December 1: Most Influential Person Who Never Lived Day  

On this day in 1976, Leo Burnett (1891-1971) gave a speech to the gathered executives of his advertising agency, Leo Burnett Worldwide.  In his talk, which has become known as “The When to Take My Name Off the Door Speech,” Burnett challenged his employees to never forget that advertising is not just about making a buck; it’s about the creative process (1).

In his illustrious career, Burnett created some of the most influential characters in the history of advertising, including the Marlboro Man, Tony the Tiger, Charlie the Tuna, and the Maytag Repairman.

Burnett opened his ad agency in the middle of the Great Depression, and on the day it opened, he famously put a bowl of apples in the reception area.  His brash move of opening a business in the middle of the Depression caused some to say that it wouldn’t be long before he was selling those apples on the street.  Instead, the company thrived, and by the end of the 1950s, it was earning over 100 million dollars annually.

The book The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived ranks fictional characters from literature, fable, myth, and popular culture.  The writers, Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan, and Jeremy Salter, got the idea to write the book after reading Michael Hart’s book The 100:  A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History.

The fictional character ranked as the number one most influential is Leo Burnett’s creation, The Marlboro Man.  The burly cowboy was the symbol of Marlboro Cigarettes beginning in 1955.  By 1972, Marlboro was the top cigarette brand in the world, and by 2000 it owned a 35 percent market share of U.S. cigarette sales (2).

The following are other influential characters, each born in the imagination of a creative individual and brought to life on a page or a screen:

Hamlet, Oedipus, Dracula, Atticus Finch, Hester Prynne, Mickey Mouse, Barbie, Big Brother, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, Prometheus, King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes, Uncle Sam, Ebenezer Scrooge

Today’s Challenge:  Unforgettable Favorite from Fiction

What fictional characters would make your list of the most influential?  What makes them so special?  Write a short speech making your case for the single character that you think should receive the award for most influential.  Make sure to provide enough detailed evidence to show what makes this character so important, not just to you, but to society at large. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Daye, Derrick. Great Moments in Advertising:  Leo Burnett’s Speech. Brand Strategy Insider 28 Oct. 2007. http://www.brandingstrategyinsider.com/2007/10/great-moments-3-2.html#.V3xid-srLnB.

2-Lazar, Allan, Dan Karlan, and Jeremy Salter.  The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived: How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Society, Changed Our Behavior, and Set the Course of History.  New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.

November 29:  Compulsory Education Day

On this day in 1870, the British government announced its plan to make education compulsory.  The Elementary Education Act of 1870 required that education be provided to children up to age 10.  The act was also commonly known as the Forster’s Education Act, named for William Edward Forster, a member of the House of Commons who crusaded for universal education and who drew up the act.

One nation that adopted compulsory education before Britain was Prussia.  A decree by Frederick the Great in 1763 provided an education for all girls and boys until age 13.  Under this plan, teachers were paid by the citizens of the municipalities in which they taught; however, the teachers — many of whom were former soldiers — were asked to supplement their income by cultivating silkworms.

In the United States, Mississippi became the last state to pass a compulsory education law in 1918.

In 2012, best-selling young adult fiction author John Green published a YouTube post on compulsory education entitled “An Open Letter to Students Returning to School.”  In his letter, Green challenged students to not take their education for granted and to see “compulsory” schooling as an opportunity to contribute something to society (2).

Today’s Challenge:  A Compulsion for Education

If you were the Secretary of Education, what class would you make mandatory for all students?  Why?  Imagine that you have been appointed to design a specific class that will be required by all students before they graduate high school.  What would you call your class, and what would be the make-up of the class’s curriculum?  In addition to describing the class, provide a rationale for why the content of the class is essential for students. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Elementary Education Act of 1870. https://archive.org/details/elementaryeducat00greauoft.

2-Green, John. An Open Letter to Students Returning to School. YouTube 7 Aug. 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x78PnPd-V-A.

November 26:  Abecedarian of Awesome Day

On this day in 1789, Thanksgiving was celebrated for the first time under the new U.S. Constitution based on a proclamation signed by President George Washington.  However, it took over 150 years for Thanksgiving to be recognized as an official Federal holiday.  On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a Congressional resolution establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.

In June 2000, Neil Pasricha started a blog called 1000 Awesome Things as a reminder that although there is plenty of bad news every day, there are also a lot of things to be thankful for, things that Pasricha characterizes as “the free, easy little joys that make life sweet.”  At Pasricha’s blog each “Awesome Thing” is numbered. Below is a small sample of numbers 498 to 492:

#498 Long comfortable silences between really close friends

#497 The moment after the show ends and before the applause begins

#496 Seeing way worse weather on TV somewhere else

#495 When it suddenly just clicks

#494 Cutting your sandwich into triangles

#493 When that zit growing on your forehead suddenly just disappears

#492 The first text message between new friends

Each numbered item is linked to a detailed entry, describing in vivid detail what makes the thing truly awesome (1).

Today’s Challenge:  26 Awesome Things to Be Thankful For

What are 26 things you are thankful for?  Brainstorm a list of at least 26 awesome things to be thankful for, one for each letter of the alphabet, such as Accordions, The Beatles, Canned Food, Donuts, etc.  Once you have your A to Z list, select one item on your list, and write a detailed description that shows and tells why that one item is so awesome.

1-1000 Awesome Things. http://1000awesomethings.com/.

November 25:  Fable Day

On this day in 1998, the computer-animated film A Bug’s Life was released.  The film was produced by Pixar Animation Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios.  The film, which was directed by John Lasseter and co-directed by Andrew Stanton, featured the music of Randy Newman and the voices of Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, and Julia Louis-Dryfus (1).

The plot of the film is based on a retelling of one of Aesop’s fables: The Ant and the Grasshopper:

One bright day in late autumn a family of Ants were bustling about in the warm sunshine, drying out the grain they had stored up during the summer, when a starving Grasshopper, his fiddle under his arm, came up and humbly begged for a bite to eat.

“What!” cried the Ants in surprise, “haven’t you stored anything away for the winter? What in the world were you doing all last summer?”

“I didn’t have time to store up any food,” whined the Grasshopper; “I was so busy making music that before I knew it the summer was gone.”

The Ants shrugged their shoulders in disgust.

“Making music, were you?” they cried. “Very well; now dance!” And they turned their backs on the Grasshopper and went on with their work.

There’s a time for work and a time for play. (2)

No one knows for certain if Aesop actually lived, but some ancient historians report that he was a slave who lived either in the 5th or 6th-century B.C.  Whether he actually lived or not, today we have over 300 fables, each with a plot the centers on animals and a moral that applies to the human reader (3).

Walt Disney made a cartoon-short of “The Ant and the Grasshopper” in the 1930s, but when Pixar got ahold of the story in the 1990s, they turned the short fable into a full-fledged film, featuring a full colony of ants and a rowdy gang of grasshoppers.

Today’s Challenge:  An Awesome Aesop Adaptation

Which of Aesop’s Fables is your favorite, and how would you adapt the story to create a feature animated film?  Write an explanation of which of Aesop’s Fables you would adapt and how you would transform it from a brief fable into a full-length feature film.  If you want, you may use the Pixar Pitch template from November 22:  Pixar Pitch Day. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Pixar. A Bug’s Life. https://www.pixar.com/feature-films/a-bugs-life/#abl-main.

2-Aesop Fables. The Harvard Classics 1909-14. Bartleby.com.  Public Domain. https://www.bartleby.com/17/1/38.html.

3-University of Massachusetts Amherst. Aesop’s Fables. https://www.umass.edu/aesop/history.php.

November 23:  Jukebox Day

On this day in 1889, the first jukebox was installed at the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco. Although it is somewhat of an anachronism today, the jukebox was one of the key influences on music and culture throughout much of the 20th century.

The idea of a coin-operated phonograph was hatched by Louis Glass, president of Pacific Phonograph Company.  Glass adapted Thomas Edison’s phonograph, which played songs on wax cylinders, by attaching four stethoscope-like tubes for listening.  Each tube was individually activated by the listener inserting a nickel.  In fact, the machine was first called the “nickel-in-the-slot player.”  The term jukebox did not enter the vernacular until the 1940s.

The origin of the term “juke” begins in Gullah, a Creole language spoken by the African-American population of the Sea Islands and coastal region of the southern United States.  In Gullah “juke” means “disorderly, rowdy, or wicked.”  Before the term was used for a coin-operated music box, it applied to a “juke joint,” a common term for a saloon or tavern.  Because these types of establishments featured “nickel-in-the-slot players,” the more concise term “jukebox” took hold (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Put in Your Two Bits

What would be the top five songs you would include on your personal jukebox?  Whether you have a jukebox or not, the playlist has become a prominent part of a modern culture where music is more accessible than ever.  Brainstorm your favorite songs, the kind of songs that would make up the soundtrack of your life.  Select your top five songs, and write a description for each that explains why the song is important to you and what makes it a vital part of your playlist. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Casebeer. Today in History – The First Jukebox Made Its Musical Debut. American Blues Scene.com 23 Nov. 2013. https://www.americanbluesscene.com/today-in-history-the-first-jukebox-made-its-debut/.

November 22:  Pixar Pitch Day

On this day in 1995, the computer-animated film Toy Story was released by Walt Disney Pictures.  The film, directed by John Lasseter, was the first feature-length film produced by Pixar Animation Studios, a subsidiary of Walt Disney.  Widely considered one of the greatest animated films of all time, Toy Story and has earned over $350 million.

Today Pixar Animation Studios, located in Emeryville, California, is one of the most successful studios in movie history, grossing over $7 billion and winning 26 Oscars. Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3 have all won the Academy Award for Best Animated Features.

In his book To Sell Is Human, Daniel H. Pink attributes the success of Pixar to “The Pixar Pitch,” a template that provides a structure for the most important part of every Pixar film – the story:

Once upon a time ____________.  Every day ____________.  One day ____________. Because of that, ____________. Because of that, ____________. Until finally ____________.

According to Pink, the strength of the Pixar Pitch format is that it a concise and controlled “framework that takes advantage of the well-documented persuasive force of stories” (1).  Just as the fourteen lines of a sonnet seem to be the best package for a message of love, the six-sentence template of the Pixar Pitch is the perfect way to deliver a packaged plot.

Today’s Challenge:  The Six-Sentence Sell

What story would you tell using the Pixar Pitch as your template?  Try your hand at creating a narrative that uses the six-sentence structure of the Pixar Pitch.  Imagine that you are making a pitch for the next Pixar feature.  If you are working with others, have a contest to see who can come up with the most compelling pitch. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Pink, Daniel.  To Sell Is Human. New York:  Riverhead Books, 2012: 170-174.

November 21:  Invention Day

On this day in 1877, Thomas Edison announced his latest invention, the tinfoil phonograph.  Edison, who held over 1,000 patents, came up with the idea of the phonograph while working on his telephone transmitter.

Working with his machinist John Kruesi, he constructed a machine with a grooved cylinder which was mounted on a long shaft.  Tin foil was wrapped around the cylinder.  Using a hand crank to record on the tin foil, Edison’s first recording was a nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”  After playing the recording back and realizing that it worked perfectly, Edison was amazed but cautious.  He said, “I never was so taken back in my life.  Everybody was astonished.  I was always afraid of things that worked the first time.”  Today we know Edison for the lightbulb, which came about in 1879; however, it was the phonograph that boosted Edison’s reputations as a great inventor. Edison continued working on improving his phonograph, and in 1887 he produced a more satisfactory commercial model using wax cylinders for recording (1).

Creating the name of a new invention can be almost as important as the invention itself.  Based one of Edison’s notebooks from his Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory, we have evidence that Edison gave careful thought to naming his invention before its launch, making a list of possible names, most using roots from Greek or Latin.  Before settling on the Greek phonograph (“phono” = sound + “graph” = writing or recording), Edison considered more than 50 possible names; the six listed below are some examples:

Brontophone = Thunder sounder

Phemegraph = speech writer

Orcheograph = vibration record

Bittako-phone = Parrot speaker

Hemerologophone = Speaking almanac (2)

Invention For Writers

Like Edison, ancient rhetoricians were devoted to invention; to them, however, invention was the name of the first phase of generating ideas for speaking and writing. Two of the three books of Aristotle’s Rhetoric are devoted to invention, and the Roman orator Cicero made invention the first of his five canons of rhetoric: Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory, and Delivery.

Sometimes called prewriting, invention is a deliberate process for discovering the best way to approach a writing task, and the best method is to ask yourself some key questions before putting together a first draft:

PURPOSE:  What is the purpose of your writing; in other words, what is the goal you are trying to accomplish by writing?

ARGUMENT:  What are the arguments on both sides of the issue you are addressing?  Imagine and anticipate what your opponent will say, so that you can construct the most cogent argument.

AUDIENCE:  What do you know about your audience?  What do you want from them, and what do they value and care about that is relevant to your case?

EVIDENCE:  What kinds of evidence do you have to support your argument? Do you have enough, and does it forcefully support your argument?

APPEALS:  How will you employ logos, pathos, and ethos to make your argument compelling?

Today’s Challenge:  Inventions Over or Under

What would you say is the most overrated and the most underrated inventions of all time?  Your task is to convince an audience of your peers that one invention is either the most overrated or most underrated invention of all time.  Begin by brainstorming two columns, listing both overrated and underrated inventions.  Then, use the questions regarding purpose, argument, audience, evidence, and appeals to generate the best approach to putting together the text of a successful persuasive speech. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Thomas A. Edison Papers. Tinfoil Phonograph. Rutgers University 28 Oct. 2016. . http://edison.rutgers.edu/tinfoil.htm.

2- Usher, Shaun.  Lists of Note:  An Eclectic Collection Deserving of a Wider Audience.  San Francisco:  Chronicle Books, 2015: 242.

November 7:  Meaning in Myth Day

Today is the birthday of the French writer and philosopher Albert Camus (1913-1960).  Camus was born in Algeria, a French colony, and was active in the French resistance in World War II, writing for an underground newspaper.  Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 for his fiction, specifically his novels:  The Stranger (1942), The Plague (1947), and The Rebel (1951).

Though he never called himself an existentialist, Camus is often associated with the post-World War II philosophical movement which places the individual struggle for meaning above any other meaning that might be found in religion or society.  The major theme of Camus’ writing was the absurd — or the paradox of the absurd:  the idea that individuals have an innate desire to live a life that has meaning while at the same time realizing that ultimately life has no meaning (1).

To help his readers understand these somewhat abstract ideas, Camus wrote a philosophical essay in 1942 entitled “The Myth of Sisyphus,” where he retells the ancient Greek myth as a way of making meaning of the plight of modern man.

Sisyphus, the King of Corinth, was condemned by the gods to an eternity of rolling a huge rock to the top of a mountain. Once the rock reached the top, it would then roll back down to the bottom, where once again Sisyphus would commence the fruitless and futile task of rolling it back to the top.  Camus calls Sisyphus “the absurd hero” because, although he knows he must forever push his rock up the hill and then watch it roll back down the mountain, he embraces his fate.  By doing this “he is superior to his fate.”  In this way Sisyphus exemplifies the nobility and courage of the individual who even in the face of a hostile universe, strives for his own purpose.  Camus parallels Sisyphus’ labor with that of the modern worker (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Modern Meaning in Myth

What characters from mythology would you say tap most clearly into a universal theme of human existence, such as love, hate, change, evil, or freedom?  How do the characters’ stories relate to the themes, and how do the characters’ stories parallel the plight of modern humans?  Brainstorm some names of characters from mythology.  To get you started, here are a few characters from Greek mythology:

Odysseus

Tantalus

Prometheus

Pandora

Persephone

Oedipus

Narcissus

Select one character from your list, and identify a universal theme which can be extracted from the character’s story. Then, like Camus did with Sisyphus, give meaning to your myth by retelling the character’s story in your own words, explaining the universal theme that is found in the story, and paralleling the character’s experience to the lives of modern humans. (Common Core Writing 2 and 3 – Expository and Narrative)         

1-Albert Camus – BiographicalNobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 8 Aug 2018. http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1957/camus-bio.html.

2-Camus, Albert.  The Myth of Sisyphus. http://dbanach.com/sisyphus.htm.

 

November 5:  Guy Fawkes Day

Today is the anniversary of a foiled plot to blow up the British Parliament. On the night before the ceremonial opening of Parliament on November 5, 1605, 36 barrels of gunpowder were discovered in the basement of the House of Lords. The perpetrators of the plot, 13 Catholics who hoped to topple the Protestant King, James I, were arrested, prosecuted, and hanged.

A monochrome engraving of eight men, in 17th-century dress. All have beards, and appear to be engaged in discussionAlthough he was not the ringleader of the plot, Guy Fawkes became the “face” of the Gunpowder Plot.  This is probably because he was the one man caught red-handed, with matches in his pocket, skulking in the basement of the House of Lords waiting to light the fuse.  Once capture, Fawkes was tortured and signed a confession.  He also implicated his fellow conspirators who were hanged with him on January 31, 1606.

Ever since that fateful night in 1605, November 5th has been a night of thanksgiving and revelry. Celebrants of the failed coup light bonfires, set off fireworks, and burn effigies, called “guys,” of the notorious rebel Guy Fawkes (1, 2).

On Guy Fawkes Night, or as it is also known “Bonfire Night,” British children collect wood for their fires or solicit money for their “guys” as they chant or sing:

   Remember, remember!

   The fifth of November,

   The Gunpowder treason and plot;

   I know of no reason

   Why the Gunpowder treason

   Should ever be forgot!

   Guy Fawkes and his companions

   Did the scheme contrive,

   To blow the King and Parliament

   All up alive.

   Threescore barrels, laid below,

   To prove old England’s overthrow.

   But, by God’s providence, him they catch,

   With a dark lantern, lighting a match! (3)

Frequently in English, the famous and infamous become enshrined in the language when their last names become common, lower case nouns or verbs (called eponyms). In rare cases, however, a first name becomes a part of the lexicon.  Guy Fawkes not only became the subject of burned effigies, but also his first name became synonymous with anyone of odd appearance. Across the Atlantic, the name is used in American English to refer to any male, either bad or good. It is also a handy word used in its plural form to refer to any group of people (2).

Guy Fawkes, himself, has undergone a makeover, transforming from villain to rebel hero and freedom fighter.  This is due mainly to the graphic novel and movie V for Vendetta.  Set in a dystopian Britain, the book and film feature a hero who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and who battles the future fascist government of Britain.

Today’s Challenge:  Remember, Remember the Date

What hero or villain, who is not already honored with a day on the calendar, should be recognized with his or her own specific day? What makes this person influential or notorious enough to rate having a dedicated day on the calendar, and what kind of activities would you suggest to appropriately mark the day? Brainstorm a list of important figures and events from history. Select the one person you would honor, and write a proclamation which explains who the person is and what specific date will be set aside to recognize the person.  Include some background on what the person did and why the person is important.  Finally, include some details on the kinds of activities that will accompany the person’s special day. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1 – Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night. Bonfirenight.net 2011. http://www.bonfirenight.net/gunpowder.php.

2 – Word History and Mysteries. (by the editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.

3-The Fifth of November. English Folk Verse (c.1870).

October 27:  The Federalist Papers Day

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper 1 was published in the Independent Journal of New York.

Today Americans take the Constitutional form of government for granted.  But in 1787, shortly after the young, ragtag nation had thrown off the British monarchy and won its independence, a constitution was not a given.  The questions at that time were — would there be a central federal government at all, and if there were, what would be its powers?  The original basis for the united thirteen states was the Articles of Confederation, but this gave the federal government little power:  no power to levy taxes, to regulate trade, or to enforce laws.  The Constitution, which offered a plan for a federal government based on checks and balances, was drafted in September of 1787, but it still needed to be ratified by at least nine states.

In October 1787, therefore, the federalists began their debate with the anti-federalists.  One of the chief proponents of the Constitution was Alexander Hamilton, the chief aide to George Washington during the Revolutionary War and an elected representative from New York state to the Congress of the Confederation.  Hamilton knew that New York would be a key swing state in the debate, so he hatched a plan to write essays that would be published in New York newspapers to promote and explain the new Constitution.  To help him, Hamilton enlisted James Madison, who had served in the Continental Congress, and John Jay, a lawyer and diplomat.

Between October 1787 and May 1788, the trio wrote a total of 85 essays, totaling more than 175,000 words.  Each essay was published anonymously under the pen name “Publius,” an allusion to Publius Valerius Publicola, a supporter of the Roman Republic.

The Federalist Papers served as a kind of user’s guide to the Constitution, explaining how the people, not a king, would govern and how a federal government was needed to increase efficiency and to prevent the risk of another monarchy.  The papers also explained the separation of powers between the branches of government, and how government should operate to maintain individual liberty without anarchy.

In the end, the federalists won.  All thirteen states ratified the U.S. Constitution.

Today we have all 85 Federalist Papers intact as testimony to the work of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.  Reading them, however, is not easy. They are written in dense 18th century prose.  With careful focus and attention, however, they can be understood.

It is this kind of careful close reading that the College Board had in mind when it redesigned its Scholastic Aptitude Test, which took effect in 2016.  One specific area of emphasis in the redesign of the SAT reading test is U.S. founding documents, which includes the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Federalist Paper in a Nutshell

What are the keys to writing a good summary?  Read Federalist Paper 1, or one of the other papers, and write a one-paragraph summary.  Read and re-read the passage until you understand its main ideas.  Before you write your summary, consider the following “Six Summary Secrets”:

  1. Open with a topic sentence that identifies the author and title of the work being summarized.
  2. Make sure your summary is clear to someone who has not read the original.
  3. Focus on the main points rather than the details.
  4. Paraphrase by using your own words without quoting words directly from the original passage.
  5. Be objective, by reporting the ideas in the passage without stating your own opinions or ideas regarding the passage or its author.
  6. Use concise, clear language.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1- Beck, Glenn with Joshua Charles.  The Original Argument:  The Federalists’ Case for the Constitution, Adapted for the 21st Century.   New York:  Threshold Editions, 2011:  xxi-xxxi.

2- The College Board.  The Redesigned SAT  “Founding Documents and the Great Global Conversation.”

https://www.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/founding_documents_and_the_great_global_conversation.pdf.