September 20: Recitation Day

Today is the birthday of Donald Hall, American poet and the 14th U.S. Poet Laureate. He was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1928, and when he was only sixteen, he attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. In his 50-year career as a writer, Hall has published poems, essays, letters, children’s books, and literary criticism (1).

Donald Hall.jpgIn 1985 Hall wrote a short essay for Newsweek‘s “My Turn” column entitled “Bring Back the Out-Loud Culture” where he challenged readers to return to reading and reciting aloud:

Good readers hear what they read even though they read in silence: speed reading is barbaric. When we read well, in silence, we imagine how the words would sound if they were said aloud. Hearing print words in the inward ear, we understand their tone. If we see the sentence “Mr. Armstrong shook his head,” the inner voice needs to understand whether Mr. Armstrong disapproved or was outraged — before the inner voice knows how to speak the words.

If when we read silently we do not hear a text, we slide past words passively, without making decisions, without knowing or caring about Mr. Armstrong’s mood. We might as well be watching haircuts or “Conan the Barbarian.” In the old Out-Loud Culture, print was always potential speech; even silent readers, too shy to read aloud, inwardly heard the sound of words. Everyone’s ability to read was enhanced by recitation. Then we read aggressively; then we demanded sense (2).

Although written in 1985, Hall’s words are as true today as ever.

Today’s Challenge: Out-Loud Renaissance
What is a passage of prose or a poem that you feel is worth reading out loud and is worth committing to memory?  What makes it so exemplary and so worth remembering? Challenge yourself this week to commit a favorite poem or passage to memory. See if it helps you pay more attention to the written word.  Sponsor a “Recitation Day” in your class or community, challenging people to share their poems or passages out loud.

Quotation of the Day: We must encourage our children to memorize and recite. As children speak poems and stories aloud, by the pitch and muscle of their voices they will discover drama, humor, passion, and intelligence in print. In order to become a nation of readers, we must again become a nation of reciters. — Donald Hall

 

1 – http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/264

2 – Hall, Donald. “Bring Back the Out-Loud Culture.” Newsweek 15 April 1985: 12.

 

September 19:  Balloon Debate Day

On this date in 1783 the first hot air balloon was sent aloft in Annonay, France. The balloon was engineered by two brothers, Joseph-Michael and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier.

This first flight, however, was not a manned flight. Because of the unknown effects of high altitude on humans, the brothers decided to experiment with animals.  The first passengers in the basket suspended below the balloon, therefore, were a sheep, a duck, and a rooster.  The 8 minute flight travelled about two miles and was witnessed by a crowd of 130,000, which included King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (1).

Today’s Challenge:  More Than Just Hot Air
Today is the perfect day to hold a balloon debate, a debate where at the end of each round, the audience votes on one or more speakers to eliminate.  In this debate the audience is asked to imagine that the speakers are travelling in a hot air balloon.  The balloon is sinking, so in order to save everyone, one or more of the speakers must be “thrown out.”

Who would you argue is the most important or influential person in history? You may hold a balloon debate on any topic, but traditionally a balloon debate revolves around each speaker arguing the case of a famous person from history.  Each speaker, then, attempts to persuade the audience why his or her individual is the most important and, therefore, the least likely candidate for elimination.  Precede the debate by holding a draft, where each participant selects an individual to research and to argue for.  Their task then is to write a speech that answers the following question:  Why is this person the most important and influential person in history? (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate. -Hubert H. Humphrey

 

1- http://m.space.com/16595-montgolfiers-first-balloon-flight.html

 

September 18:  Lexicographer Day

Today is the birthday Samuel Johnson (1708-1784), the writer of the first scholarly researched English dictionary.  His work A Dictionary of the English Language was published in two volumes on April 15, 1755.  Johnson’s dictionary was not the first dictionary in English, but what made it special was its use of illustrative quotations by the best writers in English.  

Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds.jpgA lexicographer is a writer of dictionaries, and Johnson set the standard for the basic principle that lexicographers use even today, that is deducing the meaning of a word based on how it is used by accomplished, published writers.  Instead of creating meanings of words, the lexicographer reads prodigiously, gathering examples of words used in context in published works.  Only after gathering these examples does the lexicographer write a definition of a word.  Thus, instead of prescribing the definitions of words, the work of a lexicographer is descriptive.  Working objectively, like a scientist, a lexicographer observes (describes) the way words are actually used in the real world by real writers, rather than declaring by fiat (prescribing) what words mean (1).

In Johnson’s Dictionary he define his job as follows:

Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.

In his preface to his dictionary, Johnson stated his purpose:  not to fix the language by defining its words in print, but to display its power by arranging it for easy alphabetical access:

When we see men grow old and die at a certain time one after another, from century to century, we laugh at the elixir that promises to prolong life to a thousand years; and with equal justice may the lexicographer be derided, who being able to produce no example of a nation that has preserved their words and phrases from mutability, shall imagine that his dictionary can embalm his language, and secure it from corruption and decay, that it is in his power to change sublunary nature, or clear the world at once from folly, vanity, and affectation. (198-9)

Today’s Challenge:  Lexicographer for a Day

What are the key elements of writing a definition?  The act of writing the definitions of words allows you to see the many facets of language that often go unnoticed.  Begin your definition with your word and its part of speech.  Then, identify a general category or class that the word fits into.  Finally, provide details that show what differentiates the word from the other words in its class — in other words, details that show how it is distinct from other words in its general category.

Here’s an example:

Pencil (Noun):  a type of writing or drawing instrument that consists of a thin stick of graphite enclosed in a thin piece of wood or fixed in a case made of metal or plastic.

Open a dictionary to a random page and write down the first four words you find.  Then, without looking at the definitions, write your own.  Then, compare your definitions to the ones published in the dictionary. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.  –Samuel Johnson

 

1-http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/dic/johnson/1755johnsonsdictionary.html

September 17:  Short Poem Day

William Carlos Williams passport photograph 1921.jpgToday is the birthday of American poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963).  William was born and lived most of his life in Rutherford, New Jersey.  He grew up in a bilingual home; his father was English and his mother was Puerto Rican.  In addition to being an accomplished poet, Williams was also a practicing physician.  His most famous poem is “The Red Wheelbarrow,” which was published in his book Spring and All published in 1923.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chickens.

William’s poem typifies the imagism, an early 20th century movement in which poets strove to use common language and clear, precise imagery.

Today’s Challenge:  Poetry 100

Find a short published poem (50 words or fewer) by William Carlos William or some other poet.  Memorize and recite the poem, noticing how the poet uses economy of language to make meaning.  Then, compose your own short poem of 50 words or less.

Today’s Quotation:  “Brevity is the soul of wit.”  –William Shakespeare

 

September 16:  Eponymous Law Day

Today is the birthday of Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990), the author of the book The Peter Principle. Peter was an education professor at the University of Southern California and the University of British Columbia, but he became famous in the field of business when he published The Peter Principle in 1969. The book is full of case histories that illustrate why every organization seems to fall short of reaching maximum productivity and profit. His explanation relates to the corporate mentality that promotes productive workers upward until they achieve positions beyond their ability to perform competently.

Peter’s insights into the organizational structures of businesses were so well-received that The Peter Principle has gone well beyond just the title of a popular book; it has entered the language as an adage, immortalizing its creator. The American Heritage Dictionary records the following definition of the Peter Principle:

The theory that employees within an organization will advance to their highest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent (1).

Laurence Peter is not alone in the world of eponymous lawsa principle or general rule that named for a person.  Below are some examples of other eponymous laws or principles:

Ockham’s Razor:  Explanations should never multiply causes without necessity. When two explanations are offered for a phenomenon, the simplest full explanation is preferable.

Murphy’s Law:  If anything can go wrong, it will.

The Dilbert Principle:  The most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management.

Hofstadter’s Law:  A task always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

Parkinson’s Law:  Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Amara’s Law:  We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

Stigler’s Law of Eponymy:  No scientific discovery, not even Stigler’s law, is named after its original discoverer (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Laying Down the Law
What are some general rules or principles that you have noticed based on your experience of living in the real world?  Attach your name to the one that you think is the most original and most insightful.  Then, explain and define your law, and give examples of when and where the law comes into play and how it can assist people in living better lives. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Example:

Backman’s Law of Student Speeches:   The likelihood of a sudden, unexpected and unexplainable attack of laryngitis increases the closer a student approaches the period or time when he or she is required to give a speech.

This law helps one anticipate the strange phenomenon which renders students incapable of giving their assigned speeches.  Debilitated by the sudden onset of speechlessness, a student will hobble into class and approach the teacher.  Pointing to his throat and frowning pathetically, the student will then bravely make an attempt to utter a single sentence.  Risking further throat injury, the student will whisper, “I don’t think I’m going to be able -cough! cough! – to go today.” The student will then turn and limp to his seat.  The bout of laryngitis usually ends at the tolling of the class’s final bell, miraculously disappearing just as suddenly as it appeared sixty minutes earlier.  Multiple medical studies by reputable research centers have failed to determine a reasonable cause for this debilitating yet temporary affliction; however, a team of research scientists at John Hopkins is currently conducting a study that promises to produce some breakthrough findings.

Quotation of the Day: A pessimist is a man who looks both ways before crossing a one-way street. –Laurence J. Peter

 

1 – American Heritage Dictionary

2-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_eponymous_laws

September 15:  Opposing Argument Day

On this date in 1982, USA Today, the American daily newspaper, was first published.  Besides the fact that it was launched to be the newspaper for the entire nation — not just one city — several other characteristics made it unique.  Its news stories were written to be short and easy-to-read.  Each section featured extensive use of color, including an eye-catching infographic in the lower left-hand corner called a “Snapshot.”  Critics derided the paper, dubbing it “McPaper.”  Today, however, USA Today is still published five days a week and has one of the widest circulations of any newspaper in the United States.

USA Today 2012logo.svgAnother unique feature pioneered by USA Today is its “Our View”/”Opposing View” editorials.  In addition to presenting the USA Today Editorial Board’s position on an issue (“Our View”), the paper presents an additional editorial on the same issue that argues an alternative point of view written by a guest writer and expert in the field.  One example of this is on the issue of Testing for U.S. Citizenship.  The Our View editorial headline read, “Make Schoolkids Pass the Same Test As New Citizens,” while the “Opposing View” headline read, “Good Citizenship Transcends a Test.”

Today’s Challenge:  
What are the opposing arguments on an issue that you care about?  One of the best ways to truly understand an issue is to look at it from the opposing point of view and consider the arguments made from the other side.  Doing this will help you see the issue from a broader perspective and will help you avoid narrow mindedness or groupthink.  Looking at contrary arguments will also help you solidify your own thinking, equipping you to anticipate objections, counter with strong rebuttals, and even concede certain arguments if necessary.  This does not come naturally to most people, but if you practice, it will help you craft arguments that are more forceful, more cogent, and more credible.  

Write an editorial that summaries the opposing argument on an issue you care about.  Begin by thinking about your actual position on the issue; then, anticipate the strongest objections to your argument that would be made by the opposing side.  Make a real effort to climb into the shoes of your opposition and to argue the issue fairly and respectfully from that point of view.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.  -Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird

 

September 14: Anthem Day

On this day, “by the dawn’s light,” Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to the United States’ national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  The inspiration for Key’s great words was the British fleet’s shelling of Fort McHenry, which guarded the harbor of Baltimore, Maryland.  The year was 1814, and the war was the War of 1812.  Key watched the bombardment from an odd perspective.  An American lawyer, Key had boarded a British ship prior to the battle to negotiate the release of another American being held by the British.  Once on the ship, Key was detained by the British until the battle ended the next morning.  Key’s vantage point was from the enemy’s side, where the British fleet aimed its guns at the flag flying over the American fort, a flag that at that time had 15 stars and 15 stripes.

Francis Scott Key by Joseph Wood c1825.jpgA few days after Key wrote his poem, it was published in American newspapers.  Soon people began singing the poem’s words to the tune of an English drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.”  The song did not become the national anthem immediately, however.  More than one hundred years later, in 1931, the U.S. Congress made it the official anthem.

Key’s words so familiar that we seldom examine the remarkable picture he illuminates with his imagery.  Read them again paying special attention to how he evokes both pictures and sounds:

O say can you see by the dawn’s early light,

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?

And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Today’s Challenge:  An A+ Alternative Anthem
An anthem is a rousing, reverential song of devotion or loyalty to a group, a school, or a nation.  While the “Star-Spangled Banner” is certainly reverential, many have criticized it as a song that is too difficult to sing. What would you argue would be a good alternative national anthem?  Identify the specific song, its composer, and your specific reasoning for making this song the alternative national anthem. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day:  
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream;
‘Tis the Star-Spangled Banner! Oh long may it wave

-Words from the 2nd stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner”

1-Bennet, William and John Cribb.  The American Patriot’s Almanac. New York:  Thomas Nelson, 2008: 350.

 

 

September 13:  Literary Hoax Day

On this day in 1956, the novel I, Libertine was published.  What makes this novel such a literary oddity is that it made the New York Times bestseller list before a single word of it had been written.

Frewing.jpgThe story begins with the writer Jean Shepherd, best known as the narrator and co-writer of the film A Christmas Story.  In 1956 Shepherd hosted a late-night talk radio show in New York City.  Annoyed that bestseller lists were being influenced not just by book sales but also by the number of requests for a book at bookstores, Shepherd hatched one of the great literary hoaxes in history. Shepherd encourages his radio listeners to visit their local bookstores and request a book that did not exist, a novel whose title and author were totally fabricated:   I, Libertine by Frederick R. Ewing.

The plot thickened once the nonexistent book hit the bestseller list.  With the imaginary book now in demand, publisher Ian Ballantine met with Shepherd and novelist Theodore Sturgeon.  Sturgeon was hired to write the novel based on the rough plot outline provided by Shepherd, and on this date the fabricated fictional work became fact.

Today’s Challenge:  Fabricated First Lines
What would be the opening line of your bestselling novel?  Try your own hand at fabricated fiction.  Grab a novel that you haven’t read.  Look at the title, and then compose a captivating first sentence.  Next, grab a friend.  Read your friend your sentence along with the actual opening sentence (in no particular order) to see if your friend can tell which is the actual opening sentence.  Your goal is to pass your prose off as professional!

Quote of the Day:  My own luck has been curious all my literary life; I never could tell a lie that anyone would doubt, nor a truth that anybody would believe.  –Mark Twain

1-http://www.theawl.com/2013/02/the-man-behind-the-brilliant-media-hoax-of-i-libertine

 

September 12:  Croissants and Cappuccino Day

On this date in 1683 a vast Ottoman army of 250,000 troops was defeated in its attempt to take Vienna, Austria.  The Austrian army was assisted by Polish forces, led by King John Sobieski, who came at the request of Pope Alexander VIII.  After a battle that lasted fifteen hours, the Turks retreated, leaving behind weapons, stores of food, and thousands of their dead.  After his victory, the Polish King sent a dispatch to the Pope that read,  “I came, I saw, God conquered.”

Battle of Vienna 1683 11.PNGTo celebrate the victory, Vienna’s bakers cooked up a new culinary creation, a crescent shaped roll that mimicked the crescent moon on the Turkish flag. Later, in 1770, the new roll was introduced to France when Marie Antoinette, originally of Austria, married the future Louis XVI.  Only then did the roll become the croissant, French for crescent.

A second culinary creation resulted from the large quantities of coffee left behind by the Turkish army as they fled.  Finding the coffee bitter, the Christian soldiers added milk and honey to make it more palatable.  For the name of this new concoction, they turned to a Capuchin monk named Marco d’Aviano, who had been sent by the Pope as emissary to assist the commanders of the Christian army.  The tasty drink was named Cappuccino in honor of friar Marco d’Aviano’s order, Capuchin (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Classic Culinary Combos
What food combination would you argue is most worth celebrating?  Make your case for what makes your menu items so great and so complementary, and include some details from research on the history of the menu item.  Go beyond the obvious to give your reader some details about the food that goes beyond common knowledge.  Instead of baloney, serve up the best caviar to your audience. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Someone who drank too much coffee decided on the spelling of the word Coffee. -Jim Gaffigan

 

1- Marsh, W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  365:  Your Date with History.  Cambridge, UK:  Totem Books, 2004.

September 11:   Motivational Movie Monologue Day

On this date in the year 1297, the Scottish defeated the English in The Battle of Stirling Bridge.  Heavily outnumbered by English infantry and cavalry, the Scottish army led by William Wallace and Andrew de Moray nevertheless won the battle (1).

In the film Braveheart, William Wallace, portrayed by Mel Gibson, gives a rousing speech to the Scottish troops.  With the odds clearly against them, the Scottish troops are at first reluctant to fight.  After listening to Wallace’s succinct, clear, and forceful speech, however, they storm into battle:

Fight and you may die. Run and you will live at least a while. And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here as young men and tell our enemies that they may take our lives but they will never take our freedom!

Although the film is based on actual historical events surrounding the battle, the speech itself is fictional.  

Today’s Challenge:  Get Them Moving with a Moving Monologue
How do you motivate people to do something they may not want to do?  Write your own rousing fictional monologue based on a character who is in a situation where he or she needs to motivate an audience to act.  Begin by brainstorming some speakers and some situations, such as a son trying to persuade his father to raise his allowance, a door to door salesperson trying to persuade a homeowner to buy a security system, or a teacher trying to persuade her students to do their homework.  Then, write your speech from the point of view of the speaker you have chose, combining logic and passion to move the audience to action. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quote of the Day:  You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die.  Or when. You can only decide how you’re going to live.  Now.  -Joan Baez

1- http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/battleswars12011400/p/stirlingbridge.htm