Today is President’s Day. It’s the holiday to celebrate all of our presidents, but in particular George Washington’s birthday. I remember in elementary school coloring pictures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and learning stories of their exploits of how George chopped a cherry tree down and couldn’t tell a lie and Abe was an honest self-educated man who chopped wood. I don’t know if these tales are true, but I do know that these two presidents led our nation in a time when its citizens were uncertain of how events would turn out.
And so being the wise nation that we are, we celebrate our heritage and history by letting the schoolchildren out of school for the day. Now, in the interest of transparency, I do personally benefit from this holiday and all of the other holidays, as well. I am a teacher. However, being a teacher does not imply an endorsement of our holiday practice. Now that that is out in the open, I can continue.
Last week as I was reviewing the calendar with my advisory students I asked them why we would be out of school on President’s Day. They replied, as they have learned, “It’s a holiday!” Therefore, we had our very own President’s Day challenge on Thursday. They numbered a sheet of paper 1-44 and I spotted them Washington and Obama in the number 1 and 44 slots, respectively. Then I told them to write as many of the presidents names as they could. Last name would work, but first names alone would not be accepted as correct answers. I offered bonus points for putting the presidents in order of Washington to Obama. They had fifteen minutes to work their group of two to four kids. At the last minute, I remembered to pull my president’s poster off the wall and sat down myself to attempt the challenge. There were lots of moans and groans, and ‘this is hard’ but for the most part, they took the challenge and ran with it. When time was up they put their pencils down and we checked our accuracy.
I had 36 of the presidents in order with four additional president’s names written down. I couldn’t remember the order of presidents 8-14, or number 19. But, I had the rest. The best student group was 23 of the presidents in no particular order, but some groups hovered close to ten. Now, I will admit, this is a low order thinking skill, but having pride in our country’s heritage is important. The winning group received a full signed shark card good for a late pass for homework if needed, a candy bag, or first in line passes in the lunchroom. It was a fun morning and I used it to leap into social studies.
Nevertheless, that leaves me with a final argument; is it President’s Day or Presidents’ Day? I checked the U.S. Federal Government’s listing of federal holidays and today is listed as ‘Washington’s Birthday’, which is the legal name of the holiday. I then checked with the State of Illinois list of holidays and the holiday is listed as ‘Washington’s Birthday’ with President’s Day in parentheses. Finally, I checked with the State of Michigan and it called the holiday “Presidents Day.” Therefore, we have three answers – sort of like a typical day in class. But, the larger grammatical question is, is it President’s Day or Presidents’ Day. What are we celebrating – one or all? On the other hand, are we just celebrating a day out of school or off work?
So here is my challenge to you – how many U.S. presidents can you name? Can you put them in order from Washington to Obama? Give it a whirl, and no peaking. Be an honest Abe or George, too.
Today, we are heading home. The kids had a great day yesterday on the slopes and I got over a third of my papers graded while they skied. This morning Ivy is sleeping in and so are the kids. It’s comfortable here and the thermostat seems to be working quite well, despite the temperatures dropping into the single digits last night. I had better jump up, jump in, and seize the day because today is gonna be a great day. Making the Days Count, one holiday at a time, even when it is more fun to teach about the holiday!
Don’t forget the challenge!