Saturday, September 30, 2017

ELL vocabulary - temperature

Temperature means how hot or cold something is, but the OED definition is extensive:
  • The state of a substance or body with regard to sensible warmth or coldness, referred to some standard of comparison; spec. that quality or condition of a body which in degree varies directly with the amount of heat contained in the body, and inversely with its heat-capacity; commonly manifested by its imparting heat to, or receiving it from, contiguous bodies, and usually measured by means of a thermometer or similar instrument. (Now the ordinary sense.)
Sometimes--today--the OED gets hyperactive.  My Apple computer gives this simpler definition of temperature:

  • the degree or intensity of heat present in a substance or object, especially as expressed according to a comparative scale and shown by a thermometer or perceived by touch.

The source of the word is interesting and complicated, having to do with the sense of hot and cold being mixed, or tempered, but what concerns us today is the pronunciation of the word.  You don't pronounce it as you read it.  It's not temp-er-a-ture; it's temp-pra-ture.  (Like comfortable, which is not com-fort-a-ble, but com-fter-ble.)  Three syllables.

You might ask a friend, about the weather:

"It's hot.  What's the exact temperature?"

Or, if you're feeling scientific, you might say, 

"Water boils at the temperature of 100 degrees Centigrade."

Or you might tell a sick child, 

"You have a fever.  Your temperature is 101 degrees Fahrenheit."

(Yes, I know; the United States is one of the last places on Earth to use the old, Imperial measurements.  We use Fahrenheit as opposed to Celsius or Centigrade, used by most of the rest of the civilized world.)  I think I remember that the Fahrenheit scale tries to put 0 degrees at the freezing point of salt water (that's way off; it's more like 28 degrees F) and 100 degrees at human body temperature (human body temperature is 98.6 degrees F.)  

Celsius is more rational.  Zero degrees is the freezing point of fresh water, while 100 degrees is the boiling point of fresh water.  Boom.

Kids having their temperature taken today have it easy.  Those digital thermometers register a temperature in a few seconds.  When I was a boy, mercury thermometers were used.  They looked like this.

Old-fashioned, mercury-based oral thermometer.
You had to hold them in your mouth for three to five minutes, which was hard if you had a stuffy nose.  Worse, my mom liked to use the rectal thermometer, which went into your bum.  She used Vaseline to get the thermometer in there, but it still felt uncomfortable and invasive.  Why my mother used rectal thermometers instead of the (much more common) oral thermometers is a lively topic among my brothers and me.  She claimed it was more accurate.  We didn't always believe her.

It turns out she was right.  A 2011 study of about 500 adults in the Emergency Department found that oral thermometers are inaccurate by over one degree:

The oral and tympanic temperature readings are not equivalent to rectal thermometry readings. Oral thermometry frequently underestimates the temperature relative to rectal readings, and [ear] values can either under- or overestimate the rectal temperature. The clinician needs to be aware of the varying relationship between oral, [ear], and rectal temperatures when interpreting readings.  

(Barnett et al.  Oral and Tympanic Membrane Temperatures Are Inaccurate to Identify Fever in Emergency Department Adults.  West J . 2011 Nov; 12(4): 505-511.  doi:  10.5811/westjem.2011.2.1963)
But this isn't the only debate about temperature.

  • There is an argument about whether the temperature of the Earth is increasing, a process scientists called "global warming," which was renamed by politicians to the easier-to-swallow phrase "climate change"
  • Some people believe that heat is good for muscle strains and cramps, while others prefer cold
  • If you sleep in the same bed or in the same room as someone else, you know that the temperature that makes you feel just right will often be impossibly hot or intolerably cold to the other person

So what about you?  Which do you prefer, a sizzling summer day or a bitter cold winter day?  Would you rather have to use your air-conditioning or your heat?  Do you run warm-blooded or cold-blooded?  Let me know in the space below.
English Avocado

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

ELL vocabulary - library

I am posting from the library today, as my computer is broken and is currently being fixed by the good people at Apple Computer.  So today's word is library.

Definition: a building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for people to read, borrow, or refer to.


   Public libraries, owned and operated by local governments, are usually free and open to the public.  Private libraries, such as those owned and operated by clubs or universities, are only open to their own members and groups of students.
Widener Library at Harvard University.  A private library.

Boston Public Library.  A public library.



Andrew Carnegie had a special role in the development of free, public libraries in the United States.  He was a Scottish-born industrialist and philanthropist who made millions of dollars in railroads and steel.  He established 1689 Carnegie libraries in this nation alone.  He also established Carnegie Mellon University, publisher of the poems of Caroline Finkelstein, mother of The English Avocado.

What sort of libraries are available where you live?  Are they free and public?  Or costly and private?  Or somewhere in between?

On a related note, here's what I remember about having a poet for a mother.  On Wednesdays she would drive the carpool, to pick up the families of Findlay, Finkelstein, Logan, and Roberts.  All of us lived in Rochester.  Sometimes she balanced her notebook on the steering wheel, making notes as she edged forward along with all the other families picking up their children.  I was proud of that.  I was even prouder when, rarely, she would take us all to get food at McDonald's!
Boston Public Library - main reading room
Anyway, spend some time in a library soon.  It's good for you.

The English Avocado




Friday, September 22, 2017

ELL vocabulary - dependence

Dependence is today's word, a noun.  I thought I would write about dependence as I poured my third cup of coffee, trying to get rid of my persistent sleepiness.  The definition of dependence is:


The state of relying on or being controlled by someone or something else.

Dependence has a specific meaning in medicine--what you rely on, what you are controlled by, is a drug.  I have a dependence on coffee because I am reliant on the drug caffeine, which coffee contains.  (I am not really controlled by caffeine.)  But I rely on the caffeine in coffee.  I need it to feel awake.  For that reason, I am dependent on coffee.

Dependence comes to us from the Latin "de," meaning "from," + the Latin "pendere," "to hang."  So to depend is to hang from.  If I'm hanging from coffee, then, I'm relying on it.  It is a leap in meaning to go from "hanging from" to "relying on," but that's the figurative nature of language: One idea gives birth to another.  

More about dependence meaning "hanging":

The chandeliers depend from the ceiling.  The chandeliers hang from the ceiling.

The children depend from the monkey bars.  The children hang from the monkey bars.

She depends on her mother for support.  She hangs on her mother for support.

Do you see how "depend" can mean both literal hanging, as with the chandeliers and the children, as well as figurative hanging, as with the woman who depends on her mother for support?  Or, in my case, as I depend on caffeine to wake up?

A chandelier.  See the chain at the top?  The chandelier depends from the chain.
No, I don't actually hang from caffeine.  But I figuratively hang from it--if caffeine were not there, I would suffer.  If the ceiling weren't there, the chandelier would fall.  If the monkey bars weren't there, the children would fall.  They depend on the monkey bars.

A boy hanging from, or dependent from, monkey bars.
What about you?  How many of you are dependent on caffeine?  So many?  You have a dependence on caffeine.  

Here's a more serious question:  How many of you have a more serious dependence?  I don't mean a dependence on exercise, or on watching television, or on your iPhone.  I mean a dependence that is harmful, such as a dependence on violence, or a dependence on cigarettes, or a dependence on street drugs?  

"Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States: 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems."  That's from the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, Inc.

Note that dependence does not usually connote a reliance on something that's healthy and natural.  We all rely on sleep, but we are not dependent on it.  We rely on food, but we don't call that a dependence on food.  Dependence is reserved for chemicals and behaviors for which we have an unhealthy need.

But coffee, even up to five cups a day, isn't unhealthy.  So why do we call it a dependence?  Perhaps because we aren't born with a dependence on coffee, the way we're born with a dependence on sleep, food, and love.  Perhaps because, in medicine, dependence usually means reliance on a drug.  But it's a subtle difference.

What, if anything are you dependent on?  What do you rely on to get through your day?  Chewing gum?  Using your iPhone?  Doing the daily crossword puzzle?  

And . . . is your dependence healthy or unhealthy?

Or do you still have a dependence on your daily trip to the playground so that you can hang from the monkey bars?

The English Avocado


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

ELL vocabulary - home

Home, as a noun, means:

The place where a person or animal dwells.  This from the Oxford English Dictionary.  

That does not help us much without knowing that "to dwell" is a verb meaning "to live."  But you all naturally know what "home" means, don't you?  How is home different from "house"?

A house is a building for human habitation or living.  But a home doesn't have to be a building.  A home could be a house, or a condominium, or an apartment, or a set of stairs, or even a sheltered place beneath a tree.  Home doesn't need a building.  Home is just the place where you live.  Where you eat.  Where you sleep.

A house.  It could be a home, too.


There's a wonderful song by Howard Arlen called "Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home," which is the truth.  The lyrics go, in part, like this: 

There's a voice in the lonesome wind
Keeps a whispering roam
I'm going where a welcome mat is
No matter where that is
'Cause any place I hang my hat is home

(
Written by Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, S.A. Music)

What does that mean, "anyplace I hang my hat is home"?  Hint:  You have to know what it means to "hang [one's] hat."  Take a guess, and answer here:



Englishavocado's answer is that the speaker is saying that he makes his home wherever he happens to be for that moment, for that night.  Wherever he happens to put his hat down, after taking it off, automatically becomes his home.  So he's a "drifter," a "vagabond"--he has little or no sense of a permanent or fixed home.

Here's a link to Judy Garland singing the song on Youtube.  I'm listening to the song right now.  It's got that wonderful Howard Arlen melancholy.  (Melancholy means "sweet sadness.")

Where is your home?  Does it have an address?  With whom do you make your home?  Some people live all alone, some with close relatives, and some with lots of family members and friends.

Draw a picture of your home here:







(Your home)

That's all.  Just a short post for today.

#home
#English vocabulary
#English learning
#ESL
#ESOL
#lesson plans
#curriculum

Monday, September 18, 2017

ELL vocabulary - sleep

Sleep, like many English words, can be either a noun or a verb:

sleep, n.: The unconscious state or condition regularly and naturally assumed by man and animals, during which the activity of the nervous system is almost or entirely suspended, and recuperation of its powers takes place; slumber, repose.

sleep, v.: To take repose by the natural suspension of consciousness; to be in the state of sleep; to slumber.


Sleep.


So sleep, the thing, is a state that all people need.  How do you know that someone is asleep (the adjective) or sleeping?  List the ways.

Here are the things I think of:


  1. Eyes are closed
  2. The person is still or not moving, usually
  3. The person's breathing is slow, deep, and regular
  4. The person is not as responsive; to get someone asleep to respond to you, you must wake him or her
  5. What other signs are there that someone is sleeping?

Most people have comfortable and dedicated places for sleeping.  In the Western world those are often beds.  We do other things in bed besides sleep, of course, but beds are the primary places we sleep.  Some people, such as the homeless, do not have beds of their own, making sleep deprivation a severe problem for homeless people.  Having a safe place to lie down, relax, and be protected from the elements or danger is a necessity for sleep.

(Boston, where The English Avocado lives, has a severe problem with homelessness.  See an article about that here.  But at least Massachusetts, the state where Boston is located, has a "right to shelter" law, which guarantees emergency housing for families that qualify.  Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 23B, sec. 30.)

Another necessity is getting enough sleep.  The National Sleep Foundation published an article that declared the consensus for how much sleep people of different ages need.  You can see that article here.  These graphs represent how much sleep people of differing ages need.


Sleep needed by age group.

Sleep Needs

  • newborns:  between 14 and 17 hours
  • infants:  12 - 15 hours
  • toddlers:  11 - 14 hours
  • preschoolers:  10 - 13 hours
  • school-aged children:  9 - 11 hours
  • teenagers:  8 - 10 hours
  • young adults and adults:  7 - 9 hours
  • older adults:  7 - 8 hours
(See National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary.  Hirshkowitz, Max et al.  Sleep Health: Journal of the National Sleep Foundation , Volume 1 , Issue 1 , 40 - 43.  DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.sleh.2014.12.010)

And what happens if we don't get the sleep we need?  We become tired, or exhausted.  If we are deprived of sleep for too long we begin to exhibit a condition called sleep deprivation.  A broader idea that includes sleep deprivation but also other sleep problems is sleep deficiency.  The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, has produced this poster warning about the extent of sleep deficiency in the United States:

Sleep deficiency is a problem.
In fact, depriving a person of sleep is such a severe means of weakening him or her that interrogators trying to get a person to reveal secrets often don't let him or her sleep.  The Central Intelligence Agency has used sleep deprivation as an interrogation tactic.  I've never been interrogated by the CIA, but I've been very sleepy before, and probably would have revealed any secret in order to be allowed to sleep.

(I just learned that sleep deprivation is a problem among teenagers in the United States, too.  In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that two-thirds of teenagers were not getting enough sleep.  The Academy urged that schools open later in the day to help fight this problem.  This view is shared by the CDC.)


Have you ever been tired?  Exhausted?  Sleep-deprived?  How did it make you feel?  Make a list of adjectives that describe the feeling of not having had enough sleep.

Or: your bed.  Describe your bed or the place where you sleep.  What about your bed makes it a great place for you to sleep?  Are there any things about your bed that you would change, if you could?  About your bed, describe your 


  • pillows
  • sheets
  • mattress


I know that I love my bed.  I'd spend most of my time there, if I could.

Friday, September 15, 2017

ELL vocabulary - network

If we're going to define network, first we have to define:

neta piece of openwork fabric forming mesh

Net is related to the words mesh and grid.  All have the sense of interlocking connections.  Those interlocking connections can be of fiber, twine or cord, as in a net you would use to catch an animal or a bird.



A net you might use to catch an animal or a bird.
Here's another picture of a net:
See the interlocking connections?
So now you see the interlocking connections in a net made of fiber or cord.  But you can also have interlocking connections of information devices, like computers, tablets, and smartphones.  Thus you can have a computer net:


Interlocking connections, again.
Or you may prefer this picture:


This is a picture of a cloud network.
Again, the connections between the devices connect, although this time they connect through a cloud where the net is big and abstract.


Work just means something that's built or made.  Thus, a network is:
  • Any netlike or complex system or collection of interrelated things.
  • (in computing) A system of interconnected computers.
Other things, especially in living beings, can have the appearance of a net and thus form a network.  In animals or humans, tiny blood vessels, called capillaries, look like a net and thus form a network.
See how the blood vessels look like a net?

In plants, vessels to carry fluids can look like a net and form a network.  Look at this leaf:

A network of vessels in the leaf of a plant called a hydrangea.
But we're more interested in the use of the word network as it applies to the interconnections of devices (computers, smartphones, and the like) that use or process information.  Here's another picture of a computer network:
Interlocking connections, this time through the world!  A world wide net!  Um, a world wide web.
(So I slipped, with this last picture, and referred to the "world wide net," when we know that it's called the World Wide Web, usually abbreviated to "www."

This leads me to your assignments.  Choose one:

1.  Now that you know what a net is, what is a web?  How are they similar?  How are they different?
2.  Nets can catch or snare things.  Give seven examples of things that can be caught or snared in a netBut: two of those things cannot be animals.  What can be caught or snared in a net that's not an animal?  I wonder. . . . 

--The English Avocado

#net
#network
#English language
#ESL
#ESOL
#English vocabulary
#lesson plans
#curriculum

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Don't Be a Reading Cop

Yesterday the National Council of Teachers of English tweeted this unfortunate idea:

As an English teacher myself, I recoiled.  "Hold students accountable"?  That's language that police and prosecutors speak.  As in, "We will find the perpetrators of these vicious crimes and hold them accountable."

We need to change that language.  If we think of reading as something to which children (and adults, too) should be "held accountable," we are using the language of policing and prosecution.  That's wrongheaded.  That's the schoolmarm asking, "Why haven't you done your homework?"  "Why aren't you sitting up straight?"  "Why haven't you done your twenty minutes of reading?"

The original author of this unfortunate phrase, an educational consultant named Angela Watson, wrote it in a blog post that has some good ideas.  She argues that requiring kids to write a tedious "book log" in which the hapless child lists the book she read, the author, and how much time she spent reading is a mistake.  True--documenting time spent reading in this way is tedious, demoralizing, and robs reading of pleasure for everyone concerned--student, teacher or parent.

Still, much of Watson's blog post concerns itself with making kids prove they've done their required reading task.  Her first three suggestions just change the form of the documentation required.  Instead of a book log, Watson suggests a "reading journal."  This is doing the same dreary activity--documenting reading--in a prettier place.  "I let students pick out a beautiful notebook to record their reading[.]  Having a special notebook they loved and felt proud of was much more motivating than scrawling book titles on a piece of paper or in a homework agenda book," Watson writes.  

It doesn't matter if it's a piece of paper or a beautiful notebook, Ms. Watson.  The chore of documenting is the chore of documenting.  We're still in the land of "holding accountable."

I suggest we encourage kids to read by doing the following:


  • Ask good, interested questions.  "What are you reading now?  What do you think about it?  Is it as good as the last book you read?  How does it compare with what we are reading in class?
  • Demonstrate your own reading and the pleasure you take in it.  "I'm reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.  I love it.  It's a complicated book for grown-ups, but I'm at a part where the process of collecting hay is described on the Levins' farm.  The details are as interesting as the story."
  • Save the written response for the classroom.  Students should expect to work.  But they should not associate reading with the chores of documentation.  Give students opportunities to demonstrate their reading by writing about it . . . in class.
  • Create reading communities.  This is partially the goal of the "literature circle."  And Watson does encourage students to share their thoughts and reflections in her eighth suggestion.  Still, what about what the student's siblings read?  What their parents and extended family read, or remember having read?

Please don't be the reading police.  Resist the temptation to make students prove what they've read and when they've read it, which is what "holding students accountable" really means.  Make things more fun, more free, and more spontaneous, and children will respond well.  Watson's best suggestion is her ninth: Teach students that it's permissible not to finish a book they don't like.  Hold them accountable, in other words . . . to not being accountable.  

#English teaching
#Methods
#NCTE
#Independent reading
#Book logs

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

ELL vocabulary - cloud

cloud

definition: a mass of water vapor one sees in the sky

- Fancy definition from the OED:

"A visible mass of condensed watery vapour floating in the air at some considerable height above the general surface of the ground."
Here is a picture of a cloud:


(In the picture, the cloud is the white-and-gray thing, not the blue thing.  The blue thing is the sky.)

We see clouds during most every day.  (When the sky is totally blue, with no clouds at all, it is called a cloudless sky.)  Clouds take different shapes and forms.  Sometimes they're spread out and low, so that we can see none of the blue sky: those are stratus clouds.  Sometimes they're piled up and puffy: those are cumulus or "fair weather" clouds.  Usually you see cumulus clouds when the weather is warm and sunny.  They float in the blue sky.  

There are huge, tall rain clouds that produce thunderstorms with thunder, lightning, and sometimes hail.  Those are cumulonimbus clouds:

A cumulonimbus cloud, or a "thunderhead".
When I was young I had a chart of many different types of clouds and of the weather that came with them.  I would take this chart outside, look up at the sky, and try to name the clouds I saw.  I don't think I was very often right.

Now there is an idiom in English called "the cloud".  "The cloud" refers to a place where information is stored when it is not stored on your smartphone or on your computer--it's when information is stored somewhere you can only get to via the Internet.  

If you wanted to save something computerized--say, a poem or an image or a song--you used to have to save it "to your computer," "to your disk," or, more recently, "to your device."  How many of you have photographs saved to your device?  Or music saved to your device?  Eventually, the device runs out of storage space or memory.  In recent years, businesses have appeared that provide storage space or memory where you can store your computerized information.  That storage space is now called the cloud:

      • Dropbox
      • Google Drive
      • Mega
      • OneDrive
      • iCloud
      • Box

These are all cloud storage providers where, if you pay money, you can save your stuff to an account in your name.  The more you want to save, the more storage space you buy, and the more money you pay.

Why does English call this online data storage the cloud?  Partially, because the storage space is without form, like an in-the-sky cloud; your data is stored "somewhere out there," rather than in a specific file location, so we think of the space as being like a cloud.  Maybe this image will help:

An image that shows the idea of the cloud.
If you look at the image, you can see that it is shaped like a cumulus cloud but that it is made of a group of pictures of information we save, like music (the microphone), writing (the fountain pen), passwords (the key), and so on.

There was an article in the New York Times today about a company called CloudFlare that provides security to websites.  Notice that the CloudFlare company's name includes the word cloud, because the company protects websites--sources of information that exist in the cloud.  It was my reading about the CloudFlare company today that gave me the idea to write about clouds.

Now to you:  What are some words that you think of when you think about a cloud?  I'll start you off with some words, then you think of three to seven more.  

Clouds are:
  • formless
  • floating
  • white
  • __________
  • __________
  • __________
  • __________

Keep going, if you can!

--The English Avocado

#cloud
#English language
#ESL
#ESOL
#lesson plans
#curriculum





Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Encouragement for ELLs - phrasal verbs are hard!


Phrasal verbs are hard!


Phrasal verbs are expressions where a verb and another element, often a preposition or an adverb, are combined to create a two (or more) word unit (an idiom) that has a different meaning than the verb had by itself.  

This is even harder when the original verb has, by itself, many different meanings.


Take get, as an example.  By itself, get can mean to obtain or to buy.  ("I get candy.")  It can mean to reach a place.  ("She got home safely.")  With an adjective, it can mean become.  ("Lucia is getting old.")


But add some adverbs and prepositions and it gets wild!  (I mean it becomes wild.)


to get along - to relate in a friendly way

to get by - to manage to survive, to afford life
to get down - to party, to boogie
to get into - to become interested in 
. . . 
and the list goes on and on.


meanings of "get"
Some of the meanings of get when used as a phrase.

There are many verbs in English that form verb phases, also called idioms, and they're often short verbs derived from Anglo-Saxon roots.  Take and look are just as complex as get.  

I was deeply impressed by a page provided by EF on the verb get. It does not specify every meaning that get can get to, but it does a remarkably clear job.


Verbs in English that come from Latin or Romance roots are not nearly as often used phrasally.  Get can mean obtain, but "obtain" is never combined with an adverb or a preposition to form an idiom with a totally new meaning.  Thank goodness for those verbs in English that come from Latin!  They don't get phrasal!


It's the Anglo-Saxon verbs, those short, simple words, that combine and morph into new meaning idioms.  Get.  LookCome.  


Here is one thing that might keep you from becoming dispirited: Knowing how to use phrasal verbs is one of the most advanced skills that an English Language Learner can acquire.  Learn get along.  A few months later, learn get over.  The different meanings are not infinite.  Eventually, you'll learn them all.


And at that point, you'll be proficient, or even fluent, in English.  You'll no longer be an English Language Learner.  You'll be an English speaker.


#ESL

#ESOL
#student spirit
#English teaching
#English usage

Monday, September 11, 2017

ELL vocabulary - random

Random is an often-used English adjective.

Here's the simple definition:

random: made, done, happening, or chosen without method or conscious decision

A more complete definition is:

random: having no definite aim or purpose, not sent or guided in a particular direction; made, done, occurring without method or conscious choice; haphazard.  (From the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Dice

Dice are a good example of randomness because a die, when rolled, produces a random number.  For the six-sided dice pictured above, when we roll one, we do not know what number of pips will appear on the side facing up.  The number that appears is "not sent or guided in a particular direction."  The number that appears is random.

Random events happen all throughout our lives.  In fact, random events happen all throughout the entire universe.  The movement of the electrons around the nucleus of an atom is (mostly) random.  The day-to-day movement of prices in the stock market is random, though some people are very good at seeing larger trends, and make lots of money from that ability.  Even the moment-to-moment movements of weather events are random, though it is possible to detect patterns by observing past events and current conditions.  Right now, Hurricane Irma is hitting Florida, the most southeastern state in the United States.  Whether a hurricane will or will not happen, and how strong it will be, and the direction it takes are all events that may be predictable generally, but as to detailed specifics, are random questions.

One thing that can be heartbreaking is when we want to think that something is random, but we know it is not.  If I have a heart attack some day, I would like to think that such an event would be random.  But it would not be so.  I can reduce the chances of having a heart attack by exercising, eating healthy foods, and limiting the stress in my life.  Doing those things is tough to do, and uncomfortable.  But if I choose to lie around and eat lots of fat and salt, and then in fifteen years I have a heart attack, I should know a heart attack was coming.  It would not be random, much as I might like to believe it was.

Sixteen years ago today, early in the morning, I was teaching English in a classroom and learned that two United Airlines jet planes had flown into the World Trade Center buildings in New York City.  We now call that attack 9/11, pronounced "nine-eleven."

Photograph by Chang W. Lee for The New York Times.
For the people in the World Trade Center on that day, the attack must have seemed random.  Why that day, and that hour, as opposed to any other day?  But the truth that the United States has had to face is that 9/11 was not random at all.  The World Trade Center buildings were very tall and easy to attack.  In fact, security officers working in those buildings had been warning the people there that an emergency was eventually bound to happen.  I have heard that they often tried to get the workers in those office buildings to practice evacuating in the case of an emergency, but that people were unwilling to do that practice.  They wanted to pretend there was no chance of an accident.

And was the choice of the World Trade Center as a target random?  We know that it was not.  As I wrote above, it was large and easy to hit.  It was also a symbol of the financial strength of New York City, which was itself a symbol of the strength of the United States.  People who were angry at the United States's wealth and power saw the perfect target in the World Trade Center because the World Trade Center was a symbol.

And even the date, 9/11, contains the same numbers as the three-digit code that one dials for emergencies in the United States, 911.  (It helped, though, that September 11, 2001 was a clear and cloudless day, a perfect day on which to pilot two airplanes full of jet fuel into skyscrapers.  Maybe the weather on September 11th was randomly good for flying planes into buildings.)

Assignment for today: Make a list of five random events that have taken place in your life.  Look at your list.  Then ask yourself--Were these things all truly random?  Did they all occur without "method or conscious choice"?  Or could some or all of them have been predicted?  Often, we would like to pretend things are random when they actually are not.

#random
#English teaching
#lesson planning
#curriculum
#writing


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