September 15:  Opposing Argument Day

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On this day 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.

Another 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:  Seeing Both Sides

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)

 

September 14: Anthem Day

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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.

A 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 (1).

Key’s words are 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? (2)

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 1 – Argument)

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

2- Key, Francis Scott, 1779-1843. “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Public Domain.

September 13:  Literary Hoax Day

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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.

The 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.

I, Libertine (book cover).jpgThe 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 (1).

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! (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Callan, Mathew. The Man Behind the Brilliant Media Hoax of ‘I Libertine.’ The Awl 14 Feb. 2014.

September 12:  Croissants and Cappuccino Day

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On this day 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” (See July 13:  I Came, I Saw, I Conquered Day).

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 items.  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)

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

 

September 11: Motivational Movie Monologue Day

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On this day 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.  Wallace challenges their reticence, asking them to think ahead to the future when they will regret that they did not fight for their freedom. They will wish for the chance to return to this spot and fight their enemy. After listening to Wallace’s succinct, clear, and forceful speech, they storm into battle.

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

Today’s Challenge:  Moving Them 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 chosen, combining logic and passion to move the audience to action. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1- Hickman, Kennedy. Scottish Independence: Battle of Stirling Bridgehttps://www.thoughtco.com/scottish-independence-battle-of-stirling-bridge-2360736. Thoughtco.com. 22 Mar. 2018.

September 10:  Notorious Eponym Day

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On this day in 1945, Vidkun Quisling was convicted of high treason for his collaboration with the Germans during World War II.  A Norwegian politician, Quisling met with Hitler in April 1940, just prior to the Nazi invasion of Norway, and he was appointed Minister-President during the Nazi occupation of Norway.  After the unconditional surrender of Germany in May 1945, Quisling was arrested and put on trial for his treasonous activities during the war and for his collaboration with the Nazis.  After his conviction, he was executed by firing squad on October 24, 1945.  Since that time his name has been synonymous with anyone who collaborates with the enemy (1).

The word quisling is a classic example of an eponym, a word derived from a real or imaginary person. For example, the word shrapnel evolved from Henry Shrapnel, an English artillery officer who developed an exploding shell that sent out bits of metal. Most often the capitalized proper noun that refers to the specific person becomes lowercase as it is transformed into a general noun, adjective, or verb.

Today’s Challenge:  Name Hall of Shame

Who is a person so notorious that his or her name is synonymous with despicable behavior?  Most eponyms have fairly positive, or at least neutral, connotations, such as sandwich, sideburns, and sequoia.  The list of eponyms below, however, have entered the language with decidedly negative connotations. Select one, and do a bit of etymological research to see if you can discover the person and the story behind the word. Write a brief speech that defines the word and explains why it deserves a spot in the Name Hall of Shame.

bowdlerize, chauvinism, draconian, gerrymander, lynch, narcissism, procrustean  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1- History in an Hour.com. Vidkun Quisling, the Norweigian Nazi. 24 Oct. 2010. .

September 9:  State Motto Day

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Today is the anniversary of California’s admission as the 31st state of the Union. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 caused its population to explode, and in 1849 settlers applied for admission to the Union after drafting a state constitution that prohibited slavery. Because making California a state would upset the balance of free and slave states, statehood was delayed until September 9, 1850, when the Compromise of 1850 opened the door for California statehood.

In addition to a state constitution, Californians adopted a state seal in 1849 with the motto “Eureka,” — The Greek word for “I Have Found It” — an appropriate interjection for a state whose reputation was made on gold strikes (1).

California is not the only state with a motto in a tongue other than English.  In fact, ‘English Only’ proponents might be surprised to learn that more than half of the states in the union have mottos in other languages.

Here are the statistics on the polyglot mottos:

Latin: 22

French: 2

Greek: 1

Hawaiian: 1

Spanish: 1

Italian: 1

Native American – Chinook: 1

Six states feature one-word mottos. Only one state, Vermont, has its state’s name in its motto, and Florida is the only state with the same motto as the United States of America: “In God We Trust.”

Today’s Challenge:  Motto Mania

What’s your idea for a new state motto?  Generate some possible new state mottos for your home state or the other 49 states.  Host a state motto contest.  The mottos may be funny or serious, but they should all be memorable; after all, they may someday be emblazoned on a license plate.  (Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

1-Brittanica.com.  California History.

September 8:  International Literacy Day

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Today is International Literacy Day sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). First observed in 1966, International Literacy Day calls attention to the need to promote literacy and education around the world as an antidote to poverty and as an agent for empowerment and global progress (1).

Education and literacy are central to the stability, prosperity, and well-being of any country. As explained by Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director-General:

Literacy is not merely a cognitive skill of reading, writing and arithmetic, for literacy helps in the acquisition of learning and life skills that, when strengthened by usage and application throughout people’s lives, lead to forms of individual, community and societal development that are sustainable.

While literacy rates are on the rise around the world, there are still millions of people who are unable to read and write.  The goal of International Literacy Day is to both celebrate literacy and to promote ideas for stamping out illiteracy.

Today’s Challenge: Read All About It

What can people do to celebrate and promote literacy? Research some quotations on the topic of literacy.  Reflect on these quotations and then, write the text of a Public Service Announcement (PSA) to promote literacy and International Literacy Day.  Incorporate at least one of the quotations you found on literacy into your PSA.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- UNESCO. International Literacy Day 2017. https://en.unesco.org/themes/literacy-all/literacy-day

September 7:  Words Chiseled in Granite Day

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On this day in 1914, the main post office building in New York City opened its doors.  The building’s main claim to fame is the inscription chiseled in gray granite on its enormous façade, which reads:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

Although many will recognize these words as the motto of the United States Postal Service, officials are quick to point out that there is no official U.S.P.S. motto.  Nevertheless, it would be difficult to find another building in the world that more effectively uses the words engraved on its outside walls to capture and to motivate the mission that is fulfilled inside.

The words of the inscription originate from the Greek historian Herodotus and refer to Persian mounted postal couriers who served faithfully in the wars between the Greeks and the Persians (500-449 B.C.).

In 1982, New York’s main post office building was officially designated The James A. Farley Building, in memory of the nation’s 53rd Postmaster General.  The building’s ZIP code designation is 10001 (1).

When you think of mottos, think of “motivation.”  Mottos are intended to prime the populous for positive action.  A motto is a phrase or sentence that sums up the motivation, purpose, or guiding principles of a group, organization, or institution.  Whether a family motto, school motto, state motto, or company motto, they are always clear, concise, and constructive. It’s appropriate to think of a motto as something you might chisel in stone because unlike slogans, which are usually spoken, mottos are written, such as the state mottos (See September 9:  State Motto Day) you see on license plates or a national motto you see on coins or paper money (The official motto of the United States is “In God We Trust.”).  Because mottos date back to ancient times, you will often see them written in other languages, such as the motto of the United States Marine Corps, the Latin Semper Fidelis (“Always Faithful”).

Today’s Challenge:  Words Worth Setting in Stone

What words do you think are important enough to chisel in stone? What motto would you etch on the outside of your school or your place of business?  Hold a contest to determine the best motto. Either research a quotation by another person to use as your motto, or write your own using your own original words. Remember that a motto must be pithy and must express a rule to guide the behavior of persons who inhabit the building. (Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

1- United States Postal Service. Postal Service Mission and Motto. Oct. 1999.

September 6:  Reduplicative Day

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On this day in 1916, Piggly Wiggly, the first self-service grocery store, opened in Memphis, Tennessee.  The store pioneered several of the features that we take for granted when grocery shopping today, such as individually priced items, checkout stands, and shopping carts.

In addition to its unique in-store features, the store also had a unique name.  The store’s founder, Clarence Saunders (1881-1953) never explained how he came upon the rhyme “Piggly Wiggly,” but there is little doubt that the unusual name contributed to making his store memorable (1).

Many words in English feature this supersonic, sing-song sound effect.  There are so many, in fact, that this class of words has its own name:  reduplicatives.

Piggly Wiggly logoThese words come in three basic varieties:  rhyming reduplicatives, like hocus-pocus, fuddy-duddy, and helter-skelter; vowel shift reduplicatives, like flip-flop, Ping-Pong, and zig zag; and repetitive reduplicatives (also known as tautonyms), like can-can, never-never, and yo-yo (2).

There are over two thousand reduplicatives in English.  Here is an alphabetically arranged list of examples:  

bye-bye, chitchat, dilly-dally, flim-flam, flip-flop, fuddy-duddy, hoity-toity, higgledy-piggledy, hanky-panky, hokey-pokey, hob-nob, heebie-jeebiesy, hocus-pocus, hugger-mugger, hurly-burly, hodge-podge, hurdy-gurdy, hubbub, hullabaloo, harumscarum, hurry-scurry, hooley-dooley, Humpty Dumpty, mishmash, nitty-gritty, riffraff, seesaw, shilly-shally, so-so, super-duper, teeny-weeny, willy-nilly, wishy-washy

Today’s Challenge:  Words Heard by Word Nerds

What’s your favorite reduplicative?  Write an extended definition that provides the word’s meaning, examples of how the word is used, and an explanation of how the word’s sound relates to its memorability and uniqueness. (Common Core Writing 1 – Expository)

1- Pigglywiggly.com. About Us.

2- Steinmetz, Sol and Barbara Ann Kipfer.  The Life of Language. New York:  Random House, 2006:  282-290.