JUNE 15:  Parallelism Day  

On this day in 1846, the United States and Britain signed the Treaty of Oregon, which established the 49th parallel as the international boundary separating British North America and the United States’ Pacific Northwest.  Beginning in 1818, the Oregon Territory  — the region which today covers British Columbia and the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho — was jointly occupied by the United States and Britain.  In 1844, little-known Democratic candidate for president James J. Polk ran a campaign based on the expansion of the United States and the fulfillment of the nation’s manifest destiny.  Polk’s slogan was “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!”  based on his campaign promise of expanding U.S. territory to the northern boundary of the Oregon Territory at latitude 54 degrees, 40 minutes.

Once Polk won the presidency, however, he became less bellicose.  Facing the prospect of a war with Mexico in the south, Polk sought to avoid a potential war with Great Britain by agreeing to a compromise that extended the 49th parallel border from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.  

On a day where we remember how the 49th parallel helped establish harmony between two nations, we should also remember how the concept of parallelism can bring harmony to writing.

Parallelism is a big word for a simple concept:  It simply refers to the repetition of structure within a sentence or paragraph.  Notice, for example, how the following words from John F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address are coherently packed into a single sentence using parallel verb phrases:

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival of the success of liberty.

Notice how each three-word phrase follows the same pattern of VERB – ADJECTIVE – NOUN.  Notice also how the repeated structure creates balance and rhythm and clarity.  

Notice how the following two famous sentences employ parallelism. The first from Lincoln employs parallel participial phrases, and the second from F.D.R. features parallel adjectives:

This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.  -Abraham Lincoln

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.  -Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Even a simple park sign can demonstrate how parallelism can communicate ideas more clearly.  Notice which part of the list below breaks the parallel pattern:

ATHLETIC FIELD
-NO DOGS
-NO GOLFING
-PICK-UP LITTER
-NO DIGGING

By changing “PICK-UP LITTER” to “NO LITTERING” we now have a more balanced and clear list:

ATHLETIC FIELD
-NO DOGS
-NO GOLFING
-NO LITTERING
-NO DIGGING

Writing a sentence is like packing a suitcase.  There is an art to getting everything in the bag — not just getting it in, but keeping it all organized and accessible.  Parallelism is the secret weapon for writers who pack sentences, not suitcases.  It helps them to pack a lot of ideas into a sentence in an orderly, logical way.

Parallelism is more than just a grammatical concept; it’s a rhetorical concept that not only allows the writer to be more clear, but also allows the writer to be more profound.  As Lucile Vaughan Payne says in her book The Lively Art of Writing:

Parallel structure, fully understood and put to use, can bring about such a startling change in composition that student writers sometimes refer to it as “instant style.”  It can add new interest, new tone, new and unexpected grace to even the most pedestrian piece of writing.  

Today’s Challenge:  I Came, I Saw, I Conquered Parallelism

What is a movie that you know well enough and like enough to write the text of a movie trailer for?  Write the text of a voice-over for a movie trailer for one of your favorite movies.  Use parallelism to add some rhythm and resonance to your preview.  The following example is a movie trailer for Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark:

Mourning his dead father, berating his clueless mother, and continually contemplating the murder of his remorseless, treacherous, and lecherous uncle, Hamlet is not having a good day!  Something, indeed, is rotten in the state of Denmark, and it’s not just the fish from last week’s dinner that has been festering in the corner of the Castle Elsinore’s kitchen.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  All writers fail, on occasion, to take advantage of parallel structures.  The result for the reader can be the equivalent of driving over a pothole on a freeway.  What if Saint Paul taught us that the three great virtues were faith, hope, and committing ourselves to charitable work? -Roy Peter Clark

1-http://www.historylink.org/File/5247

2- Payne, Lucile Vaughan.  The Lively Art of Writing.  Boston:  Allyn and Bacon, Inc., 1970.

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

 

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 down hill 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 lovers 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 flip 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 clergyman 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 28:  Right Words, Right Time Day

On this date in 1986, President Ronald Reagan gave a short speech that he did not want to give, yet it was a speech that needed to be given.  A shocked nation, and the world, had just witnessed the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, an explosion that killed everyone aboard including Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher who was attempting to become the first teacher is space.

On that fateful and tragic day, Reagan was planning to given another speech entirely, the annual State of the Union Address.  When the Challenger exploded at 11:39 EST, Reagan immediately cancelled the State of the Union Address, the first time in modern history this had been done.  Reagan’s staff then went immediately to work on the difficult task of crafting  the right words to describe the day’s tragic events.  

The principal writer of the speech was Peggy Noonan.  She new that writing this speech would be a difficult task, not only because of the terrible circumstances that required it to be writing, but also because of the many different segments of the audience that would watch it.  Because of Christa McAuliffe’s participation in the launch, children across the country had witnessed the explosion.  The speech had to balance sorrow with perseverance; it had to honor the dead but also make it clear that life would continue; it had to admit the failure of the mission, but also make it clear that exploration of space would continue.  If all this was not enough, it also had to consider the disaster in light of geopolitics, after all, the Cold War was still being being waged at the time.  The U.S. had never lost astronauts in flight before, and the Soviets would be watching to see how the American president addressed this tragedy.

The final text of  the speech that Peggy Noonan wrote deftly hit on each necessary element and adeptly addressed each of the segments of the varied audience.  The text also included a historical analogy by noting that January 28th was also the anniversary of the death of Sir Francis Drake, who died at sea in 1596.  Like those who died aboard the Challenger, Drake died dedicated to the task of exploring new frontiers.

As Noonan crafted the speech, she remembered a sonnet that she had memorized in 7th grade.  It was a poem called High Flight and was written by a 19 year-old, World War II aviator named John Magee.  It is a poem that celebrates the majestic experience of flight, and what made it especially poignant is the fact that its young author was killed in a mid-air collision just months after he composed the poem.  It’s Magee’s words that eloquently end the speech:  “[The Challenger crew] slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.

Ronald Reagan’s national eulogy, given less than six hours after the explosion of the Challenger, is an excellent backdrop by which to examine two important principles from classical rhetoric:  exigency and kairos.   

Exigency is the Latin term for “an urgent need or demand.” In other words, the exigency of a speech or composition involves the catalyst that caused it to be written.  Understanding exigency helps us explore the backstory and the occasion of a speech as well as the writer’s motivation for writing. To fully understand Reagan’s speech, for example, we must understand the historical context in which it was given and the preceding events that “demanded” it be given.

Kairos is the Greek term for “timing” or “timeliness.”  The Greeks had two concepts for time:  chronos and kairos.  Chronos was used for “linear, measurable time”; it’s the root we find in the English word chronology.  Kairos, in contrast, related to the “opportune time” for something to be done, or the doing of something at the “exact, most advantageous time.”  Understanding kairos helps us to better explore the timing of a speech.  As we can see by Reagan’s address to the nation, for example, the speech’s kairos is what makes it so memorable.  Reagan was able to say the right thing, with the right tone, at the right time.

Each speech, article, or other piece of writing you read has in its own rhetorical situation, which includes exigency and kairos.  As demonstrated by Reagan’s speech, by analysing who the speaker is, why he is speaking, when he is speaking, and to whom he is speaking, we gain a much more complete understanding of not just what is said, but also how it is said.

Today’s Challenge:  Audience Analysis

What were the different segments of the audience for Reagan’s Challenger Address, and how did he specifically address each one in his short speech?  Read the entire text of Reagan’s speech.  Then, write an analysis of how the different segments of his audience would have taken his words based on the exigency and the kairos of the speech.  Look at the following segments of the audience separately:

The General American Public

Elementary-Aged Children

The Family Members of the Astronauts

The Employees of NASA

The Soviet Union

Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger

Address to the Nation, January 28, 1986

by President Ronald W. Reagan

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the Union, but the events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a day for mourning and remembering.

Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss.

Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But we’ve never lost an astronaut in flight; we’ve never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we’ve forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle; but they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together.

For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we’re thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, “Give me a challenge and I’ll meet it with joy.” They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us.

We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for 25 years the United States space program has been doing just that. We’ve grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we’ve only just begun. We’re still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.

And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.

I’ve always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don’t hide our space program. We don’t keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That’s the way freedom is, and we wouldn’t change it for a minute.

We’ll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.

I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA or who worked on this mission and tell them: “Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it.”

There’s a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and an historian later said, “He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.” Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake’s, complete.

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.” (2)

Quotation of the Day:  By using kairos as a guiding principle for your own texts, you can bring interest and timeliness to your writing projects. So when you begin to write, think of the moment that your writing will enter into—the audience that will read it, the conversation that it joins, the history surrounding the topic, and the words you use to craft your argument. Awareness and use of this knowledge create beautiful writing that, like turning the key in your door at the end of a long day, seems perfectly timed, effortless, and just right.  -Kate Pantelides, Megan McIntyre, and Jessica McKee (3)

1-https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/01/28/how-ronald-reagan-explained-the-challenger-disaster-to-the-world-its-all-part-of-taking-a-chance/

2-http://history.nasa.gov/reagan12886.html

3-http://writingcommons.org/open-text/information-literacy/rhetorical-analysis/rhetorical-appeals/595-kairos

 

 

January 23:  Docendo Discimus Day

Today’s date when written numerically follows is the basic sequence 1, 2, 3.  Therefore, today is a day for looking at basic process analysis: explaining step by step how something is done or how to do something.  When you explain the basic steps for how to do something — such as baking a chocolate cake or building a treehouse —  it’s called directive process analysis.  When you explain the basic steps for how something is done — such as how a bill becomes a law or how new words get into the dictionary — it’s called informative process analysis.

Writing a process analysis composition is a great writing-to-learn activity. The best way to truly solidify your understanding of a process is to teach it to someone else.  The act of putting it down in writing, step by step, helps you clarify and cement your own understanding of the process.  This is not a new concept; in fact, it dates back to the first century AD.  The Latin term for it was docendo discimus, or “by teaching, we learn.”

To craft your own process, follow the following three steps:

Step One:  Determine a “how to” topic using a strong verb, and use it as your title.  Think of a process that you know well enough to explain clearly to a novice, and think about whether it is a directive, hands-on process or a informative, explanatory process.  Use the examples below to help spark some ideas:

How to AVOID

-How to avoid procrastination

-How to avoid going into debt

How to BUILD

-How to build a sandcastle

-How to build a budget

How to MAKE

-How to make meatloaf

-How to make your mother happy

How to SUCCEED

-How to succeed at studying

-How to succeed at breaking a bad habit

How to SURVIVE

-How to survive an earthquake

-How to survive Spanish class

How to STOP

-How to stop forgetting birthdays

-How to stop eating too much

How to WRITE

-How to write a love note

-How to write a valedictory address

Step Two:  Break the large task into three vital steps from the beginning, through the middle, and to the end.  Think in threes:  What should be done first, second, and third?  Also, help your reader to see what might go wrong, by anticipating what should be avoided at each step.

Step Three:  Write your process out as at least one clear paragraph.  Begin by giving your audience a vision of what the process is and why this process is important to know.  As you write about each step, think about the process from your audience’s perspective, trying to remember what it was like when you did it for the first time.  Like giving driving directions to someone on how to get to your house, anticipate where they might take a wrong turn or where they might get lost.  

Today’s Challenge:  How to Write How To

What is a process that you know well enough to explain?  How would you divide the task into three key steps?  Use the three steps explained above and write a how to composition. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense. -Thomas Edison

 

 

January 20:  Chiasmus Day

On this day in 1961 John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the Unites States’ 34th president.  From the text of his inaugural address, Kennedy uttered what has become probably the most famous sentences 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 key word “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 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 and 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 details 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-http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/history/

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

 

 

 

January 10:   Rubicon Day

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

César (13667960455).jpgPrior 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 lead 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 payed off.  He defeated Pompey, and when Caesar eventually arrived at the gates of Rome, he was proclaimed dictator for life (1).

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-http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/caesar.htm