September 19:  Balloon Debate Day

On this date in 1783 the first hot air balloon was sent aloft in Annonay, France. The balloon was engineered by two brothers, Joseph-Michael and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier.

This first flight, however, was not a manned flight. Because of the unknown effects of high altitude on humans, the brothers decided to experiment with animals.  The first passengers in the basket suspended below the balloon, therefore, were a sheep, a duck, and a rooster.  The 8 minute flight travelled about two miles and was witnessed by a crowd of 130,000, which included King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (1).

Today’s Challenge:  More Than Just Hot Air
Today is the perfect day to hold a balloon debate, a debate where at the end of each round, the audience votes on one or more speakers to eliminate.  In this debate the audience is asked to imagine that the speakers are travelling in a hot air balloon.  The balloon is sinking, so in order to save everyone, one or more of the speakers must be “thrown out.”

Who would you argue is the most important or influential person in history? You may hold a balloon debate on any topic, but traditionally a balloon debate revolves around each speaker arguing the case of a famous person from history.  Each speaker, then, attempts to persuade the audience why his or her individual is the most important and, therefore, the least likely candidate for elimination.  Precede the debate by holding a draft, where each participant selects an individual to research and to argue for.  Their task then is to write a speech that answers the following question:  Why is this person the most important and influential person in history? (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate. -Hubert H. Humphrey

 

1- http://m.space.com/16595-montgolfiers-first-balloon-flight.html

 

July 12: Thoreau Day

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of American writer, philosopher, and naturalist Henry David Thoreau. Born in 1817, Thoreau graduated from Harvard in 1837, where he studied classics and languages.

After college, he taught and traveled, but he eventually returned to his home in Concord, Massachusetts, to live with his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, the founder and leader of the Transcendental movement.

In 1845, Henry bought a small patch of land from Emerson on Walden Pond and built a cabin. On July 4, 1845 he declared his own independence and began living there in the woods; he stayed for two years, two months, and two days.

In his classic work Walden (1854), Thoreau recounts his life in the wild and his observations about nature and about simple living:

I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life . . . .

In 1847 Thoreau spend one night in jail after refusing to pay his poll tax in protest against the war with Mexico (1846-1848). Based on this experience, he wrote his essay “Civil Disobedience” where he explains that individual conscience must trump governmental dictates: “Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

Clearly Thoreau’s thoughts and words were way ahead of his time; both Walden and “Civil Disobedience” influenced future generations in both the conservation and civil rights movements. For example, in his autobiography Martin Luther King credits Thoreau:

I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest.

Another disciple of Thoreau was Gandhi, who put Thoreau’s ideas regarding nonviolent resistance into action as he led India to independence (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Thorough Thinking with Thoreau
One of the prominent themes of Thoreau’s writing is the individual’s role in society.  What would you say is the key to maintaining your individuality and unique character, while at the same time living productively as a member of a society made up of groups – family, friends, and co-workers? Write your own statement on this question; then, reflect on the statements below by Thoreau.  Pick the one you agree with or disagree with the most, and explain how Thoreau’s words align or conflict with your personal philosophy:

  • Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.
  • You cannot dream yourself into a character: you must hammer and forge yourself into one.
  • . . . if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours
  • The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.
  • If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

Quotation of the Day:  It still seems to me the best youth’s companion yet written by an American, for it carries a solemn warning against the loss of one’s valuables, it advances a good argument for traveling light and trying new adventures, it rings with the power of positive adoration, it contains religious feelings without religious images, and it steadfastly refused to record bad news. –E. B. White on Walden

1 – Seymour-Smith, Martin. The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 1998.

 

 

January 8:   Rogerian Argument Day

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

Carlrogers.jpgAs 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” 

2-Rogerian Rhoetoric – Writing Commons