March 29:  Allusions From War Day

On this day in 1975, the last American soldiers left Vietnam, ending a ten-year period in which the United States dropped more bombs than during all of World War II. The many soldiers who fought in Vietnam returned with both metals and scars, but they also returned with new words that reflected their intense experience in Southeast Asia.

In the book I Hear America Talking, Stuart Berg Flexner defines some of the key terms that came out of the Vietnam War:

Charlie: The term Viet Cong (short for Vietnamese Communist) was shortened by soldiers to V.C. Since the international phonetic alphabet used for communication designated the letter C as Charlie, and V for Victor, the enemy from North Vietnam was frequently designated Charlie.

Click: Military term for kilometer, possibly reflecting the sound of the letter K, the abbreviation for kilometer, or the clicking of a gun sight being adjusted for distance.

Defoliate: The spraying of chemicals or the use of bombs on enemy territory to destroy trees or crops, depriving the enemy of concealment or food.

Domino Theory: The belief that if Vietnam fell to the Communists, its neighbors in Southeast Asia would fall one by one, as in a row of dominoes.

Escalation: As the U.S. presence in Vietnam grew under the leadership of President Johnson, this term was used to describe the increase in troop levels. It is derived from escalator, a trademark name for a “moving staircase.”

Firefight: This term to describe a short engagement replaced the common word skirmish.

Fragging: This term is derived from a commonly used weapon of the war, the fragmentation grenade. It became a verb to describe the killing of an officer by use of a grenade or any other means.

Just as the Vietnam War added new words to the English lexicon, it also added new allusions — indirect references to people, places, and events from Vietnam that entered the cultural consciousness.  Today, for example, when we hear or read the names Westmoreland, Viet Cong, Khe Sanh, the Tet Offensive, or the Ho Chi Minh Trail, it is hard not to think of the war in Vietnam.  

In fact, the long history of warfare has added a huge stock of cultural references to the language.  For example, when we read Carl Sandburg’s short poem “Grass,” we understand it is a war poem, not because it mentions war, soldiers, or fighting explicitly, but because the poem makes several allusions to battlefields around the world where soldiers fought and died:

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 passengers ask the conductor:

                                         What place is this?

                                         Where are we now?

Today’s Challenge: “I Love the Smell of Allusions in the Morning”

What are some examples of allusions that evoke people, places, and events from military history?  Brainstorm some proper nouns that evoke specific people, places, or events from the history of warfare.  Select three proper nouns, research them, and write a brief report that explains the backstory of how each proper noun fits into the timeline of the history of warfare.

The following are some examples of allusions you might research:

Alamo, Achilles, Appomattox, Auschwitz, The Bastille, The Battle of the Bulge, Catch-22, The Cold War, The Cuban Missile Crisis, D-Day, Dunkirk, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Eisenhower, Fort Sumter, The Geneva Convention, The Gettysburg Address, The G.I. Bill, Grant, Hannibal, Hiroshima, Lexington and Concord, Marathon, Minutemen, NATO, Odysseus, Patton, Rough Riders, Stalin, Tripoli, Thucydides, U-boats, V-J Day, Wounded Knee, Yankee Doodle

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.  -Max Weinreich

1- Flexner, Stuart Berg.  I Hear America Talking.

 

March 28:  Thought Experiment Day

Today is the birthday of Daniel C. Dennett, American philosopher, writer, and cognitive scientist, who was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1942.

Dennett wearing a button-up shirt and a jacketIn 2013, Dennett published his book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking.  Dennett begins his book by acknowledging that thinking is hard work.  But just as a shovel makes it easier and more efficient for us to dig a ditch, thinking tools make cognition easier and more efficient.  

One specific category of thinking tools used frequently by philosophers is thought experiments.  Dennett calls them intuition pumps (a term he coined in 1980), the philosophical equivalent of Aesop’s fables.  These thought experiments present vivid vignettes, hypothetical situations that allow thinkers to explore and examine ideas.  Like parables, thought experiments are micro-narratives, making ideas more practical and easy to remember (1).

One ancient thought experiment comes from Plato’s The Republic:  

The Allegory of the Cave

Imagine three prisoners who have been chained in a cave their entire lives.  They are chained in such a way that all they can see is the wall of the cave in front of them.  Behind them, there is a fire and a raised walkway. As people walk along the walkway carrying things like books, animals, and plants, the prisoner sees nothing but the shadows of the people and the items they carry cast on the wall in front of them.  Because the prisoners see only the shadows, these shadows become their reality. When they see a shadow of a book, for example, they take the shadow as the real object, since it is all they know.

Imagine that one of the prisoners escapes his chains and leaves the cave.  Leaving the darkness of the cave, he is first blinded by the light. As his eyes slowly adjust and as he becomes more used to his new surroundings, he begins to realize that his former understanding of the world was wrong.  Returning to the cave, the enlightened prisoner tells the other prisoners what he has learned of the real world. The others, noticing that the returning prisoner is groping around in the darkness as his eyes readjust to the darkness, think he is insane. They can’t imagine any other reality but the shadows they see before them, and they threaten to murder anyone who would drag them out of the cave or annoy them with supposed insight into what a “real” book or a “real” tree actually looks like (2).

Plato’s Cave allows us to address and discuss the abstract ideas of knowledge versus ignorance and perception versus reality.  It doesn’t just tell us that philosophy will improve our lives; instead, it shows us: most of us live our life watching the shadows in the cave; philosophy and education, however, offer us a way out of the darkness and into the light of reason.

Today’s Challenge:  Pump Up Your Tired Thinking

What are some examples of philosophical questions that might be debated about universal topics, such as the nature of reality, of knowledge, of morality, of consciousness, of free will, or of government?  Research a specific thought experiment (see the list below).  Summarize the key elements of the thought experiment in your own words; then, discuss what specific philosophical ideas the thought experiment addresses.

The Whimsical Jailer, The Nefarious Neurosurgeon, Infinite Monkey Theorem, Buridan’s Ass, The Brain in a Vat, The Trolley Problem, Schrodinger’s Cat, Ship of Theseus, The Chinese Room, The Lady or the Tiger

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  You can’t do much carpentry with your bare hands and you can’t do much thinking with your bare brain. -Bo Dahlbom

1- Dennett, Daniel C.  Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.

2-Plato’s Republic.  http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.1.introduction.html

 

March 27:  Similes for Life Day

On this day in 1995, the film Forrest Gump won best picture at the 99th Academy Awards.  The movie was based on the 1986 novel of the same name, written by Winston Groom.  

Film poster with a white background and a park bench (facing away from the viewer) near the bottom. A man wearing a white suit is sitting on the right side of the bench and is looking to his left while resting his hands on both sides of him on the bench. A suitcase is sitting on the ground, and the man is wearing tennis shoes. At the top left of the image is the film's tagline and title and at the bottom is the release date and production credits.Groom grew up in Alabama, and many of his books, including Forrest Gump, draw on his experiences in Vietnam, where he served in the U.S. Army from 1966-1967.  Before Winston’s novel was adapted for the big screen, it was not a big seller; however, after the film came out in 1994, the book became a bestseller.  Winston’s 1988 novel Gone The Sun won the Pulitzer Prize (1).

Winston’s best-known character is the slow-witted southerner Forrest Gump, who faces his life with childlike innocence and optimism.  Almost as memorable as the character himself is his iconic simile — a quotation that became one of the most famous lines in movie history:  “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.”

Today’s Challenge:  Life is Like a Writing Assignment . . . .

What concrete noun presents the best figurative comparison for life?  Notice how each of the similes for life below follow the same basic formula.  Like Forrest Gump’s simile, they begin with a simple comparison, using “like” and a concrete noun.  Each writer then follows the comparison with elaboration, explaining how or why life is like the concrete noun.

Life is like a ten-speed bicycle.  Most of us have gears we never use. -Charles M. Schulz

Life is like a play; it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters. -Seneca the Younger

Life is like a dog-sled team.  If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes. -Lewis Grizzard

Write your own simile for life by brainstorming some possible concrete nouns. Use the list below to get you started.

a sandwich, a sandbox, a symphony, a slug, a salad, a game of checkers, a battle, a bruised banana, a lunchbox, a race, a book, a fire, an alphabet, a cat, a hammer

Feel free to modify your nouns with other words that make them more specific; for example, life might be a “relay race,” “a sprinting race,” or “long-distance race.”

Use the following template to help you construct your simile:

Life is like [concrete noun] _______; [Explain how, why, or under what circumstances life is like this] ______________.

Quotation of the Day:  Life is like riding a bicycle.  To keep your balance you must keep moving. -Albert Einstein

1-http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2527

March 26:  Dead Poet’s Day

On this day in 1892, American poet Walt Whitman died in his home in Camden, New Jersey.  Whitman was America’s first great poet, and today his poems live on, expressing one of the most distinctive and democratic of all American voices.   

Dead poets society.jpgWhitman was a pioneer of free verse, which abandons traditional poetic forms and meter.  Instead, free verse is inspired by the music, rhythm, and natural cadences of the human voice.  As Edward Hirsch puts it in his book A Poet’s Glossary, “The free-verse poem fits no mold; it has no pre-existent pattern.  The reader supplies the verbal speeds, intonations, emphasis.” (1)

Whitman published the first edition of his great work Leaves of Grass in 1855, and throughout his life he returned to the work editing poems in the collection and adding new ones.  When he lay dying at the age of 72, he received the final, ninth edition of Leaves of Grass.  Virtually every American poet of the 20th century, as well as many others around the world, was inspired by and influenced by Whitman’s poems.

In the 1989 film Dead Poets Society, the English teacher Mr. Keating (played by Robin Williams) is also influenced by Whitman. In an inspirational short speech to his students, Mr. Keating explains why they read and study poetry:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless — of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer.  That you are here — that life exists, and you may contribute a verse.

Mr. Keating also asks his students to refer to him as “O Captain, My Captain,” an allusion to the poem Walt Whitman wrote after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  The poem is an elegy, a funeral song or lament for death, and it is written as an extended metaphor where Lincoln is the ship captain who directed his ship of state safely through the stormy Civil War.

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead. (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Dead Poet and Living Verse

Who are the greatest poets from the past?  Write an elegy or brief speech dedicated to the memory of a great poet from the past.  As you might expect, many such poets are referenced and quoted in the film Dead Poet Society, including Lord Byron, William Shakespeare, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Robert Frost — who, coincidentally, was born on this day in 1874. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  There is only one way to be prepared for death: to be sated. In the soul, in the heart, in the spirit, in the flesh. To the brim. -Henry De Montherlant

1-Hirsch, Edward.  A Poet’s Glossary.

2-The Academy of American Poets – Walt Whitman

 

March 25:  Toulmin Argument Day

Today is the birthday of British philosopher and educator Stephen Toulmin, who was born in London in 1922.

Stephen Toulmin.jpgIn 1958, Toulmin published a book entitled The Uses of Argument in which he explained his model of argumentation.  Toulmin’s objective was to give his readers a practical, real-world method for constructing or analyzing arguments.  Instead of the abstract, academic proofs written by logisticians, Toulmin proposed a method that could be understood and applied by ordinary people to everyday arguments.

The Toulmin’s model of argument is made up of six key parts:

The Claim is what you believe to be true, what the argument proves.

The Data is the facts, evidence and reasons that lead you to believe the claim is true.

The Warrant is an assumption that connects the data with your claim.  The warrant makes the thinking of the argument explicit, explaining both how and why the data support the claim.  

The Backing is any facts or details that support the warrant.

The Qualifier is limits of the claim, stating whether or not it is always true or in what cases it is true.

The Rebuttal is where the person writing the argument anticipates and answers possible objections to the claim by stating counterclaims and responding to them.

Toulmin’s model is an excellent way to analyze arguments made by others or to analyze your own.  It gives you a method for carefully thinking through each part and for troubleshooting the parts that don’t hold up under scrutiny.  In essence the model is a grammar for arguments. Just as grammar allows you to name the parts needed for crafting and revising clear sentences, Toulmin’s model gives you the nomenclature needed to construct and examine sound arguments (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Try Toulmin’s Toolbox

What are examples of five claims that you believe in fully?  Brainstorm some possible claims that you could confidently make.  Then, select one claim, and write a well-developed argument employing each element of the Toulmin model.

Before you begin writing your own argument, analyze the example argument below, identifying the claim, qualifier, data, warrant, backing, and rebuttal:

The best way to become a good writer, in most cases, is to read widely. Most good writers build up their experience and understanding of the different ways that words, sentences, and paragraphs work through reading. Furthermore, most writers don’t just express their own ideas, instead they build and test their own ideas by reading, responding and referring to other writers. One of the common things you will hear when listening to interviews of writers is their references to other writers as well as to what they have read or are reading.  In the words of Stephen King, ““If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” A writer might have great ideas, but without a lot of experience of analyzing the written word through careful reading, the writer is not going to be equipped to package his or her ideas in a way that they can be understood by an audience of readers.  Some may say that the best way to write is to just write; however, that’s a little like saying the best way to build a house is to just build a house. Just as home construction require knowledge of architecture, good writing requires a solid understanding of the architecture of prose. Construction workers read blueprints before they pick up a hammer; likewise, good writers read good books before they pick up a pen.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument. -Desmond Tutu

1-http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/11/education/11toulmin.html

March 24:  Mash-up Day

According to Newsweek, the word “mash-up” was coined in 2001 by DJ Freelance Hellraiser who used Christina Aguilera’s vocals from the song ‘Genie in a Bottle’ and “recorded [them] over the instrumentals from ‘Hard to Explain.’” Mash-up is not just a musical term, however. A mash-up applies to any combination of two or more forms of media: music, film, television, computer program, etc.

So what does March 24 have to do with this strange new term? Well, on this date in 1973, Pink Floyd released its groundbreaking Dark Side of the Moon album. Later — no one really knows when – someone came up with the crazy idea of combining, or ‘mashing,’ the Pink Floyd album with the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. The fans of this mash-up claim over a 100 different moments where Pink Floyd’s music and lyrics oddly coincide with events and actions in the film. For example, when Mrs. Gulch first appears riding her bicycle, the bells and chimes at the beginning of the song “Time” begin to sound.

WIZARD OF OZ ORIGINAL POSTER 1939.jpg“Mash-up” is just one example of a neologism, a new word that is created to describe some kind of phenomenon, concept, or invention. Some of these words have the lifespan of a common housefly, but others, if they are used enough, eventually are cataloged and included in the English lexicon (1).

Wordsmiths at the Oxford English Dictionary, for example, have the “rule of five” to guide their decision about whether or not to publish a neologism in the dictionary. According to the rule, the word must be published in at least five different sources over a five-year period. As a result, lexicographers are always reading, searching for potential new additions to the dictionary.

A prism refracting white light into a rainbow on a black backgroundIf you want to be ahead of the curve on new words, check out the website Wordspy.com. The site is maintained by Paul McFedries, a technical writer with an obvious love of language. Here is the description of his site in his own words: Wordspy “is devoted to lexpionage, the sleuthing of new words and phrases. These aren’t ‘stunt words’ or ‘sniglets,’ but new terms that have appeared multiple times in newspapers, magazines, books, websites, and other recorded sources” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  The Old Man and the Dictionary

What are some examples of words that fit the following categories:  abstract noun, plural noun, common noun, possessive noun, adjective?  Make a list of at least three words in each category.  Then, use words from your list to complete the titles below.  By doing this, you’ll slightly alter the title of a classic work by mashing it up your new words.  Select one of your titles and image it is a novel you have written. Write the blurb for the novel, a brief description of the story’s plot that you would place on the back cover of the book to attract and interest readers in the story.

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the __________ (plural noun)

War and Peace

War and __________ (abstract noun)

The Strange Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

The __________ (adjective) Incident of the _________ (noun) in the Nighttime

Lord of the Rings

Lord of the ___________ (plural noun)

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet ___________ (noun)

The Grapes of Wrath

The __________ (plural noun) of Wrath

A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to ___________ (plural noun)

Snow Falling on Cedars

Snow Falling on __________ (plural noun)

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Zen and the Art of _____________ (noun) Maintenance

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

The Call of the ___________ (adjective)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over the ____________  (possessive noun) ____________(noun)

The Old Man and the Sea by  Ernest Hemingway

The __________ (adjective) Man and the __________ (noun)

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. -Nathaniel Hawthorne

1-http://www.newsweek.com/technology-time-your-mashup-106345

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/movies/greatest-moments-dark-side-rainbow-article-1.2752178

2-Paul McFedries. Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture. New York: Broadway Books, 2004.

March 23:  Classical Argument Day

On this day in 1775, Patrick Henry delivered one of the most memorable and most important speeches in American history.  The speech was delivered at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, to the 120 delegates of the Second Virginia Convention, which included George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  

The question at hand was whether or not to mobilize military forces against the British.  Some held out hope for peaceful reconciliation with Britain, arguing against the motion to use force.  Henry, a 38-year old lawyer and politician, listened respectfully, then rose to give what is probably the best know call to arms in the history of rhetoric.  

In making his argument, Henry drew upon the classical arrangement of an argument, dating back to Aristotle and Cicero:

The Introduction (Exordium) – The Reason for Relevance

The Context (Narration) – The Context of the Controversy

The Thesis (Partition) – The Architecture of the Argument

The Evidence (Confirmation) – The Explanation of the Evidence

The Counterclaims (Refutation) – The Consideration of Counterclaims

The Conclusion (Peroration) – The Finish With a Flash

As we read Henry’s speech, we can break it into the six-part structure and examine how each part relates to the whole.

Exordium (Paragraphs 1-2):  Instead of beginning with a claim, the exordium seeks to win the attention and good will of the audience. Here Henry’s focus is on showing he is trustworthy and credible.  Notice how he shows respect to those who have spoken before him, while at the same time establishing his own forceful and confident voice:

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony.

The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Narration (Paragraphs 3-8 ): In the Narration a speaker gives the context for the argument.  Notice how Henry provides background on the issue at hand. Also, notice how instead of making declarations, he more subtly guides his audience to join in his conclusions through the use of rhetorical questions:

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss.

Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort.

I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging.

And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves longer.

Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne!

Partition (Paragraph 9):  In the Partition, a speaker presents the thesis, the core argument being made.  Notice how Henry clearly and forcefully states his claim, not just once but twice:

In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free—if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending—if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained—we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

Confirmation and Refutation (Paragraphs 10-12):  In the Confirmation, a speaker supports the central argument with reasoning, proof, and evidence; in the Refutation, a speaker anticipates opposing claims and attempts to rebut them.  Notice how Henry builds his case for taking action and how he rebuts the case for inaction. Notice also how in addition to appealing to the logic of his audience, he uses powerful imagery to move his audience emotionally:

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?

Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.

Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable—and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

Peroration (Paragraphs 13-14):  In the Peroration, a speaker presents the grand finale by summarizing the case and by attempting to move the audience to action by appealing to emotion.  Henry has constructed and arranged his entire argument to culminate in a single dramatic crescendo:

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace—but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?

Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Today’s Challenge:  Classical Arguments, Classical Choices

What are some examples of the kinds of fundamental choices people must make in their lives, such as to marry or to stay single, to go to college or to get a job out of high school, to join the military or to remain a civilian?  Brainstorm a list of at least 10 possible choices a typical person might make.  These may be monumental, life-altering choices, or they may be simple choices that an individual must make on a daily basis.  Select one of the key choices that you feel strongly about and construct a classical argument using Henry’s speech as your model.  Arrange your speech to include each of the six elements of the classical argument, and like Henry, make sure to end with a climactic peroration. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Nothing is so unbelievable that oratory cannot make it acceptable. –Marcus Tullius Cicero

March 22:  Poetry 180 Day

Today is the birthday of American poet Billy Collins. He was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001-2003. Born in 1941 in Queens, New York, Collins didn’t publish his first book of poetry, The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988), until he was in his forties.

As poet laureate, Collins created a unique anthology to revive verse in American schools, called Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry. With this program, Collins set out to end the notion that high school is “the place where poetry goes to die.” Instead, he wanted students to see that poetry was meant to be read for enjoyment, read aloud over the school intercom, and shared. In short, Collins hoped to “suggest to young people the notion that poetry can be a part of everyday life as well as a subject to be studied in the classroom” (1).

Collins published a second anthology of poems in 2005 so that readers can enjoy year-round poetry. It’s called: 180 More: Extraordinary Poems.

Today’s Challenge:   Poetry 365

What are some examples of great poems that are worth memorizing?  Brainstorm a list of great poems that are worthy of committing to memory.  These should be poems that are so good that you could recite them every day of the year and still appreciate their use of language.  Identify one specific poem that you believe that everyone should know. Explain your case for what makes this poem so special. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quote of the Day:   The first line is the DNA of the poem; the rest of the poem is constructed out of that first line. A lot of it has to do with tone because tone is the key signature for the poem. The basis of trust for a reader used to be meter and end-rhyme. -Billy Collins

1- Collins, Billy.  Poetry 180:  A Turning Back to Poetry.  New York:  Random House, 2003.

 

March 21:  Serial Comma Day

Today is the birthday of American editor and writer Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who was born in Mesa, Arizona in 1956.

Hayden is credited with one of the most famous examples cited in the serial comma debate, a debate about whether to use or omit the comma that comes before the final conjunction in a list.  For example, should you write, “I bought some apples, oranges and bananas,” or should you write, “I bought some apple, oranges, and bananas”? To exemplify her case for using the serial comma, Hayden presents the following exhibit, a hypothetical book dedication:  

“To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”  

As proponents of the serial comma argue, the omission of the comma before the conjunction results in ambiguity.  As illustrated in Hayden’s example, a reader might misinterpret the “Ayn Rand and God” as an appositive, identifying the writer’s parents.

Those who argue for eschewing the serial comma — also known as the Oxford comma or the Harvard comma — claim that the presence of the final conjunction makes the use of the comma superfluous.  Most proponents of the serial comma will concede that in most cases omission of the comma does not create ambiguity; however, they promote consistent use in order to avoid the unintended confusion and hilarity that can sometimes occur when it is left out.  To illustrate this Teresa Nielsen Hayden cites another example she found in a newspaper article reviewing a documentary about Merle Haggard. The article stated, “Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall” (1).

Another argument for the consistent use of the serial comma comes from a 2017 court case in Maine.  The delivery drivers for the Oakhurst Dairy contended that the law regarding overtime pay was ambiguous.  The law stated that overtime rules did not apply to:  “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution.”

The drivers argued that the omission of the final comma indicated that the phrase addressed only the packing of the goods “for shipment or distribution,” not the actual distribution of the goods by truck.  Their conclusion, therefore, was that the omission of this single comma made them eligible for overtime compensation. In its 29-page court decision, the United States Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the delivery drivers, awarding them their overtime compensation.  For lack of a single comma, the Maine dairy was forced to pay out nearly $10 million (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Think in Threes – Ready, Set, Go!

What are some examples of things that come in threes?  The most frequent use of the serial comma is for lists of three.  Brainstorm some examples of well-known trios, trilogies, or triads.  Consider people, places, things, or ideas. Once you have generated a good list, select and rank your top three threes.  You might say your gold, silver, and bronze medal trios. Identify and define each of your trios, and explain why each is worthy of three cheers. (Common Core 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again. -Oscar Wilde

1-http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/012652.html

2-https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/16/us/oxford-comma-lawsuit.html?_r=2

 

March 20:  Answer in the Form of a Question Day

On this day in 1964, the popular game show Jeopardy made its debut. The show was created by Merv Griffin who also composed the show’s famous theme song. In the introduction to Alex Trebek’s The Jeopardy Book, Griffin explains that he wanted to create a trivia game show, but he was worried about the backlash from the 1950s quiz show scandals. On a plane flight in 1963, Griffin’s wife had a breakthrough idea, when she said off the cuff: “Why not just give them the answers to start with?”

Jeopardy! logo.pngGriffin originally called his show “What’s the Question?” but that changed when he showed his game to a network executive. The executive was concerned that the game lacked drama since once a player had a sizable lead, he could play it safe. The executive commented, “I like what I see, but the game needs more jeopardies!” It’s that comment that changed the show’s title and the show’s format. After the executive’s comment, Griffin added the climactic moment that makes or breaks the show: Final Jeopardy (1).

Appropriately enough, the word jeopardy began as a French gaming term from chess, meaning a divided or even game. It evolved, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, to mean any game in which the chances of winning or losing were even (2). So when the executive told Merv Griffin, “The game needs more jeopardizes,” he was most likely not referring to the modern sense of the word, meaning danger or peril, but to the gaming sense of the word, meaning, “Let’s keep the final outcome in doubt until the end.”

Today’s Challenge:  “Five Funky Facts for Five Hundred, Please”

What is a general category that you know enough about to write quiz questions for?  Brainstorm some Jeopardy categories, such as Authors, Novels, The Beatles, or Game Shows.  Then, write 5 answers and questions in the Jeopardy format.

For example:

Answer: This game show debuted on March 20, 1964.

Question: What is Jeopardy?

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: Anyone who has begun to think, places some portion of the world in jeopardy. -John Dewey

1-Trebek, Alex and Peter Barsocchini.  The Jeopardy! Book: The Answers, the Questions, the Facts, and the Stories of the Greatest Game Show in History, 1990.

2-https://www.ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=jeopardy