of the wobbly tin shed. You’re about to spend an hour mindlessly chopping lawn so stare at those grass-covered wheels, duct-taped wires, and chippy paint patches before getting down to business.

Now, if you’re like me then before pulling that cord you sort of get it in your mind that you’re in for three or four full-body yanks before that machine starts purring. I don’t know about you, but since I’m a limp, wimpy noodle of a man I find pulling that cord about as physically draining as bench pressing a full keg of beer, building a house out of boulders, or dragging an 18-wheeler up a steep hill with a rope.

See,I put my whole body into it and just get some slow sputtering. Wheeze, wheeze, die, you feel me?

But hey, that’s what makes it great when us noodles  pull those cords and they start up on the first pull. Now when the motor starts up and the gas fumes float up we suddenly get to feel like the World’s Strongest Human.

Yes, pass the black spandex shorts, tattoo a skull on our neck, and toss us some barbells, baby.

We’re going in.

AWESOME!

Today’s Challenge:  Twenty-six Awesome Things to be Thankful For

What are 26 things you are thankful for?  Brainstorm a list of at least 26 awesome things to be thankful for, one for each letter of the alphabet, such as, Accordions, The Beatles, Canned Food, Donuts, etc.  Once you have your A to Z list, select one item on your list and write a detailed description that shows and tells why that one item is so awesome.

Quotation of the Day:  The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself. -Henry Miller

 

November 25:  Fable Day

On this day in 1998 the computer-animated film A Bug’s Life was released. The film was produced by Pixar Animation Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios.  The film, which was directed by John Lasseter and co-directed by Andrew Stanton, featured the music of Randy Newman and the voices of Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, and Julia Louis-Dryfus (1).

A Bug's Life.jpgThe plot of the film is based on a retelling of one of Aesop’s fables:  The Ant and the Grasshopper:

One bright day in late autumn a family of Ants were bustling about in the warm sunshine, drying out the grain they had stored up during the summer, when a starving Grasshopper, his fiddle under his arm, came up and humbly begged for a bite to eat.

“What!” cried the Ants in surprise, “haven’t you stored anything away for the winter? What in the world were you doing all last summer?”

“I didn’t have time to store up any food,” whined the Grasshopper; “I was so busy making music that before I knew it the summer was gone.”

The Ants shrugged their shoulders in disgust.

“Making music, were you?” they cried. “Very well; now dance!” And they turned their backs on the Grasshopper and went on with their work.

There’s a time for work and a time for play.

No one knows for certain if Aesop actually lived, but some ancient historians report that he was a slave who lived either in the 5th or 6th-century B.C.  Whether he actually lived or not, today we have over 300 fables, each with a plot the centers on animals and a moral that applies to the human reader (2).

Walt Disney made a cartoon-short of “The Ant and the Grasshopper” in the 1930s, but when Pixar got ahold of the the story in the 1990s, they turned the short fable into a full fledged film, featuring a full colony of ants and a rowdy gang of grasshoppers.

Today’s Challenge:  An Awesome Aesop Adaptation

Which of Aesop’s Fables is your favorite, and how would you adapt the story to create a feature animated film?  Write an explanation of which of Aesop’s Fables you would adapt and how you would transform it from a brief fable into a full length feature film.  If you want, you may use the Pixar Pitch template from November 22:  Pixar Pitch Day.

Quotation of the Day:  Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder. -Thomas Aquinas

 

1-http://www.pixar.com/features_films/A-BUG’S-LIFE

 

2-Aesop’s Fables

https://www.umass.edu/aesop/history.php

November 23:  Jukebox Day   

On this day in 1889 the first jukebox was installed at the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco. Although it is somewhat of an anachronism today, the jukebox was one of the key influences on music and culture throughout much of the 20th century.

The idea of a coin-operated phonograph was hatched by Louis Glass, president of Pacific Phonograph Company.  Glass adapted Thomas Edison’s phonograph, which played songs on wax cylinders, by attaching four stethoscope-like tubes for listening.  Each tube was individually activated by the listener inserting a nickel.  In fact the machine was first called the “nickel-in-the-slot player.”  The term jukebox did not enter the vernacular until the 1940s.

The origin of the term “juke” begins in the Gullah, a creole language spoken by the African-American population of the Sea Islands and coastal region of the southern United States.  In Gullah “juke” means “disorderly, rowdy, or wicked.” Before the term was used for a coin-operated music box, it applied to a “juke joint,” a common term for a saloon or tavern.  Because these types of establishments featured “nickel-in-the-slot players,” the more concise term “jukebox” took hold.

Today’s Challenge:  Put in Your Two Bits

What would be the top five songs you would include on your personal jukebox?  Whether you have a jukebox or not, the playlist has become a prominent part of a modern culture where music is more accessible than it ever has.  Brainstorm your favorite songs, the kind of songs that would make up the soundtrack of your life.  Select your top five songs and write a description for each that explains why the song is important to you and what makes it a vital part of your playlist.

Quotation of the Day:  I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music. -Billy Joel

 

November 22:  Pixar Pitch Day

On this day in 1995 the computer-animated film Toy Story was released by Walt Disney Pictures.  The film, directed by John Lasseter, was the first feature-length film produced by Pixar Animation Studios, a subsidiary of Walt Disney.  Widely considered one of the greatest animated films of all time, Toy Story and has earned over $350 million.

Film poster showing Woody anxiously holding onto Buzz Lightyear as he flies in Andy's room. Below them sitting on the bed are Bo Peep, Mr. Potato Head, Troll, Hamm, Slinky, Sarge and Rex. In the lower right center of the image is the film's title. The background shows the cloud wallpaper featured in the bedroom.Today Pixar Animation Studios, located in Emeryville, California, is one of the most successful studios in movie history, grossing over $7 billion and winning 26 Oscars.  Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3 have all won the Academy Award for Best Animated Features.

In his book To Sell Is Human, Daniel H. Pink attributes the success of Pixar to “The Pixar Pitch,” a template that provides a structure for the most important part of every Pixar film – the story:

Once upon a time____________.  Every day____________.  One day____________.  Because of that, ____________.  Because of that,_____________.  Until finally___________.

The following is an example of a pitch for Finding Nemo:

Once upon a time there was a widowed fish named Marlin who was extremely protective of his only son, Nemo. Every day, Marlin warned Nemo of the ocean’s dangers and implored him not to swim far away. One day in an act of defiance, Nemo ignores his father’s warnings and swims into open water. Because of that, he is captured by a diver and ends up as a pet in the fish tank of a dentist. Because of that, Marlin sets off on a journey to recover Nemo….Until finally Marlin and Nemo find each other, reunite, and learn that love depends on trust.

According to Pink, the strength of the Pixar Pitch format is that it a concise and controlled “framework that takes advantage of the well-documented persuasive force of stories” (1).  Just as the fourteen lines of a sonnet seem to be the best package for a message of love, the six-sentence template of the Pixar Pitch is the perfect way to deliver a packaged plot.

Today’s Challenge:  The Six-Sentence Sell

What story would you tell using the Pixar Pitch as your template?  Try your hand at creating a narrative that uses the six-sentence structure of the Pixar Pitch.  Imagine that you are making a pitch for the next Pixar feature.  If you are working with others, have a contest to see who can come up with the most compelling pitch.

Quotation of the Day:  In the South, we tell stories. We tell stories if you’re in a sales position, if you’re in a retail position, you lure your customer by telling a story. You just do. -Tate Taylor

 

1-Pink, Daniel.  To Sell Is Human. New York:  Riverhead Books, 2012: 170-174.

 

November 21:  Invention Day

On this day in 1877 Thomas Edison announced his latest invention, the tinfoil phonograph.  Edison, who held over 1,000 patents, came up with the idea of the phonograph while working on his telephone transmitter.

Working with his machinist John Kruesi, he constructed a machine with a grooved cylinder which was mounted on a long shaft.  Tin foil was wrapped around the cylinder.  Using a hand crank to record on the tin foil, Edison’s first recording was a nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”  After playing the recording back and realizing that it worked perfectly, Edison was amazed but cautious.  He said, “I never was so taken back in my life.  Everybody was astonished.  I was always afraid of things that worked the first time.”  Today we know Edison for the lightbulb, which came about in 1879; however, it was the phonograph that boosted Edison’s reputations as a great inventor.  Edison continued working on improving his phonograph, and in 1887 he produced a more satisfactory commercial model using wax cylinders for recording (1).

Creating the name of a new invention can be almost as important as the invention itself.  Based one of Edison’s notebooks from his Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory, we have evidence that Edison gave careful thought to naming his invention before its launch, making a list of possible names, most using roots from Greek or Latin.  Before settling on the Greek phonograph (“phono” = sound + “graph” = writing or recording), Edison considered more than 50 possible names; the six listed below are some examples:

Brontophone = Thunder sounder

Phemegraph = speech writer

Orcheograph = vibration record

Bittako-phone = Parrot speaker

Hemerologophone = Speaking almanac (2)

Invention For Writers

Like Edison, Ancient rhetoricians were devoted to invention; to them, however, invention was the name of the first phase  of generating ideas for speaking and writing. Two of the three books of Aristotle’s Rhetoric are devoted to invention, and the Roman orator Cicero made invention the first of his five canons of rhetoric: Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory, and Delivery.

Sometimes called prewriting, invention is a deliberate process for discovering the best way to approach a writing task, and the best method is to ask yourself some key questions before putting together a first draft:

PURPOSE:  What is the purpose of your writing; in other words, what is the goal you are trying to accomplish by writing?

ARGUMENT:  What are the arguments on both sides of the issue you are addressing?  Imagine and anticipate what your opponent will say, so that you can construct the most cogent argument.

AUDIENCE:  What do you know about your audience?  What do you want from them, and what do they value and care about that is relevant to your case?

EVIDENCE:  What kinds of evidence do you have to support your argument? Do you have enough, and does it forcefully support your argument?

APPEALS:  How will you employ logos, pathos, and ethos to make your argument compelling?

Today’s Challenge:

What would you say is the most overrated and the most underrated inventions of all time?  Your task is to convince an audience of your peers that one invention is either the most overrated or most underrated invention of all time.  Begin by brainstorming two columns, listing both overrated and underrated inventions.  Then, use the questions regarding purpose, argument, audience, evidence, and appeals to generate the best approach to putting together the text of a successful persuasive speech.

Quotation of the Day:  Instead of just sitting down and writing a speech, I walk outside, scuffle my feet through the dead leaves, and figure out what everybody wants, starting with me.  That’s the first part of invention:  What do I want?  Is my goal to change the audience’s mood, its mind, or its willingness to do something?  -Jay Heinrichs, in Thank You for Arguing

1-http://edison.rutgers.edu/tinfoil.htm

2- Usher, Shaun.  Lists of Note:  An Eclectic Collection Deserving of a Wider Audience.  San Francisco:  Chronicle Books, 2015: 242.

 

November 20:  Significant Object Day

On this day in 2009 a fascinating five month anthropological study was completed by two writers, Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn.  The hypothesis of the study was that storytelling has the power to raise the value a physical object.

To test their hypothesis the researchers acquired 100 objects at garage sales and thrift stores at a cost of no more than two dollars per object.  In phase two of the study, each object was given to a writer who crafted a short, fictional story about the object.  Each object was then listed for auctioned on eBay with the invented story as the item description.  Walker and Glenn carefully identified each item description as a work of fiction.  Based on the results of the study, the average price of an object was raised by 2,700 percent.  The total cost of the purchasing the 100 objects was $128.74; the total sales on eBay reached a total of $3,612.51.  For example, a duck vase purchased for $1.99 sold for $15.75.  A motel room key purchased for $2.00 sold for $45.01.

Walker and Glenn compiled the results of their study, including a photo of each object along with its accompanying story, in the book Significant Objects:  100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things.

In the book the following story by Colson Whitehead yielded $71.00 for a weathered wooden mallet that was originally purchased for 33 cents:

On September 15th, 2031 at 2:35am, a temporal rift — a “tear” in the very fabric of time and space — will appear 16.5 meters above the area currently occupied by Jeffrey’s Bistro, 123 E Ivinson Ave, Laramie, WY.  Only the person wielding this mallet will be able to enter the rift unscathed.  If this person then completes the 8 Labors of Worthiness, he or she will become the supreme ruler of the universe.

To see additional objects and their stories, visit www.significantobjects.com.

Clearly, stories captivate our interest and attention like nothing else.  Packaging both ideas and emotion in a narrative makes a powerful combination, and results of the Significant Objects Study provides us with quantitative evidence of this.  As stated by Walker and Glenn, “Stories are such a powerful driver of emotional value that their effect on any given object’s subjective value can actually be measured objectively” (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Junk Drawer Stories

What inventive story would you write to give value to a seemingly valueless object?  Go to your junk drawer and find a physical object of little value.  Then, craft a short narrative about the background of the object.  If you are working with a group or class of storytellers, have a Significant Object Contest or a Significant Object Slam (SOS) to share your stories. (Common Core Writing 3 –

Quotation of the Day:  There are books full of great writing that don’t have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story… don’t be like the book-snobs who won’t do that. Read sometimes for the words–the language. Don’t be like the play-it-safers who won’t do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book. -Stephen King

 

1-Walker, Rob and Joshua Glen.  Significant Objects:  100 Extraordinary Stories about Ordinary Things.  Seattle, WA:  Fantagraphics Books, 2012.

 

November 19:  Gettysburg Address Day

On this day in 1863, Abraham Lincoln presented his Gettysburg Address.  The occasion was the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of the Union army’s victory in the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-4, 1863.  Lincoln was not the main speaker at the dedication; that position was given to the scholar and statesman Edward Everett, the best-known orator of the time.  Everett spoke for approximately two hours; Lincoln, who took the podium at the end of the long ceremony, spoke for three minutes.

Lincoln’s address may have been short, but the words were certainly not short on impact.  His 267-word speech has been called “the best-known monument of American prose” and Carl Sandburg, one of America’s great poets, called the Gettysburg Address “the great American poem.”  

Although Lincoln’s address was a speech, it can be classified as a prose poem, a composition that is a hybrid of prose and poetry.  Written in complete sentences, like prose, a prose poem nevertheless relies heavily on a variety of poetic elements that give the prose the sound and emotional impact of poetry.

Reading the speech aloud, you can hear a variety of poetic sound effects:

Consonance:  for those who gave their lives that this nation might live.

Internal Rhyme:  we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate

Alliteration:  will little note nor long remember

But what makes the most impact in the speech is the harmony between Lincoln’s form and his content.  Skillfully employing the rhetorical strategies he had acquired by reading Shakespeare and the King James Bible, Lincoln presents themes that are antithetical:  birth and death.  To bring balance and harmony to these opposing themes, he employs parallel structure, principally tricolon and anaphora.  

Notice for example the opposites (antithesis) in the following sentence from the middle of the speech:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

Lincoln was at Gettysburg to honor the dead, but his purpose was also to move the living by reminding them that the war was not just about the victory of the Union, it was rather about the survival of the nation.  This theme of bringing harmony out of the chaos of war is echoed in the parallel syntax of Lincoln’s long final sentence.  Notice for example the anaphora of the “that” clause and tricolon employing three parallel prepositional phrases:

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us

—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion

—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain

—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom

—and that government

of the people,

by the people,

for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Today’s Challenge:  Two Voices

How would you break up the words, phrases, and clauses of  “The Gettysburg Address” into a poem for two voices?  Transform Lincoln’s prose poem into a poem for Two Voices.  Paul Fleishman popularized this form in his book Joyful Noise:  Poems for Two Voices (See September 5:  Two Voices Day). Written to be read aloud by two people, poems for two voices are written in two columns.  Each reader is assigned a single column, and the two readers alternate, reading the lines in turn from the top to the bottom of the page.  Reader’s join their voices whenever words are written on the same line in both columns.

Play with the contrasts and the rhythms of Lincoln’s short speech to create your own unique version.  As you write, practice with a partner to create the most dramatic possible performance.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Quotation of the Day:  . . . . Lincoln was a literary artist, trained both by others and by himself.  The textbooks he used as a boy were full of difficult exercises and skillful devices in formal rhetoric, stressing the qualities he practiced in his own speaking:  antithesis, parallelism, and verbal harmony. -Gilbert Highet