August 27, Lyndon Johnson’s birthday

August 28, 2017

Caption from Politico: President Lyndon Johnson leans over to blow out candles on his 60th birthday cake as his 14-month-old grandson, Patrick Lyndon Nugent, looks on in the home of LBJ's daughter Luci Johnson Nugent in 1968 in Austin, Texas. (AP photo)

Caption from Politico: President Lyndon Johnson leans over to blow out candles on his 60th birthday cake as his 14-month-old grandson, Patrick Lyndon Nugent, looks on in the home of LBJ’s daughter Luci Johnson Nugent in 1968 in Austin, Texas. (AP photo)

Lyndon Baines Johnson was born on August 27, 1908, in Stonewall, Texas. He would have been 109 years old yesterday. Johnson died in 1973. (Yeah, I’m a day late. Been traveling, and there’s a flood going on in Houston.)

From Twitter, Luke Rosa @studentshistory: Happy birthday, #LBJ! 🎂 This is my favorite quote to use when a history teacher talks too much content at lunch! 😂

From Twitter, Luke Rosa @studentshistory: Happy birthday, #LBJ! 🎂 This is my favorite quote to use when a history teacher talks too much content at lunch! 😂

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Eclipse 2017 lessons: Use a tripod!

August 24, 2017

Many lessons of chasing the eclipse for us first-timers. Months ago we decided not to make major purchases to photograph the thing, to just enjoy the experience.

Still, we had inexpensive filters, and we photographed. Main tripod left in Dallas to avoid paying a lot extra to fly; a borrowed tripod held the GoPro (which was a poor choice; gotta work on that for time-lapse). So the best photos I got were hand-held.

And fuzzy as a result, I think.

Totality of the 2017 solar eclipse, near Casper, Wyoming, on the North Platte River. Photo by Ed Darrell.

Totality of the 2017 solar eclipse, near Casper, Wyoming, on the North Platte River.

The most interesting thing to me was the brilliant red beads during totality, where (if I recall correctly) the Sun peeks through the mountains of the Moon. I did get a couple shots to show that.

Totality and red beads, photo by Ed Darrell

Totality and red beads of the 2017 solar eclipse.

 

Photographs to remind us of the great experience of joining millions of other people to watch a spectacular astronomical event, brought to us by science.

Did anyone at your house go blind? Ready for 2024?

Did you stay at home for the eclipse? Did you travel? What did you see and hear?

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August 20 is President Benjamin Harrison’s birthday

August 19, 2017

President Benjamin Harrison and his granddaughter. Image found on Pinterest

President Benjamin Harrison and his granddaughter. Image found on Pinterest

Benjamin Harrison was born August 20, 1833. Happy birthday to the ghost of Benjamin Harrison.

President Benjamin Harrison visiting Salt Lake City, Utah, during his western tour as president. Can you find Harrison in the photo?

President Benjamin Harrison in Salt Lake City, Utah during his Western tour of the United States, 1891, April 14 through May 16 / George Elbert Burr, photographer. George Elbert Burr papers, 1885-1972. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Can you find Harrison in the photo?

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Happy birthday, President Bill Clinton!

August 19, 2017

In an undated photo from CNN, Hillary and Bill Clinton enjoy smiles with their granddaughter Charlotte.

In an undated photo from CNN, Hillary and Bill Clinton enjoy smiles with their granddaughter Charlotte.

Bill Clinton was born August 19, 1946. He’s 71 years old today.

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Science lessons applied for safety, in your car. Do you drink water?

August 17, 2017

Still image from Idaho Power's short video on water bottles causing fires in cars.

Still image from Idaho Power’s short video on water bottles causing fires in cars.

Idaho Power sends along this video, teaching how to avoid starting your car on fire on a sunny day.

Can you use this video in your classroom?

It demonstrates science, how lenses work, how light works. Science classes should be able to use it.

The video offers safety instruction, stuff elementary kids should know to improve the safety of their daily lives. Their parents should know about it, too. Instruction for the kids, and a safety flyer for kids to take home.  A short piece Boy Scouts can use for Safety merit badge instruction. Surely Girl Scouts can use the safety instruction for a badge.

What other uses can you find?

Basic science provides critical basis for living, for parenting, and for teaching and learning. Anyone opposed to science instruction should rethink the harms that ever result from ignorance, or even forgetfulness.

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August 2017: When should you fly your U.S. flag?

August 11, 2017

U.S. and Wyoming flags fly at the Buffalo Bill Dam, near Cody, Wyoming. That corner of Wyoming will experience a total eclipse of the sun on August 21, 2017. (Not necessarily at the dam site, of course) Trip Savvy image.

U.S. and Wyoming flags fly at the Buffalo Bill Dam, near Cody, Wyoming. That corner of Wyoming will experience a total eclipse of the sun on August 21, 2017. (Not necessarily at the dam site, of course) Trip Savvy image

August in the U.S. is a lazy, often hot, summer month.  It’s a month for vacation, picnicking, local baseball games, camping, cookouts and beach vacations.  It’s not a big month for events to fly the U.S. flag.

Except, perhaps, in Olympics years, when the U.S. flag is often flown a lot, in distant locations. About 50 percent of photographs of the U.S. flag flying in August features an American Olympic athlete.

Only one event calls for nation-wide flag-flying in August, National Aviation Day on August 19.  This event is not specified in the Flag Code, but in a separate provision in the same chapter U.S. Code.  Three states celebrate statehood, Colorado, Hawaii and Missouri.

Put these dates on your calendar to fly the flag in August:

  • August 1, Colorado statehood (1876, 38th state)
  • August 10, Missouri statehood (1821, 24th state)
  • August 19, National Aviation Day, 36 USC 1 § 118
  • August 21, Hawaii statehood (1959, 50th state)

If you want to fly your flag for the eclipse of the Sun on August 21, 2017, you may do so.

You may fly your U.S. flag any day. These are just the suggested days in law.

The American Flag, as it is known today, flies over Fort Stanwix National Monument. It is flown following the U.S. flag code regulations. At all times of the year it is a quite a site to see. National Park Service VIP Mike Hucko

US flag at site of a bitter siege in August, 1777; National Parks Service Caption: The American Flag, as it is known today, flies over [Fort Stanwix] National Monument. It is flown following the U.S. flag code regulations. At all times of the year it is a quite a site to see. National Park Service VIP Mike Hucko

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Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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300 Spartans, led by Leonidas died August 11, 480 B.C.

August 11, 2017

It’s a different Leonidas, but Michael Phelps last year tied a record for winning 12 solo events in Olympics previously held by a man called Leonidas of Rhodes. The record had stood, as best historians can tell, for 2,168 years.

That was August 10, 2016. On August 11, we remember Leonidas of Sparta, for events in war, not peace.

300 popped up on some movie channel back in 2008 as I was preparing to teach world history again.  I did not major in history, and my high school history instruction featured no AP courses (Pleasant Grove High, in Utah, didn’t offer such things then; I assume they do now, but I don’t know).

What I knew about Sparta and the stand of the 300 at Thermopylae came from my reading encyclopedias as a child, and culture.  Never had an occasion to write a speech about the events, though had I known the history better, I might have found some opportunity.  Sen. Orrin Hatch would have loved a compare and contrast speech between the stand of the Spartans and his work against the labor law reform bill in 1977 and 1978; more likely, we could have used the simple historical facts that the stand of the 300 at the same place today would be impossible due to poor soil conservation practices of the local farmers, which has created a plain broad enough for a Persian Army to march through with impunity, never fearing drowning in the sea that no longer exists there.  Thermopylae is a grand historical metaphor for a good orator.  The simple facts of history are important, too — Churchill knew Herodotus’s stories well, and considered them when planning military actions in the area in two world wars.

The movie came up from students in the previous year; it offered, perhaps, a hook for an introduction to world history, explaining why we bother to study it at all.

I got a time delay recording to watch it, which I did, mostly.  Interesting stylization.  Cartoonish characterizations, which one should expect from a movie intended as homage to the graphic novel that directly spawned it, more than an instruction about history.  We might doubt that the Persians had trained and armored rhinoceroses in their armament.  Dialogue — well, this is Hollywood.  It would have been in some dialect of Greek, and no Hollywood scriptwriter would have been able to reproduce it.

What about the battle itself.  World history courses in U.S. high schools should pay attention to this battle, I think.

A monument to Leonidas I - Inscription, Molon Lave, which roughly translates to Come and get it!

A monument to Leonidas I – Inscription, “Molon Lave,” which roughly translates to “Come and get it!”

Several sources dated the climax of the battle as August 11, 480 B.C. — 2,497 years ago. (The battle is said to have occurred during the Olympics that year, too.)

World history classes dig through that period of history in the first semester.  Teachers, it’s time to think about how we’re going to facilitate this history this year.  As always, some bright student will wave a hand in the air and ask, “Mr. Darrell!  How do they know what happened if no one survived, and nobody had their Sony videocorder?”

At least one other student in the course of the day will be surprised to discover the movie wasn’t a filmed-on-the-spot documentary.  But apart from that, how do we know the events well enough to pin it down to one day?  And, since the Greeks surely didn’t use the Gregorian calendar, since it wasn’t invented until the 18th century — how do we know the date?

The short answer is “Herodotus.”  The longer answer may resonate better:  This is one dramatic battle in a year-long fight for the history of the world.  The Greeks were understandably and justifiably proud that they had turned back Xerxes’s armies and navy (The Battle of Salamis, a bit after Thermopylae).  So, these events were preserved in poetry, in the chronicles, in song, in sculpture, and in every other medium available to the Greeks.  Your AP English students will probably tell you the movie reminds them of The IliadThere’s an entré for discussion.

Turning points in history:  Had Xerxes succeeded in avenging his father’s, Darius’s, defeats, and subjugated the Greeks, history would be much different.  The culture the Romans built on, the trading patterns from east to west and around the Mediterranean, the technologies, the myths, and the stories of the battles, would be different. (Remember, one of Darius’s defeats was at the Battle of Marathon, from which we get the modern marathon racing event, the traditional close of the modern Olympics.)

How do we know?  How do we know?

How do you handle that question?  (Tell us in comments, please.)

I like this battle for the way it ties together many of the loose threads that vex high school sophomores.  Is history exciting?  It can be, as the Frank Miller graphic novel and and the Zack Snyder movie demonstrate.  How important is accuracy in making the story exciting?  (Do the rhinoceroses improve the story of the courage of the Spartans, or merely offer a good graphical metaphor for the overwhelming forces of the Persians?)  What happens when one nation invades another — who has the advantage?  Is knowledge of geography important — in battle, for example?  The philosopher Santayana notes that those who do not remember history are “condemned” to repeat it.  Xerxes tried to apply the lessons of the history of his father’s failed invasion; was he successful?  Remember this point:  Napoleon failed in his invasion of Russia in 1812; Adolf Hitler assigned his generals to study Napoleon’s failure, for Germany’s invasion of Russia in 1941; so convinced were the Germans that they knew the lessons, they invade Russia on the anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion.  Did it go any better?  George Washington consciously patterned his life on the great Roman warrior and leader, Cincinnatus — especially in turning over rule once the task was done, as Washington did twice.  What if Washington had, instead, patterned his life after Leonidas?  How might the American Revolution have turned out, and how might the United States have developed, had Washington sacrificed himself as Leonidas did?

The story of the Battle of Thermopylea, the bravery and cunning tactics of Leonidas and the 300, the wars between Persia and the Greek City States, form a good foundation for a study of history at any point after.  It is the stuff of great history, and the stuff of great rhetoric.  It could be the stuff of great AP essays and good writing exercises in general.   Damn the Common Core State Standards*, and damn the misguided Texas critics of CSCOPE, this is a topic I wish more world history teachers would spend some good, profitable time on

Resources and commentary on Thermopylae, Leonidas, and the 300:

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Livius.org map of the area where the Battle of Thermopylae was fought

Livius.org map of the area where the Battle of Thermopylae was fought. Note that, in purple, the map shows where a plain now exists, which was an ocean the Spartans could use to squeeze the Persian Army, about 25 centuries ago. What a difference 25 centuries can make.

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*  Common Core State Standards in social studies actually would support what I’m asking here, if only they weren’t filtered through state school boards who do not value scholarship, but instead wish history to be a checklist of faux-patriotic bullet points to regurgitate.  Here in Texas, we are not affected by Common Core — but we are affected by meddling in history standards by people whose agenda does not include making history exciting and good.  Common Core standards — technically — do not mention Thermopylae.  However, this is the sort of material, including the original texts of Herodotus, whose study the Common Core standards encourage, especially for analysis of the sort I think Thermopylae invites.  Texas TEKS allow mention of the battle, though the Battle of Thermopylae has been purged from the actual standards; Texas lesson plans frequently suggest “watching a film on the Battle of Thermopylae,” and “Answer questions on the battle; trade and grade.”  Teachers infuse those dull words with life — we hope.  Teachers’ actual practice in the classroom is the saving grace for this important history, in Texas; Texas world history teachers face their own Xerxes.  The Texas Lege recently removed the requirement that students study world history, instead giving them a choice of either world history or world geography.  And so the dumbing down of history by (probably well-meaning, but not well-thinking) legislators continues.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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