Thursday, January 30, 2014

February 2nd is Groundhog Day!

I know you’re all hoping for an end to this weather!  Well, on Sunday, we’ll find out if Spring is going to come early or if we’re going to have six more weeks of winter.  How can we possibly know this?  The answer comes in the form of a groundhog named Phil:
Punxsutawney Phil (picture from

Phil lives in a small town in western Pennsylvania called Punxsutawney (IPA pronunciation: ˈpʌŋksəˌtɔni).  Every year on February 2nd, he comes out of the ground with a crowd of people watching to see whether or not he sees his shadow.  If he sees his shadow (i.e. if it’s sunny) and goes back below the ground, there will be 6 more weeks of winter.  If he doesn’t see his shadow (i.e. if it’s cloudy), spring will come early.  This tradition has been going on there since 1886 [1]Are these predictions usually accurate?  Maybe not, but it’s still fun to pretend!  And some people actually do consider this tradition very serious:  there is even a secret society that cares for the groundhog(s).

Another cultural note:  The movie “Groundhog Day” (1993) with Bill Murray, made this celebration in Punxsutawney even more famous, and this movie has become an American classic.

[1] Yoder, Don (2003). Groundhog Day. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

You may be wondering why you don’t have classes next Monday.  The reason for this day off is the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.  But who is Martin Luther King Jr.?  Those of you who have taken the 1960’s class may already be familiar with the Civil Rights Movement.  Martin Luther King Jr. was a major leader of this movement.  The goal of the Civil Rights Movement was to end racial discrimination and segregation in the United States.  While slavery had ended a century before, African-Americans continued to be treated differently and unequally from white Americans.

While there were also many other important figures in the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. is perhaps the most well-known, because of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.  In this speech, he expressed his dreams for the future of the United States, with respect to equal rights and treatment of everyone, regardless of skin color.  As one of the leaders of the movement, he encouraged non-violence in achieving the movement’s goals.

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 because of his controversial political actions.  Every year, we honor him on the 3rd Monday of January (close to his birthday) because of his bravery and the changes that he helped make in this country.


Discrimination: Unfair treatment of a person or a group of people differently from other people.

Segregation:  Keeping people of different races, religions, or other groups separate from each other 
(e.g. separate schools for African-Americans and whites)

Assassination:  Surprise murder of an important person, often for political reasons