Nonfiction is the new black
Chances are you are eagerly looking forward to the last day of school and nearly three months of free time.
Chances are also that you heard that this nice long summer vacation is somehow connected to the early years of the country when agriculture was the most important industry and kids had to help out on their farms during this time. If so, you heard wrong.
For starters, there wasn’t much to do on farms in the summer. The busy times were spring (planting) and fall (harvesting). As a result, most farm kids went to school during the summer and winter. At best they spent a total of six months learning the three Rs.
It was a very different situation in cities as the country became increasingly urbanized. Big-city kids might spend as much as 48 weeks in class, with a week off every 12 weeks. Since attendance wasn’t mandatory, though, they probably only attended school about as much as they do now.
But if so many kids were playing hooky, reformers said, why bother keeping schools open all year? Some doctors backed up the idea of closing for a period of time, saying that keeping kids cooped up for most of the year wasn’t good for their health.
So education officials decided to eliminate the summer quarter. The first reason was that schools were not air conditioned back then and almost unbearable during heat waves. Also, there was also a strong belief that summer was the time when epidemics of serious diseases such as polio got started. Many people thought having so many children packed so close to each other in classrooms helped spread the illnesses. Third, upper-class and middle-class families often took vacations during the hot months.
With increasing mechanization on farms and many farm families moving to the cities, helping with planting and harvesting wasn’t as important. Farm states added those spring and fall months to the school year and gave kids the summers off, just like big-city folk.
However, some research suggests that the “summer slide” causes students to lose an average of a month of learning. Students typically don’t do as well on tests in the fall—after the long summer break—than in the spring when they’ve been in school for several months. Most other developed countries spend more time in the classroom and generally do better on standardized testing. As a result of these factors, a few states are considering lengthening the school year from the current 180 days to 200.
What do you think?
Jim Whiting hopes all of you have a wonderful summer and that you can carve out some time to read! Your local library may have some of his books, as well as many by the other wonderful authors who have made the Nonfiction Minute such a great success. And be sure to check out Jim's updated website, www.jimwhiting.com
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Why Do We Have a School Summer Vacation?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 15 June 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
All of the iNK authors will be working over the summer to create new Minutes for next year. We hope you will become a member of iNK Think Tank. On July 1, 2018, only iNK members will be able to have access to all the Nonfiction Minutes and our archives and the Transfer2Teaching. The public will still be able to see 10 FREE Minutes.
Become a Charger Member of iNK and let us know what else we can offer as our paid membership grows.
Nonfiction is the new black
, The trial of former German concentration camp guard Oskar Gröning provided a stark reminder of the World War II horrors that claimed the lives of more than 6,000,000 people, most of whom were Jews.
Perhaps the most famous victim was teenager Anne Frank.
She was born in 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany. Soon after Hitler and his Nazi Party came to power in 1933, Anne’s family moved to Amsterdam, Holland. In 1940, German forces invaded Holland, though the Franks managed to eke out a meager existence. For her 13th birthday, Anne’s presents included a diary.
Shortly afterward, the Franks were forced to go into hiding in “the Annex,” a hidden apartment. During the walk from their home to the Annex, they had worn all the clothing they could in the summer heat. Carrying a suitcase would have tipped off the Germans. Soon four other people joined the Franks. Several friends risked execution by supplying the fugitives with food and other necessities.
Anne’s diary reflected what they did during the long months of concealment. Many passages dealt with things she didn’t want to share—her feelings, her belief in God, and her desire to be an author. She made her final entry on August 1, 1944. A few days later, someone betrayed them. They were taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp. While many Jews were sent to the gas chambers as soon as they arrived, the Franks were put to work as slave laborers and provided with the most meager and unappetizing food.
Later they were transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Early in 1945, a typhus epidemic killed thousands of prisoners. British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen on April 15 that year. But it was too late for Anne. She died, probably of typhus, in February or March. Her body was dumped into a mass grave.
When he returned to Amsterdam, Anne’s father Otto discovered that Anne’s diary had been saved. Reading it moved him profoundly. He decided to honor his daughter’s desire to be an author by publishing it.
Since then, millions of copies of The Diary of Anne Frank have been sold. In 1999, Time magazine honored Anne by putting her on the list of The Most Important People of the Century: “With a diary kept in a secret attic, she braved the Nazis and lent a searing voice to the fight for human dignity.”
After WWII, the State of Israel was founded and became a haven for Jews from around the world. Jim Whiting has written a book about this momentous event and you can read more about it here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Anne Frank and Her Diary." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 11
June 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Nonfiction is the new black
Early in 1980, Mt. St. Helens in southwestern Washington state began showing signs that it was about to erupt. Part of the state’s Cascade Range, the mountain was an active volcano that had been dormant for 123 years.
The possibility of seeing the “fireworks” prompted many people to head for the mountain. The sightseers included Ron and Barbara Seibold and their two children, who parked about 12 miles north of the mountain. That was well beyond two danger zones that scientists had established.
En route to the mountain, the children—Kevin, aged 7, and his 9-year-old sister Michelle—made a cassette tape. They asked questions and the parents answered. “They were goofing around—asking whether or not they would see lava coming out of the mountain,” said a state emergency management official. “One asked if it was dangerous, and both parents cheerfully reassured their kids that they’d be safe.”
Exploding on May 18 with a fury far beyond what scientists had expected, the blast generated the largest landslide in U.S. history and flattened millions of trees. Uncounted tons of ash rose as high as 15 miles into the atmosphere.
The Seibolds never had a chance. Ash almost instantly buried their vehicle. They suffocated.
The eruption claimed 53 more people, making it the deadliest-ever on the US mainland. One was Harry Truman, who had run the inn at nearby Spirit Lake for more than 50 years. Truman had become somewhat of a folk hero for his refusal to move despite the danger.
Twenty-year-old newlyweds Christy and John Killian were camping nine miles from the volcano. Christy died of massive head injuries, her arm around her pet poodle. John and the couple’s retriever were never found.
Terry Crall and Karen Varner, both 21, died when a tree fell onto their tent, 14 miles away. Four people outside the tent were unharmed.
So were researchers Keith and Dorothy Stoffel, flying a small airplane less than 1,300 feet above the summit at the moment of the eruption. A cloud laced with lightning bolts billowed toward them. They managed to outrun it.
Today, much of the vegetation destroyed by the blast has returned. But the mountain—once compared in its graceful contours to Mt. Fuji in Japan—lost 1,300 feet of its height. Its former symmetrical cone shape is now topped by a horseshoe-shaped crater which stands as a mute reminder of the catastrophic eruption.
The top of Mount St. Helens two years after the eruption. The removal of the north side of the mountain reduced St. Helens' height by about 1,300 feet and left a crater 1 mile to 2 miles wide and a half mile deep. The eruption killed 57 people, nearly 7,000 big game animals (deer, elk, and bear), and an estimated 12 million fish from a hatchery. It destroyed or extensively damaged more than 200 homes, 185 miles of highway, and 15 miles of railways.
Volcanoes have been erupting for all of recorded history. More than 3,500 years ago, people on the Greek island of Calliste had a very good life. There was only one problem: Calliste was actually a volcano. Around 1650 BCE, the volcano erupted, blowing out the center of the island and creating a large bay. What was left of Calliste was buried under a thick layer of volcanic ash. Though the island was deserted for many years, people eventually returned. Several centuries ago, it was renamed Santorini. The island has reclaimed its beauty and allure, but the volcano below continues to reshape this little plot of land in the Mediterranean Sea. For more information on Jim Whiting's book on the Santorini eruption, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "The Deadly Eruption of Mount St. Helens." Nonfiction Minute, iNK
Think Tank, 5 June 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Nonfiction is the new black
In the early morning of April 15, 1912, the ocean liner Titanic sank on her maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg. The ship carried just over 2,200 people. More than 1,500 perished.
The main reason for the high death toll was that the ship had only 20 lifeboats. As they pulled away from the sinking ship, many were only half-full or even less. Even if all had been filled to capacity, only half the people would have been saved.
Why didn’t Titanic carry enough lifeboats for everyone on board?
There were several reasons.
Titanic’s original design called for 64 lifeboats. That number was later cut in half, then nearly halved again. The ship’s owners felt that too many lifeboats would clutter the deck and obscure the First Class passengers’ views.
The ship sailed under safety regulations that originated nearly 20 years earlier, when the largest passenger ships weighed 10,000 tons. Titanic was more than four times that amount. Yet officials maintained that ships had become much safer. Revising the regulations was therefore unnecessary. Under those regulations, Titanic actually had four more lifeboats than she was obligated to carry. Nearly every other vessel of that era was similarly deficient in the quantity of lifeboats.
The prevailing thinking at that time was that the ship itself would serve as a gigantic lifeboat. Nearly everyone believed that even a heavily damaged vessel would remain afloat for many hours before sinking. That would allow plenty of time for the lifeboats to go back and forth several times, ferrying passengers to nearby ships. This assumption was not unreasonable. When the smaller liner Republic was involved in a collision in 1909, she remained afloat for more than 24 hours. All 742 passengers and crew were ferried to safety.
The flaw with this assumption was that Titanic sank far more rapidly than anyone anticipated. The first rescue ship arrived more than two hours after Titanic had gone down.
In 2012 an explosive document emerged. It consisted of safety inspector Maurice Clarke’s handwritten notes, urging the addition of 10 more lifeboats five hours before the ship sailed. The ship’s owners wanted to leave on time. Clarke was threatened with being fired unless he kept his mouth shut. If the owners had followed his advice, almost 700 more people might have survived.
The disaster prompted a massive overhaul of regulations. All ships were required to carry enough lifeboats for everyone.
Frederick Douglass was a slave, but from an early age, he was determined to become a free man. He escaped to the North when he was about 20. A few years later, he discovered that he was an outstanding public speaker. For the rest of his life, Frederick would courageously speak out about the issues that affected his fellow blacks. Sometimes his actions placed him in great danger. During his lifetime no other African American did as much for blacks as Frederick Douglass. Even today his memory continues to inspire many people to work for civil rights and racial justice. For more information on Jim Whiting's book, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Titanic - Not Enough Lifeboats." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 31 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Nonfiction is the New Black
In 1983, shortly before she became America’s first female astronaut to participate in a mission, Sally Ride faced a press conference. Reporters raised questions they would never have asked a man. “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?” one inquired. “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?” queried another. A third wondered, “Will you wear makeup and a bra in space?” Tonight Show host Johnny Carson joked that the flight was delayed because Sally had to find a purse that matched her shoes.
It wasn’t just U.S. media. The Soviet Union had already sent two women into space. When one of them arrived at the space station, a male cosmonaut (the Soviet term for astronauts) said, “An apron is waiting for you in the kitchen.”
By this point, Sally had mastered parachute jumping, water survival, coping with weightlessness and the massive G-forces from a rocket launch, and other highly demanding skills. She flew jet planes. She had a Ph.D. degree in physics from Stanford, one of the nation’s top universities. She helped develop a robotic arm for use on the space shuttle. She was a nationally ranked tennis player who decided not to turn pro because she preferred science.
The general public seemed more accepting. On launch day at Florida’s Cape Canaveral, thousands of people wore “Ride, Sally, Ride!” T-shirts, from the lyrics of the pop song “Mustang Sally.”
The mission went flawlessly, and Sally flew again the following year. She was scheduled for a third flight in 1986, but it was scrubbed when the Challenger space shuttle blew up.
Sally left the space program soon afterward. She was passionate about encouraging young people—especially girls—to become involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). Here are some of the things she did toward that achieving that goal.
Sadly, Sally Ride died of cancer in 2012 at the age of 61. Shortly afterward, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It is the nation’s highest civilian honor.
To find information on many of Jim Whiting's books, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "'Ride, Sally, Ride!'" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 14 May