May 10:  Banned and Burned Books Day

On the evening of May 10, 1933, Students on 34 campuses across Germany gathered to burn books that were deemed “un-German.”  The book burnings were one of several of the actions the Nazi party took in the years leading up to World War II to bring German arts and culture in line with Nazi goals.

More than just spontaneous demonstrations, the book burnings were organized affairs, complete with ceremonial music and scripted statements called “fire oaths” that were read aloud as students tossed books onto bonfires.

In Berlin, where over 40,000 students and Nazi officials gathered, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, delivered a scathing speech denouncing the decadence and moral corruption found in the unwanted books.

Any book expressing ideas that in any way ran counter to Nazi ideologies was deemed fit for incineration.  The following is a small sample of some of the authors whose books were burned: Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, Karl Marx, Bertolt Brecht, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, Theodore Dreiser, and Helen Keller.  

Also burned on May 10th were works by the German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, whose words foreshadowed the horror to come:  “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people” (1).

Germany, of course, is not the only place where there have been book burnings.  In 1973, Charles McCarthy, Chairman of a school board in North Dakota had copies of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five burned because of its “obscene language.”  Fortunately, many denounced the book burning, including the book’s author who sent a letter to McCarthy, saying the following:

I read in the newspaper that your community is mystified by the outcry from all over the country about what you have done. Well, you have discovered that Drake is a part of American civilization, and your fellow Americans can’t stand it that you have behaved in such an uncivilized way. Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them. If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.

Each September since 1982, the American Library Association has sponsored Banned Books Week, a national campaign that promotes the freedom to read and that celebrates a diversity of ideas, even those that are unorthodox or unpopular.  Activities during the week include public readings, panel discussions, and even a teen fashion show where designers display original fashion inspired by challenged or banned books (3).

Today’s Challenge:   Only You Can Prevent Book Burning

What are some examples of books that have been banned or challenged?  Research some books that have been frequently banned or challenged.  Select one and write a report that gives a brief overview of the book and its author, along with some details on the specific context in which it was banned or challenged.

The following are examples of books that have been banned or challenged:

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

1984 by George Orwell

The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine

The Bible

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Ulysses by James Joyce

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them. -Ray Bradbury

1 https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005852

2-http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/03/i-am-very-real.html

3-http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/

May 9:  Turn Off the TV Day

Today is the anniversary of a memorable speech by Newton Minow, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to the National Association of Broadcasters. The year was 1961, and Minow did not have many good things to say about commercial television. His speech, where he called television “a vast wasteland,” sparked a national debate about the quality, or lack thereof, of television programming.

Newton Minow 2006.jpgSince Minow’s speech, television has been called the idiot box and the boob tube. Television viewers have become couch potatoes (1979), and the number of channels has grown to more than 500, but “nothing is on.”

Here’s an excerpt from Minow’s indictment:

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit and loss sheet or rating book to distract you — and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And, endlessly, commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you will see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, try it. (1)

While Minow’s phrase “a vast wasteland” caught on, his speech certainly did not discourage the growth of television sets in American homes. In an age of reality television, satellite television, and 24-hour sports and cable news stations, television is more popular than ever.

One question that has been asked by educators since the advent of commercial television is: What is the relationship between television viewing and reading? One particularly interesting answer to this question was given by Norman Mailer in the January 23, 2005 edition of Parade Magazine. In the article, Mailer says that the one thing that he would do to change America for the better would be to get rid of television commercials. Mailer argues that the constant interruptions of commercials disrupt our children’s ability to read effectively by denying them something that is necessary for reading: concentration.

Here is an excerpt from Mailer’s Parade essay:

When children become interested in an activity, their concentration is firm—until it is interrupted. Sixty years ago, children would read for hours. Their powers of concentration developed as naturally as breathing. Good readers became very good readers, even as men and women who go in for weight-lifting will bulk up . . . . Each of the four major networks now offers 52 minutes of commercials in the three hours from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. every day. It is equal to saying that every seven, 10 or 12 minutes, our attention to what is happening on the tube is cut into by a commercial. It is as bad for most children’s shows. Soon enough, children develop a fail-safe. Since the child knows that any interesting story will soon be amputated by a kaleidoscope of toys, food, dolls, clowns, new colors and the clutter of six or seven wholly different products all following one another in 10-, 20- and 30-second spots all the way through a three-minute break, the child also comes to recognize that concentration is not one’s friend but is treacherous. (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Boob Tube Best or Worst

What are some of the television programs of the past or present that you would argue represent the best and worst television programs of all time?  Brainstorm a list of the best and worst television programs of all time.  Select one program that you know well, and make your argument for why this program is either the best or worst program.  Don’t assume your audience is familiar with the program. In addition to making your argument, give some background describing the program and its genre. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Television is a new medium. It’s called a medium because nothing is well-done. –Fred Allen

1-http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/newtonminow.htm

2-http://www.parade.com/articles/editions/2005/edition_01-23-2005/featured_0

 

May 6: Sub Four Day

On this day in 1954, English medical student Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile in a time of 3:59.4.  Before Bannister broke the four-minute barrier, the world record for the mile was 4:01.3. At the time, many thought that running under four minutes was physically impossible, but once Bannister did it, the barrier proved to be more of a psychological barrier than a physical one. A little more than a month after Bannister’s record run, Australian John Landy lowered the world record to 3:58 (2).

Long before the four-minute mile became a subject of public interest, there was another four-minute related event that played a part in the U.S. effort in World War I.  As the United States entered the war in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson realized that winning the propaganda war at home was in some ways just as important as winning the ground war in Europe.  

Wilson created an organization called the Committee on Public Information (CPI) to manage the news and to promote support for the war.  One essential wing of the CPI was a group called the “Four Minute Men,” an army of 75,000 volunteers who gave short speeches in support of the war whenever the opportunity presented itself.  For the CPI, the four-minute time limit was an essential element for success. Speeches need to be short, precise, and to the point. Long before anyone had ever heard of the “sound bite,” CPI published bulletins with tips on how to make every word of a speech count:

General Suggestions to Speakers

The speech must not be longer than four minutes, which means there is no time for a single wasted word.

Speakers should go over their speech time and time again until the ideas are firmly fixed in their mind and can not be forgotten. This does not mean that the speech needs to be written out and committed [memorized], although most speakers, especially when limited in time, do best to commit.

Divide your speech carefully into certain divisions, say 15 seconds for final appeal; 45 seconds to describe the bond; 15 seconds for opening words, etc., etc. Any plan is better than none, and it can be amended every day in the light of experience.

There never was a speech yet that couldn’t be improved. Never be satisfied with success. Aim to be more successful, and still more successful. So keep your eyes open. Read all the papers every day, to find a new slogan, or a new phraseology, or a new idea to replace something you have in your speech. (2)

The word propaganda derives from the Latin propagar, meaning to increase or to grow, as in the propagation of plants or crops. As a metaphor, it was originally used by the Catholic church, relating to the growth or spreading of the Christian faith.  It later evolved to be used in relation to the spreading of secular ideas. In the mid-19th century, the word began to acquire negative connotations based on its use in describing the deceptive promotion of political messages.

Today’s Challenge:  Speaking a Mile in Under Four Minutes

What is an idea that you have that is truly worth propagating or promoting?  Generate some claims that you truly feel are worth spreading, not through propaganda, but through the responsible use of persuasive appeals.  Write the text of a speech that will come in as close as possible, but not a second over, four minutes. (Common Core Writing 1 – Persuasion)

Quotation of the Day:  The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win. -Roger Bannister

1-http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-four-minute-mile

2-http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/4970/

May 5: Five Out of Five Day

On this fifth day of the fifth month of the year, we should pause to consider things that come in 5s.  We remember the five-second rule, the five Olympic rings, the five sides of a pentagon, the five points of a star, and the five Ws (Who, What, When, Why, and Where).  We also remember the Jackson Five, Slaughterhouse Five, high fives, “Pleading the Fifth,” and the five-paragraph essay.  We also remember, remember the fifth of November, Cinco de Mayo, “this quintessence of dust,” V for Vendetta, and the five men who have held the rank of five-star general in the U.S. Army:  Generals Marshall, MacArthur, Eisenhower, Arnold, and Bradley.

Yes, lots of things are associated with five, and lots of things come in fives.  Given the five members of the ten separate categories below, see if you can identify the title for each of the Famous Five categories below:

 

 

  • center, point guard, shooting guard, power forward, small forward
  • Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
  • Sight, touch, taste, smell, hearing
  • Thumb, index/pointer, middle, ring, pinky
  • Maggie, Lisa, Bart, Marge, Homer
  • Shooting, swimming, equestrian, fencing, running
  • Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
  • Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Composite, Tuscan
  • Acheron, Cocytus, Phlegethon, Lethe, Styx
  • Huron, Superior, Michigan, Ontario, Erie

Today’s Challenge:  Five Out of Five on 5/5

What are some categories of people, places, or things you could rate using a five-star rating system?  Select a general category; then, generate a list of at least five members of that category.  

Example Categories:

Mythical Creatures, Birthday Traditions, Ad Slogans, School Rules, Days of the Week, Aspects of a Bowling Alley, Inventions That Changed History, Homecoming Traditions, Scary Food, Punctuation Marks, Cartoon Characters, My Bucket List, Annual Events, Things That Come in Five, Ways to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo, Best Stephen King Novels, Breeds of Dog, Song for Getting Motivated, Best SAT Vocabulary Words, Best Quotations of Just Five Words, Best Places to Go That Are Less Than Five Miles Away

Then, write your subjective assessment of each member of the category along with a rating.  Of course, on 5/5 it makes sense to use a five-pointed star system for your ratings. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Little strokes fell great oaks. -Benjamin Franklin

ANSWERS:  1-5 Basketball Positions, 2-First 5 Books of the Old Testament (The Pentateuch), 3-The 5 Senses, 4-The 5 Fingers, 5-The 5 Members of the Simpsons Family, 6-The 5 Events in the Modern Pentathlon, 7-The 5 Weekdays, 8-The 5 Classical Orders of Architecture , 9-The 5 Rivers of Hades, 10-The 5 Great Lakes

 

April 28:  Mockingbird Day  

Today is the birthday of Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird. She was born in Monroeville, Alabama in 1926 and the events in her novel parallel her life growing up in the South during the Depression. One example is the character Dill who was drawn from Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote. In 1959, Lee assisted Capote in his now classic non-fiction novel In Cold Blood (1966) (See April 14:  Prepositional Phrase Day). To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, and it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. In 1962, the novel was made into an Oscar-winning film, but strangely, Harper Lee never wrote another novel.  In 2015 the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird was published under the title Go Set a Watchman.  Harper Lee died in 2016.

Cover of the book showing title in white letters against a black background in a banner above a painting of a portion of a tree against a red backgroundThe success of To Kill a Mockingbird continues today. It’s taught in nearly 80 percent of America’s middle schools and high schools. According to the Center for the Learning and Teaching of Literature, To Kill a Mockingbird is on every list of the book-length works most frequently taught in high school English.

Here are the lists:

Public Schools:

Romeo and Juliet; Macbeth; Huckleberry Finn; Julius Caesar; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Scarlet Letter; Of Mice and Men; Hamlet; The Great Gatsby; Lord of the Flies.

Catholic Schools:

Huckleberry Finn; The Scarlet Letter; Macbeth; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Great Gatsby; Romeo and Juliet; Hamlet; Of Mice and Men; Julius Caesar; Lord of the Flies. (1)

Independent Schools:

Macbeth; Romeo and Juliet; Huckleberry Finn; The Scarlet Letter; Hamlet; The Great Gatsby; To Kill a Mockingbird; Julius Caesar; The Odyssey; Lord of the Flies

Particularly interesting is that To Kill a Mockingbird is not only the most contemporary work listed, it is also the only work by a woman.

Today’s Challenge:  A Truly Must-Read Book

What one book would you say should be a graduation requirement for high school?  Brainstorm some titles of books that you think should be read by high schoolers.  Then, select the single book that you would argue is the most important. Write your argument for why this book should be required reading.  Explain what the book offers students, and why is it an important book both for today and for tomorrow (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. -Harper Lee

1-Applebee, Arthur N. ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills. Bloomington IN. 1990-05-00. Eric Identifier: ED318035.

 

April 24:  Library of Congress Day

On this date in 1800, President John Adams approved an appropriation of $5,000 to purchase books, establishing the Library of Congress. The books were ordered from London and a total of 740 volumes were housed in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Invading British troops destroyed the library when they set fire to the Capitol Building in 1814. In 1815, Congress accepted an offer by retired President Thomas Jefferson to replace the library with his own eclectic collection of 6,487 books.

The library moved to its current location, the Thomas Jefferson Building across the street from the U.S. Capitol, in 1897. Two additional buildings were added in 1939 and 1980: The John Adams Building and the James Madison Memorial Building.

Today, the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world.  Its more than 38 million books are stored on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves.

While the Library of Congress plays an important role in the government of the United States and is the de facto national library of the U.S., just as important are the thousands of local libraries around the world.  Too often we take these spaces for granted. Here are a few choice quotations to remind us the value of libraries:

Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.Walter Cronkite

Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.Ray Bradbury

Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest. -Lady Bird Johnson

Today’s Challenge:  The Future of Books

What is the future of libraries?  In the age of the Internet and all the changes in the way people access information and the ways they read, are physical libraries filled with physical books still important?   Research what people are saying about libraries and about the future of physical books.  Then, make your argument about what role libraries and books will play in the future, and use evidence from your research to support your reasoning.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Outside of a dog, books are man’s best friend; inside of a dog it’s too dark to read anyways. -Groucho Marx

1 – Library of Congress website. https://www.loc.gov/about/fascinating-facts/

April 21:  Complex Sentence Day

On his day in 1989, the film Field Of Dreams made its debut in American theaters.  The film stars Kevin Costner as a farmer who hears voices in his cornfield imploring him to build a baseball field.  The film is an adaptation of a magical realist novel, Shoeless Joe by Canadian author W. P. Kinsella.  The book and film form the perfect mix of sentimental themes of fantasy, baseball, and family.

The most memorable line of the film — a line which has become one of the most memorable movie lines of all time — comes from the voice that Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, hears in his cornfield.  The voice says, “If you build it, he will come.”

This line, along with the film’s tagline “If you believe the impossible, the incredible can come true,” are textbook examples of complex sentences.

Unlike a simple sentence, which features a single independent clause, or a compound sentence that features two independent clauses, a complex sentence features an independent clause and at least one dependent clause (also known as a subordinate clause).  

For example, the line that farmer Kinsella hears in his cornfield begins with a dependent clause, a clause that cannot stand alone:

If you build it

To complete the sentence, and to make it a complete complex sentence, the independent clause is added at the end.

If you build it, he will come.

Complex sentences are an essential element of any effective writer’s repertoire because they not only provide sentence variety, but they also combine ideas logically, showing a reader the relationship between two ideas.  For example, notice the differences between the sentences below:

Because he loves baseball, Bill plays every day.

Although he loves baseball, Bill plays tennis in the spring.

After he plays baseball, Bill always cleans his cleats.

If Bill’s team wins their baseball game, they will be in the playoffs.

Each of the sentences is complex, beginning with a dependent clause; however, in each sentence, the logical relationship between the clauses is different.  In the first, the relationship is cause and effect; in the second, it’s contrast; in the third, it’s time; and in the fourth, it’s conditional.

The words that single the relationship and that make the clauses dependent are called subordinating conjunctions.  

Read the examples below to see the different ways that subordinating conjunctions connect ideas:

Cause and Effect (or Reasons): because, since, so that

Because he loves to read, Bill is always carrying a book.

Contrast (or Concession): although, even though, though, while, whereas

Although he loves to write, Bill’s favorite pastime is reading.

Time: before, after, as, once, since, while, when, whenever

After Bill gets home from school, he sits down and reads the newspaper.

Condition:  if, once, unless

If Bill gets money for his birthday, he plans to buy some new books.

Use the mnemonic “A WHITE BUS” to remember the major subordinate conjunctions:

A White Bus

After, although, as

WHen, which, who, where, while

If, in order that

That, though

Even though

Before, because

Until, unless

Since, so that

Today’s Challenge:  If You Make a Parallel Product Pitch, It Will Sell

What are some products that you would personally endorse?  Imagine you work for an advertising agency.  Brainstorm some possible products that you might try to sell with a strong sales pitch.  Select one specific product, and construct a topic sentence for a 60-second sales pitch that features three parallel dependent clauses.  Notice, for example, how the following two topic sentences each feature parallel dependent clauses:

If you want the best value, if you want the highest quality, and if you want the best tasting cheese, buy Johnson’s Cheddar.

Boston Bacon is the best because it melts in your mouth, because it’s low fat, and because it goes well with any meal.

Writing three-pronged parallel complex sentence like these is a great skill to practice for effective writing.  These sentences can be used as a thesis statement for an essay, or as a concluding sentence for a paragraph or essay.  Notice that in the two example sentences above, the three parallel dependent clauses may come before or after the independent clause.

Once you have constructed your topic sentence, write the rest of your pitch by elaborating on the points in your topic sentence. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. -Elmore Leonard

 

 

 

 

April 16:  Counterargument Day

On this day in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Having been jailed for demonstrating against the injustice of racial segregation in Birmingham, King read a public statement in the newspaper that criticized his activities in Birmingham.  The letter was signed by eight Alabama clergymen. It is this letter that moved King, a clergyman himself, to answer his critics. In the Letter from Birmingham Jail we have a classic example of counterargument in action.  Respectfully responding to his critics’ claims point by point, King’s letter remains one of the strongest rhetorical rebuttals ever written.

King begins his letter by answering the charge that he is an outsider.  He answers this charge by talking about his affiliation with Christian organizations in Birmingham and the fact that he was invited to come.  Most forcefully, however, he argues that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Among the several counterarguments presented by King, perhaps his strongest is his response to his critics’ claim that his demonstrations are “untimely.”

Notice in the following excerpt how King combines reason and emotion to pointedly rebut the claim that African-Americans should be patient and wait for justice:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was “well timed,” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.

I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say wait. But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” men and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

After King wrote his letter by hand, it was turned over to his assistants who typed it and disseminated it as an “open letter” (See February 3:  Open Letter Day).

As the power of King’s rebuttals demonstrate, it is important to consider counterclaims in any argument you make.  By anticipating and clearly stating the arguments that run counter to your claim, you show the reader that you are not blind to the arguments of others who think differently than you do.  By rebutting counterargument or conceding to points made by the opposing side, you demonstrate to your reader that your argument is not just an exercise in persuading an audience that you are right; instead, it demonstrates to your audience that you are someone who is legitimately seeking the truth.

Today’s Challenge:  Stake The Counterclaims

What are some possible objects that reasonable people might make to a position that you hold?  Brainstorm some issues that you feel strongly about and the claims that you would make about these issues.  Then, instead of building your case based on the reasons for your position, record the counterclaims. In other words, state your claim, and anticipate what reasons someone might give to disagree with your claim. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

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

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

1-http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/film-critic-roger-ebert-born