When his classmates at Wizard Academy dared him to do it, Garrison Cox rewrote the opening section of the Declaration of Independence to make it more easily understood. According to Garrison, Thomas Jefferson’s original was written at grade level 19.5. That’s a college education plus 3-and-a-half years of grad school!
Garrison wrote his first revision at grade level 10.3 and his second revision at grade level 5.2. You can read all three versions below.
Frankly, I was stunned by the impact of Garrison’s playful exercise.
That’s why I decided to share it with you and it’s why Pennie and I have given Wizard Academy $6,000 to award to three lucky adventurers bold enough to follow in Garrison’s footsteps.
Here’s the deal: The Conversation of the Dogs is a short novella written by Miguel de Cervantes in 1613. Many scholars consider it to be his finest work next to Don Quixote, but I can find only one translation of that story into English and it sounds as high-toned as Thomas Jefferson!
Cervantes work is now in the public domain, of course, so we can mess with it all we want and even publish it when we’re done. You can download that lone English version – translated from the Spanish in 1881 by Walter K. Kelley of London – in the rabbit hole. Just click the image of Dog Quixote de La Mancha at the top of this page and the download link will magically appear.
The story begins with a young man in a hospital, who, through a window, sees and hears two dogs begin to speak at the stroke of midnight. The dogs, Scipio and Berganza, discuss their experiences with their human masters. Cervantes leaves the reader to determine whether or not the dogs have actually been talking or the bedridden man has imagined it.
Are you up for this adventure? By entering, you agree to allow Wizard Academy to distribute your “simplified language version” to all the world. You will receive no royalties, but you will be free to distribute your work in whatever additional ways seem good to you.
The goal is to tell the complete story in fewer words using simpler language. Don’t worry about the grade level of your writing. Just make it simple and fun to read and do your best to capture the wit and humor and personality of each of the characters.
Send your rewritten Conversation of the Dogs to Daniel@WizardAcademy.org before midnight July 4, 2016.
And now here are those 3 versions of the Declaration I told you about.
ORIGINAL (GRADE LEVEL 19.5):
THE UNANIMOUS DECLARATION OF THE THIRTEEN UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. – Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
FIRST REWRITE (GRADE LEVEL 10.3):
WHY 13 UNITED STATES ARE BECOMING AN INDEPENDENT NATION
The American colonies of Great Britain need to declare their independence and become one separate, sovereign nation of 13 United States. So other countries will take us seriously, we explain our reasons for this momentous action below.
Some things are just true:
- All people are created equal.
- Our Creator gives all people rights that no one can take away, including the right to live, the right to be free, and the right to seek happiness.
- People create governments to help them pursue these rights, but those governments have power only because their citizens agree to be governed.
- Natural law entitles citizens whose government tramples their rights to change that government – or even to abolish it. When crafting a new government, they should lay a strong foundation and align powers so as to ensure their safety and happiness.
That said, people should not change longstanding governments for trivial reasons. Historically, people have been more likely to suffer as long as they can than to set things straight by throwing off their current government. But Great Britain’s king has become increasingly despotic by consistently abusing us and usurping power at every turn. (We set out 27 egregious examples below.) At this point, we not only can but must declare our independence and provide new ways to protect our security.
SECOND REWRITE (GRADE LEVEL 5.2):
IT’S NOT US. IT’S YOU.
We 13 American colonies are so done with Great Britain. You know why?
Here’s the deal:
- We are people. We are created equal.
- We have rights no one can take away, including the right to live, the right to be free, and the right to seek happiness.
- Governments are supposed to help their people pursue these rights. But governments have power only because their people agree to be governed.
- People whose government tramples their rights are entitled to change that government – or even to walk away from it. When creating a new government, they should make sure it is on a strong foundation and that its powers ensure their safety and happiness.
We get it – people should not change their governments just because. Over history, people have been willing to suffer a lot rather than trashing their current government. But, come on! Great Britain’s king has become a dictator. He abuses us and takes our power whenever he can. (We’re just getting warmed up. We set out 27 specific complaints below.) At this point, we have no choice. We simply have to declare our independence and start over.
Remember, if you decide to enter, you have until midnight, July 4, 2016 to submit your revision of The Conversation of the Dogs to Daniel@WizardAcademy.org
Roy H. Williams
and Indy Beagle
The voice of Thomas Jefferson reading the Declaration of Independence was Wizard Academy’s Official Ambassador to Russia, our British pal, William Hackett-Jones. But as a special treat, we also asked Canadian Broadcasting legend Mike McCurlie to read it for us. Here it is. A work of wonder. A spectacle in 3-dimensional sound. A feast for the imagination. A balm for the soul. A cure for what ails you and a flawless performance. The neon lights of Broadway await men such as these. Arooooooooo!
Sarah Hassenger’s handcrafted bowties are so popular they’ve been included in the swag bags distributed at the Emmys and MTV Movie Awards. Celebs who own Sarah’s tradework include Ryan Gosling (and George), Amanda Seyfried (and Finn), Rachel Ray (and Isaboo), and Alison Sweeney (and Jorge and Winky). Did I forget to mention that Sarah’s company, Four Black Paws, makes bowties and designer collars for dogs, not humans? Join Rover reporter, ummm, roving reporter Rotbart this week as he investigates the latest in canine fashion at MondayMorningRadio.com