April 11:  101 Day

In a typical non-leap year, April 11th is the 101st day of the year.

1984first.jpgIn George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, Room 101 was the most feared room in the Ministry of Love. It was the room where Winston Smith was taken to be “rehabilitated” by O’Brien.

In the following passage from the novel, Winston learns what form of torture he will be facing:

‘You asked me once,’ said O’Brien, ‘what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world. . . .’

‘The worst thing in the world,’ said O’Brien, ‘varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.’

‘In your case,’ said O’Brien, ‘the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.’

The fate of everyone who enters Room 101 is to face his or her worst fear and to believe, in the end, in something that is not true. In Winston’s case, O’Brien makes him believe through torture that 2+2 = 5, and that he (Winston) loves Big Brother.

Interestingly enough, at the beginning of the 1999 film The Matrix, Neo lives in Room 101. This is probably not coincidental since later in the film Neo learns that his life and the entire known world inside the Matrix is a lie.

The world of books gave us the dark side of the number 101 from the mind of George Orwell, but it also gives us a much more positive side in the form of book titles.

A quick search on Amazon.com will yield an amazing variety of titles with the number 101. There are two main reasons this number is so prominent.

First, it refers to basic introductory material on any topic, as in basic introductory college courses like English 101 or Psychology 101.

Second, it refers to the number of options that will be provided on a topic, such as 101 Things to Do Before You Die.

A recent search on Amazon.com yielded more than 100,000 titles containing the number 101. Here are some examples from the first category – basic intro material:

Missed Fortune 101: A Starter Kit to Becoming a Millionaire

Leadership 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know

Triathlon 101: Essentials for Multisport Success

Law 101: Everything You Need to Know About the American Legal System

Anger Busting 101: The New ABCs for Angry Men & the Women Who Love Them

Hollywood 101: The Film Industry

Rick Steve’s Europe 101: History of Art for the Traveler

Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera

Life 101: Real World Skills for Graduating College Seniors

Genealogy 101: How to Trace Your Family’s History and Heritage

And here are 10 titles from the second category – 101 options:

101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged

101 Things to Do With a Slow Cooker

101 Great American Poems

101 Secrets a Cool Mom Knows

101 Useless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu

101 Ways to Bug Your Parents

101 Must-Know Blues Licks

101 Power Thoughts

101 French Idioms

101 Cost-Effective Ways to Increase the Value of Your Home

Today’s Challenge: Brainstorming 101 or Your 101 Course

Brainstorming 101: What brainstorming question can you generate that will yield at least 101 answers? On the 101st day of the year, brainstorm your own 101 options list. Create your own question, such as “What are 101 different ways to say ‘thank you’?” or “What are 101 reasons to procrastinate?”  or “What are 101 alternative uses for a paper clip?” Number each item on your list. If you run out of ideas, ask other people for ideas on how to answer the question, and use their ideas to generate more of your own.

Your 101 Course:  If you were to present a basic course for beginners, what would be your topic, and what would be the course’s content?  Create a title for your course, and write a course description that outlines the specific content of the course. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing. -Socrates in Plato’s Republic

April 10: Why Literature Matters Day

On this day in 2005, Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, published an editorial in the New York Times entitled “Why Literature Matters.”

The purpose of Gioia’s editorial was to sound the alarm concerning survey statistics showing declining interest among Americans in reading literature.  Furthermore, Gioia’s purpose was to explore the consequences of declining literacy and to argue for the residual benefits that increased literacy can foster.  More than just promoting the reading of literature, Gioia argues that good reading habits foster higher-order thinking skills, creativity, imagination and empathy:

Unlike the passive activities of watching television and DVDs or surfing the Web, reading is actually a highly active enterprise. Reading requires sustained and focused attention as well as active use of memory and imagination. Literary reading also enhances and enlarges our humility by helping us imagine and understand lives quite different from our own.

Gioia also argues that reading literature not only helps to form individual character but also contributes to the character of our nation:

Just as more ancient Greeks learned about moral and political conduct from the epics of Homer than from the dialogues of Plato, so the most important work in the abolitionist movement was the novel ”Uncle Tom’s Cabin” . . . . Today when people recall the Depression, the images that most come to mind are of the travails of John Steinbeck’s Joad family from ”The Grapes of Wrath.” Without a literary inheritance, the historical past is impoverished.

In essence, Gioia’s editorial argued that there are dire consequences to consider when a nation stops reading stories because, as she puts it:  “Literature is a catalyst for education and culture.” There was a time when reading was our national pastime. Today, there are so many other forms of media competing for our attention; nevertheless, we should all pause to consider why literature matters (1).

Today’s Challenge:  What’s The Matter

What are some examples of topics that you care about, things that you think really matter?  Brainstorm a list of topics that you are passionate about.  Select one topic and make your case for why it matters. For example, you might argue:  Why Baseball Matters, Why Punctuation Matters, Why Voting Matters, Why Dogs Matter, or Why Singing Matters.  Make sure to support your claim with specific reasoning and evidence.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become. -C. S. Lewis

1-http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2005/04/10/why_literature_matters?pg=full