Top-Notch Teller of Terrific True Tales
Billy Mills was just a face in the crowd of nearly 30 runners at the 10,000-meter run at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. His best time was nearly a minute slower than the race favorites.
Part-Lakota Sioux Indian, Mills was a scrawny kid, who had grown up in poverty and racial bias. Whites regarded him as an Indian. Indians sneered that he was part-white and therefore not one of them.
His father had encouraged the boy to envision a better life: “You have to look deeper, way below the anger, the hurt, the hate, the jealousy, the self-pity, way down deeper where the dreams lie, son. Find your dream.”
Mills began finding his dream when he discovered his talent for running. He earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Kansas. Then he qualified for the U.S. Olympic team.
Still, no one expected anything of him. He asked for shoes from the company that outfitted American runners. Sorry, he was told. We only give shoes to potential medalists. You don’t qualify.
Mills kept a diary. Six weeks before the 10,000 meter race, he wrote “I’m in great shape….I’m ready for a 28:25 [twenty-eight minutes, twenty-five seconds].” He had never run that fast. Nor had any American. Nor anyone in any previous Olympics.
The gun sounded. As each of the 25 laps rolled by, more and more runners fell off the pace. At the start of the final lap, Mills was one of three runners still in contention. As they rounded the first turn, Australian Ron Clarke shoved Mills out into the third lane. Mohamed Gammoudi of Tunisia took advantage of the opening and pushed his way between the other two, knocking Mills off balance for a moment. As the runners headed down the final straight, television cameras showed a tight battle between Gammoudi and Clarke. Mills was nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly the television announcer screamed “Look at Mills! Look at Mills!” Mills bounded back into the picture, passing Clarke and then Gammoudi almost as if they were standing still. He maintained his pace to the finish line, five yards ahead of Gammoudi and ten in front of Clarke. His time of 28 minutes, 24.4 seconds was virtually identical to what he had visualized. He remains the only American to win the 10,000 meters at the Olympics.
Mills crossing the finish line in the 1964 Olympics.
Watch Mills run the final lap
Jim Whiting is a walking encyclopedia. He has written more than 180 (count 'em!) books on many subjects. You can learn more about him here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "No Shoes for You." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 21 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/no-shoes-for-you.
Nonfiction is the new black
When Julius Caesar took control of the Roman government, he decided to reform the calendar. Because it was a lunar calendar—based on complete cycles of the moon—it had fluctuated widely for centuries. Some years had as few as 355 days while others nudged 380, often seemingly by whim. After lengthy consultations with the Egyptian astronomer Sosigenes, Caesar established a calendar that is virtually the same one we use today. The lengths of the months alternated between 30 and 31 days, except February which had 29. The new calendar came into effect on January 1, 45 BCE (Before the Common Era). A grateful Roman Senate immediately changed the name of the month of Quintilis—Julius Caesar’s birth month—to July in his honor. As is the case today, it had 31 days. Caesar had only one year to enjoy “his” month, as he was assassinated the following March.
His successor was his grand-nephew Octavian, who took the name of Augustus Caesar when he officially became the first Roman emperor. In 8 BCE the Senate decided that he also deserved a month. Because several noteworthy events during Augustus’s reign had occurred in Sextilis, the month following July, they chose it. Big problem. Sextillis had only 30 days. No way would the Senate allow Augustus to be “inferior” to his great-uncle in any way. So it took a day from February and tacked it on at the end of August. That created another problem. Three consecutive months—July, August, and September—were now 31 days long. The fix was simple: the Senate simply flipped the lengths of the remaining four months. September and November went from 31 days to 30, while October and December bulked up to 31.
The Senate wasn’t finished with its tinkering. Nearly 70 years later, it honored the notorious emperor Nero by changing Aprilis to Neronius. The new name never gained traction. Nero. who had murdered his brother, mother, and wife, committed suicide in 68 CE (Common Era). The Senate—undoubtedly relieved at his demise—hastily returned Neronius to its original name.
Here is Jim's biography of Julius Caesar, who became a very successful military commander who added more than 200,000 square miles to the territories under Rome’s control. But his triumphs created powerful enemies in Rome. Eventually he was assassinated in the Roman Senate.
MLA 8 CItation
Whiting, Jim. "July, August and Neronius." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 14 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/july-august-and-neronius.
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
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
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