September 19:  Balloon Debate Day

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On this day 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 traveled 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 traveling 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)

1- Sharp, Tim. The First Hot-Air Balloon. Space.com 16 Jul. 2012. http://m.space.com/16595-montgolfiers-first-balloon-flight.html.

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 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 2:  Presidential Proverb Day

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On this day in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech at the Minnesota State Fair where he used a line that was to become famously associated with him:  “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

Roosevelt was Vice President at the time, but he became the youngest president ever just eight days later when President William McKinley died from an assassin’s bullet.

In his speech, Roosevelt did not claim that his metaphor was original, but he did extend the metaphor to illustrate how it applied to foreign policy:

A good many of you are probably acquainted with the old proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick – you will go far.” If a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble, and neither will speaking softly avail, if back of the softness there does not lie strength, power. In private life there are few beings more obnoxious than the man who is always loudly boasting, and if the boaster is not prepared to back up his words, his position becomes absolutely contemptible. So it is with the nation. (1)

As President, Roosevelt practiced what he preached, “speaking softly” by negotiating peacefully with other nations while wielding the “big stick” of a strong military.  One clear example of this was “The Great White Fleet,” an armada of sixteen battleships that circumnavigated the globe to demonstrate the Unites States’ military might. More than just a masterful politician, Roosevelt was a historian, biographer, and author of more than 25 books (2).

Roosevelt is not the only president to practice his powers of rhetoric. Below are a few other vivid examples:

Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.

-Abraham Lincoln

What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog.  -Dwight D. Eisenhower

Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.  -John Adams

If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress. -Barack Obama

Today’s Challenge:  Wisdom from the Whitehouse

What would you argue is the smartest thing ever said by a United States president?  Argue for one of the quotations on this page, or research another one on your own.  Make your case by explaining your reasoning.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- Roosevelt, Theodore. Address at Minnesota State Fair, Sept. 2, 1901. Public Domain.

2-Welter, Ben. Sept. 3, 1901: Roosevelt ‘Big Stick’ Speech at State Fair. Star Tribune 3 Sep. 2014.

August 29:  Akeelah and the Bee Day

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Today marks the anniversary of the DVD release of the film Akeelah and the Bee. This 2006 film is a drama about 11 year-old Akeelah Anderson (played by Keke Palmer) who overcomes personal struggles to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Directed by Doug Atchison, the film stars Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Larabee, an English professor who coaches Akeelah.

The film is an offshoot of the 1999 Oscar-nominated documentary and surprise hit Spellbound, which profiled a number of the competitors in the National Spelling Bee. After the success of Spellbound, the Scripps National Spelling Bee was broadcast on network television for the first time in May 2005. The growing popularity of spelling has even entered the adult world with spelling competitions in bars around the country and a senior national spelling bee sponsored by the AARP.

Akeelah and the Bee film.jpgIn addition, in 2005 the film Bee Season was released, and spelling even hit Broadway with the 2005 musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Below are the eight winning words for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee for the years 1998-2005:

chiaroscurist: 1998 – a painter who cares for and studies light and shade rather than color

logorrhea: 1999 – pathologically excessive (and often incoherent) talking

demarche: 2000 – a move or step or maneuver in political or diplomatic affairs.

succedaneum: 2001 – (medicine) something that can be used as a substitute (especially any medicine that may be taken in place of another.

prospicience: 2002 – prevision: seeing ahead; knowing in advance; foreseeing.

pococurante: 2003 – Indifferent; apathetic.

autochthonous:  2004 – of rocks, deposits, etc.; found where they and their constituents were formed.

appoggiatura: 2005 – grace note: an embellishing note usually written in smaller size.  (1).

Today’s Challenge:  To Bee or Not to Bee

Should schools still hold spelling bees?  What are the arguments for holding bees and for eliminating them?  Imagine that an elementary school in your city or region is considering eliminating the annual elementary school spelling bee; make your argument either against or in support of this action.  In the course of your argument, address the relative importance or unimportance of spelling in the education of young people today. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1 – Simon, Johnny. The Champions and Winning Words from the Last 20 Years of Spelling Bees. Quartz.com. 1 June 2018. https://qz.com/1294814/the-2018-spelling-bee-champion-winning-word-and-winners-from-past-20-years/.

 

August 28:  Anaphora Day

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Today is the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his unforgettable I Have a Dream speech to a crowd of roughly 250,000 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial.

Early in his speech, King invokes Lincoln and the unfulfilled promise of the Emancipation Proclamation. King cites two other vital American documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Using the metaphor of a bad check, King argued that the United States would not be a truly free nation until it fulfilled these promissory notes for all of its citizens, ending segregation, “withering injustice,” and the persecution of black Americans.

An ordained Baptist minister and a doctor of theology, King knew how to craft a sermon and how to deliver a speech. His choice of nonviolent protest meant that his words and his rhetoric would determine the success or failure of his civil rights mission. King was up to the task. There is probably no more telling example of the power of words to persuade, motivate, and change the course of history than the speech King delivered on August 28, 1963.

Rhetoric is the use of language to persuade. Aristotle defined it as “the faculty of discovering in any particular case all of the available means of persuasion.” Martin Luther King, Jr. used many of these “means of persuasion” (also known as rhetorical devices) to persuade his audience. He used metaphor:  beacon of hope and manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. He used alliteration:  dark and desolate, sweltering summer, and Jews and Gentiles. He used antithesis: will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

But more than any other device, King used repetition and anaphora, the repetition of one or more words at the beginning of a phrase or clause.

Certain words echo throughout his speech. Unlike redundancy, this repetition is intentional. These words ring like a bell, repeatedly reminding the listener of key themes. In the I Have a Dream speech, the words justice and dream both ring out eleven times. But one word is repeated far more than any other; the word freedom tolls 20 times. In King’s dream there is no crack in the Liberty Bell; instead, it rings out loudly and clearly, a triumphant declaration that America has finally lived up to its potential.

Anaphora comes from the Greek meaning “I repeat.” It’s the kind of repetition at the beginning of a line or a sentence that you see in the Psalms or in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

(Matthew 3:3-6 King James Version)

King uses anaphora for six different phrases that echo throughout his speech:

One hundred years later . . .

We refuse to believe . . .

Now is the time . . .

With this faith . . .

I have a dream . . .

Let freedom ring . . .  (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Repeat After Me
What is something that you think is underrated?  What makes this topic so underrated, and why should people hold the topic in higher esteem?  Certainly, the purpose of Martin Luther King’s speech was to help the nation to not overlook the importance of civil rights for black Americans.  His speech succeeded in changing the course of the movement, leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Brainstorm some topics that you think are underrated?  Try for a variety of topics, including some serious topics as well as some not so serious topics. Select the one topic you feel is most underrated, and construct an argument where you explain why the topic should be held in higher esteem.  In addition to specific evidence and commentary, use anaphora to make your case.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Example:  Positively Peripatetic

Walking is underrated.  It benefits the body, the mind, and the pocketbook.  If everyone in the U.S. were to walk briskly for just thirty minutes per day, we would cut the incidences of chronic diseases dramatically.  Walking reduces the risk of heart disease, the risk of diabetes, the risk of arthritis, and the risk of cancer. It’s also good for the mind since studies show that walking reduces the likelihood of clinical depression.  Smart seniors know the psychological value of staying active, breathing fresh air, and saving their hard-earned dollars by paying less for gas.  Instead of venerating our motor vehicle obsessed society, we should celebrate citizens who stroll along the sidewalks of suburbia. More walkers mean less traffic, less pollution, and less wasted gas money.  With so many potential positives, no one should view walking as a pain anymore.   

1-The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Stanford University. I Have a Dream Address. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/i-have-dream-address-delivered-march-washington-jobs-and-freedom.

August 24:  Meteorological Metaphors Day

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Today is the anniversary of an editorial by Charles Dudley Warner published in the Hartford Courant in 1897. The subject of the editorial is long forgotten, but one line from the article lives on as a famous quotation: Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.

Although many credit Warner with the funny line, some argue that it really should be credited to Mark Twain, who was a friend and collaborator with Charles Dudley Warner. Ralph Keyes, the author of The Quote Verifier, comes down on Twain’s side, saying that the wording of the editorial reveals that Warner got the quote from Twain: “A well-known American writer said once that, while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it” (1).

Riders45.jpgWeather or not Twain said it (pun intended), there is no doubt that weather has rained down on the English lexicon. Many of our everyday idioms are weather related, and some of our common words have meteorological origins:

Astonish: Being struck by thunder would certainly be an astonishing experience. This word comes to English via the French estoner which in turn was derived from Latin ex = out + tonare = to thunder. Thus the literal translation of astonish is thunderstruck.

Window: This word comes from the Norse vindauge which comes from vindr = wind + auga = eye. Thus a window is the “wind’s eye.”

Lunatic: For centuries people have considered the effects of the moon on the weather and the varying moods of earthlings. Because the moon does affect ocean tides, it does have an indirect impact on the weather. There is less evidence, however, to prove the moon’s relationship to the human psyche. Nevertheless, the word lunatic is derived from Luna the moon goddess, who in myth would sometimes toy with the sanity of mortals (2).

Here are a few examples of weather idioms, where the weather is used as a metaphor for some aspect of human experience:

A port in storm, Chase rainbows , Cloud nine , Cloud of suspicion , Fair-weather friend , Head in the clouds , Greased lightning, Shoot the breeze , A snow job , Steal someone’s thunder, Tempest in a teapot , Under the weather

Today’s Challenge: “Over the Rainbow”

What are some songs that talk about the weather, either literally or figuratively?  What would you argue is the single best weather-related song?  Brainstorm a list of songs that deal with weather, and select your favorite.   Make your argument by explaining what makes the song great and by explaining how the lyrics reflect the weather, either literally or figuratively.

For example, in The Beatles song “Good Day Sunshine,” the sunny weather parallels the sunny disposition of the singer who is happily in love.  In contrast, The Beatles song “Rain” uses the weather to reflect philosophically on the capricious nature of humanity. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1 – Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006.

2 – Funk, Wilfred. Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1950.

August 20:  Going Postal Day

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On this day in 1986, Patrick Henry Sherrill, a disgruntled postal worker, opened fire on his co-workers at a post office in Oklahoma City. Before he committed suicide, he killed 14 people. This terrible incident along with a string of such incidents involving postal workers over the next seven years led to coinage of the phrase to go postal (1).

The U.S. Postal Service was understandably unhappy when this usage began gaining currency in the language. In response to this public relations nightmare, they created an independent commission to assess workplace violence in 1998. The Associated Press reported the commission’s finding that postal workers were not more prone to workplace violence than other works. Other categories of workers, such as retail workers, transportation workers, and public administration workers, were found to have significantly higher incidences of violence than postal workers (2).

It seems that the final fifteen years of the millennium could be called “The Age of Rage.” As chronicled in the book Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture, the phrase road rage, meaning “extreme anger exhibited by a motorist in response to perceived injustices committed by other drivers,” began to appear in a few media stories in 1988. In the years that followed, the phrase became more and more common. The statistics below show the number of stories containing the phrase road rage that appeared each year:

1988-1993: 4

1994: 10

1995: 200

1996: 900

1997: 2,000 (3)

Expressions relating to angry, crazed behavior are nothing new in English. The expression to go berserk entered the language in the 19th century, but its roots go back much farther. Berserk is from Old Norse meaning “bear shirt.” It describes the Viking tactic of putting on bearskins and attacking and pillaging the enemy in a furious, crazed rage. British author Sir Walter Scott introduced the word into English in his 1822 novel The Pirate, and by 1940 it was being used in its present form to describe “crackpot behavior” (4).

Today’s Challenge:  Write A Rant

Writing is a great way to work out your problems and to blow off steam.  It also allows you to express your passion while working through and thinking about what’s bothering you. What are things that you think are worth complaining about, the hassles of life that frustrate you?  Brainstorm a long list of things to complain about.  Then, pick one complaint you feel passionately about.  Write your rant, expressing your passion but also explaining the reasons behind your frustrations in concrete terms so that your audience can understand them. Don’t just tell what frustrates you; show it. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Answers: 1. golf rage 2. air rage 3. concert rage 4. patient rage 5. sidewalk rage 6. sports rage or sideline rage 7. dot.com rage 8. work rage (or desk rage)

1 – Applebome, Peter.  Mail Carrier Kills 14 in Post Office, Then Himself.  The New York Times 21 Aug. 1986. https://www.nytimes.com/1986/08/21/us/mail-carrier-kills-14-in-post-office-then-himself.html.

2 – ABC News.  Commission: ‘Going Postal’ Is a Myth. 31 Aug. 2000. https://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=95958&page=1.

3- Paul McFedries. Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture. New York: Broadway Books, 2004.

4 – Metcalf, Allan. The World in So Many Words. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.

August 19:  Post-it Note Day

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Today is the birthday of Arthur Fry, the inventor of the Post-it note.  Fry was born in Minnesota on this day in 1931.

Fry’s idea for the Post-it note was born in 1973.  At his job as a new product developer at 3M, Fry attended a presentation by a colleague named Spencer Silver.  Silver’s talk was on a weak adhesive he had developed, a seemingly useless invention — a glue that didn’t stick.

Later when Fry was singing in his church choir, he had the epiphany that brought the Post-it note to life.  To mark the pages of his hymnbook, Fry used slips of paper.  When he opened the hymnbook to a marked page and the bookmark fell out, he got his million-dollar idea.  Applying some of Silver’s adhesive to the bookmark, Fry discovered that not only did the bookmark stay in place, it also could be removed without damaging the pages of the hymnal.

Later, when he wrote some notes to his boss on his new invention, Fry realized it had more uses than just as a bookmark.

Post-it notes went on the market for the first time in 1980, and today Post-it notes and Post-it related products are sold in over 100 countries worldwide (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Post-it Pitch

What are some possible uses for a Post-it note?  Brainstorm as many ideas as you can, trying for a wide range of ideas.  Follow Fry’s example by thinking out of the box. Where others saw just a glue that wouldn’t stick, Fry saw useful innovation.  After you have generated at least twenty ideas, select your best single idea and write your pitch on one or more Post-it notes. If you’re working with others, have a contest to see which ideas are the best. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- Horne, Richard and Tracey Turner.  101 Things You Wish You’d Invented …and Some You Wish No One Had.  New York:  Walker & Company, 2008.