Monday, November 28, 2022

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus

On September 21st, 1897, The Sun ran this letter to the editor and its famous response:

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

So as the anniversary of this printing comes forward next week, you may wish to incorporate it into your classroom.  If nothing else, expose the kids to this bit of American culture.  Use it in journalism class to discuss the responsibility of the newspaper.  Just give the class the original letter and let them respond to it before showing the editor's response (could be a great way to teach audience). Use it for a reading comprehension practice (I have one here you may use: Reading Comprehension Practice).  Use it to spark a letter writing exercise and then write letters to editors of your newspapers.

Anyone else use this letter in their class?  If so, how?

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Writing Wednesday: Random Dialogues

Today's creative writing assignment will be a Random Dialogue.  Here is how we will do it:

First, on your paper or computer, write down four numbers between 1 - 10.  They can be the same numbers. 

Got them?  Now, scroll down below the picture and you will find that your first number will be the first character.  The second number will be the second character.  The third will be the setting and the fourth will be the subject of the dialogue.

First Number - Character number one
  1. a mom
  2. a kid
  3. an alien
  4. a dog
  5. a rich man
  6. a grocery store owner
  7. a soldier
  8. a baby
  9. a superhero
  10. a vampire
Second Number - Character number two
  1. a dad
  2. a teenager
  3. the President of the United States
  4. a cat
  5. a poor woman
  6. a cowboy
  7. a spy
  8. a wizard
  9. a super villain
  10. a werewolf
Third Number - Setting
  1. morning at the beach
  2. in a grocery store
  3. in the White House
  4. on a city building rooftop
  5. nighttime in a graveyard
  6. on a golf course
  7. by the pool in winter
  8. in a school classroom
  9. in a fast food restaurant
  10. Christmastime in a house
Fourth Number - Dialogue Subject
  1. how much something costs
  2. the latest video game
  3. deciding on where to go for a date (not necessarily with each other)
  4. politics
  5. a dream the first character had last night
  6. what to have for the next meal
  7. character two is not happy about something character one did
  8. character one is excited about something that just happened
  9. a sporting event
  10. a movie they just watched

Now, you decide if they are arguing, being silly, serious, discussing, fighting, happy, etc.  Oh, and you had ten minutes, so no time to think ready...  GO!

O.K., was it any good? awful? just plain silly?  If you typed it, feel free to cut and paste it into the comments section.  You can always do this, no matter when it is you find this blog post.

Happy Wednesday!

Friday, November 4, 2022

Change Your Students' Responses to Text Using the Three Book Approach

One thing that inhibits student discussion at all levels is the fear that they did not come to the correct answer.  We, as English teachers, know that there is simultaneously a correct response and a validation of practically all responses, but students have a difficult time compressing that information in to trust that they can give their thoughts and epiphanies on a reading passage.

In my AP class, we do this first week, when we take "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and break it apart using as many different literary criticism as possible.  In my regular inclusion English IV class, we use this in our first book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time when we discuss the chapter where Father hits Christopher.

I draw this on the board, stopping to explain before drawing the next image:

Once I draw BOOK 1, I say this is the author and the book he wanted to write.  It is what was in his head as he envisioned the plot, characters, setting, etc.

Then I draw BOOK 2 and explain that this is the book that was written.  We all know that the ideas in our head does not always come out clearly in our writing.  Plus, this has undergone revision, editing, advice from trusted readers, publisher mandates, and many other things that changed the original idea.

I wrap up with BOOK 3 - this is the book we read in our head.  Everyone in the classroom read the same text, but because we all have different life experiences, different relationships with parents, friends, neighbors, different cultural backgrounds, and different environments in which we read (some of us were distracted, others hyper focused) - all these things lead to different feelings, different interpretations, different focuses.  In the "Woods" poem, our experience with snow and nature and possible previous interactions with Robert Frost impact out reading.  In Curious our relationship with our own father (or lack thereof) and our connection to someone on the spectrum will determine if we can forgive Father after this.  All these reactions are legitimate and part of the reading process.

It's why some people can (wrongly) enjoy the Star Wars sequel movies - they don't have the same baggage I bring with me to the movies.

Of course, just because we have certain reactions to characters and situations that differ from everyone, that doesn't dismiss the intention of the author and that can lead to a discussion of whether or not Shakespeare was successful in his intent to create an intense scene or Twain's ability to get his point across.

This discussion carries through my entire year and we often reference that third book.  It has increased participation in class discussions tremendously for me.