October 3:  Read an Essay Out Loud Day

On this date in 1890, Harvard Professor Barrett Wendell read an essay aloud to his class of 50 undergraduate English students.  The essay was written by one of the students in the class, a student who would go on to become one of the most important African-American intellectuals and leaders of his generation.  The essay’s author was W.E.B. Du Bois, who signed up for the class because he realized that without the ability to write well, his ideas would never be taken seriously.  He explains this in his autobiography:

I realized that while style is subordinate to content, and that no real literature can be composed simply of meticulous and fastidious phrases, nevertheless that solid content with literary style carries a message further than poor grammar and muddled syntax.

Formal photograph of an African-American man, with beard and mustache, around 50 years oldDu Bois’ essay was the only one that Professor Wendell read aloud that day, and it was the essay’s conclusion that he particularly liked:

Spurred by my circumstances, I have always been given to systematically planning my future, not indeed without many mistakes and frequent alterations, but always with what I now conceive to have been a strangely early and deep appreciation of the fact that to live is a serious thing . . . . I believe, foolishly perhaps, but sincerely, that I have something to say to the world, and I have taken English 12 in order to say it well.

Du Bois went on to say many things well as an activist, a sociologist, and a historian.  In 1895  he became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard, and in 1909 he co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of  Colored People (NAACP).  He worked his entire life for the cause of civil rights, and he died on August 27, 1963 — one day before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.

Today’s Challenge:  Extra-Sensory Reading
What is the value of reading out loud as a way of reading and of revising your writing?  Reading words aloud or hearing your words read aloud by someone else allows you to experience them in a different way than just seeing them. Listening and speaking the words involve different senses than just reading with your eyes, allowing you to catch nuances or areas for revision that you might not catch otherwise.  Exchange some of your writing with a partner.  Read each others writing with your eyes first, highlighting the parts you particularly like. Then, take turns reading and listening to each other’s writing. (Common Core Writing 5 – Writing Process)

Quotation of the Day:  Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words. To read with your lungs and diaphragm, with your tongue and lips, is very different than reading with your eyes alone. The language becomes a part of the body . . . . The words are not mere words. They are the breath and mind, perhaps even the soul, of the person who is reading. -Verlyn Klinkenborg

1- http://www.bolenderinitiatives.com/sociology/w-e-b-dubois-1868-1963/w-e-b-dubois-harvard-last-decades-19th-century

January 22:  Knowledge is Power Day

Today is the birthday of English philosopher, statesman, and scientist, Francis Bacon (1561-1626), known for the famous pronouncement, “Knowledge is power.”  In science, Bacon challenged the established deductive method of thinking, which was based on the classical writings of Aristotle and Plato.  Unlike deduction, which is based on the syllogism, Bacon’s inductive method is based on empirical evidence.  In Bacon’s method, the five senses become the basis of how we make sense of our world, by observation, data gathering, analysis, and experimentation.

Pourbus Francis Bacon.jpgWhile Bacon is known today for the development of the the scientific method, his devotion to that method might have also led to his own demise.  The story goes that one snowy day in 1626 Bacon was travelling with a friend in his carriage.  The two men began arguing about Bacon’s recent hypothesis that fresh meat could be preserved if frozen.  Seeing an opportunity to do some on-the-spot experimentation, Bacon stopped his carriage and purchased a chicken from a peasant woman.  After having the woman gut the chicken, Bacon proceeded to pack snow into the chicken’s carcass. He then put the chicken in a bag, packed more snow around the outside of its body, and buried it.  Unfortunately, in the process of gather his empirical evidence, Bacon caught a severe chill which lead to his death by pneumonia.

In addition to his important work in science, Bacon is also known today for his writing, principally the English essay.  Influence by Montaigne, the French writer who pioneered the essay, Bacon adopted and popularized the form in English as a method for exploring ideas in writing.

Bacon wrote on a wide range of topics, but preceded each of his essays’ titles with the preposition “of,” as in:  Of Truth, Of Death, Of Revenge, Of Love, Of Boldness, Of Ambition.  His essays are eminently quotable, for Bacon crafted his sentences carefully, making each one a profound package of pithiness — you might go so far as to call them “Bacon bits.”  As Bacon explained in his own words, aphorisms, those concise statements of general truth, were essential to his thinking:

Aphorisms, except they should be ridiculous, cannot be made but of the pith and heart of sciences; for discourse of illustration is cut off; recitals of examples are cut off; discourse of connection and order is cut off; descriptions of practice are cut off. So there remaineth nothing to fill the aphorisms but some good quantity of observation; and therefore no man can suffice, nor in reason will attempt, to write aphorisms, but he that is sound and grounded (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Everything is Better With Bacon

Why should an individual devote him or herself to study?  Is time put in toward the pursuit of knowledge worth it?  Read Bacon’s famous essay “Of Studies.”  Then, write a response to his ideas.  Do you agree or disagree with Bacon?  What do you think is the purpose of study? (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Of Studies by Francis Bacon

STUDIES serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief use for delight, is in privateness and retiring; for ornament, is in discourse; and for ability, is in the judgment, and disposition of business. For expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars, one by one; but the general counsels, and the plots and marshalling of affairs, come best, from those that are learned. To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar. They perfect nature, and are perfected by experience: for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need proyning, by study; and studies themselves, do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience. Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them; for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation. Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books, else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know, that he doth not. Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtile; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend. Abeunt studia in mores. Nay, there is no stond or impediment in the wit, but may be wrought out by fit studies; like as diseases of the body, may have appropriate exercises. Bowling is good for the stone and reins; shooting for the lungs and breast; gentle walking for the stomach; riding for the head; and the like. So if a man’s wit be wandering, let him study the mathematics; for in demonstrations, if his wit be called away never so little, he must begin again. If his wit be not apt to distinguish or find differences, let him study the Schoolmen; for they are cymini sectores. If he be not apt to beat over matters, and to call up one thing to prove and illustrate another, let him study 197 the lawyers’ cases. So every defect of the mind, may have a special receipt. (2)

Quotation of the Day:  The duty and office of rhetoric is to apply reason to imagination for the better moving of the will. -Francis Bacon