Today is Groundhog Day, a day when all eyes watch for the emergence of a large furry rodent from its winter den. According to folklore, if the groundhog sees his shadow when he emerges, he’ll be frightened and retreat back into his den, signaling six more weeks of winter. If, however, he does not see his shadow, he will end his winter hibernation, singling the arrival of an early spring.
The origin of this strange ritual dates back to ancient Europe when the survival of communities was more closely tied to the changing of the seasons. Since February 2nd is the midpoint of winter, halfway between the solstice and the equinox, it was an important time to take stock of winter provisions to determine whether or not there was enough food to make it to spring. It makes sense, therefore, that it is a time to prognosticate about the arrival of spring.
When looking for signs of spring, it’s logical to watch for mammals ending their winter hibernation. In France, the traditional animal was the marmot; in England, it was the hedgehog; and in Germany, it was the badger. The groundhog tradition in the United States began with the Pennsylvania Dutch who came to America from Germany. Finding no badgers in the eastern U.S., they adopted the groundhog (also known as the whistle pig or the woodchuck).
The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held each February 2nd in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania where it began in 1887. Locals gather at Gobbler’s Knob, anxiously awaiting Punxsutawney Phil’s prognostication. Unfortunately an analysis of weather statistics reveals that a flip of a coin would be a better weather prognosticator: Since 1887, Phil’s accuracy rate is just 39% (1).
Having knowledge about the future is one thing, but being able to impact the future is another thing entirely. Through writing each individual has the ability to influence future change by communicating his or her ideas to an audience. Aristotle called this type of rhetoric deliberative. Unlike arguing about what has happened in the past (forensic rhetoric) or arguing what we value in the present (demonstrative rhetoric), deliberative rhetoric is about making a case for the future, about what decisions will be made or what choices are the best alternatives for a bright future. Deliberative rhetoric is seen in famous speeches like Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, where King was attempting to show his audience his vision of a brighter tomorrow in a world free of racism.
Today’s Challenge: Prognosticate For Change
If you could make one specific change in order to make the world a better place, what would it be? Write a speech in which you argue for one specific change that would improve your town, school, state, nation, or world. Prognosticate how specifically the change you envision, would improve things. Make the case for your change by contrasting the status quo, what is, with the possible future, what could be. Give your audience a specific vision to show them how bright the future looks with your change. Use facts and evidence from today to boost the likelihood of your prediction and to show your audience that your change is the best alternative.
The following are a few ideas to spark your thinking:
We should make college tuition free for all students.
We should change the voting age to 16.
We should limit the U.S. president to one term in office.
We should outlaw football.
We should discontinue the Olympics.
(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
Quotation of the Day: To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring. -George Santayana