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 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 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 car 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. http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/12/entertainment/batman-50-anniversary-burt-ward-feat/.

2-McLeod, Saul. Loftus and Palmer. Simplysychology.org. 2010. http://www.simplypsychology.org/loftus-palmer.html.

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.http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/history/.

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

January 9: Pamphlet Day


On this day in 1776, one of the most influential pamphlets every 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 travelled 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 meagre 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 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.

Image result for word days book

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. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Sandburg.

2-Poetry Foundation. Carl Sandburg.  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/carl-sandburg.

December 27: Editorial Day

On this day in 1845, an editorial appeared in the New York Morning News by John L. O’Sullivan (1813 – 1895).  In the editorial, Sullivan, a newspaper editor and proponent of U.S. expansion, argued for the United States’ claim to the Oregon Country, a large region in the West for which England and the U.S. had rival claims.  To Sullivan, expansion of the U.S. across all of North America to the Pacific coast was more than just a hope for the young nation; instead, it was its duty and its fate:

Away, away with all these cobweb issues of rights of discovery, exploration, settlement, continuity, etc.… our claim to Oregon would still be best and strongest. And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us. (1)

Sullivan’s editorial popularized the motto: manifest destiny, giving proponents of expansion a rally cry.  By the end of 1846, Oregon became a U.S. Territory after negotiations with Britain established the border at the 49th parallel (See June 15: Parallelism Day). At the time of Sullivan’s editorial, the United States had just 27 states.  By the end of the 19th century that number would expand to 45.

Sullivan’s editorial and the motto that it popularized are just one of many examples of how newspaper editorials have influenced American history.  

Each day the editorial boards of American newspapers produce written pieces that reflect the opinions of their newspaper and its publisher.  By definition an editorial is a subjective expression of opinion, distinct from news articles which are objective.  Another term closely associated with editorials is “Op-Ed,” an abbreviation of “opposite the editorial page.”  Like editorials, Op-Ed’s are opinion pieces; however, unlike editorials, they are written by outside contributors or columnists.

The basic structure of editorials and op-eds is similar in that both present arguments supporting a central claim, and each has a fundamental three-part organization:

Introduction:  State what the issue is, along with its history. Explain who is affected by the issue and why it is relevant today.  Clearly state your claim regarding the issue and the reasoning behind your position.

Body:  Support your argument with reasoning, evidence, and counterarguments.  Use specific facts, statistics, examples, and quotations from authorities to support your position.  Provide clear explanations of your proof, along with your vision of what the final outcome related to the issue should be.

Conclusion:  Consider an appeal to pathos, revealing the emotions around the issue or showing your passionate concern for the issue.  End with a call to action or by restating your position.

Today’s Challenge:  Make Your Opinion Manifest

What is a current issue that is relevant today, an issue that you have an opinion about?  Write an editorial expressing and supporting your opinion on a specific relevant issue.  If you’re not sure what to write about, look at the news in today’s newspaper, and respond to what you see there.  Or read editorials or op-eds, and respond to those. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-O’Sullivan, John L. Editorial. New York Morning News 27 Dec. 1845. Public Domain.

December 26: Boxing Day

Today is the Feast of Saint Stephen, celebrated each year on the first day after Christmas because Stephen is recognized by the Christian church as its first martyr.

The New Testament Book of Acts provides an account of Stephen being brought before Jewish authorities and accused of blasphemy.  After giving an impassioned speech to the assembly of judges, in which he denounces his audience for its long history of persecuting the prophets, Stephen was dragged from the city and stoned to death.

Saint Stephen’s Day is a traditional day for giving food or money to the poor.  The lyrics of the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” reflect this tradition:

Good King Wenceslas looked out

On the feast of Stephen

When the snow lay round about

Deep and crisp and even (1)

The carol tells the story of Wenceslas, the 10th century Duke of Bohemia.  Seeing a peasant gathering wood in the snow, the King is moved to help him and puts together a parcel of food, wine, and pine logs. Accompanied by his page, the King then trudges through the blinding snow and the dark night to deliver his gift to the peasant’s door.

Boxing Day, an English holiday celebrated on December 26th, reflects the example of giving we see in the Christmas carol. Traditionally on this day, household servants were given a box of presents to take home and share with their families, an early version of what we know today as the “Christmas bonus” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Boxes Within Boxes

What is a subject or topic that you could divide or classify into 12 different parts?  Boxing Day is the perfect day for planning a calendar — after all isn’t a calendar made up of boxes within boxes?  As you prepare for the beginning of a new year, instead of buying a calendar, brainstorm ideas for making one of your own.  Below are twelve possible topics:

12 Labors of Hercules

12 Books that Everyone Should Read

12 Olympian Gods

12 Signs of the Zodiac

12 Precious Stones

12 Great Science Fiction Films

12 Greatest Rock Songs

12 Reasons that ‘12 Angry Men’ Is the Greatest Movie of All Time

12 Most Important Years in History

12 Holidays to Celebrate

12 Ways to Save Energy

12 Greatest Great Annual Events That Everyone Should Attend

Once you have selected the theme for your calendar, create an outline of the content of each month, including notes about what specific textual content you will include, what artwork you will include, and what other features you might include to make your calendar unique. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1- Neale, John Mason Neale. Good King Wenceslas 1853. Public Domain.

2-Rufus, Anneli.  The World Holiday Book.  New York:  HarperCollins, 1994.

December 25: Call to Action Day


On this day in 1776, George Washington crossed the Delaware, leading the soldiers of the Continental Army in a surprise attack on a Hessian outpost at Trenton, New Jersey.  

After suffering defeat in the Battle of Long Island and losing New York City to the British, the Patriot forces were in danger of losing the Revolutionary War.  Hoping to mount a comeback and surprise the Hessians who were celebrating Christmas, Washington planned a night crossing of the half-frozen waters of the Delaware River.

Washington had an unconventional attack planned, but another key element of his strategy was to employ some especially motivational words, words that would light a fire under an army that was freezing on the shores of the Delaware. On Christmas Eve, the day before the crossing, Washington ordered that Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis be read aloud to troops of the Continental Army.

In words that he had written just one day before, Paine frames the situation with stirring words that challenge the Patriots to move forward with courage and to seize this opportunity to transform the trials they face into a triumph:

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to tax) but “to bind us in all cases whatsoever,” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God. . . .

Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it.

After successfully crossing the Delaware, Washington and his men arrived at Trenton the next day.  Catching the Hessians off guard and hung over from their Christmas Day celebrations, the Americans won an easy victory.  

Victory in the Revolutionary War would not come for five more years, but the success of the Colonial Army at Trenton revived the spirits of the American colonists, showing them that victory was possible.

Today’s Challenge:  Say It So You Can Make It So

What is something you feel so strongly about that you would advise everyone to do it?  As Paine’s writing demonstrates, words have the power to move people to action, the kind of action that can change the course of history.  Write a speech in which you argue for a specific call to action on the part of your audience.  As the title of your speech, finish the following:  Why everyone should . . .

The following are some examples of possible topics:

Why everyone should learn a second language.

Why everyone should meditate.

Why everyone should study abroad.

Why everyone should take a self-defense class.

Why everyone should sing in the shower.

Why everyone should read more fiction.

Why everyone should vote.

Why everyone should use the Oxford comma.

Provide clear reasons, evidence, and explanation.  In addition to logic, move your audience with emotion by showing how important your suggested activity is and how it will bring fulfillment to their lives.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- Paine, Thomas. The American Crisis. 23 Dec. 1776. Public Domain. http://www.ushistory.org/paine/crisis/c-01.htm.