December 22: Laconic Reply Day

On this day in 1944, American soldiers of the 101 Airborne Division at the Belgian town of Bastogne were surrounded by German forces.  In what later became known as the Battle of the Bulge, the American forces were caught off guard when Hitler launched a surprise counteroffensive.  

At 11:30 on the morning of December 22, German couriers with white flags arrived at the American lines, delivering a letter demanding the surrender of the Americans.  

The acting commander of the 101st, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, read the letter.  After pausing for a moment to reflect and to ask for input from his subordinates, he scribbled the following laconic reply:

To the German commander:

Nuts!

The American commander

The German couriers spoke English, but they were puzzled by the general’s reply.  As U.S. officers escorted them back to the defensive line, they explained to the Germans that “nuts” meant the same thing as “go to hell.”

The soldiers of the 101st continued to hold their ground under the attacks of the Germans for the four days that followed until the siege was finally broken with the arrival of U.S. tank forces of the Third Army, led by Lieutenant General George S. Patton.

The laconic reply has a long military tradition that dates back to the Spartans of ancient Greece, who were known for their blunt statements and dry wit.  In fact, the word “laconic,” meaning “concise, abrupt” is a toponym, originating from a region of Sparta known as Laconia (See July 5: Toponym Day). In Spartan schools, for example, a boy whose reply to a question was too verbose was subject to being punished by having his thumb bitten by his teacher (1).  When Philip II of Macedon – the father of Alexander the Great — invaded Greece in the third century BC, he sent the following threat to the Spartans:   “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.”

The Spartan’s replied:  “If.”  (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Your Best Advice

If you had just three words of advice to someone younger than yourself or three words of advice to give to your younger self, what would those three words be?  Brainstorm some pieces of advice, like the examples below, that are just three words each. Select your best piece of advice and use it as your title; then, write a paragraph explaining why those three words are so important.

Get a job

Always eschew obfuscation

Read good books

Don’t get tattoos

Go to college

Value your education

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Cartledge, Paul.  Spartan Reflections. University of California Press, 2003:  85.

2-Online Etymology Dictionary. Laconic. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=laconic.

December 21: Sports Metaphor Day

On this day in 2002, President George W. Bush was meeting with his closest advisors in the Oval Office to review the evidence for the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq.  Determining whether or not Iraq had such weapons was crucial in the president’s decision on whether or not to commit U.S. forces to the invasion of Iraq.  At one point in the meeting, President Bush turned to CIA Director George Tenet, asking him how confident he was that Iraq had WMDs. His reply was, “Don’t worry, it’s a slam dunk!”

In using a basketball metaphor, Tenet was expressing his belief that the presence of WMDs was a sure thing.  History tells us that Tenet might have been better served by selecting a different metaphor considering the fact that the eventual absence of WMDs became a huge embarrassment for the Bush administration after the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003.

Metaphors from sports are such a common element of our language that we forget how often we use them.  As George Tenet demonstrated with slam dunk, a term begins as sports jargon and is then adopted as a metaphor that applies to a situation outside of sports.  The metaphor then becomes an idiom (also known as a dead metaphor) as it is used by more and more people. Below are some examples of the expressions that have become idiomatic – that is they have become so integrated into the language that we forget that they originated and are associated with a specific sport:

Kickoff – football

Keep your eye on the ball – baseball

Down for the count – boxing

An end run – football

Game, set, match – tennis

Face-off – hockey

Throw in the towel – boxing

Putting on a full-court press – basketball

The inside track – horse racing

Hot hand – basketball (1)

Today’s Challenge:  The Game of Life Metaphors

What sport do you think serves as the best metaphor or analogy for life?  What elements of that sport compare best with real life, and what lessons does the sport teach that provide wisdom for success in real life? In addition to expressions from sports that are metaphors, we also often turn to sports as a metaphor for understanding our lives, as the following quotations reveal:

In life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is:  hit the line hard. –Theodore Roosevelt

Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it. –Oprah Winfrey

Select the single sport that you think provides the best metaphor or analogy for life, and write a paragraph in which you extend the metaphor by explaining how the elements of the sport and the lessons it teaches parallel real life. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Grothe, Mardy.  I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like.  New York:  HarperCollins, 2008:  274.

December 20: Polysyndeton Day

On this day in 1946, the movie It’s A Wonderful Life premiered in New York at the Globe Theatre.  Seventy years after its release, the story of how George Bailey arrived at his joyous epiphany is still one of the most popular holiday films ever made.

The film was based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern called “The Greatest Gift.”  After unsuccessful attempts to get the story published, Stern mailed 200 copies of the story to friends and family during the holiday season in 1943 as a Christmas card.  After the story came to the attention of executives at RKO Pictures, they bought the rights to the story for $10,000 (1).

One rhetorically interesting aspect of the film is the dialogue of its protagonist George Bailey.  In one of film’s most famous scenes, George pleads with his antagonist, the scheming misanthrope Mr. Potter:

Just remember this, Mr. Potter: that this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?

Notice the intentional overuse of conjunctions here.  This rhetorical device is called polysyndeton.  The added conjunctions slow the list down, emphasizing each individual item.  The repetition of conjunctions gives the reader the feeling that things are piling up and creates a tone that is more formal than a typical list.

The film’s dialogue features polysyndeton at another dramatic point.  It’s Black Tuesday, October 29, 1932, and George is trying to convince the citizens of Bedford Falls to resist the temptation to withdraw all their money from his savings and loan:

No, but you . . . you . . . you’re thinking of this place all wrong. As if I had the money back in a safe. The money’s not here. Your money’s in Joe’s house . . . right next to yours. And in the Kennedy house, and Mrs. Macklin’s house, and a hundred others.

The close cousin and opposite of polysyndeton is asyndeton, where instead of adding conjunctions to a list, a writer removes them all.  Comparing the following lists might show us why Julius Caesar chose asyndeton for his most famous proclamation:

Typical List:  I came, I saw, and I conquered.

List with Polysyndeton:  I came and I saw and I conquered.

List with Asyndeton:  I came, I saw, I conquered.

Instead of slowing down the list, as with polysyndeton, asyndeton has the effect of speeding things up.  Asyndeton also has the effect of making the list seem like it is continuing into infinity, as if there is more there than meets the eye.

Today’s Challenge:   A Monologue and a List and a Lot of Conjunctions

What is a hypothetical dramatic situation in which an individual would be unhappy with another individual or group?  Write a dramatic monologue in which a speaker expresses unhappiness with the individual or audience that he/she is addressing.  Before you begin writing, identify a hypothetical dramatic situation in which a speaker would be unhappy and who the speaker would be unhappy with, such as a teacher who is angry with a tardy student or a customer who is unhappy that the Slurpee machine at his local 7/11 is empty. In the monologue include some lists using either polysyndeton or asyndeton for dramatic effect.  Try to capture the emotion in the voice of the character. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Ervin, Kathleen A. It’s a Wonderful Life. Failure Magazine 1 Dec. 2001. http://failuremag.com/feature/article/its_a_wonderful_life/P2/.

December 13: Concession Day

On this day in 2000, one of the closest and most contentious presidential elections in U. S. history ended when Vice President Al Gore gave a speech conceding the presidency to George W. Bush. The day before, the United States Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore ended voting recounts in the state of Florida and effectively awarded the election to Bush. Although Gore won the plurality of the popular vote, he lost the election when Florida’s 25 electoral votes were awarded to Bush.

Thus, on December 13, 2000, more than a month after Americans had cast their votes, Gore gave his concession speech:

Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession (1).

As Gore demonstrated in his speech, sometimes a politician has to admit defeat.  That does not mean, however, that the person is a failure.  After leaving public service, Gore gained prominence as an author and an environmental activist, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work in combating climate change.

In argumentation, instead of being an admission of defeat, a concession is an admission that a portion of an opposing argument is true.  Inexperienced writers often see concession as a weakness, but experienced writers know it is a powerful method for establishing common ground.

When a concession is carefully and clearly framed, it shows the audience that you have conscientiously considered both sides of the argument.  By clearly addressing the opposing views and showing that you understand them fully, you can better neutralize them by combining them with arguments that support your thesis.

Imagine for example that a police officer pulls over two drivers for speeding.  The first driver argues as follows:

“Officer, I wasn’t speeding and should not get a ticket.”

In contrast, the second driver states the following:

“Officer, I probably was going too fast, but if you look at my driving record, you’ll see that I’m a safe driver.” 

Which of the two drivers do think has the better chance of getting off with a warning?  If this were a bet, you probably would put your money on the second driver.  He understands that making a concession is not admitting defeat; instead, a concession is a valuable move, requiring that you give a little ground to gain a lot.

Today’s Challenge:  Comparison, Contrast, and Concession

Given two items in a category to debate, how might you include a concession in your argument?  Write a comparison and contrast paragraph in which you argue for the merits of one thing over the other.  Include a concession in your argument, acknowledging at least one of the merits of the opposition side. Select one of the topics below, or come up with your own:

Seasons:  Summer or Winter?

Pets:  Cat or Dog?

Sports to watch:  Football or Baseball?

Sports to play:  Team or Individual?

Continents to Visit:  Europe or Australia?

Sci-Fi:  Star Wars or Star Trek?

Movie Genres:  Action or Comedy?

Political Parties:  Republican or Democrat?

Political Philosophies:  Capitalism or Socialism?

Books:  Fiction or Nonfiction?

Bands:  Beatles or Rolling Stones

Presidents:  Lincoln or F.D.R?

NBA Franchises:  Celtics or Lakers?

Fast Food Franchises:  McDonalds or KFC?

As you write, make sure that you make a strong claim for your side of the argument while at the same time conceding a strength of the opposition’s side.  Use the templates below to help you frame your concession:

People who argue X are correct when they say that _______________; however, a more important point is _________________________________.

Admittedly it is true that _____________________________________, but it does not necessarily follow that _______________________________________.

Although it is true that _____________________, I believe __________________ because__________________________________________.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Gore, Al. Vice President Gore Concession Speech 13 Dec. 2000. Authentic History.com. http://www.authentichistory.com/1993-2000/3-2000election/3-dispute/20001213_VP_Gore_Concession.html.

November 30:  Satire Day

On this day in two different centuries, two great writers and two great satirists were born.

The first was the Irish writer Jonathan Swift born in 1667. Swift wrote two of the greatest satires in the English language; the first is the classic political allegory Gulliver’s Travels, where he employs fantasy to expose human folly.  The second is his essay A Modest Proposal, where he takes on the voice of a pompous British politician who blithely proposes an outrageous solution to the problem of Irish poverty.

 

The second great writer born on November 30th was the American writer Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known to us by his pen name Mark Twain.  Born in 1835 and raised in Hannibal, Missouri, Twain’s masterpiece was his novel and satire The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published in 1885. Twain’s innovation in this work was to write in the first person, not using his own voice, but instead making the narrator an uneducated, unwashed outcast named Huckleberry Finn.

As great satirists, both Swift and Twain used humor as a tool to expose and criticize their societies.  However, they both knew that the recipe for satire included one other essential ingredient:  irony.

Successful satire uses irony to say one thing while meaning the opposite.  So, for example, instead of directly criticizing an opponent’s argument, the satirist speaks as though he is agreeing with his opponent while at the same time pointing out the argument’s flaws and absurdities.  Satire, therefore, possess a challenge for the reader who must be able to detect the ironic voice and realize that the author actually means the opposite of what he or she is saying.

For example, to truly comprehend Twain’s bitter criticism of a society that would condone slaveholding, we have to see the irony of Huck’s predicament regarding his friend, the runaway slave Jim.  By helping Jim to escape, Huck truly believes he is committing an immoral act, an act that will condemn him to hell.

Similarly, when we read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” it is important to realize that Swift is not truly arguing that Irish parents should sell their babies as food.  Instead, he is using irony to target the corrupt ways that the English have exploited the Irish.

As the following excerpt demonstrates, Swift takes on the persona (or mask) of a seemingly rational statesman who is using logical argumentation to reach an absurd conclusion:

I am assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London; that a young healthy child, well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food; whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled, and I make no doubt, that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or ragout. (1)

Today’s Challenge:  Seeing a Situation Satirically

What are some current societal issues for which you might make a modest proposal?  Before you attempt to write satire, read the complete text of Swift’s essay.  The complete title of the 1729 essay was A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of the Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to Their Public.  Today, the three words “A Modest Proposal” have become synonymous with a satirical approach to addressing an issue, where a writer uses humor and irony to target opposing arguments.  Brainstorm some real societal issues that people and politicians are currently trying to solve.  Select one, and determine what you think would be the best ways to solve the problem.  Then, put on your mask (persona) of satire, and try to capture the voice of someone who believes the exact opposite of what you do.  Use humor and hyperbole to reveal the weaknesses and absurdity of the proposal as well as to criticize the kinds of people who perpetuate the problem instead of solving it. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Swift, Jonathan.  A Modest Proposal. 1729. Public Domain.  Project Gutenberg. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1080.

November 20:  Significant Object Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

On this day in 2009, a fascinating five-month anthropological study was completed by two writers, Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn.  The hypothesis of the study was that storytelling has the power to raise the value of a physical object.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers acquired 100 objects at garage sales and thrift stores at a cost of no more than two dollars per object.  In phase two of the study, each object was given to a writer who crafted a short, fictional story about the object.  Each object was then auctioned on eBay with the invented story as the item description.  Walker and Glenn carefully identified each item description as a work of fiction. Based on the results of the study, the average price of an object was raised by 2,700 percent.  The total cost of purchasing the 100 objects was $128.74; the total sales on eBay reached a total of $3,612.51.  For example, a duck vase purchased for $1.99 sold for $15.75.  A motel room key purchased for $2.00 sold for $45.01.

Walker and Glenn compiled the results of their study, including a photo of each object along with its accompanying fictional story, in the book Significant Objects:  100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things.

To see additional objects and their stories, visit www.significantobjects.com.

Clearly, stories captivate our interest and attention like nothing else. Packaging both ideas and emotion in a narrative makes a powerful combination, and the results of the Significant Objects Study provide us with quantitative evidence of this.  As stated by Walker and Glenn, “Stories are such a powerful driver of emotional value that their effect on any given object’s subjective value can actually be measured objectively” (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Junk Drawer Stories

What inventive story would you write to give value to a seemingly valueless object?  Go to your junk drawer and find a physical object of little value.  Then, craft a short narrative about the background of the object.  If you are working with a group or class of storytellers, have a Significant Object Contest or a Significant Object Slam (SOS) to share your stories. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Walker, Rob and Joshua Glen.  Significant Objects:  100 Extraordinary Stories about Ordinary Things.  Seattle, WA:  Fantagraphics Books, 2012.

November 19:  Gettysburg Address Day

On this day in 1863, Abraham Lincoln presented his Gettysburg Address.  The occasion was the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of the Union army’s victory in the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-4, 1863. Lincoln was not the main speaker at the dedication; that position was given to the scholar and statesman Edward Everett, the best-known orator of the time. Everett spoke for approximately two hours; Lincoln, who took the podium at the end of the long ceremony, spoke for three minutes.

Lincoln’s address may have been short, but the words were certainly not short on impact.  His 267-word speech has been called “the best-known monument of American prose” and Carl Sandburg, one of America’s great poets, called the Gettysburg Address “the great American poem” (1).

Although Lincoln’s address was a speech, it can be classified as a prose poem, a composition that is a hybrid of prose and poetry. Written in complete sentences, like prose, a prose poem nevertheless relies heavily on a variety of poetic elements that give the prose the sound and emotional impact of poetry.

Reading the speech aloud, you can hear a variety of poetic sound effects:

Consonance:  for those who gave their lives that this nation might live.

Internal Rhyme:  we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate

Alliteration:  will little note nor long remember

But what makes the most impact in the speech is the harmony between Lincoln’s form and his content.  Skillfully employing the rhetorical strategies he had acquired by reading Shakespeare and the King James Bible, Lincoln presents themes that are antithetical:  birth and death.  To bring balance and harmony to these opposing themes, he employs parallel structure, principally tricolon and anaphora.

Notice for example the opposites (antithesis) in the following sentence from the middle of the speech:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

Lincoln was at Gettysburg to honor the dead, but his purpose was also to move the living by reminding them that the war was not just about the victory of the Union, it was rather about the survival of the nation.  This theme of bringing harmony out of the chaos of war is echoed in the parallel syntax of Lincoln’s long final sentence. Notice, for example, the anaphora of the “that” clause and tricolon employing three parallel prepositional phrases:

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us

—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion

—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain

—that 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.

Today’s Challenge:  Two Voices

How would you break up the words, phrases, and clauses of  “The Gettysburg Address” into a poem for two voices?  Transform Lincoln’s prose poem into a poem for Two Voices.  Paul Fleishman popularized this form in his book Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices (See September 5:  Two Voices Day). Written to be read aloud by two people, poems for two voices are written in two columns.  Each reader is assigned a single column, and the two readers alternate, reading the lines in turn from the top to the bottom of the page.  Reader’s join their voices whenever words are written on the same line in both columns.

Play with the contrasts and the rhythms of Lincoln’s short speech to create your own unique version.  As you write, practice with a partner to create the most dramatic possible performance. (Common Core Speaking and Listening 4 – Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas)

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that 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. (2)

1-Willis, Gary. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America. New York:  Simon & Shuster: 2006.

2-Lincoln, Abraham. The Gettysburg Address. 1863. Public Domain.

 

November 16:  Proverb Day

On this day in 1932, the philosopher Bertrand Russell (1870-1970) published an essay entitled, “On Proverbs.”  For Russell the key characteristic of these proclamations of practical, timeless wisdom is that “they are remarkable for their terseness.”  Proverbs are models of economical writing, short, pithy, and usually anonymous.  As an example, Russell presents “More haste, less speed,” saying that it “could not possibly be said in fewer words.”

While he is impressed with the terseness of proverbs, Russell sees a problem in using them to support an argument since proverbs tend to run in pairs, and these proverb pairs often make opposite arguments. So, for example, when one person proclaims “Actions speak louder than words,” the other person can turn to the counter-proverb, “The pen is mightier than the sword” (1).

One other notable aspect of proverbs is stated in a definition by philosopher and poet Moses Ebn Ezra:  “[Proverbs have] three characteristics:  few words, good sense, and a fine image.”

Study the proverbs below, and notice how often they use imagery, usually figurative, to wrap up showing and telling into one tiny, concise package:

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

No man is an island.

Birds of a feather flock together.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Never look a gift horse in the mouth.

The early bird catches the worm.

A watched pot never boils.

Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

A penny saved is a penny earned.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill.

Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

Today’s Challenge:  Proverbial Autobiographical Anecdote

What proverb comes to your mind when you think of wisdom you have gained based on your life experiences so far?  Write an anecdote about an incident from your life that illustrates the truth of a single proverb.  Just as Aesop told short fables followed by terse statements of general truths, follow your anecdote with the proverb that the anecdote illustrates.  Once you have finished, read your anecdote to a friend to see if he/she can guess the proverb before you reveal it. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Russell, Bertrand.  Mortals and Others, 1932:  133-34. http://www.amazon.com/Mortals-Routledge-Classics-Bertrand-Russell/dp/0415473519.

 

November 2:  Cheerleading Day

On this day in 1898, a medical student at the University of Minnesota became the first cheerleader.  College teams had pep clubs and fight songs prior to 1898, but after his school’s football team had suffered a three-game losing streak, Johnny Campbell took the radical step of grabbing a megaphone and running down onto the field.  Once there, he turned to the crowd and led them in a rousing cheer: “Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-e-so-ta!” Minnesota won the game, and thus began the tradition of on-field cheerleading.

Interestingly, cheerleading remained primarily a male endeavor until the 1940s. As college students, U.S. Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush led cheers at their respective schools.  Only when the male student body became depleted because of World War II did cheerleading squads become primarily female (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Pep Talk

What single motivational quotation do you find the most uplifting and encouraging?  Why is the quotation so motivating? Just as cheerleaders use pre-packaged cheers to motivate the crowd, writers often integrate quotations from other writers into their work.  Write a brief pep talk based on the motivational quotation that you find the most uplifting and encouraging.  Go beyond just the writer’s quotation by explaining why you find it so motivational and how you are encouraged by the quotation. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Being a Cheerleader – History of Cheerleading. Varsity.com. 20 Oct. 2014. http://www.varsity.com/event/1261/being-a-cheerleader-history.

October 31:  Thesis Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

Today is Halloween, but the most famous individual to approach a door on this date was not dressed in a costume. The year was 1517, and the man approaching the door was a 34-year-old Augustinian monk named Martin Luther.  The door he approached was not a residence; rather, it was a church door in Wittenberg, German.  Instead of knocking on the door, Luther nailed a list of 95 theses to the church door.   It was this single act by one man that sparked a religious revolution called the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther by Cranach-restoration.tifIn the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church was the dominant church in Europe.  Since Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire in 325 AD, the church had grown in both political and spiritual power.  In 1513 Leo X became Pope and began plans to rebuild St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, the headquarters of the Catholic Church.  To raise funds for this major project, the decision was made to sell indulgences, the church’s promise that an individual could escape God’s judgment in the afterlife in exchange for money in this one.

It was the act of selling indulgences as well as other corruption in the church, that sparked Martin Luther’s act of nailing his 95 theses.  As a monk lecturing at the University of Wittenberg in Germany, Luther believed that forgiveness of sins could only come from God, and that unchecked power had caused the church to lose sight of it biblical foundation.

Luther’s 95 theses, written in Latin, challenged the authority of the Pope, calling for an end to indulgences, corruption, and decadence — and a return a proper spiritual focus.

For his act, Luther was charged with heresy and was excommunicated from the church.  Luther’s cause did not die, however.  Aided by the printing press, which had been invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439, copies of Luther’s theses were circulated throughout Europe.  The “protest” movement that resulted became the Protestant Reformation, which spawned numerous Christian sects that rejected the authority of the Roman Church (1).

Just as Martin Luther stated what he believed in his 95 theses, an essay’s thesis must clearly sum up what the essay’s author believes, the writer’s core argument.

Margaret Heffernan, in her 2012 TED Talk entitled “Dare to Disagree,” emphasizes the importance of knowing what you believe and being prepared to defend and debate it.  In her talk Heffernan also alludes to students at the University of Delft, The Netherlands, who must “submit five statements that they’re prepared to defend” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Thesis Under Construction

What is a thesis — a debatable statement of what you believe — that you believe in strongly enough to defend?  Brainstorm some topics that you believe in strongly.  Then, craft five thesis statements that you would be prepared to defend.  To help you craft your theses, read the “Three Things a Thesis Does” below and make sure that each of your theses do those three things.

Three Things A Thesis Does:

  1. States a debatable claim (an opinion) – “What you believe”
  2. Provides reasoning to support the claim – “Why you believe it”
  3. Combines the “What” and the “Why” into at least one clear, complete sentence.

Examples:  

Gun control laws should be further tightened because guns do not deter crime.

Gun control laws should not be further tightened because gun control laws punish only law-abiding citizens.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- Marsh, W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  365:  Your Date with History.  Cambridge, UK:  Totem Books, 2004.

2-Heffernan, Margaret. Dare To Disagree. TED 2012. http://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_dare_to_disagree/transcript?language=en#t-614227.