February 17: Two Sources Day

On this date in 1942, the Voice of America (VOA), the United States’ government-funded multimedia news source, made its first radio broadcast.  With the world at war, the mission of the VOA was to combat Nazi propaganda, to promote American policies, and to boost the morale of its allies around the world.   

VOAlogo.pngAt the end of World War II and with the beginning of the Cold War, VOA began its first Russian-language broadcasts into the Soviet Union in 1947.  These broadcasts included news, human-interest stories, and music.  The stated purpose of the VOA at this time was to give listeners in the USSR a picture of what life was like on the other side of the iron curtain (1).

Congress did not enact an official charter for the Voice of America until 1976.  The charter, which was signed by President Gerald Ford, requires VOA to “serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news” (2).

Today the VOA provides programming through the internet, mobile and social media, radio, and television in more than 40 languages.  Located in Washington, D.C., VOA serves an estimated weekly global audience of 187.7 million people (3).

From its first broadcast in 1942, the VOA made the following promise:  “The news may be good.  The news may be bad.  We shall tell the truth.”  One principle that assists its quest for accurate reporting is its “two-source rule,” which it instituted in 1981.  The two-source rule stipulates that the VOA will not report a news story until it has two independently corroborating sources or an eyewitness report from a correspondent.   It’s this principle that prevents the VOA from making mistakes in its reporting.  It also promotes the VOA’s reputation as a trusted, credible source for news.

Today’s Challenge:  Two Sources to Truth

What are some questions that you have, questions that you are truly curious about and that you do not know the answer to?  Select a question that you are curious about and research it.  Find at least two separate sources, and write a paragraph answering your question.  If the two sources do not corroborate a clear, single answer to your question, continue your research until you have at least two separate sources that corroborate your answer.  Use direct quotations, and cite your sources. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  It was very hard to get any records, so the only source for us to really hear what was happening was listening to the Voice of America. We would be taping all the broadcast and then sharing the tapes and talking about it.  -Jan Hammer

1-http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/voice-of-america-begins-broadcasts-to-russia

2-NYTimes

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/06/opinion/06UNGA.html

3-VOA History

http://www.insidevoa.com/p/5829.html

February 5:  Summary Day

On this date in 1922, the first edition of Reader’s Digest was published. The magazine was the brainchild of DeWitt Wallace, who was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1889.  Recovering from wounds he suffered while serving in World War I, DeWitt began working on his idea of publishing a monthly periodical featuring condensed versions of articles from other magazines.  

First issue of the Reader's Digest, February 1922.pngWith the help of his wife Lila, Wallace published the first edition of the Reader’s Digest, producing 1,500 copies and selling each for 10 cents.  By the end of the decade, the circulation had reached more than 200,000, and in the 1930s, Wallace expanded his company to include condensed books. In addition to its smaller, condensed articles, the magazine itself is half the size of a typical magazine, just about small enough to put in your back pocket.  The circulation for Reader’s Digest, however, is not small; it has more paid subscribers than any other magazine in the world (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Read, Ruminate, and Digest

How can you paraphrase the main points of an article in 50 words?  In order to write a summary, or to digest an article by breaking it down to its essential points, you must read carefully.  The purpose of a summary is to capture the writer’s main point in your own words.  Select an article of at least 250 words, and write a 50-word summary.  Use the following step to guide you:

Step 1:  Read and annotate the text carefully, focusing on the main ideas and main details.  Underline key ideas, and circle any unfamiliar vocabulary.  Remember, the purpose of a summary is to sum-up the writer’s idea, not your reaction to the writer’s ideas.  So, resist the temptation to inject your opinion.

Step 2:  Draft a brief summary in your own words on a separate piece of paper that captures the writer’s main point or claim.  Don’t include the author and title in your summary.  Also, don’t waste words saying things like: “this article is about” or “the author argues that.”  Instead, just state the main ideas.  Don’t worry about the number of words until you have finished your draft.  

Step 3:  Revise and edit your summary.  Count the number of words and revise as necessary to write the clearest summary of exactly 50 words. Read your revised draft aloud to make sure that it is clear, that the sentences are complete, and that there are no wasted words.

Step 4:  Write the final draft of your summary.  On the line above the final draft of your summary, write the author’s last and first name, followed by the article’s title.  Then, on the line below the author/title, legibly write your complete final draft of your 50-word summary.

Quotation of the Day:  The dead carry with them to the grave in their clutched hands only that which they have given away. -Dewitt Wallace

1-http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/03/nyregion/03bookwe.html?_r=0

January 26: Isms Day

On this date in 1564, Pope Pius IV signed a letter certifying the decisions made by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent.  This act by the Pope in effect sealed the official split of the Christian Church between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.

The 16th century was a tumultuous time for Christianity. Beginning with Martin Luther’s nailing of his 99 theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517 (See October 31:  Thesis Day), individuals began challenging the authority and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.  In 1533, the influential French theologian John Calvin broke from the church, and in that same year, King Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church, making himself the head of the Church of England.  This act of defiance came about when the Pope refused Henry’s request to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

The Council of Trent was, therefore, an attempt by the leadership of the Catholic Church to craft an official response to calls for reform.  The council met 25 times between 1545 and 1563 in the northern Italian town of Trent, discussing issues such as the requirements for salvation, the role of Latin as the exclusive language for prayer, the celibacy of priests, and the veneration of relics and saints.  The council also authorized the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list of books forbidden by the church.  Although the Council did create some reforms in church doctrine, it ultimately failed to unify Christianity resulting in the divide that is still present today between Catholicism and Protestantism (1).

When it comes to ideas, the suffix -ism is the go-to word-ending for words that relate to ideas or ideologies, as in philosophies, systems, practices, or movements.  As we see with Catholicism and Protestantism, each -ism has its own unique and distinct history.  These words are also noteworthy in that each one attempts to wrap up a multitude of ideas into a single word.  As a result, each one, whether long (antidisestablishmentarianism) or short (cubism), is packed with dense meaning.

Today’s Challenge:  This-ism and That-ism

What is an -ism that you would be interested in exploring to better understand its meaning and history?  The list below reflects an A to Z sample of -isms from history, politics, philosophy, art, science, economics, and religion.  Select one of the -isms from the list or another one that you’re interested in. Research it for both its history and meaning.  Then, write a brief report in which you explain as clearly as possible the ideas and history that are encompassed in the single word.

Aristotelianism, Behaviorism, Capitalism, Dystopianism, Existentialism, Federalism, Goldwynism, Hinduism, Imagism, Jingoism, Keynesianism, Libertarianism, Malapropism, Naturalism, Objectivism, Pragmatism, Quietism, Romanticism, Stoicism, Totalitarianism, Utilitarianism, Victorianism, Wilsonianism, eXpressionism, Yankeeism, Zoroastrianism

Quotation of the Day:  Ev’rybody’s talking about Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism  -John Lennon in the song Give Peace a Chance

1- Marsh W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  366: A Leap Year of Great Stories From History. Icon Books, 2007.

THINKER’S ALMANAC – January 3

Subject:  Mortality  – Steve Jobs’ Commencement Address

Event:  Memento Mori, January 3

Champaigne’s Vanitas (c. 1671)(Wikipedia)

Today is Memento Mori, a day to remember our mortality.  In Latin, memento mori translates, “Remember that you must die.” The Latin phrase was put to use in ancient Rome to prevent leaders from falling prey to hubris.  When a Roman general paraded through the streets after a victorious battle, a slave was strategically placed behind the general in his chariot.  As the general basked in the cheers of the crowd, the slave’s job was to whisper in the general’s ear:  “Memento mori” or “Someday you will die” (1).

Memento Mori is not just for Roman generals.  And although it was just one day on the Roman calendar, there’s an argument to be made that it should be honored every day of the year.

After he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003, Apple Founder Steve Jobs gave a moving commencement address at Stanford University, reminding graduates that facing our own mortality is no morbid exercise; instead, it is motivating:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart (2).

The practice of reflecting on our mortality is an ancient one, going as far back as Socrates.  For the Stoic philosophers, memento mori was essential.  Instead of facing death with fear, they sought to reframe death, transforming it from a negative to a positive.  Like Jobs, they viewed death as a tool that helped them stay humble and stay awake to the gift of each new day’s opportunities to live life to its fullest.  As the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius said, “It is not death that a man should fear, but rather he should fear never beginning to live.” 

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason: What is memento mori, and how might it help a person live a better life?

Challenge – Skulls for Sale:  Imagine you are marketing a model of the human skull meant for display in classrooms.  You think that this model should be placed in every classroom in America to remind students of memento mori.  Write the text of the catalog description of your skull, making the case for why teachers should need it in their classrooms and why students should be familiar with memento mori.

Today’s Word Day: Happy Latin Phrase Day.

Sources:  

1-Crosby, Daniel. Memento Mori – The Ancient Roman Cure for Overconfidence.

2-Jobs, Steve.  “Death is Very Likely the Single Best Invention of Life.”  The Guardian. 10 Oct. 2011.

December 29: Greeting Card Day

Today is the birthday of Joyce C. Hall (1891-1982), the founder of Hallmark Cards.  Joyce grew up in Nebraska, and his first job was selling perfume door-to-door.  At 16, he and his two brothers pooled their money to open the Norfolk Post Card Company.  Later in 1910, seeking better business opportunities, he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he opened a card and gift shop.  When fire destroyed his entire inventory in 1915, he transformed tragedy into opportunity by taking out a loan and buying an engraving firm.  This set the stage for the creation of his first original greeting card designs.  

Still based in Kansas City, Joyce built Hallmark into a national company, pioneering the card-plus-envelope greeting cards we see today, which replaced postcards.  He also pioneered the way cards were merchandised in stores by taking them out of drawers and placing them in eye-catching displays.  To further promote his company and make Hallmark the most recognizable name in the industry, Joyce began sponsoring television programs, beginning with a live Christmas Eve production of Amahl and the Night Visitors in 1951.  That first program set the stage for the long-running primetime television series, the Hallmark Hall of Fame.

Today’s Challenge:  Word Play for a Word Day

What would be your choice for the best Word Day to celebrate with a greeting card?  What ideas do you have for crafting a clever card?  Select a single Word Day and create a clever greeting card to promote and celebrate that day.  Think about what words and art you will put both inside the card and on the front of the card.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Hallmark.com.  J.C. Hall.

December 15: Trivia Day


On this day in 1979, the game Trivial Pursuit was born.  Two Canadian journalists Chris Haney and Scott Abbott were playing Scrabble when they discovered that some of the game’s pieces were missing.  Undeterred, they decided to create their own game.  It took two years to develop and market the game, but when it was released in 1981, it became wildly popular.  In 1984 more than 20 million games were sold.

The object of Trivial Pursuit is to acquire six wedge-shaped colored pieces by correctly answering trivia questions in six different categories.  Since the game’s release, dozens of different editions of the game have been added, including theme-based versions, based on Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, The Beatles, and Disney.  All versions of the game follow the same pattern which is based on moving around a wheel-shaped game board and answering trivia questions in six separate categories.

In 2003 Trivial Pursuit was named to the “Games Hall of Fame” by Games magazine, and in 2008 Hasbro bought the full rights to the game for $80 million(1).

The word trivia has its origins in Latin, from trivialis, meaning three (tri) roads (via) or“crossroads.”  This probably explains the aspect of trivia being common or ordinary information, the kind of things that people would talk about when they met at the crossroads.  A related word trivium has a more academic history.  In Medieval education, the trivium was the term used to represent the “three roads” or “three ways” to acquiring the first level of a classical education at university through the study of rhetoric, grammar, and logic.  The trivium would then be followed by the quadrivium (“four ways”):  arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. The fact that the trivium made up the basic level of education and the quadrivium the advanced, is further explanation for the modern meaning of trivia as “less important matters” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  All Roads Lead to Trivia

The original Trivial Pursuit game, the“Genus” edition, classifies knowledge into the following six categories: Geography, Entertainment, History, Literature, Science & Nature, and Sports & Leisure.  What topic do you know so well that you could create a Trivial Pursuit game based on that topic? What six categories would you use to divide the knowledge about that topic?  Select a single topic that you know well:  a book, a movie, a television show, a sport, an author, or other general category.  Then, divide the topic into six distinctive categories. Give each category a title, and create at least one trivia question for each of the six categories.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Bellis, Mary. The History of Trivial Pursuit. About.com 29 Aug. 2017. http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bl_trivia_pursuit.htm.

2 –The Word Detective. My Turn. 22 May 2006. http://www.word-detective.com/052206B.html#trivia.

December 5:  Disney Day

Today is the birthday of Walt Disney, who was born in Chicago in 1901.  In 1928 he introduced the world to Mickey Mouse in the animated feature Steamboat Willie.  Disney revolutionized animation, mixing sound and color to produce full-length feature films based on classic children’s stories like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  For Disney, fantasy on the big screen was not enough.  He also pioneered the fantasy-themed family vacation when he opened Disneyland in California in 1955 (1).

Disney was a man who paid attention to details, and he knew that the appearance of his characters as well as their names mattered.  In the 1930s, for example, when Disney was adapting the Brothers Grimm’s Snow White, he made a list of 47 potential names for the dwarfs, which included Awful, Baldy, Dirty, and Hoppy (2).  In case you can’t remember the names that made the final cut, they are Bashful, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, and Doc.

As a film producer, Disney won 22 Academy Awards, far more than anyone else.  Disney died in 1966, but his name lives on. The Walt Disney Company, the small animation company he founded on October 16, 1923, has grown into the world’s second-largest media conglomerate.

Today’s Challenge   Escape to Cartoon Mountain

Who would you argue should be on the Mount Rushmore of Cartoon Characters?  Brainstorm a list of cartoon characters. Don’t limit yourself to just Disney characters.  Select your final four, the four that you think are the most influential, most important, or just most entertaining.  List the names of each character along with a rationale for each character’s selection. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Gottlieb, Agnes Hooper, Henry Gottlieb, Barbara Bowers, and Brent Bowers. 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium. New York: Kodansha International, 1998.

2-The 47 DwarfsLists of Note 23 March 2012. http://www.listsofnote.com/2012/03/47-dwarfs.html.

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/.