The Running Encyclopedia
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 will be posting three lists of 10 Minutes for the Summer. It will highlight each of our wonderful authors. The first Summer Minutes will be published on June 23rd, tghe next on July 20 and the final list before the school year starts on August 10th. Make it a wonderful summer and every Minute!
The Running Encyclopedia
You’ve probably heard of Marco Polo, who left his hometown of Venice, Italy in 1271 as a teenager and traveled for the next 24 years. He spent most of his time in China, where he became an advisor to the country’s ruler Kublai Khan. He published The Travels of Marco Polo in 1300 and it became an instant best-seller.
Four years later Ibn Battuta, who became known as the “Muslim Marco Polo,” was born in Tangier, Morocco.
When he was about 21 he undertook the hajj, the trip to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula. During the month he stayed there following a two-year journey, he heard fascinating tales of far-flung lands from his fellow pilgrims. Rather than returning home to the career as a lawyer that awaited him, Ibn Battuta decided to see those lands.
He joined a camel caravan to Persia. From there he went to Africa, then to Asia. He crossed hot deserts and snow-covered mountain passes. He survived bandit attacks and voyages on stormy and pirate-infested seas. He enjoyed long periods of living in luxury, as well as other periods of soul-crushing poverty.
He finally returned home to discover that his parents were dead. So he crossed the Straits of Gibraltar to visit the remnants of Islamic Spain. Then, at the “request” of the sultan of Morocco, who wanted to establish trade relations with the mighty Muslim empire of Mali, West Africa, Ibn Battuta toured that region for nearly three years. He came back to Morocco for good in 1354, ending 29 years of traveling. During that time, he covered about 75,000 miles. By contrast, Marco Polo’s journeys encompassed roughly 15,000 miles over a 24-year period.
Like Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta published an account of his travels, A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Traveling, more commonly called the Rihla (or “Journey”). He spent his remaining years before his death in 1368 as a judge—finally involved with the legal career he had avoided so many years earlier.
If you would like to learn a lot more about Ibn Battuta, click here to go to a website that includes student activities.
And, if you would like to learn more about author Jim Whiting, click here to go to his website. He has a great new series on the NFL Today, with a book about each of the teams.
The Running Encyclopedia
Nearly everyone is familiar with Thomas Edison, born [February 11] day in 1847.
When Thomas started school, his teacher called him “addled,” and he soon dropped out. His mother home-schooled him for several years. He began his entrepreneurial career when he was 12, publishing his own newspaper and selling it on the train. A few years later, he became a telegrapher and started tinkering in his spare time. He made many improvements to telegraphy and eventually turned to inventing full-time in his New Jersey workshop.
He was amazingly persistent. He explained that “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration,” “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work,” and “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” As a result of his persistence, he received more than 2,000 patents worldwide. These patents included the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, and the movie camera. He became one of the most famous Americans of his era. When he died in 1931, light bulbs around the world were briefly dimmed or turned off.
There’s another, lesser-known side of Edison however. He was a ruthless businessman. One of the most notable examples involved the movie camera. Soon after inventing it, he established a company called Edison Studios in New Jersey. The building was set on rollers to follow the sun’s path across the sky. In 1894, his 5-second film “Fred Ott’s Sneeze” became the first-ever copyrighted motion picture. Audiences loved this new technology and flocked to theatres. To meet the demand, many other small moviemaking companies sprang up.
Edison hated the competition. In 1898, he began filing lawsuits to force them out of business. When that didn’t work, he organized the Motion Picture Patents Company, a group of 10 film companies headed by Edison Studios. The Patents Company continued the court battles. Presumably with Edison’s approval, it sometimes hired thugs who broke into rival studios and ransacked them.
Not surprisingly, many of Edison’s victims wanted to get as far away as they could. They headed for southern California, on the other side of the country. Side benefits were generally better weather that allowed year-round filming, a variety of terrain features, and cheap land and labor. Many of the newcomers established their offices in a tiny village near Los Angeles called Hollywood—the name now synonymous with the movie industry.
Click! The lights come on, and it seems like the most natural thing in the world. But without science, you’d be left in the dark. Jim Whiting's The Science of Lighting a City takes a closer look at the amazing places that Edison's invention of the light bulb has led.
Whiting, Jim. "Thomas Edison: Cutthroat Businessman." Nonfiction Minute, iNK
Think Tank, 21 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
The Running Encyclopedia
During the Middle Ages, “going to the bathroom” or “relieving oneself” meant using a privy. A privy typically consisted of a raised board with one or more openings cut in the middle where the users would sit. Their fecal matter would plop into large holes called cesspits beneath them. Over time, the cesspits would fill up and start overflowing. When that happened, gong farmers had to empty them.
“Gong” came from a word that means “going.” And the farmers “harvested” the accumulation of months or even years of “going.” To make sure all the foul material was removed, the workers would hop down into the pits, where the feces came up their waists or even higher. Because of the relative ease of getting them in and out, small boys were often employed. The cesspool contents were dumped into carts and taken to larger dump sites on the edge of town, where more conventional farmers would use it as fertilizer.
People in the Middle Ages rarely bathed. So gong farmers stunk. Really. Stunk. Because of their horrible stench, they were often restricted in where they could live. They were allowed to work only at night to spare their fellow citizens from seeing and smelling them.
Besides the horrible smell and probable lack of friends, gong farmers encountered specific occupational hazards. Decaying fecal matter could produce poisonous gases. At least one gong farmer stumbled into a cesspool he was cleaning and drowned. Violators of the rules for collecting the refuse and disposing of it were submerged in barrels up to their necks and placed on public display for hours on end.
On the other hand, gong farmers were well paid, often earning in a day what other workers might make in a week. They had another potential source of income as well. Careless crappers occasionally dropped rings or coins into the cesspits. Enterprising gong farmers combed through the mess with their bare hands in search of those treasures.
The advent of better sanitary methods in the 19th century ended gong farmers in many countries. However, it is still practiced in some areas of the world.
You can learn more about Jim Whiting with a visit to his website. He is an interesting fellow with an interest in music and sports and has written lots of books in both fields.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Gong Farmers: Their Crop Was ...Crap." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 15 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/Gong-Farmers.
The Running Encyclopedia
While Cinco de Mayo is not officially a holiday, many U.S. communities celebrate Mexican culture and heritage on May 5 with parades, mariachi music, street festivals, and much more. Most celebrants, though, would probably not be able to tell you what really happened on that date.
After thrusting off centuries of Spanish rule in 1821, Mexico endured several decades of economic and political instability. In 1861, Mexican president Benito Juárez suspended payment of his country’s debts to France, Spain, and Great Britain. The three countries immediately sent warships to Mexico. Juárez negotiated with Spain and Britain and their ships went home. But French emperor Napoleon III saw an opportunity to expand his country’s colonial empire and landed troops at Veracruz. They planned on capturing Mexico City, the capital. The French army at that time was generally regarded as the world’s finest and anticipated little difficulty in reaching its objective.
With the Civil War having just begun, the US government couldn’t divert resources to Mexico. The first target of the invaders was the small town of Puebla de Los Angeles. More than six thousand French troops, supported by cannons, assaulted a ragtag army of inexperienced, ill-equipped Mexican defenders about half that size on May 5, 1862. Somehow the Mexicans overcame their disadvantages and defeated the French.
The following year Napoleon dispatched more than 30,000 soldiers to Mexico. They seized control and installed Austrian archduke Ferdinand Maximilian as emperor of Mexico.
When the Civil War ended in 1865, the US leaned on France to leave Mexico. The final French troops departed two years later. Mexican forces seized Maximilian and executed him.
Today Cinco de Mayo barely causes a ripple in Mexico outside of the province of Puebla. It is not a national holiday so nearly everyone goes to work as usual.
It’s a much bigger deal in the United States, which may be fitting. Some historians believe that if the French had not been defeated at Puebla de Los Angeles and seized Mexico City, Napoleon would have made an alliance with the Confederate States. The Civil War was not going well for the Union at that time and French assistance could well have swung the conflict in the South’s favor. The result would have been two separate nations.
Jim Whiting has written a biography of the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortés. To some people, he was heroic. Even though he was greatly outnumbered, he was able to defeat the Aztec Emperor Montezuma and conquer the Aztec empire centered in modern-day Mexico. To others, including many Mexicans, he was a villain because he destroyed the Aztecs way of life. They believed he was a cruel man. He was also a symbol of Spanish domination. For more information, click here.
Whiting, Jim. "Cinco de Mayo." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 4 May 2018,
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
The NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Committee is pleased to inform you
that 30 People Who Changed the World has been selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) & the Children’s Book Council