What We're Reading - Back to School Edition!

Happy first week of school! It was such a joy to see all of our students and families gathered together to begin our first day of the new year. This community, this relationship between home and school, is fundamental to all we do at ILS. Throughout this year, we’ll be sharing and encouraging discussions on culture-building and culture-shaping, and how we can together support this important work both at school and at home.

One place we’ll share ideas on this topic is here on our monthly "What we're reading..." feature. Each month, we collect and share a selection of articles, sermons, blog posts, or other materials that we have found to be particularly insightful or inspiring. We hope that our ILS families and friends will enjoy spending some time reading and reflecting as well, and then join us at a First Friday Coffee or other parent program to discuss these and other topics.

We also love for families to pass along things they have read that may be interesting to others in our ILS community! Please feel free to share a link in the comments to email us any time!

So too, cultural rebuilding begins humbly, in our homes, the places over which we each have been lent authority to create culture through small, simple acts: having and raising children, considering ourselves their primary teachers no matter where they receive their formal schooling, filling walls with fine art and shelves with books, reading aloud rather than watching Netflix for family entertainment, encouraging dinner table conversation of the day’s musings as well as its happenings, tuning to the classical rather than the pop station, making family outings to art museums and symphonies, eschewing Instagram and Pinterest, reviving a sense of history by reclaiming ancient traditions. As classical culture is slowly revived in our homes, we can further its influence through hospitality: hosting reading groups that delve the Great Books, organizing gatherings where local learned folks can give talks and answer questions about their interests, starting extracurricular or homeschool classical classes for the children of your church, meeting weekly with a friend to work together through a Greek or Latin textbook.
— Lindsey Brigham Knott, "What to do with your classical education"

In a world ringing with noise and suffused with the more or less artful idolizing of passions divorced from objective goods, where are we to find melodies capable of penetrating our hardened hearts with spiritual truths? Though Gregorian chant has pride of place within the Church’s life of prayer on account of its unique ability to raise the soul from earthly thoughts to heavenly contemplation, I would like to recommend another tradition that can be a powerful aid to integrating our human passions with divinely inspired reason: those numerous and wondrous works in which gifted composers use operatic techniques to dramatize the lessons of sacred texts.

One example from an inexhaustible trove is Psalm 109. As the first Psalm of Vespers on Sundays and major feasts, Dixit Dominus has been set to music on countless occasions, at least three times by the magnificent Antonio Vivaldi. Whether we consider RV 594, 595, or 807, Vivaldi invites us to bask in the thymotic dimensions of this messianic Psalm, as the Lord sends forth the scepter of the Savior’s power from his holy mountain, breaking kings, judging nations, filling ruins, and crushing heads in the land of many, until he makes Christ’s enemies his footstool. Moved by the joyful grandeur of the Lord’s definitive victory over wickedness, we gain fresh insight into the Apostles’ eagerness to know when Christ would “restore again the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6), and are reminded that the mourning Christ extols includes longing (and fighting) for the triumph of virtue in a fallen world.

At the same time, Vivaldi draws our attention to divine mysteries unknown to Socrates, overlooked by the Scribes and Pharisees, and difficult even for Christ’s disciples to grasp. Jesus himself cited this Psalm against those who questioned his authority, pointing to the paradox contained in its opening line: “If David then calls [the Messiah] ‘Lord,’ how is he his son?” The answer is that Christ is the son of David according to the flesh, and of God according to the eternal generation of his divine Person. It is God the Father who says to God the Son: “from the womb before the day star I begot thee,” a revelation Vivaldi highlights in one setting by emphasizing the words “genui te (I begot thee)” in a duet for two tenors. In another version, the ethereal intertwining of the violins and sopranos is suggestive of the Holy Spirit’s procession from the Father and Son and the charitable drawing of our souls toward the “brightness of the saints” referenced in this verse.
— L. Joseph Hebert, Jr., "Music and the Education of the Christian Soul"

Children are getting less sleep than their parents and grandparents did at the same age, a trend with significant implications for their health and well-being.

My wife and I put our 5-year-old twins to bed by 7:30 most nights. This isn’t out of any virtuous concern for their health or well-being, mind you, it’s primarily because by that point we’ve had about as much of them as we can take for the day, and we need the rest of the evening to unwind and decompress.

But bedtime can be challenging in the summer, with the late evening sunlight streaming through the twins’ bedroom window, signaling to them that they should be outside running around instead of tucked under their blankets. Recently it’s been enough to make me wonder whether we’re putting them to bed too early. What’s a “normal” bedtime for a 5-year-old, anyway?

To find out, I got in touch with Mark DeBoer, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Virginia who has done research on the sleep habits of American 5-year-olds. DeBoer pulled data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), a nationally representative study that tracked the growth and development of 14,000 kids born in 2001. When those children were kindergartners, researchers asked their parents what time they went to bed on weeknights.
— Christopher Ingrahams, "What's a 'normal' bedtime for a 5-year-old? Researchers say earlier is better."

Myth: The trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) corresponds to stages in child development.

The origin of this fantastic claim, a nearly ubiquitous presupposition of classical education literature and the central organizing tenet of many a school’s curriculum, can be traced back to Dorothy Sayers’ essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning.” So foundational (dare I say creedal) is the significance of this text for the Classical School Movement, that many schools require applicants for teaching positions to submit an essay on it.

Sayers, a celebrated Christian apologist and medievalist, draws from her knowledge of medieval universities and cathedral schools to map out a programmatic alternative to schools of her day, presumably even the English public schools (think posh prep schools like Eton or Rugby, schools built on a humanist model that included the study of the classics) at which her audience, Oxford students and faculty in 1947, had been educated. The “syllabus,” or “educational theory” to which she intends to return—she specifically invokes the idea of a retrogression—is that of the trivium and quadrivium, the “syllabus” of the Middle Ages. But wait, there’s less! Forget the quadrivium—that’s just subject specialization—she says, belying her claim to actually advocate for a return to the Middle Ages.
— Shawn Barnett, "Dorothy Sayers was Wrong: The Trivium and Child Development"

Marital discussion is not political discussion, intended to persuade or impose your will on the other. It is a discussion with an entirely different purpose: “How can I help you?” “What do you need?” St. John Chrysostom calls this obedience – a voluntary and continuous placing of self in service to spouse. He says that in marriage it’s not a matter of one partner obeying the other, but of both partners obeying each other.

But you can’t be married for too long before you want to start calling the question, raise a point of order, or maybe even walk out of the assembly. The Bible readings you chose show us a better way: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10).

Conflict is resolved not through winning the argument but through the taking away of sins. “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4:11). Marital love cannot then be defined simply by the romantic or the erotic, but by the reconciling power of absolution and self-sacrifice.
— Pastor Esget, Sermon: The Marriage of Kirstin Reistad and Mark Pfundstien

Work is not a curse placed upon humanity for the rebellion of Eden. Man was created for work. Man was created to exercise dominion over all God’s creation — a dominion that was not to be equated with exploitation but with responsible conservatorship and careful use of all that God had given for God’s own good purpose. Work was a gift. It still is. Though sin has colored it all, it cannot erase this truth.

We struggle with this today. We have made work either an enemy or laid upon work the impossible task of making us happy. Work is not simply drudgery we go through for the paycheck but it is our vocation, one of the places where we serve the Lord and our neighbor. The work is certainly colored by sin and can be filled with challenge, demand, and pressure but it is still a gift. Through work we support those whom we love, we use our God given talents and abilities for more than self, and we demonstrate the character of God’s own work in creation.
— Pastor Peters, "Work is a gift..."

Man really can get used to anything. This is especially troubling if our society is too busy to notice that it has misplaced its sense of shared values, lost its collective memory, and corrupted the means by which it hands on its social capital to future generations.

In response to the onset of an accelerated form of cultural dementia, philosopher Josef Pieper wrote Leisure: The Basis of Culture in 1952. His aim was to remind the waning West of an essential element that made culture, well, culture. That essential element was leisure—not the amusement-park life that we often associate with that term, but that divine and gratuitous part of human existence that ennobles life, causing us to pause and reflect, pray and praise, fast as well as feast. We do not now associate leisure with school, but one of Pieper’s great insights is that we cannot have school without scholé: what we define in classical education circles as leisurely, restful learning. The Greek skole and Latin schola—classical words meaning “leisure”—are, in fact, the very origin of our English word “school.” For most of Western history, therefore, leisure was education; scholé was school. Admittedly, Pieper’s argument extends beyond the educational concerns of his day, but this etymological fact is partly why he says leisure is the basis of “culture.” Without an education maintained in this sense, culture begins to disappear.

Pieper’s insights are more relevant now than ever, and we ignore them at our peril. If Pieper was able to point out how culture and education had shifted in his own day, how much more should we be aware of how these have shifted in ours? What about those of us in the enterprise of classical learning? Are we immune to such dangers simply because we still have the Great Books and Latin?
— Devin O'Donnell, "Learning Like Mary in the Age of Martha"

In an article directed at Christian authors but useful for anyone, writer Katie Schuermann says the Christian author “should be careful never to leave [a] Christian character unaffected by … sin, for the baptized Christian has been given the Spirit of God.” Thus, the point of view “must reflect the spiritual conflict (Romans 7:19-25) that inevitably arises when encountering sin, whether it be through revulsion or a stricken conscience or actual repentance or, tragically, a hardened heart.”

The same holds true for conscientious parents making entertainment choices for their children. Parents don’t have to limit exposure exclusively to content that is morally pure. Care should be taken, however, that material given to children doesn’t esteem unwholesome or destructive behavior as unimportant, harmless, or desirable.

There are plenty of books and movies that reflect real life in all its messiness without excusing or glorifying the sinful and stupid choices by which humans make those messes. There is no excuse for mindlessly wolfing down whatever the prevailing culture sets before us. It’s just a matter of caring enough to find out what’s being served before we bring our children to the table.
— Cheryl Magness, "Parents, Don't Trust Your Memory When Sharing Pop Culture with Your Kids"

I teach American government at my local university. Of course, every student has a smart phone. And every student is looking at that smart phone, all the time — including during class. I try to keep my lectures peppy, but there is no competing with a palm-sized universe of entertainment.

Several times, I have stopped teaching and walked right up to a student engrossed in an online video. Especially if he is wearing headphones (!), it takes several awkward seconds before he notices me.

Last quarter, I decided to make my class “device-free”: No visible phones, laptops, or headphones. I made this announcement the very first day, posted it on the door, and highlighted it in the syllabus. I figured students could drop the class if they had a problem with it.

Perhaps they didn’t think I was serious. The first couple classes, I had to call students out and ask them to please put their devices away. One student cursed out loud, and another student actually flipped me the bird.

But I don’t care. Below are eight reasons I’ve made it my new mission to free students from the shackles of their screens.
— Laura Baxter, "8 Ways Students' Tech Addiction is Ruining College"