Thursday Aug. 31, 2017

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Where I Come From

We didn’t say fireflies
but lightning bugs.
We didn’t say carousel
but merry-go-round.
Not seesaw,
not lollipop,
We didn’t say pasta, but
spaghetti, macaroni, noodles:
the three kinds.
We didn’t get angry:
we got mad.
And we never felt depressed
dismayed, disappointed
disheartened, discouraged
disillusioned or anything,
even unhappy:
just sad.

“Where I Come From” by Sally Fisher from Good Question. © Bright Hill Press, 2015. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

On this day in 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered his famous "American Scholar" address to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard (books by this author). He told the students to think for themselves rather than absorb thought, to create rather than repeat, and not to look to Europe for cultural models.

The first radio news program was aired on Detroit's 8MK on this date in 1920.

In 1920, radio was still a medium for hobbyists, and no one really used it for the widespread distribution of up-to-the-minute information. The Scripps newspaper family, which owned The Detroit News, provided the first push in that direction. They were worried that radio would put the newspapers out of business, but they were also worried that they would look bad if their radio news experiment failed to take off. They hired a teenager named Michael DeLisle Lyons to start up a radio station as a kind of trial. They told him to set it up in his own name, so that if it bombed, the Scripps name would not be associated with it. Lyons got government approval on August 20, and he played nonstop music for 10 days while he worked out the bugs. August 31 was the date of the primary elections, and The Detroit News reported that returns would be announced that evening over the radio.

The next morning, the newspaper reported: "The sending of the election returns by The Detroit News' radiophone Tuesday night was fraught with romance and must go down in the history of man's conquest of the elements as a gigantic step in his progress. In the four hours that the apparatus [...] was hissing and whirring its message into space, few realized that a dream and a prediction had come true. The news of the world was being given forth through this invisible trumpet to the waiting crowds in the unseen market place."

The radio station that began as 8MK is still in business, operating under the call letters WWJ, and it is still an all-news station. The Detroit News would later launch Michigan's first television station.

It's the birthday of Armenian-American writer William Saroyan (books by this author), born in Fresno, California (1908). His parents were recent refugees from the Turkish massacres in Armenia. His father died when William was three. Saroyan's mother, placed her children in the Fred Finch Orphanage in Oakland, California. Saroyan spent five years there before his mother was able to claim him.

His mother worked with other Armenian immigrants picking fruit for large farms and working in canneries. Saroyan started selling newspapers on the streets of Fresno when he was eight to make ends meet. He liked school, but left at 15. He haunted public libraries, reading anything he could get his hands on, but especially Sherwood Anderson and Guy de Maupassant. His first short story, "The Broken Wheel" (1933), was published under the name "Sirak Goryan" in Hairenik, an Armenian journal. Not long after, Story magazine published a vibrant and romantic short story called "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" (1934). The story was a hit, and Saroyan began to write feverishly, completing a collection of stories with the same name. The book became a best-seller. His play "The Time of Your Life" won the Pulitzer Prize for drama (1940), but Saroyan rejected the money, saying, "Businessmen shouldn't judge art."

Saroyan's stories almost always centered on young boys and the immigrant life in Fresno. His characters were brash and irreverent, capable of celebrating life in spite of poverty.

Towards the end of his life and dying of prostate cancer, he called the Associated Press to give a statement to be released posthumously. The statement was: "Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?"

It's the birthday of Maria Montessori (books by this author), born on this day in Chiaravalle, Italy (1870). She was a bright student, studied engineering when she was 13, and — against her father's wishes — she entered a technical school, where all her classmates were boys. After a few years, she decided to pursue medicine, and she became the first woman in Italy to earn a medical degree. It was so unheard of for a woman to go to medical school that she had to get the approval of the pope in order to study there.

As a doctor, she worked with children with special needs, and through her work with them she became increasingly interested in education. She believed that children were not blank slates, but that they each had inherent, individual gifts. It was a teacher's job to help children find these gifts, rather than dictating what a child should know. She emphasized independence, self-directed learning, and learning from peers. Children were encouraged to make decisions. She was the first educator to use child-sized tables and chairs in the classroom.

During World War II, Montessori was exiled from Italy because she was opposed to Mussolini's fascism and his desire to make her a figurehead for the Italian government. She lived and worked in India for many years, and then in Holland. She died in 1952 at the age of 81.

She wrote many books about her philosophy of education, including The Montessori Method (1912), and is considered a major innovator in education theory and practice.

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