April 6:  Pleasure of Books Day

On this day in 1933, William Lyon Phelps (1865-1943) — American educator, literary critic, and author — delivered a memorable radio address.  Phelps was a beloved professor of English literature at Yale University from 1901 to 1933. Much of Phelps’ teaching and writing was devoted to the examination of the English novel; it’s no surprise then that the topic he chose for his radio speech was the virtue of reading and collecting books (1).

Phelps begins his speech with an analogy to illustrate the virtue of owning books versus borrowing them; he then skillfully tacks on a simile, comparing a book to a forest:

The habit of reading is one of the greatest resources of mankind; and we enjoy reading books that belong to us much more than if they are borrowed. A borrowed book is like a guest in the house; it must be treated with punctiliousness, with a certain considerate formality. You must see that it sustains no damage; it must not suffer while under your roof. You cannot leave it carelessly, you cannot mark it, you cannot turn down the pages, you cannot use it familiarly. And then, someday, although this is seldom done, you really ought to return it.

But your own books belong to you; you treat them with that affectionate intimacy that annihilates formality. Books are for use, not for show; you should own no book that you are afraid to mark up, or afraid to place on the table, wide open and face down. A good reason for marking favorite passages in books is that this practice enables you to remember more easily the significant sayings, to refer to them quickly, and then in later years, it is like visiting a forest where you once blazed a trail. You have the pleasure of going over the old ground, and recalling both the intellectual scenery and your own earlier self.

For some, the charge of being a “bookworm” might be a put-down.  Not for Phelps. He makes the case that the habit of reading is anything but anti-social; instead, it offers us timeless, intimate access to the best of humanity:

Books are of the people, by the people, for the people. Literature is the immortal part of history; it is the best and most enduring part of personality. But book-friends have this advantage over living friends; you can enjoy the most truly aristocratic society in the world whenever you want it. The great dead are beyond our physical reach, and the great living are usually almost as inaccessible; as for our personal friends and acquaintances, we cannot always see them. Perchance they are asleep, or away on a journey. But in a private library, you can at any moment converse with Socrates or Shakespeare or Carlyle or Dumas or Dickens or Shaw or Barrie or Galsworthy. And there is no doubt that in these books you see these men at their best. They wrote for you. They “laid themselves out,” they did their ultimate best to entertain you, to make a favorable impression. You are necessary to them as an audience is to an actor; only instead of seeing them masked, you look into their innermost heart of heart. (2)

The truth of Phelps’ claim about the value of collecting and reading books might seem obvious.  However, a little over a month after Phelps’ address, German university students joined Nazi soldiers in Berlin to burn over 20,000 books.  (See May 10: Burned and Banned Books Day. On May 10, 1933, great works by authors such as Einstein, Freud, Hemingway, London, Proust, Marx, Wells, and Zola were heaped into piles and set afire (3).

Today’s Challenge:  Healthy Habits for Humanity

What are some examples of good habits that people can practice that will improve their lives?  You can probably think of a lot of bad habits that people struggle with, but as Phelps demonstrates, some habits can be beneficial.  Brainstorm a list of specific beneficial daily habits. Then, select one specific good habit, and write a short speech that makes the case for the importance of this good habit.  Provide your reasoning for the virtue of this habit and show your audience how this good habit with promote a more successful life. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Most of my indoor life is spent in a room containing six thousand books; and I have a stock answer to the invariable question that comes from strangers. “Have you read all of these books?”

“Some of them twice.” -William Lyons Phelps

1-http://www.phelpsfamilyhistory.com/bios/william_lyon_phelps.asp

2-http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/phelps.htm

3-http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/triumph/tr-bookburn.htm

April 4:  Courage to Speak and Write Day

On this day we remember two individuals.  The first is a historical figure who demonstrated great courage by speaking; the second is a fictional character who demonstrated great courage by writing.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was running for the Democratic nomination for president, was preparing to give a campaign speech in Indianapolis.  Just before he was scheduled to speak to the predominately African-American audience, Kennedy learned that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

Kennedy was warned by the police that the crown had not yet heard the bad news and that they might become unruly or violent once they heard of King’s death. Despite the danger, Kennedy decided not only to address the audience but also to inform them of the tragedy.  

Kennedy spoke for fewer than five minutes, but what he said in those few minutes will never be forgotten.  He began by immediately delivering the bad news. After pausing for a moment to allow the shocked crowd to gather its wits, Kennedy reminded the audience of King’s efforts to replace violence with understanding and compassion.  He showed empathy for his audience, comparing the anger they were feeling to the anger he felt when his brother was killed by an assassin five years earlier in Dallas. Instead of focusing on the racial divide in the United States, Kennedy instead made an appeal for unity and for justice:

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

Like Martin Luther King, Jr. did before him, Kennedy appealed to hope over despair and to peace over violence:

And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

Kennedy did not have to speak on April 4, 1968, and no one would have faulted him for canceling his appearance under the sad circumstances.  Nevertheless, Kennedy seized the moment to courageously present what was much more than just a campaign speech. His brief words transformed a moment of sorrow into a time of rededication to the mission of Martin Luther King, Jr. and to the what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

Two months later, on June 5, 1968, Kennedy himself was assassinated after winning the California presidential primaries (1).

The second act of courage that took place on this day was in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

In the novel’s opening chapter, the protagonist Winston Smith commits a forbidden act of rebellion, an act that we all take for granted. In the world of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the simple act that Winston performs could lead to punishment by death or a sentence of twenty-five years of forced labor:

The thing that he was about to do was to open a diary. . . . He dipped the pen into the ink and then faltered for just a second. A tremor had gone through his bowels. To mark the paper was the decisive act. In small clumsy letters he wrote:

April 4th, 1984.

He sat back. A sense of complete helplessness had descended upon him.. . .

Suddenly he began writing in sheer panic, only imperfectly aware of what he was setting down. His small but childish handwriting straggled up and down the page, shedding first its capital letters and finally even its full stops:

April 4th, 1984. Last night to the flicks. All war films. . . .

1984first.jpgIn the dystopian world of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the one-party government of Oceania is in a perpetual state of war and is led by the all-seeing but unseen leader called Big Brother.  By putting his pen to paper, Winston Smith, a party worker, is committing the radical and unlawful act of expressing his own individual thoughts and questioning his government.

Today’s Challenge:   Courageous Call for Communication

What are the reasons we should not take our ability to read, think, speak, and write for granted?  In the years leading up to the American Revolution, John Adams wrote an essay called “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Federal Law” (1765).  In this essay, Adams laid the legal groundwork for the Revolution, challenging his readers to remember the important role that literacy plays as the foundation of human freedoms:

Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge.  Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.

Write a Public Service Announcement (PSA) that challenges your audience to reconsider and reimagine the importance of literacy — of speaking, writing, thinking, and writing.  Motivate your audience to rededicate themselves to these skills that we so often take for granted. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Learning to read is probably the most difficult and revolutionary thing that happens to the human brain and if you don’t believe that, watch an illiterate adult try to do it. -John Steinbeck

1-https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready-Reference/RFK-Speeches/Statement-on-the-Assassination-of-Martin-Luther-King.aspx

 

March 31:  Persuasive Appeals Day

On this day in 1621, English poet Andrew Marvell was born in Hull, England. Marvell was one of the metaphysical poets, a group of 17th-century poets whose verse is characterized by its sharp wit, passionate arguments, and intellectual elaborateness.  

Marvell’s best-known poem “To His Coy Mistress” is probably the single greatest argument in verse ever written.  The poem is a dramatic monologue in which the poet addresses a young woman who is slow to respond to his amorous advances.  

To win the mistress, the poet constructs an elaborate argument, making his case for why she should “act now” and agree to love him.  The poem’s three-part structure also is an excellent example of Aristotle’s three persuasive appeals by character (ethos), by logic (logos), and by emotion (pathos).

In the poem’s first stanza, the speaker begins with ethos, establishing his character and credibility with the mistress.  Here the speaker employs hyperbole, elaborately exaggerating the amount of time he would invest in admiring and cataloging the beauty of the mistress from afar if only time allowed:

Had we but world enough and time,

This coyness, lady, were no crime.

We would sit down, and think which way

To walk, and pass our long love’s day.

Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side

Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide

Of Humber would complain. I would

Love you ten years before the flood,

And you should, if you please, refuse

Till the conversion of the Jews.

My vegetable love should grow

Vaster than empires and more slow;

An hundred years should go to praise

Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;

Two hundred to adore each breast,

But thirty thousand to the rest;

An age at least to every part,

And the last age should show your heart.

For, lady, you deserve this state,

Nor would I love at lower rate.

In the second stanza, the poet makes a sudden shift from the hypothetical to the harsh reality of the real world.  Signaling the transition with “But,” be begins to construct a case based on the logic their mortality. Devouring time will take his mistress’s beauty, and reason dictates that no one can cheat death.  

But at my back I always hear

Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;

And yonder all before us lie

Deserts of vast eternity.

Thy beauty shall no more be found;

Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound

My echoing song; then worms shall try

That long-preserved virginity,

And your quaint honour turn to dust,

And into ashes all my lust;

The grave’s a fine and private place,

But none, I think, do there embrace.

Having established his credibility and the logic of his case, the speaker concludes with a climactic appeal to emotion. Here the speaker makes his final pitch, urging the mistress to “act now,” presenting the image of mating birds of prey.  In the tradition of carpe diem – Latin for “seize the day” – the poet implores the mistress to join him; they cannot stop time, but they can make time fly by having fun.

 

Now therefore, while the youthful hue

Sits on thy skin like morning dew,

And while thy willing soul transpires

At every pore with instant fires,

Now let us sport us while we may,

And now, like amorous birds of prey,

Rather at once our time devour

Than languish in his slow-chapped power.

Let us roll all our strength and all

Our sweetness up into one ball,

And tear our pleasures with rough strife

Through the iron gates of life:

Thus, though we cannot make our sun

Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Today’s Challenge:  Gut, Head, and Heart

What is an essential item that people need to have in their possession every day in order to be successful?  Brainstorm some essential physical products that people use and need every day.  Select one of the products, and write a sales pitch, persuading your audience to purchase the product. Use the argument structure employed by Marvell in “To His Coy Mistress.” Begin by thinking about our audience and how you can establish trust with them (ethos).  Next, shift to reason, by laying out your claims and evidence about the product (logos). Finally, make the sale by appealing to the emotions of your audience and by showing them, not just telling them, why they need the product (pathos).

Use the following three essential questions to assist you in constructing your pitch:

-Ethos:  How can I get my audience to believe that I am credible, and how can I make them trust me?

-Logos:  Is my argument reasonable, and how can I organize my points and my evidence so that it is clear and logical?

-Pathos:  How can I show, not just tell my point, and how can I get my audience fired up to feel something?

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Logos, ethos, and pathos appeal to the brain, gut, and heart of your audience.  While our brain tries to sort the facts, our gut tells us whether we can trust the other person, and our heart makes us want to do something about it.  -Jay Heinrichs in Thank You for Arguing

 

March 25:  Toulmin Argument Day

Today is the birthday of British philosopher and educator Stephen Toulmin, who was born in London in 1922.

Stephen Toulmin.jpgIn 1958, Toulmin published a book entitled The Uses of Argument in which he explained his model of argumentation.  Toulmin’s objective was to give his readers a practical, real-world method for constructing or analyzing arguments.  Instead of the abstract, academic proofs written by logisticians, Toulmin proposed a method that could be understood and applied by ordinary people to everyday arguments.

The Toulmin’s model of argument is made up of six key parts:

The Claim is what you believe to be true, what the argument proves.

The Data is the facts, evidence and reasons that lead you to believe the claim is true.

The Warrant is an assumption that connects the data with your claim.  The warrant makes the thinking of the argument explicit, explaining both how and why the data support the claim.  

The Backing is any facts or details that support the warrant.

The Qualifier is limits of the claim, stating whether or not it is always true or in what cases it is true.

The Rebuttal is where the person writing the argument anticipates and answers possible objections to the claim by stating counterclaims and responding to them.

Toulmin’s model is an excellent way to analyze arguments made by others or to analyze your own.  It gives you a method for carefully thinking through each part and for troubleshooting the parts that don’t hold up under scrutiny.  In essence the model is a grammar for arguments. Just as grammar allows you to name the parts needed for crafting and revising clear sentences, Toulmin’s model gives you the nomenclature needed to construct and examine sound arguments (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Try Toulmin’s Toolbox

What are examples of five claims that you believe in fully?  Brainstorm some possible claims that you could confidently make.  Then, select one claim, and write a well-developed argument employing each element of the Toulmin model.

Before you begin writing your own argument, analyze the example argument below, identifying the claim, qualifier, data, warrant, backing, and rebuttal:

The best way to become a good writer, in most cases, is to read widely. Most good writers build up their experience and understanding of the different ways that words, sentences, and paragraphs work through reading. Furthermore, most writers don’t just express their own ideas, instead they build and test their own ideas by reading, responding and referring to other writers. One of the common things you will hear when listening to interviews of writers is their references to other writers as well as to what they have read or are reading.  In the words of Stephen King, ““If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” A writer might have great ideas, but without a lot of experience of analyzing the written word through careful reading, the writer is not going to be equipped to package his or her ideas in a way that they can be understood by an audience of readers.  Some may say that the best way to write is to just write; however, that’s a little like saying the best way to build a house is to just build a house. Just as home construction require knowledge of architecture, good writing requires a solid understanding of the architecture of prose. Construction workers read blueprints before they pick up a hammer; likewise, good writers read good books before they pick up a pen.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument. -Desmond Tutu

1-http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/11/education/11toulmin.html

March 23:  Classical Argument Day

On this day in 1775, Patrick Henry delivered one of the most memorable and most important speeches in American history.  The speech was delivered at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, to the 120 delegates of the Second Virginia Convention, which included George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  

The question at hand was whether or not to mobilize military forces against the British.  Some held out hope for peaceful reconciliation with Britain, arguing against the motion to use force.  Henry, a 38-year old lawyer and politician, listened respectfully, then rose to give what is probably the best know call to arms in the history of rhetoric.  

In making his argument, Henry drew upon the classical arrangement of an argument, dating back to Aristotle and Cicero:

The Introduction (Exordium) – The Reason for Relevance

The Context (Narration) – The Context of the Controversy

The Thesis (Partition) – The Architecture of the Argument

The Evidence (Confirmation) – The Explanation of the Evidence

The Counterclaims (Refutation) – The Consideration of Counterclaims

The Conclusion (Peroration) – The Finish With a Flash

As we read Henry’s speech, we can break it into the six-part structure and examine how each part relates to the whole.

Exordium (Paragraphs 1-2):  Instead of beginning with a claim, the exordium seeks to win the attention and good will of the audience. Here Henry’s focus is on showing he is trustworthy and credible.  Notice how he shows respect to those who have spoken before him, while at the same time establishing his own forceful and confident voice:

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony.

The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Narration (Paragraphs 3-8 ): In the Narration a speaker gives the context for the argument.  Notice how Henry provides background on the issue at hand. Also, notice how instead of making declarations, he more subtly guides his audience to join in his conclusions through the use of rhetorical questions:

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss.

Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort.

I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging.

And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves longer.

Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne!

Partition (Paragraph 9):  In the Partition, a speaker presents the thesis, the core argument being made.  Notice how Henry clearly and forcefully states his claim, not just once but twice:

In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free—if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending—if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained—we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

Confirmation and Refutation (Paragraphs 10-12):  In the Confirmation, a speaker supports the central argument with reasoning, proof, and evidence; in the Refutation, a speaker anticipates opposing claims and attempts to rebut them.  Notice how Henry builds his case for taking action and how he rebuts the case for inaction. Notice also how in addition to appealing to the logic of his audience, he uses powerful imagery to move his audience emotionally:

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?

Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.

Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable—and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

Peroration (Paragraphs 13-14):  In the Peroration, a speaker presents the grand finale by summarizing the case and by attempting to move the audience to action by appealing to emotion.  Henry has constructed and arranged his entire argument to culminate in a single dramatic crescendo:

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace—but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?

Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Today’s Challenge:  Classical Arguments, Classical Choices

What are some examples of the kinds of fundamental choices people must make in their lives, such as to marry or to stay single, to go to college or to get a job out of high school, to join the military or to remain a civilian?  Brainstorm a list of at least 10 possible choices a typical person might make.  These may be monumental, life-altering choices, or they may be simple choices that an individual must make on a daily basis.  Select one of the key choices that you feel strongly about and construct a classical argument using Henry’s speech as your model.  Arrange your speech to include each of the six elements of the classical argument, and like Henry, make sure to end with a climactic peroration. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Nothing is so unbelievable that oratory cannot make it acceptable. –Marcus Tullius Cicero

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 5:  Hall of Fame Day

On this day in 1900, the Hall of Fame for Great Americans was completed on the campus of New York University.  Long before any other halls of fame were established in the United States, Dr. Henry Mitchell MacCracken, Chancellor of New York University, envisioned a place that would honor those Americans who had a significant impact on American history.

Today the Hall of Fame for Great Americans still stands.  In 1973, New York University sold the campus, so today it is on the grounds of Bronx Community College.  It features a 630-foot open-air colonnade with bronze portrait busts of the following 98 Americans:

John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Jane Addams, Louis Agassiz, Susan B. Anthony, John James Audubon, George Bancroft, Clara Barton, Henry Ward Beecher, Alexander Graham Bell, Daniel Boone, Edwin Booth, Louis Brandeis, Phillips Brooks, William Cullen Bryant, Luther Burbank, Andrew Carnegie, George Washington Carver, William Ellery Channing, Rufus Choate, Henry Clay, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Grover Cleveland, James Fenimore Cooper, Peter Cooper, Charlotte Saunders Cushman, James Buchanan Eads, Thomas Alva Edison, Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, David Glasgow Farragut, Stephen Collins Foster, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Fulton, Josiah Willard Gibbs, William Crawford Gorgas, Ulysses Simpson Grant, Asa Gray, Alexander Hamilton, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Joseph Henry, Patrick Henry, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.Mark Hopkins, Elias Howe, Washington Irving, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, John Paul Jones, James Kent, Sidney Lanier, Robert Edward Lee, Abraham Lincoln,Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Mary Lyon, Edward Alexander MacDowell, James Madison, Horace Mann, John Marshall, Matthew Fontaine Maury,Albert Abraham Michelson, Maria Mitchell, James Monroe, Samuel Finley Breese Morse, William Thomas Green Morton, John Lothrop Motley, Simon Newcomb,Thomas Paine, Alice Freeman Palmer, Francis Parkman, George Peabody, William Penn, Edgar Allan Poe, Walter Reed, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, William Tecumseh Sherman, John Philip Sousa, Joseph Story, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Gilbert Charles Stuart, Sylvanus Thayer, Henry David Thoreau, Lillian D. Wald, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, Daniel Webster, George Westinghouse, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Walt Whitman, Eli Whitney, John Greenleaf Whittier, Emma Willard, Frances Elizabeth Willard, Roger Williams, Woodrow Wilson, Orville Wright, Wilbur Wright

 

The categories for members of the Hall of Fame include authors, educators, architects, inventors, military leaders, judges, theologians, philanthropists, humanitarians, scientists, artists, musicians, actors, and explorers.  The Colonnade was originally designed to accommodate 102 busts, so there is room for four more.  To be eligible for nomination to the Hall of Fame of Great Americans, a candidate must be a native-born or naturalized citizen of the United States and must have been dead for 25 years.

Today’s Challenge:  Hometown Hero

What American deserves a statue in your town?  What makes this individual so influential and so deserving of being immortalized with a statue?  Make the case for the individual you would select to be honored with a new statue or bust to be erected in a prominent location in your town.  What makes this person deserving, and how might honoring the individual influence citizens in both the present and future? (Common Core 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  American was not built on fear.  America was built on courage, on imagination, and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand. -President Harry Truman

1-http://www.bcc.cuny.edu/halloffame/

 

February 23:  Best Two Songs Day

On this date in 1978, two songs tied for Song of the Year at the 20th Annual Grammy Awards held in Los Angeles.  The two songs were Barbra Streisand’s “Evergreen” (Love Theme from A Star Is Born) and Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life.”  It was the first time in Grammy history that there was a tie for Song of the Year.  Today neither song has stood the test of time as a quality song.  The best choice in retrospect would have been the Eagles “Hotel California,” which also nominated and which still receives airplay today.  Fans of the Eagles will find solace, however, in the fact that “Hotel California” did win the Grammy for Record of the Year (1).

You Light Up My Life (album).jpgThis brings up the questions of the semantic difference between Record of the Year and Song of the Year.  Record of the Year recognizes an artist’s performance of a song along with the song’s producers; Song of the Year is an award given to the writer or writers of a song.

Today’s Challenge:  Two Timeless Tunes

What are two songs that you consider timeless — two songs that you consider to be works of genius and that you can listen to over and over?  Select two songs that you would argue are timeless classics.  Make your argument for what makes each unique, while giving some of the necessary background on the artist, songwriter, and song genre. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Putting two songs together, I’ve always loved that trick when it works.  -Paul McCartney

1-http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/its-a-tie-for-song-of-the-year-at-the-20th-annual-grammy-awards

February 18: Sequel Day

On this date in 1884, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in the United States.  Since its publication, the language of Twain’s novel has sparked controversy, yet it remains a book unparalleled in its influence.  Unlike other American novels of the time which were imitations of European literature, Huckleberry Finn was a truly American book, the first to be written in the American vernacular.  Twain’s revolutionary move was to give the narration of his book to the uneducated, unwashed Huck, who speaks in dialect and introduces himself in the novel’s famous first sentence:

Huckleberry Finn book.JPGYou don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another . . . .    

Ernest Hemingway praised Twain’s book, saying, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn’ . . . . All American writing comes from that.  There was nothing before.  There has been nothing as good since.”  

Twain began write his masterpiece in 1876, but after writing 400 pages he set it aside unfinished.  At one point Twain threatened to burn the unfinished manuscript, but luckily he took it out of his drawer and went back to work on it in 1882, finishing in August 1883.

Twain’s novel is so influential and so distinctive that some forget that it was a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876).  It is the rare sequel that achieves the level of its predecessor, let alone eclipses it.  

In 1995, American novelist E.L. Doctorow highlighted the differences between the two books, pointing out that Twain’s motivation was to take on the issues of racism and slavery in his sequel — issues he had ignored in Tom Sawyer:

But Twain had to have understood, finally, that, in its celebratory comedy, his book [‘Tom Sawyer’] was too sentimental, too forgiving of the racist backwater that had nurtured him.  He had ignored slavery as if it hadn’t existed.  And after all was said and done his Tom Sawyer character was a centrist, a play rebel, who, like Twain, had been welcomed into the bosom of a ruling society he sallied against.

Today’s Challenge:   It Takes II to Tango

What are some examples of great sequels, great books or movies, that continue the story of an original book or movie?  Make your argument for the single sequel, book or movie, that you think is the best, and explain what makes the sequel so great.  See the list of examples below.  Don’t assume your reader has read the book or seen the movie. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Books:

The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

That Was Then, This Is Now  by S.E. Hinton

The Odyssey by Homer

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Movies:

The Color of Money

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

The Bourne Supremacy

Monsters University

The Matrix Reloaded

Quotation of the Day:  It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened- Jim he allowed they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many. -Huck in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

 

February 15: Slogans that Stick Day

On this date in 1889 the Unites States battleship Maine exploded while harbored in Havana, Cuba, killing 260 of the 400 sailors aboard.  The Maine had been sent to protect American interests when a Cuban revolt broke out against Spanish rule.  Although no clear cause for the explosion was proven definitively, a U.S. Naval Court of inquiry at the time placed the blame on a Spanish mine.  

USS Maine entering Havana harbor HD-SN-99-01929.JPEGAlthough he was initially against war with Spain, President William McKinley faced enormous public pressure to go to war.  The yellow journalism of William Randolph Hearst inflamed American resentment against Spain, and cries of “Remember the Maine” increased tensions.  Finally in April 1889, the U.S. declared war on Spain.  

The Spanish-American war lasted just five months.  Spain was not prepared to fight a distant war and was easily routed by the U.S.  As a result of the brief war, the U.S. acquired Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, as well as temporary control of Cuba (1).

In 1976 an investigation into the explosion of the Maine by U.S. Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover cleared the Spanish.  Rickover concluded that the explosion was caused by spontaneous combustion in the ship’s coal bins (2).

“Remember the Maine” is one of the more memorable slogans of history.  Like “Remember the Alamo” before it and “Remember Pearl Harbor” after it, these slogans remind us that slogans are not just about advertising a product; instead, they are about getting people to do something:  buy a product, vote for a candidate, or take arms against an enemy in war.  In fact, the etymology of slogan is from the Gaelic sluagh-ghairm, meaning “army-shout” or “battle cry” (3).

“Remember the Maine” features two principles that make it stick in the mind.  First, it is stated as an imperative sentence; second, it is clear and concise.  Nothing arrests the attention like a short imperative sentence.  Stated as a command, an imperative sentence like “Remember the Maine” doesn’t need to waste time stating a subject; instead, the slogan begins with a verb that acts like the blast of a starting gun telling us to “Go!”  In addition to being a call to action or a call to arms, great slogans make every word count.  They are micro-messages, and the fewer the words, the greater they stick.

 

For more proof the effectiveness of the concise imperative slogan, read the examples below — each one with no more than six words:

Eat fresh

Make believe

Think Small

Think different

Challenge everything

Just Do It!

Obey your thirst

Dig for Victory

Spread the happy

Ban the Bomb

Have it your way

Say it with Flowers

Fly the friendly skies

Save Money. Live Better

Don’t Leave Home Without It

Twist the cap to refreshment

Reach Out and touch someone

Buy it. Sell it. Love it.

Put a Tiger in Your Tank

Today’s Challenge:  Build a Better Battle Cry

What is an existing product or cause that you would be willing to promote?  Brainstorm some products, causes, and some original imperative slogans.  When you have found one that works, write a brief letter to the company or to someone representing the cause, and make your pitch for your slogan.  Why do you think it works and should be used to promote the product/cause?  Make your case. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. -Calvin Coolidge

1- http://www.historytoday.com/print/8602

2-http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5470/

3-http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=slogan