February 14:  Metaphors of Love Day

Our modern Valentine’s Day rituals date back to an ancient Roman fertility rite called Lupercalia, celebrated from February 13-15.  Roman myth tells of the twin brothers Romulus and Remus who were abandoned in a cave (Lupercal) of a she-wolf (lupa).  The twins survived and went on to become the founders of Rome thanks to the she-wolf who nursed them.

Wolf head, 1-100 CE, bronze, Roman, Cleveland Museum of Art.JPGTo commemorate the deliverance of Romulus and Remus each year, priests gathered at Palatine Hill above Rome to sacrifice goats and a puppy along with making an offering of grain.  Two young boys were then stripped naked and clothed in the freshly skinned coats of the sacrificed goats. In addition to the goatskins, the boys were also given a narrow strip (or thong) cut from the hide of the goats.  These thongs were called februa, meaning “instruments of purification.”  Running downhill and through the city streets, the two boys slapped everyone they met with the februa in a symbolic act of purification.  Women often came forth to be struck since they believed the ceremony rendered them fertile, as well as ensured an easy delivery in childbirth.

A less violent aspect of Lupercalia festival was a lover’s lottery where young men would be coupled with young women by drawing names randomly from a jar.

The modern name of Valentine’s Day also originated with the Romans; however, the day’s name resulted more from martyrdom than from a fertility rite.  In the 3rd century A.D., Roman Emperor Claudius II executed two men in two different years.  Both men were named Valentine and both men were executed on February 14.  Later, the Catholic Church commemorated the two saints’ martyrdom with the feast of St. Valentine.  In 494, attempting to expel pagan traditions, Pope Gelasius I outlawed Lupercalia and replaced it with Valentine’s Day (2).

Today we associate Valentine’s Day more with Venus – the Roman goddess of love – than with Catholic saints.  And the most ubiquitous symbol of the day is Venus’ son Cupid.  It’s his bow and quiver of arrows that represent the capriciousness of romantic love; anyone struck by one of his arrows is instantly filled with uncontrollable desire.

As we can see from the history of Valentine’s Day, it is a tradition filled with symbols that attempt to make the abstract ideas of romantic love and attraction more concrete.  In a similar fashion, lovers have attempted to make the abstract idea of love more concrete through the use of metaphor.  Notice in the following examples, the variety of metaphors used by various writers to define this elusive yet universal emotion:

Love is like war:  easy to begin but very hard to stop. -H.L. Mencken

Love is like a virus.  It can happen to anybody at any time.  -Maya Angelou

Love is an exploding cigar which we willingly smoke. -Lynda Berry

Love is the wildcard of existence. -Rita Mae Brown

Love is friendship set to music.  -E. Joseph Cossman

Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath.  At night, the ice weasels come. -Matt Groening

Love is the master-key that opens the gates of happiness of hatred, of jealousy, and, most easily of all, the gates of fear. -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Love is like an hourglass, with the heart filling up as the brain empties. -Jules Renard

Love is the ultimate outlaw.  It just won’t adhere to any rules.  The most any of us can do is sign on as its accomplice. –Tom Robbins

Love is the only disease that makes you feel better. -Sam Shepard

Today’s Challenge:  Love Is a Metaphor

What is the best thing anyone has ever said about love?  What makes this person’s observations so insightful?  Select a quotation about love, either from the quotations above or from your research.  Your quotation can be lines from a poem, lyrics from a song, or prose from a Valentine’s Day card.  Explain why you find the quotation so insightful and specifically why you agree with it.  (Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day:  Life is a journey. Time is a river. The door is ajar. -Jim Butcher

1-http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Lupercalia.html

2-http://www.npr.org/2011/02/14/133693152/the-dark-origins-of-valentines-day

February 3:  Open Letter Day

On this date in 1976, American business magnate and philanthropist Bill Gates published an “Open Letter to Hobbyists” in the Homebrew Computer Club Newsletter.

Head and shoulders photo of Bill GatesAt the time Microsoft, the software company that Bill Gates founded with his friend Paul Allen, was just one year old.  The company’s revenues in its first year were a little over $16,000.  Microsoft was off to a promising start, however, having developed software for the Altair 8800 microcomputer, the first commercially successful personal computer.  

The issue that sparked Gates’ open letter was one of the earliest cases of software piracy.  Gates complained in the letter that users of his Altair BASIC software, which in an era before floppy disks, was distributed on paper, were making unauthorized copies.  He implored the computer hobbyists to think about the consequences of their actions — that professional developers could not continue to stay in business if people did not pay for the product.  Gates actual words in the letter were both accusatory and sarcastic:

As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid? (1).

Although Gates’ letter didn’t result in many hobbyists paying up, Gates and his company were able to recover their losses and build a profitable company. With the launch of its first version of Windows in 1985, Microsoft was on its way to becoming one of the world’s most valuable companies.

Bill Gates’ open letter is just one of many examples of this unique genre of communications.  What makes the open letter interesting as a form is its dual audience:  the addressee and the general public.  The content of an open letter is targeted at a specific individual or group, yet the letter is published in an “open” public forum.  One of the most famous open letters ever written, Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” was itself written in response to another open letter.  In his letter dated April 16, 1963, King was responding to a letter published in the Birmingham Post-Herald in which eight Alabama clergymen challenge his presence in Alabama and his strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism.

Since the advent of the World Wide Web, which went public on August 6, 1991, everyone has a platform to publish their open letters.

Today’s Challenge:  Open Your Heart in an Open Letter

Who or what might you send an open letter to?  Write an open letter to a person, group, or thing expressing your concerns, your criticism, or your praise.  There are all kinds of creative possibilities.  Brainstorm some possibilities based on the ideas below:

-An open letter to your future or past self

-An open letter to an abstract idea, a concrete object, or a place

-An open letter with constructive criticism or effusive praise for a public figure or group

-A humorous or satiric open letter to a group, celebrity, trend, or other idea.

Once you have your idea, write your letter.  Remember to address the specific addressee (the person or thing you’re writing to), but also consider the general audience that will be reading your letter. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure. –Bill Gates

1-http://www.lettersofnote.com/2009/10/most-of-you-steal-your-software.html

February 2:  Prognostication Day

Today is Groundhog Day, a day when all eyes watch for the emergence of a large furry rodent from its winter den.  According to folklore, if the groundhog sees his shadow when he emerges, he’ll be frightened and retreat back into his den, signaling six more weeks of winter.  If, however, he does not see his shadow, he will end his winter hibernation, singling the arrival of an early spring.

The origin of this strange ritual dates back to ancient Europe when the survival of communities was more closely tied to the changing of the seasons.  Since February 2nd is the midpoint of winter, halfway between the solstice and the equinox, it was an important time to take stock of winter provisions to determine whether or not there was enough food to make it to spring.  It makes sense, therefore, that it is a time to prognosticate about the arrival of spring.

When looking for signs of spring, it’s logical to watch for mammals ending their winter hibernation.  In France, the traditional animal was the marmot; in England, it was the hedgehog; and in Germany, it was the badger.  The groundhog tradition in the United States began with the Pennsylvania Dutch who came to America from Germany.  Finding no badgers in the eastern U.S., they adopted the groundhog (also known as the whistle pig or the woodchuck).  

The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held each February 2nd in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania where it began in 1887.  Locals gather at Gobbler’s Knob, anxiously awaiting Punxsutawney Phil’s prognostication.  Unfortunately, an analysis of weather statistics reveals that a flip of a coin would be a better weather prognosticator:  Since 1887, Phil’s accuracy rate is just 39% (1).

Having knowledge about the future is one thing, but being able to impact the future is another thing entirely.  Through writing each individual has the ability to influence future change by communicating his or her ideas to an audience.  Aristotle called this type of rhetoric deliberative.  Unlike arguing about what has happened in the past (forensic rhetoric) or arguing what we value in the present (demonstrative rhetoric), deliberative rhetoric is about making a case for the future, about what decisions will be made or what choices are the best alternatives for a bright future.  Deliberative rhetoric is seen in famous speeches like Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, where King was attempting to show his audience his vision of a brighter tomorrow in a world free of racism.

Today’s Challenge:  Prognosticate For Change

If you could make one specific change in order to make the world a better place, what would it be?  Write a speech in which you argue for one specific change that would improve your town, school, state, nation, or world.  Prognosticate how specifically the change you envision, would improve things. Make the case for your change by contrasting the status quo, what is, with the possible future, what could be.  Give your audience a specific vision to show them how bright the future looks with your change.  Use facts and evidence from today to boost the likelihood of your prediction and to show your audience that your change is the best alternative.

The following are a few ideas to spark your thinking:

We should make college tuition-free for all students.

We should change the voting age to 16.

We should limit the U.S. president to one term in office.

We should outlaw football.

We should discontinue the Olympics.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring. -George Santayana

1-http://mentalfloss.com/article/29889/where-did-groundhog-day-come

January 20: Chiasmus Day


Jfk inauguration.jpg
January 20, 1961

On this day in 1961, John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the United States’ 34th president.  From the text of his inaugural address, Kennedy uttered what has become probably the most famous sentence in political history:  “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Kennedy, who at 42 years of age was the youngest president ever elected, exuded youth, enthusiasm, and idealism as he proclaimed that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans . . . .”  The skillful use of rhythm, repetition, alliteration, antithesis, and parallelism make Kennedy’s inaugural address a rhetorical masterpiece.  The speech’s most memorable line, however, features a distinctive rhetorical device called chiasmus.

Chiasmus, which is also known as antimetabole, is the “all for one, one for all” device.  It is a special brand of parallel structure that involves a rhetorical criss-cross or flip-flop. What makes chiasmus distinctive is that the words are not just repeated, rather they are repeated in reverse order, as in, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

In order to see the power of Kennedy’s chiasmus, contrast what Kennedy might have said with what he actually said:

Without chiasmus:  “Do not be self-centered, thinking only of yourself; instead; think of what you can do to contribute to your country.”

With chiasmus:  “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Notice how with chiasmus the reversal of the words “you” and “country” causes the reader to reevaluate the relationship between the two ideas.  More than just a rhetorical flourish, this is one of the central themes of Kennedy’s message.

Also notice that not only does chiasmus make the sentence more memorable, but also the sentence’s simple, clear words pack a punch.  Of the sentence’s 17 words, all but two are single-syllable words.  The only word of more than a single syllable is the keyword “country,” which is repeated twice for emphasis.  Like Lincoln and Churchill before him, Kennedy knew the power of clear, concise language.

Today’s Challenge:  What Chiasmus Can Do for You

As seen in Kennedy’s use of chiasmus, it is an especially useful device for reversing an audience’s attitude or attempting to correct or flip an audience’s thinking.  What are some general beliefs or attitudes held by many people that you think should be changed?  How might you employ chiasmus to state the change in belief or attitude that you want to see?

Create a sentence using chiasmus that states a change in a belief or attitude that you would like to see.  For example:   

“You don’t own your cellphone; your cellphone owns you.”

Then write a short speech using that sentence as your title.  In your speech explain specifically the change you would like to see and why you think this change would be an improvement.

If you can’t think of an original sentence, create a spin-off chiasmus using Kennedy’s sentence or some of the other examples below:

Quitters never win and winners never quit.

If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.

Do things right, and do the right things.

One should work to live, not live to work.

Example spin-off:  Don’t ask what your English teacher can do for you, ask what you can do for your English teacher.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Try to learn something about everything and everything about something. -Thomas Henry Huxley

January 12: Onomatopoeia Day

On this day in 1966, the TV series “Batman” premiered.  The success of the series can be traced to its appeals to a broad audience.  For kids, the show was a must-watch action-adventure, following the exploits of Batman and Robin, the dynamic duo from the DC comic books.  For adults, the show was campy comedy.  Airing twice a week, Batman was wildly successful.  The show was also notable as one of the first to cash-in on merchandising.  Fans could buy a Batman lunch pail, a Batman T-shirt, Batman trading cards, and even a Batman board game.  

The show included a nod to the classics.  In Bruce Wayne’s private study, on a desk next to his red Batphone, sat a bust of William Shakespeare.  The bust was a vital prop, for beneath the hinged head of the Bard was a hidden button.  When Wayne pushed the button, a sliding bookcase opened revealing two Batpoles, giving Batman and Robin immediate access to the Batcave.

Batman ran for three seasons, and in each of its 120 episodes, one plot element was inevitable:  Batman and Robin would confront one of their arch-villains, along with his or her henchman, and engage in a climactic fistfight.   This is where the rhetoric device called onomatopoeia was employed for effect.  To remind viewers that these were comic book characters, each punch was punctuated by words superimposed in bright colors on the screen.  The words “POW!,” “BAM!,” and “ZONK!” entered pop culture (1).

Onomatopoeia is the use of words to imitate or suggest sound. Imagery in language is largely about how words create vivid images, but we should not forget that we can also create imagery via sound effects like onomatopoeia.  For example, if we were to describe a car accident, we might say, “The two cars hit each other.”  This creates the image of two cars coming together; however, notice how the image becomes more vivid when we add a verb that has a sound effect:  “The two cars smashed into each other.”

The results of a psychological study conducted in 1974, shows just how important vivid verbs can be. Subjects in the study were shown a film of a traffic accident and then were asked questions about the accident.  Some of the subjects were asked, “About how fast were the cars going when they hit each other?” Others were asked, “About how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?”  The subjects who were asked the second question (smashed), gave a higher estimated speed than the subjects who were asked the first question (hit).  

When the subjects were brought back to the lab a week later and shown the film of the accident again, they were asked if they had seen any broken glass.  In reality, there was no broken glass in the film, but several of the subjects reported seeing it. Of those who were asked a week earlier how fast the cars were going when they hit each other, 14 percent said they saw glass; of those who were asked how fast the cars were going when they smashed into each other, 32 percent said they saw glass (2).

This experiment not only shows the fallibility of human memory and perception, it also shows how the right word, especially the right verb, can create a powerful impression on a reader.  That impression can be in the form of a vivid image, but it can also be auditory, as in “smashed” or “crashed.”  The lesson here is to select your verbs carefully, for their sense, but also for their sound — for their visual effect, but also for their volume effect.

The following are some examples of volume verbs:

babble, beat, bellow, blare, blast, bubble, buzz, chatter, chug, cackle, click, crackle, crash, clang, cry, crush, drip, dribble, explode, fizzle, groan, growl, gurgle, hiss, hum, jingle, knock, moan, murmur, plink, plop, pop, purr, rasp, rattle, roar, rumble, rustle, scream screech shriek, shuffle, sing, sizzle, slurp, snap, splash, squawk, squeal, strike, sweep, swish, swoosh, thud, thunder, trumpet, wheeze, whisper, whistle

Today’s Challenge:  Turn Up the Volume

How can you use verbs to add sound effects to the imagery of sentences? Select three of the basic, boring sentences below, and breathe life into them by revising them, adding volume verbs and other vivid, detailed imagery.  As you revise, read them aloud, listening for each sentence’s soundtrack.

For example:

Basic Sentence:  The teacher raised his voice.

Revised Sentence:  The teacher’s voice thundered through the classroom as he barked at the students to sit down.

The car was old.

The children played.

The rain fell heavily.

The new day dawned.

The cat looked friendly.

The children were excited.

The student worked busily.

The restaurant was packed.

The fireworks were displayed.

The student woke to his alarm clock.

(Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day:  Listen to the sound of your language. Read your words out loud.  Pay attention to their rhythm and cadence and flow. Consider the way they reverberate in your head, how they stir your heart. Ask how your reader would respond to ‘farewell’ as opposed to ‘goodbye,’ or to ‘mockingbird’ as opposed to ‘crow.’  -Stephen Wilbers in Mastering the Craft of Writing

1-Hanks, Henry.  Holy Golden Anniversary, ‘Batman’! Classic TV Show Turns 50.  Cnn.com. 12 Jan. 2016.

2-McLeod, Saul. Loftus and Palmer. Simplysychology.org. 2010.

January 11: Worst-case Scenario Day


On this day in 1964, the Surgeon General of the United States released the first report linking cigarette smoking with cancer. The report was based on over 7,000 articles that correlated smoking with disease.  Acting on the report’s findings, Congress acted, passing The Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965 which required cigarette packages to carry the following Surgeon General’s Warning:  “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health” (1).

Just as that first Surgeon General’s report on smoking caused Americans to consider the dangerous consequences of smoking, another event that happened on this day in 1918 led generations of people to apply prudent forethought when putting together a plan of action.

On January 11, 1918, Edward Aloysius Murphy, Jr. was born, the man behind Murphy’s Law, which reminds us that, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong!”  

A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Murphy served as a pilot in World War II.  After the war, Murphy became an aerospace engineer, and in 1951 he was assisting U.S. Air Force scientists in California’s Mojave Desert where they were conducting tests to study the effects of the force of gravity on pilots.  To simulate the force of an airplane crash, the project team mounted a rocket sled on a half-mile track.  At first, the tests were conducted using a dummy, which was later replaced with a chimpanzee.  Then a physician named Colonel John Paul Stapp volunteered to ride the sled, nicknamed “Gee Whiz,” as it raced over 200 miles per hour across the desert floor and suddenly came to an abrupt stop.  

Murphy’s contribution to the experiment were sensors that were attached to Dr. Stapp to measure the G-force as the rocket sled braked.

Although Murphy’s name became attached to the law, the person credited with first uttering the law and spreading it was Dr. Stapp.  During a press conference after the tests, Stapp was asked how the team avoided any serious injuries during its experiments.  The doctor responded by saying that they were able to anticipate mistakes by applying Murphy’s Law: “If anything can go wrong, it will” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Contingency Plans & Cautionary Notes

What are some mistakes you have made, some failures you have experienced, or some accidents you have been the victim of in your life so far? What specific advice would you give others to help them avoid these mistakes or accidents?  Write the text of a public service announcement (PSA) that focuses on a specific danger that might be avoided by exercising caution or by applying Murphy’s Law.  Give details on what specifically might go wrong as well as detailed steps on how to avoid it. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  A thousand people will stop smoking today. Their funerals will be held sometime in the next three or four days.  -Surgeon General C. Everett Koop

1-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. History of the Surgeon General’s Reports on Smoking and Health.

2-Hluchy, Patricia. The Man Behind Murphy’s Law.  Toronto Star. 11 Jan. 2009.

https://www.thestar.com/news/2009/01/11/the_man_behind_murphys_law.html.

January 10: Rubicon Day


On this day in 49 BC, Julius Caesar made a momentous decision that transformed a small Italian river into a powerful metaphor.  

Prior to 49 BC, Caesar served as conquering Roman general, expanding the Roman Empire as far north as Britain.  His most notable conquest came in Gaul, the area of Europe that today includes France, Belgium, and Switzerland.  By winning the Gallic wars, Caesar made Gaul a Roman province and established himself as its governor.  

Although Caesar expanded the territory of the Roman republic, his rivals feared his ambition and envied his success.  Caesar’s most notable foe was a rival Roman general named Pompey.  In January 49 BC, Pompey convinced the Roman Senate to send a message to Caesar, commanding him to leave his army and return to Rome.  

This message is what led to Caesar’s faithful decision to cross the Rubicon River.  He knew that returning to Rome alone without his army would surely lead to his demise, but to take his army across the Rubicon and into Italy was against Roman law and was essentially a proclamation of civil war.  Knowing the consequences of his actions and that there would be no turning back, Caesar boldly led his army across the river as he uttered, “The die is cast!” — a gambling metaphor that means once a player throws (casts) the dice (plural form of die), he has reached a point of no return.

Caesar’s bold gamble paid off.  He defeated Pompey, and when Caesar eventually arrived at the gates of Rome, he was proclaimed dictator for life (1).  (For Part Two of Caesar’s story, see March 15:  Ides of March Day.)

Today, “Crossing the Rubicon” has become a metaphor for any courageous commitment to moving in a bold, new direction for which there is no turning back.

Today’s Challenge:  Mapping Metaphors

What are some examples of geographical sites that evoke a universal theme, such as courage, failure, change, or nonconformity?  What is the story or history behind how this place acquired its abstract meaning?  Like the Rubicon, other geographical sites have acquired meaning beyond just a name on a map.  The history of what happened in each of the places listed below has made each site a metaphor for some abstract idea or universal theme.  Select one of the place names below, and research the story behind how it acquired its metaphoric meaning.  Write a paragraph explaining as clearly as possible the location of your selected site and the story behind its meaning.

Waterloo, Watergate, Alcatraz, Agincourt, Alamo, Bedlam Bohemia, Chappaquiddick, Damascus, Dunkirk, Fort Knox, The Bay of Pigs, Siberia, My Lai

(Common Core Writing 2:  Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Language is the Rubicon that divides man from beast.  -Max Muller

1-Eye Witness to History.com. Julius Caesar Crosses the Rubicon.

January 9: Pamphlet Day


On this day in 1776, one of the most influential pamphlets ever written was published, a pamphlet that convinced the American colonists to fight for their independence from Britain.  The pamphlet was Common Sense, and although it was originally published anonymously, today we know its author was Thomas Paine (1737-1809).

Born in England, Paine spent his early years struggling to make ends meet in a number of jobs:  corset maker, sailor, English teacher, and tax collector.  Paine’s fortunes changed, however, when he met Benjamin Franklin in London in 1774.  With a letter of recommendation from Franklin, Paine traveled to Philadelphia where he began work as editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine.

Even though the colonists fired in anger at the British at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, full-fledged rebellion was not inevitable.  Many favored reconciliation with mother England.  Paine, however, called for full-on rebellion.   Paine’s pamphlet published on January 9, 1776, presented his argument for independence, not in the legal or philosophical language of previous treatises, but in the plain, forceful language of the common man:

For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is (1).

Paine ends his argument by asking his readers to stand up to tyranny and to fight for freedom:

O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. — Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind (1).

Common Sense was a publishing sensation, going through 25 printings in just its first year of publication.  It sold at least 75,000 copies, making it America’s first bestseller (2).

Today’s Challenge:  No Paine, No Pamphlet

What are some examples of revolutionary ideas from the past or present, ideas that either have changed the world or possibly may change the world in the future?  In the era in which Thomas Paine was writing — the 18th century — challenging the divine right of kings was a revolutionary idea.  Research other revolutionary ideas from the past or present, and create a pamphlet making your argument for or against one of these ideas.  Like Paine, make your argument in clear, forceful language. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  No pamphlet, no book, ever kindled such a sudden conflagration, a purifying flame, in which the prejudices and fears of millions were consumed.  To read it now, after the lapse of more than a hundred years, hastens the blood. It is but the meager truth to say that Thomas Paine did more for the cause of separation, to sow the seeds of independence, than any other man of his time. –Robert Ingersoll on Paine’s Common Sense in 1892

1-Paine, Thomas.  Common Sense.  U.S. History.org.  http://www.ushistory.org/paine/commonsense/sense4.htm.

2- Prothero, Stephen.  The American Bible:  How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation.  New York:  HarperCollins, 2012.

January 8: Rogerian Argument Day


Today is the birthday of American psychologist Carl R. Rogers (1902-1987) who was born in Oak Park, Illinois.  

As a psychologist and therapist, Rogers was interested in improving human relationships.  For Rogers, the major factor in healthy relationships was clear communication, which is often hindered by the tendency of people to judge each other. Roger’s mission was to help people set aside their evaluations of one another and to instead truly listen to each other.  For Rogers, truly listening was more than just trying to understand another person’s point of view; instead, it involved climbing into that person’s skin and trying to not only see the world from that person’s perspective but also to achieve an understanding of what it feels like to hold that person’s point of view.

Roger’s work in psychology and communication spilled over into the field of rhetoric and argument in 1970 with the publication of the book Rhetoric:  Discovery and Change by Richard Young, Alton Becker, and Kenneth Pike.  This book introduced the Rogerian model for argument.  

Unlike the long tradition of adversarial argument dating back to Aristotle, Rogerian argumentation is about finding the truth and about finding common ground.  Instead of combative debate, the goal of a Rogerian argument is to acknowledge the validity of the opposing side’s position, setting aside emotional appeals and instead working to reach agreement (1).

While there is no specific structure that must be following in a Rogerian argument, the following basic moves should be included:

  • State the issue or problem using neutral, nonjudgmental language, including the impact of the issue on both sides.
  • Describe the opposing side of the argument as objectively and fairly as possible, acknowledging the validity of its support and evidence.
  • Present your argument, support, and evidence in dispassionate language, striving for a fair and balanced tone.
  • Find common ground between the opposing sides, considering alternative solutions and achieving a beneficial compromise (2).

Today’s Challenge:  I See Your Point

What is a current issue or contemporary problem that you could present in a Rogerian argument?  How would you in a fair and balanced way summarize the side of the argument that is opposite to yours?  Select an issue that you feel strongly about. Instead of writing your side of the argument, attempt to summarize the opposing side of the argument as fairly and objectively as you can.  As you write, maintain a tone that is fair and balanced.  Strive to truly capture the arguments that run counter to yours. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  . . . if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.  -Atticus to Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

1- Brent, Douglas.  Rogerian Rhetoric.  An Alternative to Traditional Rhetoric. http://people.ucalgary.ca/~dabrent/art/rogchap.html.

2-Moxley, Joe.  Rogerian Argument. Writing Commons. 17 Dec. 2010.

http://writingcommons.org/open-text/genres/academic-writing/arguments/318-rogerian-argument.

January 6: Personification Day

Photograph of Sandburg
Carl Sandburg

Today is the birthday of American writer and poet Carl Sandburg, who was born on this day in 1878 in Galesburg, Illinois.

The son of Swedish immigrants, Sandburg left school at the age of thirteen to work odd jobs to help support his family.  In 1898, he volunteered to travel to Puerto Rico where he served with the 6th Illinois Infantry during the Spanish-American War.  After the war, he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point but dropped out after just two weeks after failing a mathematics and grammar exam (1).  Returning to his hometown in Illinois, Sandburg enrolled in Lombard College.  At Lombard, he honed his skills as a writer of both prose and poetry, and after college, he moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he worked as an advertising writer and a journalist.

Sandburg achieved unprecedented success as a writer of both biography and poetry.  His great work of prose was his biography of Abraham Lincoln, an exhaustively detailed six-volume work that took him 30 years to research and complete. Not only did he win the Pulitzer Prize in 1939 for his stellar writing, he was also invited to address a joint session of Congress on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth on February 12, 1959.  This was the first time a private citizen was allowed to make such an address (2).

Before he began his biography of Lincoln, Sandburg established himself as a great poet, winning the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1919.  Writing in free verse, Sandburg’s poems captured the essence of industrial America.  

Perhaps his best-known poem Chicago begins:

HOG Butcher for the World,

              Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,

              Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;

              Stormy, husky, brawling,

              City of the Big Shoulders . . .

One of the primary rhetorical devices at work here is personification. Sandburg does not just describe the city, he brings it to life, giving it job titles, such as “Tool Maker,” and human characteristics, such as “brawling,” and even human anatomy, such as “Big Shoulders.”

Personification is figurative language used in either poetry or prose that describes a non-human thing or idea using human characteristics.  As Sandburg demonstrates, the simple secret of personification is selecting the right words to animate the inanimate.  The key parts of speech for personification are adjectives, nouns, verbs, and pronouns:

-Adjectives like thoughtful or honest or sneaky

-Verbs like smile or sings or snores

-Nouns like nose or hands or feet

-Pronouns like I, she, or they.

In the following poem, Sandburg personifies the grass.  Notice how he makes the grass human by giving it not just a first person voice, but also a job to do:

GRASS

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.

Shovel them under and let me work–

         I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg

And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.

Shovel them under and let me work.

Two years, ten years, and the passengers ask the conductor:

         What place is this?

         Where are we now?

         I am the grass.

         Let me work.

Today’s Challenge:  I Am the Homework, I Make You Sweat

What are some everyday objects that you might bring to life using personification?  If these things had a voice, what would they say?  Using “Grass” as a model, select your own everyday non-human topic and use personification to give it a first-person voice, writing at least 100 words of either poetry or prose.  Imagine what it would say and what it would say about its job.  Your tone may be serious or silly.

Possible Topics: alarm clock, coffee cup, textbook, guitar, bicycle, paper clip, pencil, car, microwave, baseball

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Carl Sandburg was more than the voice of America, more than the poet of its strength and genius. He was America. -President Lyndon B. Johnson

1- Wikipedia Carl Sandburg.

2-Poetry Foundation. Carl Sandburg