10 Things About the History of American Public Education

While a lot of the country is still enjoying the last few weeks of summer vacation, in the Southeast we’re already back in school. We start earlier than a lot of the country and get out earlier too. I’ll talk about why in just a moment. My oldest child started Kindergarten on Wednesday. He’s in love with learning and has really enjoyed school so far. I can only hope his enthusiasm doesn’t wane over the course of the year.

But, with a child in elementary school, my brain has been focused on school-related things lately. Back-to-school shopping (supplies and clothes), Meet the Teacher night, ensuring proper registration for school, etc. In honor of my back-to-school focused brain, this month’s 10 Things post is focused on American Public Education.

Let’s do this.

  1. The reason we start school in the fall in the United States has long been attributed to agrarian needs. However, that’s false–not to mention illogical–and is an excuse the urban elite have been using for decades. Think about it. In farming, there is a lot of work in the spring during planting season and a lot of work in the fall during the harvest. In comparison, summer and winter have moderate amounts of work to be done. Why, then, would farmers send their children to school in the fall and spring? They wouldn’t. And didn’t. Agrarian schools in the early days of public education generally had a summer term and a winter term. However, in densely populated urban areas where summer heat (before the invention of air conditioning) could be stifling, smelly, and dangerous the wealthy would retreat to summer homes outside the city until the weather cooled again. When public education started being federally funded and compulsory, it was decided that all school calendars (both rural and urban) should more or less match up. Guess who won that battle.
  2. As I said in the opening paragraph though, schools in the South often start earlier than those in the North. We start in August and are out before Memorial Day (in late May) whereas the majority of the country starts in September and finishes in mid-to-late June. The South once lined up our start and end dates with the rest of the country, but have changed in the last two decades. The reason? State testing. The South struggles with federally mandated standardized tests–a price paid for racist and classist education policies starting in the Colonial Period and continuing through the Civil Rights Movement–and so by starting earlier, we have more time to prepare for before the testing dates and we end the school year shortly after the testing period ends.
  3. Public school hasn’t always meant free. The first public schools were open to the public–for a comparatively smaller fee than hiring private tutors or paying for boarding school.
  4. The first public schools were connected to specific churches. The objective was to teach children to read so that they might be able to read and better understand the Bible. Moreover, the schools would only admit students who were a part of the specific denomination of the church. Brown University was considered quite progressive and liberal in its early days because, while it was started by Baptists, it would admit young (white) men from other denominations. Women, minorities, or even white men with other religious affiliations–including Catholics–were out of luck.
  5. Until the early 1800s, teachers were overwhelmingly male. The only women who received more than rudimentary education were generally from wealthy families who hired private tutors. They were training their daughters to be better prospective wives for other wealthy men. However, there was a movement in the early part of 19th century that spread the idea that women were much more suited to educating children, even young males, because of their natural maternal instincts. This gave rise to more young girls being admitted to schools, a prevalence of “teaching colleges” where women could specifically study how to be better educators, and new job prospects around the nation.
  6. Home Economics courses are disappearing from most schools, but it was a fight to get them started at all. Women’s groups and charities fought for and funded courses on sewing and mending for young women in public schools. The reasons were two-fold. First, for those young women who would eventually have to find work, this gave them the training necessary to apply for a position as a lady’s maid or other domestic service position. That meant better pay, better working conditions, and better life prospects. Second, some of the young ladies who attended public school institutions were poor and would show up to school in torn or tattered dresses. By teaching them how to sew and mend at school, they were able to better care for themselves and help their families.
  7. School didn’t become compulsory in each state at the same time. Massachusetts was the first state to lead the charge in both compulsory and free public education, as well as the education of women. Other states followed, some more slowly than others. Much of the south, for instance, didn’t make public education mandatory until the early 1900s. Even so, education was only compulsory through the eighth grade. High school attendance became more popular after World War I, and enrollment in secondary schools rose significantly after World War II thanks to the original G.I. Bill that helped pay for military veterans to attend college. Students had a reason to finish high school. They could serve in the armed forces and then the government would pay for them to get a college degree, greatly increasing job prospects and upward mobility. The bill was not limited to men. Women veterans could also claim G. I. Bill benefits. However, only 2% of American veterans of World War II were women. Side Note: The original G.I. Bill expired in 1956, but has revamped and extended time and again. In 1984, the Montgomery G.I. Bill was one of the newest incarnations of the bill. Named for G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery, a congressman from Mississippi and a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, who authored the bill.
  8. When public (and free) education (through 8th grade) became compulsory nation-wide, it didn’t mean there were suddenly Elementary and Middle Schools on every corner. Most schools were one room, one teacher, and all the students within walking distance–generally a five-mile radius from the school.
  9. While Black citizens had to fight for access to education, Native Americans were sometimes ripped from their tribes and families and forced to attend residential schools where they had to learn to dress, speak, and act in an “Anglo-American” style. The argument was that it would make Natives “more civilized” and ease tensions between Whites and Tribal Nations. Spoiler alert: It was a horrendous practice and not-so-shockingly a failure. The first Indian Residential School opened in the mid-1800s and the last one officially closed in 1973 (in the United States. It’s my understanding that some Indian Residential Schools still operated in Canada into the 1990s). The Bureau of Indian Affairs must have had the motto of “If at first we don’t succeed, we’ll keep forcing the same policy down your throats for over a century.”
  10. The official color for public school buses in the United States is “National School Bus Glossy Yellow”. While the name of the official paint color has changed, the yellow hue has been more or less the same since it was agreed upon in 1939 at an education conference funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. Yellow with black lettering was voted the standard because it is the easiest to see in the dark of the early morning (more modern research studies have confirmed that you are more likely to notice something yellow in your periphery or in the dark than something red). The first school buses were not all motorized, some were yellow wagons pulled by horses. The design has certainly changed over the decades, but the color has remained the same.

American Public Educations has had its ups and downs. In the early 20th century, we had the highest literacy rate in the world. While that is no longer true, we don’t have to view it as all doom and gloom. I am a product of the public education system, and I hold two bachelor’s degrees from a public (though certainly not free) university. I received a quality education (my penchant for typos and my ongoing war with commas notwithstanding). However, I have also been a teacher in the public school system. Most of the pitfalls we (Americans) face are of our own making. The situation is certainly not hopeless, though the most effective solutions won’t be the most popular ones. And until we have someone in Congress who actually has experience in public education, or–heaven forbid–has a child in the public school system, nobody wants to take on that battle.

But I digress.

This post is for writers, as always. The public education system isn’t a bad idea, nor did it begin with bad intent. But the system has never been perfect. And bad decisions have been made along the way that negatively affected a lot of the population. So when you create a world, even if you design a complete Utopia, remember that just because something is a good idea and meant for the greater good of all, doesn’t mean it won’t face or create challenges. In fact, this could serve as the perfect opportunity to flesh out the implicit biases of your characters. What beliefs do they hold that could keep an altruistic venture from succeeding? How could that cause a rift in their perfect society? How does that affect your main character’s worldview or experience?

Not everybody all at once. Raise your hand.

Class is officially in session.

10 Things About Title IX: The Role Sports Play in the Fight for Gender Equality

Note: I don’t usually write about politics, at least not directly. However, this is an example that could be relevant and useful for worldbuilding or plotting in stories. If you say rude or mean things in the comments, I will either ignore or delete them. 

The US Women’s National Team just earned a fourth star for their jerseys by winning the 2019 World Cup. Give me a moment.

USA! USA! USA! USA!

Okay, I’m good now. Mostly.

The USWNT has done a lot to bring attention to the gender discrimination inherent in their pay structures compared to the USMNT (US Men’s National Team). While some people may roll their eyes at this, the truth of the matter is that you can’t claim that the women don’t bring in as much money. The USWNT sells more merchandise than their male counterparts, they sell more tickets, they get better viewing ratings for televised events, and they travel for more paid engagements. Because the USMNT has been in a performance slump for the last few years (for a number of reasons I’m choosing not to elaborate upon because I have neither the time nor the word count for it) while the women have continued to show improvement while also being the best-ranked team in the world and bringing in rapidly increasing revenue to boot, it’s well past time that they get to ask why they aren’t getting paid as much as the Men’s Team.

The struggle for equality in sports is not new. Title IX is not new. In fact, Title IX does not even exclusively relate to athletics. But sports are the most visible way to see whether an institution is striving for equality or whether they’re making excuses.

I should point out that the USWNT is not governed by Title IX because they are not affiliated with a specific educational institution. They are just the reason I began thinking of this post (and I kinda wanted to brag on them a bit).

So, for those unfamiliar with the law, here are 10 things you might not know about Title IX.

  1. Title IX was signed into law in June of 1972 by then-President Richard Nixon. It reads: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Athletics are ruled an “educational program or activity”.
  2. It took less than two years after signing Title IX into law before a bill demanding its repeal was filed in Congress. When it failed, a bill demanding that certain sports (cough cough FOOTBALL cough cough) be excluded from the Title IX athlete, equipment, and services mandates. It also failed.
  3. Though the application, scope, regulations, and enforcement of Title IX has been debated time and again in Congress (and as recently as 2011), over 80% of voters support it. That is true across political parties, genders, and socioeconomic brackets.
  4. In 1996 Brown University (they got taken to court over it, but they certainly weren’t the only school doing it) argued that they were compliant with Title IX even though they offered significantly less athletic opportunities for females because “girls aren’t as interested in sports as boys.” The courts ruled that an institution cannot use gender stereotypes to opt-out of Title IX compliance.
  5. Not only is it a sad excuse for not complying with the law, but the stereotype of girls simply not wanting to play sports has been proven wrong. Since 1972 when Title IX was signed, female participation in school sports has increased over 900%. Girls want to play. All they need is the opportunity.
  6. Opponents of Title IX have long argued that it is unfair to male athletes because it requires schools to decrease the number of men’s sports to be equal with those of women’s sports. This is wholly untrue. The requirement is that each institution much offer equal opportunities (and, in practice, if a school can show that it is expanding female opportunities and making the effort, even if the numbers aren’t exactly even, they are deemed in compliance). However, individual schools have cut some men’s sports to save money while adding women’s sports and when met with resistance from alumni have perennially blamed Title IX. The truth is that it’s a matter of revenue versus expenditure. The school doesn’t want to lose revenue by adding more expenditures, so they decide to make cuts. If anyone ever argues that sports aren’t a business, point them to the history of the opposition of Title IX. It’s all about the money.
  7. In 2011 it was ruled that Title IX requires allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence to be handled according to University policy for all students, including athletes. An institution can’t just “let the team handle it”.
  8. Title IX applies to any and all educational institutions that receive any federal funding. There is no percentage requirement. The funding does not have to be given toward all sports. If the institution receives federal funds, it is subject to Title IX. However, the level of male vs female participation opportunities does not have to be 1:1. It is based on the overall student population percentages by gender. It is also not solely applied to the betterment of female athletic opportunities. The language of the full clarifications and rulings say the “underrepresented gender”. So if a male feels that he is being discriminated against based on a lack of compliance with Title IX, he can file suit too.
  9. “Athletic opportunities” also apply to more than just spots on a roster. The treatment, benefits, financial aid, quality of equipment, and access to facilities, coaches, trainers, and staff of all athletes are covered.
  10. As you can see by the language of the original law, Title IX applies to any educational opportunity or activity. That means that while Title IX is most visible to the public via athletic representation, it also applies to the admittance of females (or the underrepresented gender) to academic programs too. And as of 1992, if a student–athlete or not–files suit based on a Title IX violation, they can be awarded punitive damages, not just an injunction.

If any program was ever deemed in blatant and repeated violation of Title IX, they can have all federal funding for the institution revoked. To my knowledge, that’s never actually happened. The Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, who governs the application of Title IX, usually gives the school a list of things to complete in a given time frame instead. It is simply the threat of being able to withhold funds that the OCR counts on.

Since the 1970s, Title IX has been used to attempt to shine a light on gender discrimination. While the biggest debates over its application involve its relation to sports, Title IX is primarily about gender equality in education.

As writers who create worlds complete with politics, biases, and usually some thematic fight for justice, we can use Title IX’s forty-seven year (as of 2019) history as an example of how issues are often interwoven into other parts of society. If there is an argument over an issue at the highest level of the government in the political entity you create, it will show itself in other places and other ways through every tier of said society. Sometimes the cry for justice doesn’t come from a battlefield or a senate floor. Sometimes it comes from a soccer field, a basketball court, or a high school classroom.

And sometimes even after the cry is heard, you find yourself still fighting the same fight nearly fifty years later. Because equal means equal, not “a smaller discrepancy than before”.

10 Things About The College World Series

It’s June. That means it’s time to decide which university in the US gets to claim they are the best baseball team in the country. My own beloved Mississippi State Bulldogs hosted a Regional tournament and are now hosting a Super Regional series. If they win tonight (I’m writing this during the 5th inning on Sunday night–we’re ahead, but I won’t count my chickens before they hatch), they’ll go to Omaha for the College World Series. If they lose, they’ll play again on Monday and have one last chance.

If you can’t tell, I’m in a baseball state of mind. But I know not all of the writing community knows much about sports. I’ve said before that world building with athletic events can help give your characters something to bond or fight over. It can be a gathering place, an ice breaker, or just something to round out the feel of a full society. I’ve done a post that looks at the evolution and/or championships of other sports, so let’s take a look at baseball.

Here are 10 Things you might not know about the College World Series.

  1. It’s called the College World Series because it is the collegiate version of the MLB (Major League Baseball) World Series. The MLB is called the World Series because of a challenge thrown down between the Pittsburg Pirates (best team in the National League that year) and the Boston Red Sox (best team in the American League that year) in 1903. The owner of the Pirates challenged Boston to a World’s Championship Series. Boston won, but a tradition was born. The named was shortened to World Series and became an official league tradition in 1904. The “World Series” is trademarked by Major League Baseball and licensed to the NCAA for the CWS. Since MLB’s World Series decides the best team in the US (and one in Canada) the actual World Champion today is determined by the World Baseball Classic.
  2. The first College World Series was played in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1947. Eight teams were divided into two single elimination (lose once and you’re out) playoffs. The winner of each playoff competed in a best of three series.
  3. In 1948 the playoffs became double elimination.
  4. The tournament moved to Wichita, Kansas in 1949.
  5. 1950-present the tournament is held in Omaha, Nebraska. In 2011 a contract with the NCAA extended the tournament’s presence in Omaha to at least 2035. Realistically, fans treat the CWS and Omaha as synonymous so moving the tournament would be a big decision for the NCAA.
  6. From 1950 to 2010 the CWS was played in Rosenblatt Stadium. Originally built in 1947 as Omaha Municipal Stadium for a minor league baseball team, it was renamed in 1965 to honor the former mayor of Omaha. Johnny Rosenblatt was part of the initial team to work toward bringing (and keeping) the tournament to Omaha.
  7. The tournament actually lost money for ten of the first twelve years that Omaha hosted it, but a small group of local individuals, including Mayor Rosenblatt, fought hard to keep the tournament coming back.
  8. In 2011 the CWS began playing in TD Ameritrade Park Omaha after Rosenblatt Stadium was demolished. The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium now owns the Rosenblatt land and plans to use it to expand the current zoo grounds while also building a Little League sized park in honor of the site’s history.
  9. In the early 1950s, there were no preliminary rounds (no Regionals or Super Regionals). The eight teams to play in the CWS were chosen by committee from each of the eight NCAA districts. This changed in 1954 when the first preliminary rounds (Regionals) were introduced. The format evolved again in the 1980s (the final championship was a single game and not a series) and the early 2000s (the Super Regionals evolved). The current format has remained the same since 2003 (the championship is now a series).
  10. Former US President George Bush played on Yale’s CWS baseball teams in the CWS in the late 1940s. He was First Baseman for the Bulldogs.

Unlike some of the other sports I’ve done posts about, the NCAA Division 1 Baseball Championship, aka the College World Series, is very closely linked with its longtime location. Fans refer to the preliminary tournaments as “The Road to Omaha”. There are sports all the way back to the ancient world that are associated with a specific place. This might be because of the origin of the sport, or the magnitude of the competition, but it can also relate to the traditions of the spectators. And sports, especially ones that draw large crowds, affect the places that host them. It can boost the economy or drain town finances. All of this can help shape the world you’re building in your story.

10 Things About Snack Foods

 

popcorn serving in white ceramic bowl
Photo by Felipe Cardoso on Pexels.com

Snacking, while not unique to American life, is very much tied to American culture. And like so many other things we enjoy, our favorite snack foods have influences from many other cultures. Historically, snacks have also represented divisions in socioeconomic levels. There’s a lot more to that bag of pretzels than salt and dough.

As a writer building a world or setting a scene, don’t forget or ignore the cultural significance of food. We don’t necessarily need to see your character eat every meal, but food has the power to bring people together or divide them further. Does your main character always know what fork to use, or does it cause them embarrassment during a gathering? Do members of your ensemble cast bond over a shared favorite indulgence? Perhaps things in your political thriller hinge on a diplomatic dinner going well, only to discover that the menu includes massive cultural faux pas.

Food can be the source of simple sustenance, great joy, or emotional struggle. However, it can be easy to overlook in the grand plot scheme. Readers don’t usually want to read through a six-course meal. But using food, a seemingly minute detail, to enhance worldbuilding or showcase a class divide is realistic. What foods are common to the culture of your Fantasy world? Do your characters fight for every scrap of food to avoid starvation, or do they live in a world of indulgence and opulence where food is more about showing off than survival?

If characters have enough food in their day-to-day lives to also be concerned about snacks, it says something about their economic standing and food scarcity. In the U.S., snacks are a big industry, and we certainly have our favorites. Let’s look at a few.

Here are 10 Things About Snack Foods:

  1. In Western European history, after silverware or utensils became prevalent, any food eaten without the use of proper utensils was considered lower class. This didn’t change until sometime in the early 1900s. Those cucumber finger sandwiches that your great-aunt likes to serve at parties would have marked her as a poor peasant woman less than a century and a half ago.
  2. Peanuts came to the United States through to avenues. North from South America where evidence of their cultivation predates the arrival of Europeans, and across the Atlantic from West Africa during the slave trade. Knowing their origin, it’s not a surprise that they were first prevalent in cuisines in the Southeastern United States and didn’t become common in the North until after the Civil War. However, once their popularity spread it didn’t take long for them to become the preferred snack at early baseball games and even vaudeville theaters.
  3. Popcorn has been around for thousands of years. Evidence backs up cultural histories that say Native nations in the United States and Mexico began making popcorn over fires for anywhere between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago. It wasn’t called “popped corn” until the mid-1800s and the modern day microwave popcorn bag was patented by General Mills in the early 1980s.
  4. Pretzels came to the U.S. with German-speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania who would become known as Pennsylvania Dutch. The origins of the pretzel in Europe are disputed, but that hasn’t affected their popularity in America. Though, until the late 1800s and early 1900s they were closely associated with street vendors and saloons which made them decidedly lower class. However, as ballparks and concert halls began to sell them, they gained popularity across the board. With new strides in packaging and manufacturing processes since the 1950s, pretzels became one of the most popular snacks in America.
  5. The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair debuted Dr. Pepper, waffle cones, and cotton candy. It also popularized “carnival foods” like hot dogs and hamburgers.
  6. The most popular cookie in America, the Oreo, was first sold in 1912. The origin of the cookie’s name and who actually came up with it are both points of dispute, but they got their embossed design in 1952. There are more than five patents associated with the original Oreo cookie.
  7. Candy bars such as Mr. Goodbar, Butterfinger, Baby Ruth, and Mounds, along with other candy treats like Mike & Ike and Reese’s peanut butter cups all gained massive popularity in the 1920s during Prohibition. They were a feel-good treat that could still be enjoyed in public while alcohol had to be consumed behind closed doors. Prohibition also saw a rise in a new drink, 7-up, though since the first incarnation of the recipe included a mood stabilizer that’s probably not surprising.
  8. Girl Scout Cookies started as a simple bake sale fundraiser and only included one flavor, sugar cookies. However, in the late 1930s the orders started to become so large and so common that they had to begin outsourcing the baking to commercial bakeries. Considering the nation was still largely suffering the effects of the Great Depression, that was quite the impressive feat.
  9. M&M candies were introduced in the 1940s. The candy coating was designed to be a little more heat resistant than tradition candy bars because they were specifically meant to be shipped to soldiers serving in World War II. Tootsie Rolls also appeared on the market for the same purpose. Anybody who could spare the money could send a sweet treat to their loved one to remind them that someone back home cared.
  10. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Graham Crackers were invented by different men and at different times, but for the same reasons. Both Kellogg and Graham believed that indulging in decadent foods somehow led to sexual promiscuity. Corn Flakes were meant to be sustenance without flavor so that one could eat without carnal temptation following. Graham Crackers held the same purpose, but modern incarnations include so much added cinnamon and sugar that they wouldn’t be recognized by their inventor and namesake. And he would be beyond appalled at the use of his crackers as part of a beloved sweet snack like S’mores. The scandal!

There you have it. Sex, drugs, and cookies. Never underestimate the power of food.

National Library Week

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It’s the second week of April, which means it’s National Library Week! If you didn’t know that was even a thing, don’t worry. You’re not alone. But I promise I didn’t just make it up off the top of my head. It’s real.

In the early 1950s, a partnership between publishers and the American Library Association formulated the idea of taking a specific week and using it to jointly promote literacy. The brainchild of that particular think tank was National Library Week. It was first celebrated in the late 1950s, although I have seen different years in different historical account publications so there might be some discrepancy on when it “officially” began.

Why April? It’s already School Library Month (which I still didn’t know was a thing until I read a press kit about NLW). And since NLW began, the second week has become about more than just promoting literacy, it’s also about celebrating the people who promote it all year long. National Library Workers Day is Tuesday of this week. National Bookmobile Day is Wednesday of this week. And just for good measure, I’ll also point out that Thursday of this week is Support Teen Literature Day.

It’s a busy week.

I have seen signs around our library in the past about NLW, but never paid that much attention to it. But this year, I joined the volunteer group that helps raise extra funds for our local library and also works some of the events our branch hosts. Our head librarian came to talk to us about NLW and some of the special programming they had lined up for it.

In a day and age where federal library funding is being ripped to shreds, funding at the state level is being threatened (or in my state, demoralized), and ebooks are so accessible to so many–but not all–you might start to wonder why even fight it anymore. I don’t. Because every week, sometimes more than once a week, I visit my local library and I notice people.

  • The same high school kid who is always at the computer bank doing his homework. He doesn’t have internet at home, but he lives close enough to walk to the library after school.
  • The accountant helping people prepare their tax forms free of charge. He helps anyone who shows up on the days he’s there, but he gives anyone over sixty-five first priority.
  • The mom in scrubs who is studying a textbook while watching her children out of the corner of her eye.
  • The young woman who has a new student with her every few weeks for a tutoring session. Her wards always leave looking like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders.
  • The busload of kids from a local daycare who get a special storytime each week just for them.
  • The local chess club that boasts members of almost all ages.
  • A monthly meeting of a STEM club that challenges 8-12-year-old kids to learn coding and robotics.
  • Classes being held on gardening, cooking, genealogical research, nutrition, etc.
  • Game nights for adults who would like to meet more people in the community, but don’t enjoy going to bars or clubs.
  • Book launches. I’ve seen local authors being promoted by our library as if they were family. “You should come to see her at the launch party! She’s been coming in for years and now we’re going to display her book right over here! Isn’t it exciting?”

There is so much more. A library is more than just a collection of books, though I think that is still a beautiful thing. A library is an opportunity, a community, and a safe place. So stop by yours sometime this week and celebrate all the reasons why libraries are still important.

10 Things about Valentine’s Day

It’s the tenth of the month! Around here that means it’s time for me to spout off random trivia in hopes that you might find any of it interesting or helpful.

In fiction, especially in Fantasy and Science Fiction, worldbuilding is an important element in telling the story. We want the reader to become part of our world. I’ve touched before on athletic topics and how we can use sports to make our world seem more real. Another way is to assign holidays.

Most cultures around the world have at least a few major holidays and some minor ones as well. Religious holidays are generally the most well-known, but not all major holidays have something to do with religion. Think about the holidays you celebrate during the year. Think about how you celebrate, whether you get the day off or not, whether you celebrate with family or not, etc. The people in your fictional world might celebrate an armistice, a religious event, a monarch’s jubilee, etc. And a holiday that has been celebrated for a number of years might change over time.

This month, our case study is Valentine’s Day. Here are 10 Things about February 14th.

  1. Saint Valentine’s day is still part of the official Anglican and Lutheran calendars of commemorative saints days, but has been removed from the official Roman Catholic calendar as of 1969. Even so, it is still widely celebrated.
  2. There were no less than three saints named Valentine/Valentinus, all of whom were martyrs. The two best known were both originally buried on the Via Flaminia in Rome between 269 and 275 AD, though the remains of at least one of them have been relocated. Both are said to have died on February 14th.
  3. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saint Valentine is commemorated on July 6th.
  4. There are legends that say a priest named Valentine secretly performed marriages for soldiers under Roman Emperor Claudius II who forbade the practice reasoning that single men made better soldiers because they were less concerned about the wives they left at home. However, there is serious doubt that any such ban on marriage ever existed.
  5. There was a priest named Valentine who was imprisoned in Rome for ministering to Christians during a time when Christianity was cause for persecution. It is believed that this Valentine healed the daughter of his jailer, and the entire family of the jailer converted to Christianity as a result. The legend goes on to say, though this part is more disputed, that Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and on the night before his execution wrote her a letter signing it “Your Valentine.”
  6. There is still no record of Valentine’s Day or February 14th being associated with romantic love until 1400s England when it was mentioned by Chaucer and his contemporaries. There is also a poem the Duke of Orleans wrote to his wife during his imprisonment in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt (1415 AD), which is considered the oldest “Valentine” on record.
  7. Formal “valentines”–handwritten notes or tokens of affection traded on Saint Valentine’s Day–became more popular in the 1500s, but were not commonly traded until the 1700s; and during the latter part of the 18th century commercially printed messages started to become available.
  8. In the 1840s, Esther Howland began making and selling pre-made Valentines greetings with scraps of lace and ribbon around colorful pictures. It earned her the moniker “Mother of the Valentine.”
  9. Though most of the marketing we see near Valentine’s Day seems to be aimed at men, women purchase as much as 85% of Valentine’s Day cards.
  10. In some countries, mass weddings are held on February 14th. It is also said to be the most common wedding anniversary date in the Philippines.

Today we celebrate Valentine’s Day with flowers, chocolates, or other tokens of affection. But Saint Valentine’s Day was originally a day set aside by the church to commemorate a man (or three) who lost his life because he was being evangelical. It was not associated with romance until several hundred years after his death. And was not widely celebrated as a romantic holiday until centuries after that.

love heart romantic romance
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The point is that holidays can evolve, no matter what they originally celebrated. Traditions develop over time and sometimes deviate between cultures, regions, etc. They can be an excellent way to showcase different cultures, even ones that are seemingly similar in your worldbuilding.

What are your characters celebrating?

10 Things About the History of College Football

Monday night the NCAA College Football National Championship game was played. And, at the risk of sounding like Anna from Frozen, for the first time in forever I didn’t watch. We recently ditched traditional TV service in order to save money. We like to watch live sports, but pretty much everything else we watch is through a streaming service these days anyway. And our internet package affords us access to several big sporting events, so we’re covered for now. We might have to revisit our options before next Fall, but we’ll see. The point is, I could have watched the game, but I didn’t.

It was the same ol’ teams, playing the same ol’ match-up. To be fair, I did read the recap and even get some live updates during the game so I know that it wasn’t actually just “same ole, same ole” all night. But I was very busy and not altogether upset over missing it. That was a new feeling for me. Even when my oldest child was born and I was knee deep in hormone changes, new infant insomnia, and new parent panic I still watched most of the game. Maybe next year.

A lot of my friends, especially the writers I know, have different interests from me. They don’t watch or follow “the sportsball”. Totally fine. I don’t judge. We’re allowed to have different passions. In fact, it means we bring different things to the table. I value that. But I also realize that there has been a lot of talk about using sports and/or holidays to make your fictional world/culture feel more real and true. How are you supposed to build a believable sport when you don’t like sports to begin with? Where do you start?

It might help to start with the history of a game that already exists. Sports didn’t appear out of the ether one day with complete rulebooks and defined playing surfaces. Each game we know and love has evolved in some way or another, and many continue to do so in small ways. Looking at that evolution could be helpful while trying to build a fictional sport. So let’s jump in with some examples.

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10 things about the history of college football (American football, that is).

  1. American Football as we know it today evolved from a game commonly played in Britain called “mob football”. The same game is also the precursor to rugby and was mentioned as far back at the 9th century. Versions of this original game are still played at special events in parts of the United Kingdom.
  2. While mob football became a more organized tradition at Princeton (then the College of New Jersey) first, it was also part of a traditional at Harvard that began in 1827 when the sophomore class challenged the freshmen to a game. This became known as Bloody Monday and was an annual tradition until 1860 when university officials and local police banned it due to violence.
  3. The first intercollegiate game was November 6, 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton. There still wasn’t a formalized set of rules, and the game was often played differently from school to school, so the team captains came together to decide which rules to play by. A round ball was used and the field and number of players were both considerably larger than they are today.
  4. Walter Camp played at Yale in the late 1870s and was instrumental in formalizing the rules. He reduced the accepted number of players per team on the field from 15 to 11 (1880 – though this would officially change once more before returning to eleven), reduced the size of the playing field to the current 120 yards (1881), created the line of scrimmage, and adjusted the scoring rules and points awarded. And for those of you who don’t follow the game and are asking “But I thought the field was only 100 yards,” you aren’t crazy. However, each endzone is ten yards. Two endzones+field of play=120 yards.
  5. Officials were not mandated (or paid) for games until 1887 when two became the requirement. We commonly call them all referees, but that’s not accurate. A referee is only one member of a team of officials who all have different roles. This is true for most sports, but it’s just easier to angrily scream “Hey, REF!” than it is to keep that same angered tone for “Hey, Line Judge!”
  6. The new, more organized game spread from schools in the East, to the Midwest, and then to the South by 1873. It would travel to the Southwest and then the Pacific coast by 1888. However, the game was still very violent by nature and between 1890 and 1905, 330 players died on the field or as a result of their injuries. The game was banned at many colleges around the country. President Theodore Roosevelt, who was a fan of the game and had sons who played, met with leaders from several schools to find a solution. The Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS) was the solution. In 1910 it would be retitled the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and is still the governing body over collegiate sports.
  7. As the sport grew in popularity and more schools began to play, groups of schools began to form conferences to better govern the game on more regional levels. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the conferences represented in Monday’s game, are both descendants of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA). Alabama and Clemson (the two teams from Monday’s game) were both charter members (so was my alma mater, Mississippi State then known as Mississippi A&M). The SIAA boasted the first accepted forward pass, the first game decided by a field goal, some of the first trick plays, John Heisman, and Pop Warner.
  8. While the SIAA claims the first ever forward pass in 1895, the forward pass wasn’t technically legal in the game until 1906. The game sometimes evolved faster than the official rules.
  9. The most lopsided victory in college football history was Georgia Tech over Cumberland in 1916 with a score of 222-0. That’s not a typo.
  10. “Modern Era” college football has more or less been the same since 1958. However, meetings are held each year at both the conference and national levels to discuss rule changes and adjustments and reassess any changes from the previous years. Most of these are minor, but the sport continues to evolve, especially when it comes to player safety.

I’m not going to lie, being both a geek and a sports fan I could keep going on this for a while. Lucky for all of you, this is clearly a “10 Things on the 10th” situation so I must stop. Hopefully, though, this shows you how sports come into being and gives you some ideas for what sports in your fictional world might look like.

And if not then at least you have some new tidbits for your next trivia night. You’re welcome.