October 24 – Wear It Pink Day

Posted on October 24, 2014

Do you live in the United Kingdom? And do you have any pink clothes? If you can answer “yes” to both of these questions, then today's the day to wear those pink clothes!

It's all about focusing on breast cancer research. Every year on Wear It Pink Day, in the U.K., hundreds of thousands of people wear pink AND donate money to fund research in the fight against this killer. 

This year, I was interested to see that Brits were primed for Wear It Pink Day by having some of the most beloved landmarks of their country lit up pink! How cool is that?

What if you don't live in the U.K.?

In the U.S., there is “A Crucial Catch” tomorrow – the first nationwide breast cancer event put on by the NFL and the American Cancer Society. Check it out!  

Six Flags America is donating money to the American Cancer Society for every ticket purchased today and tomorrow, and guests are encouraged to wear (you guessed it) pink! Other organizations are pink-ifying, including at least one YMCA that is “pumping in pink” for the day. If you look around, you too many find a breast cancer awareness campaign to participate in...

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United Nations Day

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October 23 – TV Talk Show Host Day

Posted on October 23, 2014

One of the America's favorite TV talk shows has been The Tonight Show, which has been on as long as I've been alive. (Translation: a loooooong time!) It is the longest currently running regularly scheduled entertainment program in the U.S. and the third longest-running show of any sort on NBC. And it owes a lot of its success to Johnny Carson, who headed the show for THIRTY years!

(Of course, other amazing talents have also headed the show: Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, and now Jimmy Fallon.)

Well, today is Johnny Carson's birthday. And in honor of this most excellent of TV talk show hosts, today has been declared TV Talk Show Host Day!

One of Carson's repeating characters was
a funny "psychic" named Carnak the
Johnny Carson was so many things, which is why he was such a good host: he was a comedian, writer, actor, musician, and an amateur magician. And he was a skeptic who hated religious fundamentalism and superstition. His background in magic helped him to be aware of the fact that some people who claim to have paranormal abilities are really just doing magic tricks. Magicians remind their audiences that they are creating illusions – but psychics do similar sorts of tricks AND THEN LIE ABOUT IT! Way not cool!

Carson actually helped show up some of these psychics as fakes on his show. 

For example, Carson and magician James Randi showed that Israeli so-called psychic Uri Geller was a fake; Geller was unable to do his famous spoon-bending trick because Carson supplied the spoons. 

Carson and Randi teamed up again to prove that the faith healer Peter Popoff was a charlatan. Carson also helped to support Randi's efforts to debunk junk pseudoscience and promote skepticism by donating to the James Randi Foundation and The Amazing Meetings. 

Carson also helped the field of science by sometimes inviting scientists onto the show. He invited astronomer Carl Sagan onto the show 26 times!

The fact that he helped encourage both skepticism and the popular understanding of science are my two favorite things about Johnny Carson! 

And now that he is gone, I appreciate the efforts of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as well. Hooray for comedians as talk show hosts!

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October 22 – Stuttering Awareness and Smart Appreciation

Posted on October 22, 2014

Today is a great “S” two-fer:

  1. It is International Stuttering Awareness Day.
  2. It is also Smart is Cool Day.

If you see sea-green clothes or ribbons today, look again, because it may be someone celebrating International Stuttering Awareness Day. (“Stuttering” is called “stammering” in the U.K.)

Stuttering (stammering) is a speech disorder in which the person repeats certain syllables or words. Sometimes, instead of repeating the syllables, the person with a stutter prolongs certain syllables or leaves out certain syllables.

Stress or tiredness can make stuttering worse, and stuttering sometimes eases when the speaker is relaxed. However, stuttering doesn't necessarily mean the speaker is nervous.

This movie is about
a king who stammered.
People who stutter want you to know that the speech disorder doesn't indicate a lack of intelligence, and that they are just trying to communicate—to be heard, to be understood—just like anyone else. 

If you are talking to someone who begins to stutter, focus on the message rather than how it is being delivered. Breathe deeply and be patient, and your calm attitude will help the person who is stuttering.

Here are some things you should NOT do when talking to a person who is stuttering:

  • Don't try to finish the person's sentences or fill in missing words. Even though you are trying to be helpful, this is perceived as impatience and could actually make the stuttering worse. Plus, you might make incorrect assumptions about what the person is saying. Let the person who is stuttering finish.
  • I thought this saying was great, so I am
    including it here (even though it was
    created for Stuttering Awareness Week,
    not I.S.A. Day).
    Don't look away or try to escape the conversation. You may feel awkward or embarrassed, but just think how the person who is stuttering feels! Why make the situation worse? You are in a conversation with a human being who is worthy of respect; focus on the meaning of his or her words, and the humanity of your conversationalist, rather than your own embarrassment.
  • Obviously, don't tease, mock, mimic, or bully a person who is stuttering.

Check out this website—there is a good short video called “Let Me Finish,” and there is a really loooong list of people, past and present, who stuttered/stammered. 

I don't know what to look for in regards to today's other holiday: Smart Is Cool Day. There are all kinds of different groups pushing the “Smart Is Cool” message—some are limited to women and girls trying to reach young girls with the message, and others are made up of men and women trying to reach boys and girls.

In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote the immortal words, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Nowadays, you might hear someone quote him with words like, “Thou doth protest too much.” That means that if you have to emphatically insist that you do not do such-and-such, the rest of us suspect that, in fact, you do exactly that. People who insist, “I'm not racist, but...” might be racist. People who go on and on and on about how much they hate gossip might be guilty of gossiping, themselves.

I wonder if smart people wandering around trying to convince others that Smart Is Cool is a good idea. I mean, if you were really cool, you wouldn't be saying you were cool...right?

But I think that this is an important message to tell little kids. All adults everywhere know that being smart – being able to remember important stuff and being able to figure things out – helps you in your life in a million ways. But when kids are little, they sometimes learn to hide how smart they are.

Now why would that be?

I think it is because schools are generally set up to be competitive, and someone who is “a brain” – someone who learns to read early, or quickly learns complicated math concepts – can cause the rest to get lower grades when teachers grade “on the curve.” Kids' test scores, assignment grades, and grade point averages are frequently compared by the teachers, school administrators, parents, and the students themselves, and sometimes high marks result in teasing, bullying, or anger rather than praise and respect. Many kids learn NOT to stand out—and this especially happens to girls when they are in their early teens.

Today's little girls can look around and spot
some very smart women who are successful
and popular...such as The Big Bang Theory's
Mayim Bialik.
In his naval training, my nephew found that all the students' scores were added to one another, so the young adults in his unit were always super happy when he (or any other sailor) did well. They weren't competing with one another, but rather were supporting each other in their efforts to do well together. That sort of training made it clear that smart is cool – no posters or mottos needed.

I've known thousands and thousands of kids in my life, and they all seem pretty darned smart to me. I know that, with all their varied interests and special talents, kids should be finding their passions and developing their gifts and being as smart as they can be – and I think that less testing, fewer grades, and less competition is an important step into making sure that kids really know that smart IS cool!

Also on this date:

Free Speech Week (October 20 - 26) 

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October 21 – Happy Birthday, Celia Cruz

Posted on October 21, 2014

Today's famous birthday had a really long name: Ursula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso de la Santisima Trinidad!

Celia Cruz was born and raised in Cuba, became a singer and made her first recordings in Venezuela, played cameo roles in movies in Mexico, and (when Fidel Castro took over Cuba) became a citizen of the United States.

She earned 23 gold albums and received a Grammy Award and the National Medal of Arts. She was called the Queen of Salsa and the Queen of Latin Music. And Billboard Magazine claimed that she was the “best known and most influential female figure in the history of Cuban music”! 

I thought it was interesting that Cruz listened to a lot of different sorts of music when she was growing up, including santeria songs (although she was raised Catholic), which were likely in Yoruba.

(Santeria is a religion that combines traditions from West African religions and from Catholicism; it is practiced largely in the Caribbean. Yoruba is a West African language often spoken in Nigeria.)

  • Check out Cruz singing “Guantanamera” here. She's definitely got some moves!
  • Check out the image gallery of Cuba, courtesy of Lonely Planet.

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October 20 – Big Birthdays in American Education

Posted on October 20, 2014

Birth of the first public school

This is the Mather School at the "turn
of the century" - that is, the early 1900s.
On this date in 1635, the Mather School was opened in Massachusetts. It is the oldest public elementary school in the United States – actually, the oldest such in all of North America!

Back in the early 1600s, the people of Massachusetts hired a schoolmaster to each English, Latin, “other tongues,” and writing. Now Mather School includes instruction in reading, writing, math, music, art, physical education, science, library, nutrition, and computers.

Birth of an education reformer

Also on this date—but in 1859—the psychologist and philosopher John Dewey was born in Vermont. 

He ended up being one of the most important voices for progressive education, and his writings have been assigned to generations of teachers-in-training.

Public education, progressive education

There are two ideas behind public education:
  1. All of society benefits if its people are educated.
  2. Education shouldn't be just for the children of the rich and powerful – it should be for everybody.

I agree wholeheartedly with both of those ideas, but I still do not like what public education has grown to be: compulsory (which means that kids HAVE to go, by law, unless they go to a private school or legally homeschool), standards-based (rather than children-based), oriented on rewards and punishments (although both have been shown to discourage deep, long-lasting learning), and test-crazy (and when I say “crazy,” I mean really crazy!).

It's strange to say that all the countless educators who said they loved Dewey's ideas about education, and assigned education students to read his books, seemed to me to ignore his biggest and best ideas about education:

  • Education is interactive; students must not just passively “take in” curriculum, but must experience, interact with, and explore curriculum.

  • Education isn't just about learning facts; it's about learning how to live. Therefore, schools should be places of choice, of democracy, of blossoming self-reliance.

  • Education isn't primarily about acquiring a pre-determined set of skills and knowledge, but rather it's about learning about oneself, about one's talents and passions, and developing to one's full potential.

  • Rather than having teachers stand in the front of the classroom doling out bits of information, teachers should become facilitators and guides as students do active inquiry.

Public education and progressive education are both great ideas—it's time we combine the best of both ideas and entirely re-make education!

Also on this date:

Heroes' Day (Mashujaa Day) in Kenya

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October 19 – Constitution Day in Niue

Posted on October 19, 2014

How would you like to live on a tiny South Pacific island with just 14 villages, just 1,500 or so inhabitants—and yet be part of one of the most powerful commonwealths in the world?

How would you like to belong to the world's first Wi-Fi nation, with sea-to-sea internet coverage provided for free by the government? (This is easier to do in a very small country, of course!) How about being in a nation that has a policy of One Laptop Per Child?

How would you like to be a citizen of a government that is committed to developing renewable energy from solar panels installed at the high school, the hospital and the power company? And how would you like to be in a nation so small you only need one high school, hospital, and power company?

How would you like to live on a raised coral atoll that has been pushed up from below so that it has cliffs, some 60- to 100-foot tall?

If all of this sounds grand, check out Niue, a self-governing South-Pacific island nation that is in free association with New Zealand and, therefore, the United Kingdom!

To learn more about Niue, check out this earlier post

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