April 7:  Review Day

On this day in 1967, Roger Ebert wrote his first movie review in the Chicago Sun Times.

Roger Ebert cropped.jpgEbert was born in Urbana, Illinois in 1942.  While attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he was the editor of the college newspaper.  He began his professional career in journalism in 1966 as a reporter and feature writer at the Chicago Sun-Times.  It was only a short time, however, before he began writing about movies. In the spring of 1967, he took the position as the Sun-Times movie critic, replacing Eleanor Keane.  Ebert’s first review was of the film Galia (1966).

Even though Ebert became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, his real fame came when he began to review movies on television. Ebert teamed with Gene Siskel, movie critic for the Chicago Tribune, to broadcast a local television show reviewing movies.  

In 1982, the local show moved to a national audience.  The format was simple: Two movie reviewers sitting in a theater talking about movies.  After showing a movie clip, Siskel and Ebert would discuss the movie, giving it either a “thumbs-up” or “thumb-down” review.  When the two critics disagreed, sparks flew. When the two critics agreed, giving “Two Thumbs Up, the film became a must-see movie for millions (1).

Today’s Challenge:  All Thumbs Up or Down?

What are some specific works of art or design — a movie, album, television show, video game, or product — you know enough about to review?  Select something you feel strongly about — either good or bad — and write a detailed review, explaining what specifically you like or dislike.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best ingredients and having someone sit on it. -Danielle Steel


April 2:  Writing Marathon Day

On this day in 1951, Jack Kerouac began a 21-day writing marathon, producing a 120-foot typewritten scroll that would become his best-known work, On The Road.  In a letter to his friend, Neal Cassady, Kerouac described the process and product:   “Went fast because the road is fast… wrote whole thing on strip of paper 120 foot long (tracing paper that belonged to Cannastra.)–just rolled it through typewriter and in fact no paragraphs… rolled it out on floor and it looks like a road.”  The scroll contained 125,000 words, which means that Kerouac averaged approximately 6,000 words per day. On The Road was officially published in 1957(1).  The original scroll was purchased for $2.43 million by Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, in 2002 (2).

OnTheRoad.jpgThe month of April also marks the anniversary of the first Olympic marathon, run in Athens, Greece on April 10, 1896. The origin of the word marathon comes from Greek legend. According to the story, a Greek foot-soldier Pheidippides was sent as a messenger from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persian army. As he approached Athens, having run a distance of nearly 25 miles, Pheidippides collapsed and died. He did not die, however, without completing his mission; with his last gasp he uttered “niki,” the Greek word for victory.

Incidentally, the word niki is derived from the name of the Greek goddess of victory: Nike – a name that would later become the trademark of a running shoe manufacturer in Oregon.

Today’s Challenge:  26 Topics Abecedarian Marathon

What are some topics you might use in a writing marathon?  A marathon is 26 miles, so come up with at least one topic that starts with each of the 26 letters of the alphabet.  Write out your list of topics in preparation for your next writing marathon. (Common Core Writing 5 – Production and Distribution)

Quotation of the Day:  If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.Emil Zatopek

1- https://vonquale.wordpress.com/2010/08/20/letter-jack-kerouac-to-neal-cassady/


March 26:  Dead Poet’s Day

On this day in 1892, American poet Walt Whitman died in his home in Camden, New Jersey.  Whitman was America’s first great poet, and today his poems live on, expressing one of the most distinctive and democratic of all American voices.   

Dead poets society.jpgWhitman was a pioneer of free verse, which abandons traditional poetic forms and meter.  Instead, free verse is inspired by the music, rhythm, and natural cadences of the human voice.  As Edward Hirsch puts it in his book A Poet’s Glossary, “The free-verse poem fits no mold; it has no pre-existent pattern.  The reader supplies the verbal speeds, intonations, emphasis.” (1)

Whitman published the first edition of his great work Leaves of Grass in 1855, and throughout his life he returned to the work editing poems in the collection and adding new ones.  When he lay dying at the age of 72, he received the final, ninth edition of Leaves of Grass.  Virtually every American poet of the 20th century, as well as many others around the world, was inspired by and influenced by Whitman’s poems.

In the 1989 film Dead Poets Society, the English teacher Mr. Keating (played by Robin Williams) is also influenced by Whitman. In an inspirational short speech to his students, Mr. Keating explains why they read and study poetry:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless — of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer.  That you are here — that life exists, and you may contribute a verse.

Mr. Keating also asks his students to refer to him as “O Captain, My Captain,” an allusion to the poem Walt Whitman wrote after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  The poem is an elegy, a funeral song or lament for death, and it is written as an extended metaphor where Lincoln is the ship captain who directed his ship of state safely through the stormy Civil War.

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead. (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Dead Poet and Living Verse

Who are the greatest poets from the past?  Write an elegy or brief speech dedicated to the memory of a great poet from the past.  As you might expect, many such poets are referenced and quoted in the film Dead Poet Society, including Lord Byron, William Shakespeare, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Robert Frost — who, coincidentally, was born on this day in 1874. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  There is only one way to be prepared for death: to be sated. In the soul, in the heart, in the spirit, in the flesh. To the brim. -Henry De Montherlant

1-Hirsch, Edward.  A Poet’s Glossary.

2-The Academy of American Poets – Walt Whitman


March 22:  Poetry 180 Day

Today is the birthday of American poet Billy Collins. He was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001-2003. Born in 1941 in Queens, New York, Collins didn’t publish his first book of poetry, The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988), until he was in his forties.

As poet laureate, Collins created a unique anthology to revive verse in American schools, called Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry. With this program, Collins set out to end the notion that high school is “the place where poetry goes to die.” Instead, he wanted students to see that poetry was meant to be read for enjoyment, read aloud over the school intercom, and shared. In short, Collins hoped to “suggest to young people the notion that poetry can be a part of everyday life as well as a subject to be studied in the classroom” (1).

Collins published a second anthology of poems in 2005 so that readers can enjoy year-round poetry. It’s called: 180 More: Extraordinary Poems.

Today’s Challenge:   Poetry 365

What are some examples of great poems that are worth memorizing?  Brainstorm a list of great poems that are worthy of committing to memory.  These should be poems that are so good that you could recite them every day of the year and still appreciate their use of language.  Identify one specific poem that you believe that everyone should know. Explain your case for what makes this poem so special. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quote of the Day:   The first line is the DNA of the poem; the rest of the poem is constructed out of that first line. A lot of it has to do with tone because tone is the key signature for the poem. The basis of trust for a reader used to be meter and end-rhyme. -Billy Collins

1- Collins, Billy.  Poetry 180:  A Turning Back to Poetry.  New York:  Random House, 2003.


March 12:  Analogy Day

Today is the birthday of Irish writer and politician Richard Steele (1672-1729). In 1709, Steele founded The Tatler, a newspaper that featured a new style of journalism. More than just reporting the news, The Tatler featured essays, reviews, gossip, and satire.

In the March 18, 1710 edition of The Tatler, Steele wrote a sentence to illustrate the benefits of literacy:

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.

Steel’s analogy is perfect because reading is not just about retaining information; instead, it is about training your mind to lift more mental weight.  When you consistently lift weights in the gym, your muscles adapt, allowing you to lift more and more weight. Similarly, when you consistently read, your mind adapts, allowing you to lift and grapple with weightier ideas. Reading nourishes and strengthens the mind, giving you a mental six-pack of memory, imagination, logic, creativity, language, and knowledge.

Steele’s memorable and insightful sentence is a classic example of an analogy.  Analogies reflect the ways humans learn: trying to understand what we don’t know by comparing it to what we do know.  

Analogies are similar to metaphors and similes, but unlike similes and metaphors — which captivate us with surprising imagery, the primary purpose of an analogy is to explain via logical balance.  Analogies are also a bit more mathematical than similes and metaphors; in Greek analogia means “proportionate,” and a good analogy reveals a corresponding relationship between two pairs of things.  As Steele’s analogy illustrates, the basic formula for an analogy is: A is to B as C is to D.

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. uses an analogy to illustrate the way racial prejudice blinds us:

Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

To paraphrase King’s analogy, we might state it as follows:

Racial prejudice is to human love and brotherhood as fog and dark clouds are to seeing the beauty of the night sky.

The ability to think using analogies requires a high level of cognition.  It requires the thinker to synthesize complex concepts and to make parallel connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.   

It is no wonder, then, that analogies have been used to measure intelligence. The Miller Analogies Test, for example, is a graduate school admissions test made up of analogy word problems.

An analogy word problem follows a predictable format:

A : B :: C : D (A is to B as C is to D)

Steele’s analogy would be stated:  READING : MIND :: EXERCISE : BODY.

Try this analogy word problem:

story : fable :: poem : _______

  1. poet
  2. novel
  3. rhyme
  4. sonnet

The key to solving these analogies is to identify the bridge idea that connects both pairs.  In the problem above, for example, if you understand that a “fable” is a type or genre of story, you will probably realize that the answer is D because a “sonnet” is a type or genre of “poem.”

When you are solving analogies, try writing your answer in the form of a balanced sentence, a sentence that has two parallel independent clauses, such as “A fable is a type of story; a sonnet is a type of poem.”  Doing this will allow you show your thinking by explicitly stating the bridge idea.

Try the following:

  1. puppy : litter :: soldier : (A. group B. war C. army D. battle)
  2. entomology : insects : : etymology : (A. birds B. words C. foods D. ants)
  3. Grendel : Beowulf :: Hydra : (A. Achilles B. Vulcan C. Atlas D. Hercules)
  4. adverb : sadly :: conjunction : (A. the B. none C. but D. happily)
  5. Mark Twain : Huckleberry Finn :: William Shakespeare : (A. Tom Sawyer B. Jim C. Hamlet D. Hester Prynne)

Today’s Challenge:   Four-part Formula for Framing Analogies

As Windex is to a clear, picturesque view so are analogies to clear writing.  What are some topics that you know well enough to explain to someone less knowledgeable?  Brainstorm a list of topics that you might explain using an analogy. Use the basic four-part formula:

As ________ is to __________, so ________ is to _________.


As kindling is to fire so is brainstorming to creativity.

As weeding is to gardening, so is editing to writing.

As fast food is to the stomach, so is television to the mind.

As yeast is to bread, so is honesty to friendship.

As wood fuels a fire, so memory fuels the imagination.

As dancing is to walking, so dancing is to walking.

As the selection of bait is to fishing, so is audience analysis to public speaking.

Once you have written your complete analogy, follow it with some explanation that elaborates and expands the comparison.

Example Analogy with Explanation:

As the correct number of employees is to an effective business, so are the right number of words to effective writing.

Imagine each word you write is an employee of the company you own.  Each word needs a job to do. You can’t afford to pay a salary to words or employees who do nothing.  Your job, therefore, as the writer is to keep your workforce — your “wordforce” — at a size no larger than what it takes to get the job done.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Analogies, it is true, decide nothing, but they can make one feel more at home. -Sigmund Freud

March 11:  I Remember Day

American poet and artist Joe Brainard was born on this day in 1942. Brainard was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but he spent most of his adult life in New York City where he collaborated with a number of writers and artists.  As a visual artist, Brainard gained renown for his work in painting, drawing, and collage.

Brainard is best known for his 1975 memoir I Remember, a kind of verbal collage, juxtaposing vivid details from his life.  I Remember is a book-length prose-poem made up of one long list of sentences, each of which begins with “I remember . . . “

I remember the only time I ever saw my mother cry.  I was eating apricot pie.

I remember how much I used to stutter.

I remember the first time I saw television.  Lucille ball was taking ballet lessons (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Mining Memory

What are some specific ways you would complete the following sentence: “I remember . . . .”?  The simple two words “I remember” remain one of the best prompts for writers of all ages, opening the door to the mine of memory and helping them to practice recording sensory details that show, not just tell.  Create a list poem, cataloging at least five specific memories. Strive to show, not tell, using specific sensory imagery of what you saw, smelled, tasted, heard, or felt.

-I remember the smell of the freshly cut grass on a spring day in 1971 when I first learned to ride my bike.

-I remember my dad in the front yard, pushing the lawn mower, as I pushed my Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat onto its two wheels.

-I remember being too proud to ever use training wheels.

-I remember the overwhelming joy and freedom of finally staying up on the bike, pedaling up and down the street in front of my house in Renton, Washington.

-I remember the feeling of the wind in my hair, and, looking back, I think about the absence of a bike helmet, something that no one wore in the 1970s.

-I remember the smile that would come to my face each morning as I woke up and realized once again that I had a bike and that I knew how to ride it.

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Writers remember everything…especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar.

Art consists of the persistence of memory. -Stephen King


March 8:  Profile Day

Today is the birthday of the American writer John McPhee, who was born in Princeton, New Jersey in 1931.

John Mcphee.jpgMcPhee first wrote professionally for television, writing plays for NBC in the 1950s. After working at NBC, McPhee wrote for Time magazine about show business.  McPhee’s major ambition, however, was to write for the great literary magazine The New Yorker.  He submitted stories for 14 years and received nothing in return except rejections slips.  Finally, in 1965, McPhee received a call from an editor at The New Yorker offering to buy one of his stories.  

The story was a profile of the college basketball star and Rhodes Scholar Bill Bradley (and future United States Senator).  McPhee’s father, who was the team doctor for Princeton’s basketball team, had introduced McPhee to Bradley’s story. McPhee went on to become a staff writer for The New Yorker and an author of more than thirty books.  He has written on a vast array of topics, including Alaska, the Swiss Army, the atom bomb, Russian art, fishing, and geology.  He even wrote an entire book about oranges. McPhee won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1999 for his book Annals of the Former World, a survey of North American geology.

McPhee’s first story in The New Yorker, his profile of Bill Bradley, was expanded into his first book A Sense of Where You Are, published in 1965.

Today’s Challenge:  Twenty Quality Questions

A profile is a specific type of feature story in journalism that focuses on a person.  Like a painted portrait, a profile attempts to capture the unique character, spirit, and personality of its subject. In addition to trying to capture what makes the person tick, the profile also should give the audience an angle — some aspect of the person’s personal or professional life that makes him or her relevant, interesting, or important to society as a whole.

A prerequisite for any good profile is an in-depth interview of the profile’s principal subject.  And prior to an interview, the interviewer should craft specific questions that will get at the kinds of specific details that will be needed to write a good profile. What are some examples of questions you can ask a person you don’t know that will help you get to know about the individual’s unique story and unique personality?   Write a list of 20 interview questions that you could ask any stranger that would help you get to know that person.  Aim for questions that will get at the person’s individual character and his or her unique story. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Certainly the aural part of writing is a big, big thing to me. I can’t stand a sentence until it sounds right, and I’ll go over it again and again . . . I read aloud so I can hear if it’s fitting together or not. It’s just as much a part of the composition as going out and buying a ream of paper. -John McPhee


March 7:  Power of the Pen Day

On this day in 1839, Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s play Richelieu opened in London. Today Bulwer-Lytton’s play is largely forgotten; however, one line from the play lives on as a proverbial saying:  “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Before he was eclipsed by his contemporary, the British novelist Charles Dickens, Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) was the most popular novelist in Britain.  In fact, his 1830 novel Paul Clifford features what is probably the most famous — and most mocked — opening line in all of fiction:  “It was a dark and stormy night.” It’s this opening line that inspired the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest where contestants are challenged to deliberately write a bad opening line for a new novel (see April 15:  Deliberately Bad Writing Day).

Although few people remember its author, Bulwer-Lytton’s famous insight about the power of writing (“The pen is mightier than the sword”) lives on today.  Rhetorically speaking, the line is a classic example of metonymy, a type of figurative language where a thing or idea is not called by its own name, but instead by the name of something closely associated with the thing or idea.  In Bulwer-Lytton’s line, “pen” is closely associated with the written word and “sword” is closely associated with military warfare. When we refer to the film industry as “Hollywood,” the executive branch of the U.S. Government as “the White House,” or McDonald’s as “the golden arches,” we are using metonymy.

Bulwer-Lytton’s great insight reminds us of the power of the pen, the empowering act of putting words to paper and the monumental effect those words can have on an audience.

The following are just three of the many possible reasons you might argue that writing is so mighty:

  1. Writing helps us to learn more effectively

In the book Make It Stick:  The Science of Successful Learning, the authors recount a study that examined the effectiveness of “writing to learn” strategies for over eight hundred students in college psychology classes.  After listening to lectures, students were required to generate written summaries of specific key ideas in their own words. At other points in the study, students were instructed to simply copy down key ideas and examples verbatim from slides. The results of the study revealed that when students were tested on their understanding of key concepts, they scored significantly better on questions dealing with the concepts that they had written about in their own words. In his book Writing To Learn, William Zinsser uses an apt metaphor to explain how writing helps us to learn:  

Writing enables us to find out what we know — and what we don’t know — about whatever we’re trying to learn.  Putting an idea into written words is like defrosting the windshield: the idea, so vague out there in the murk, slowly begins to gather itself into shape.

Writing then not only helps us record our thoughts, it also helps us to clarify and improve our thinking.

  1. Writing helps us think more effectively.

When we write down our thoughts, we can pause to examine them.  Expressed on paper in the form of written words and sentences, our thinking can be read, re-read, and revised.  This written record of our thinking allows us to compare past thoughts with present thoughts and propels us to produce future new thoughts.  As Dennis Sparks, executive director of the National Staff Development Council, put it:

Writing is a way of freezing our thinking, of slowing down the thoughts that pass through our consciousness at lightning speed, so that we can examine our views and alter them if appropriate.  Writing enables us to note inconsistencies, logical flaws, and areas that would benefit from additional clarity.

Writing not only helps us think better, it also helps us think about our own thinking, a high-level thinking process called metacognition.

  1. Writing helps us communicate our ideas to others.

When we write essays, reports, or presentations, we move beyond just thinking about ourselves.  Effective writing requires us to step outside of our own shoes and into the shoes of a reader. It’s a bit like cleaning up your house before you have guests over for dinner; writing for an audience forces you to clarify and organize your thinking.  As writer and historian Jacques Barzun said, “The process of writing is the best means of overcoming the mind’s natural resistance to logic, order, and precision.” Writing for an audience ups the ante, forcing a writer to be clear, to be coherent, and to be cogent.

  1. Writing helps us get a good job and get promoted.

Writing is not only a foundational skill for meaningful employment, it has also become a gatekeeping skill across the workforce.  A 2004 report by the College Board that surveyed 64 major American corporations found that two-thirds of employees have duties that require them to write coherently.  Furthermore, survey respondents reported that 50% of companies take writing ability into consideration when hiring employees. Respondents also reported that an inability to write also hinders employees from being promoted (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Writers and Their Reasons for Writing

What some of the best things people have said about the power of writing and the reasons it is so important?  Select a quotation from a specific person that resonates with you; then, write an explanation of how the quotation relates to your understanding of writing and why it is so important.

Quotation of the Day:  If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.  -George Orwell



March 2:  Dr. Seuss Day

Today is the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as the children’s author Dr. Seuss.  He was born in Springfield, Massachusetts and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1925.  Before he began writing children’s books, Geisel wrote humorous articles and cartoons for Judge magazine.  

Ted Geisel holding the Cat in the Hat at Desk in 1957On May 25, 1954, Life magazine published a story by journalist John Hersey called “Why Do Students Bog Down on the First R?”  The article criticized the boring books used to teach students how to read.  Primers like Fun with Dick and Jane did not have captivating narratives, and despite the title, there wasn’t anything “fun” about them.  In response to Hersey’s article, William Spaulding, director of Houghton Mifflin’s educational division, challenged Geisel to write a story that would captivate young readers.  Spaulding’s challenge included a requirement that the book’s words be limited to 225 distinct words from a list of 348 words from the standard first-grade vocabulary.

Geisel took the challenge, and nine months later he presented Spaulding his book, The Cat in the Hat, which was published in 1957.  Although Geisel exceeded the word limit by eleven words, Spaulding was pleased with the book, which sold over a million copies in its first three years of publication.  

Geisel’s classic book Green Eggs and Ham, published on August 12, 1960, was written with an even more stringent word limit.  Geisel’s editor, Bennett Cerf, challenged him to write a book using 50 or fewer words.  When the book was finished, it used the following 50 words:

a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you. (2)

Dr. Seuss also deserves credit for coining a word that lives on with frequent usage in the 21st century.  His 1950 book If I Ran a Zoo contains the first known instance of the word nerd, which originally referred to one of the zoo creatures in Seuss’s book.

Today’s Challenge:  Kindergarten Convocation

If you were selected to present a convocation address to a group of kindergarteners, what would you say to inspire them at the start of their academic careers?  The word convocation comes from the Latin convocare, meaning “to call or come together.”  Many schools kick off the school year with a convocation address, the purpose of which is to welcome and to inspire students to make the most of their educational opportunities.  Write a convocation address for kindergartners using clear, simple words that will inspire them for the educational adventure they have ahead of them.  Challenge yourself to use the clearest language possible.  For a real challenge, in the Dr. Seuss tradition, try to write using only single syllable words. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  

The more that you read,

The more things you will know.

The more that you learn,

The more places you’ll go.

-Dr. Seuss




March 1:  Cultural Literacy Day

On this day in 1987, the book Cultural Literacy:  What Every American Needs To Know was published by American educator E.D. Hirsch.  The basic premise of Hirsch’s bestselling book was that in order to be literate, students need fundamental background knowledge in a range of disciplines, including literature, geography, history, math, science, art, and music.  Hirsch argues that reading is more than just decoding words; comprehension requires a reader to possess knowledge of a shared body of cultural references.  

For example, imagine a student read the following sentence from Ray Bradbury:

The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little.

To catch Bradbury’s full meaning and his negative attitude towards television, the reader needs to understand the mythological allusions he makes to “Medusa” and “Siren.”  The mere ability to pronounce or read the words is not enough to capture the meaning and tone of the sentence.

Cultural literacy, then, is the body of core, essential knowledge of the people, places, ideas, and concepts that form the collective memory of our culture.  

In addition to defining and arguing for cultural literacy, Hirsch also included a 63-page appendix where he listed 5,000 subjects and concepts to illustrate the kind of specific cultural references that every literate person should know.  Below is a sample of some of the terms:

ad hoc, Adam and Eve, Battle of the Bulge, Beatniks, capital punishment, Camelot, Emily Dickinson, The Divine Comedy, elementary particles, Epicureanism, The Federalist Papers, free will, Lady Godiva, gerrymander, hyperbole, Edward Hopper, isolationism, Irish potato famine, Jakarta, Judas Iscariot, King Lear, kitsch, Robert E. Lee, Lilliput, Ferdinand Magellan, Magna Carta, Neptune, Nineteen Eighty-Four, oxymoron, Oedipus, paranoid schizophrenia, pasteurization, beg the question, quod erat demonstrandum (Q.E.D.), The Red Badge of Courage, rank and file, sarcasm, Scylla and Charybdis, Tower of Babel, twin paradox, Ursa Minor, unilateralism, Venus de Milo, Voltaire, white elephant, Woodstock, X-chromosome, xenophobia, yellow journalism, yin and yang, Zeus, Zionism

In 1989, Hirsch published The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, a book that gives a brief definition of each cultural reference.

Today’s Challenge:  Allusion Alphabet

What would you say are allusions – cultural references from history, religion, mythology, or literature – that everyone should know?  Create an Allusion Alphabet that includes people, places, and ideas that you think are essential elements of cultural literacy; include at least one reference for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet.  Once you have your alphabet, write a report on one of your allusions.  Imagine you are writing to a person who is unfamiliar with the term.  In addition to giving essential background details on the who, what, when, and where of your term, give the reader some explanation on why this concept is so important.  (Common Core Writing 3 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  We have ignored cultural literacy in thinking about education.  We ignore the air we breathe until it is thin or foul.  Cultural literacy is the oxygen of social intercourse. -E.D. Hirsch, Jr.

1-Hirsh, E.D. Cultural Literacy