What we're reading (December edition)...

Happy New Year! As we enter the season of Advent, the church celebrates a new year as we prepare and await the celebration of the birth of Christ, and also anticipate His coming again. Join us on Wednesday, December 19th, as we celebrate with our all-school Advent Service.

While the new church year may be just beginning, we are nearing the mid-way point in our academic year, and we’re kicking off December with another edition of "What we're reading..." and a collection of articles that we’ve found to be interesting or thought-provoking. We hope you enjoy perusing these at your leisure.

This month, we’re sharing articles on topics including: information on celebrating Advent, teaching reading through phonics, a look at the most important skills for the next industrial revolution, wasting time and human happiness, finding great books for your kids and for yourself, and much more!

What have you read lately that you think we, or other ILS families, may find interesting? Please keep sharing links and articles for us to enjoy!

If classical education were mainly concerned with students knowing what is right, then whatever took place in the life of the student between 3pm and bedtime would not matter so much. For all their faults, video games, pop music, and social media are not likely to scrub the memory. However, a classical education is more concerned with loving what is right than merely knowing it, and the culture and customs which are consumed and conducted after school can either strengthen the work of teachers, or simply blot it out. The young man who attends a classical school— but spends his free time playing Fortnite, listening to Top 40, watching banal television, and gossiping on social media— is never going to receive a classical education. He will merely come near it and occasionally sense its presence, perhaps in the same way a superstitious man sometimes claims there is a ghost in the room.

A classical education is offered in the classroom, but home and church must prepare the student to accept it. Parents are free to encourage and fund all sorts of interests and hobbies at home which will make the work of the teacher in the classroom all but impossible. The more time a student spends on a smart phone, the less interesting class will be, for the classroom cannot be clicked away from the moment it ceases to amuse. Smartphones incentivize boredom. The more sensual and overblown the music and movies a student consumes, the more dull class will seem. A good deal of popular culture is so anti-contemplative and so bent toward intellectual oblivion, a child with a steady diet of the stuff might as well come to class drunk. A good father must teach his children not only to steward their time, but to steward their affections. While concern for school should not govern everything which goes on at home, parents should often ask, “Will this make the job of my children’s teachers easier or harder?” when their kids ask to see a certain movie or read a certain book.
— Joshua Gibbs, "A Classical Education Demands a Classical Home"

At a time when much of the world is frantically gift shopping, putting up Christmas lawn decorations and anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus, Christians around the world are observing the liturgical season of Advent. From the Latin word for “coming”, Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation for the coming of Christ both in the past in His incarnation as the baby Jesus, but also in the future with His promised second coming as Christ Triumphant. Furthermore, Advent is a time to focus on His present coming to us in the Word and Sacraments[1]. In the Lutheran church there have been many traditions observed during Advent that help Christians to both prepare for and anticipate His coming at this time. Martin Luther encouraged families to observe Advent as a time for them to teach their children about the coming of Christ.
— Dcs. Betsy Karkan, "Lutheran Advent Traditions"

Our children aren’t being taught to read in ways that line up with what scientists have discovered about how people actually learn.

It’s a problem that has been hiding in plain sight for decades. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, more than six in 10 fourth graders aren’t proficient readers. It has been this way since testing began. A third of kids can’t read at a basic level.

How do we know that a big part of the problem is how children are being taught? Because reading researchers have done studies in classrooms and clinics, and they’ve shown over and over that virtually all kids can learn to read — if they’re taught with approaches that use what scientists have discovered about how the brain does the work of reading. But many teachers don’t know this science.

What have scientists figured out? First of all, while learning to talk is a natural process that occurs when children are surrounded by spoken language, learning to read is not. To become readers, kids need to learn how the words they know how to say connect to print on the page. They need explicit, systematic phonics instruction. There are hundreds of studies that back this up.
— Emily Hanford, "Why Are We Still Teaching Reading the Wrong Way?"

For those keeping count, the world is now entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution. That’s the term coined by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, to describe a time when new technologies blur the physical, digital and biological boundaries of our lives.

Every generation confronts the challenges of preparing its kids for an uncertain future. Now, for a world that will be shaped by technologies like artificial intelligence, 3D printing and bioengineering, how should society prepare its current students (and tomorrow’s workforce)?

The popular response, among some education pundits, policymakers and professionals, has been to increase access to STEM and computer science skills. (Just consider, for example, the push to teach kids to code.) But at last month’s WISE@NY Learning Revolutions conference, supported by the Qatar Foundation, panelists offered a surprising alternative for the skills that will be in most demand: philosophy, ethics and morality education.

“Moral judgment and ethics could be as revolutionary as artificial intelligence in this next revolution, just as the internet was in the last revolution,” said Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education. His reasoning: those building technologies that can potentially transform societies at scale may be the ones who most need a strong moral grounding.
— Tony Wan, "The Most Important Skills for the 4th Industrial Revolution? Try Ethics and Philosophy."

Because most of the projects in which I involve myself take great quantities of time, I am often confronted with various aspects of Christianity for long periods – even the most mundane of details. I may spend hours painting the lips of Christ, for example, or spend the same amount of time looking into His eyes. I may labor, with great intimacy, over individual wounds He suffered. I may be forced to look at the pebbly ground on which He walked.

I could argue that I know all this already; that my imagination is enough to know what Scripture has told me. But thinking this way would make me a fool. I know myself well enough to know that I can never look closely enough or long enough at the brutal facts of my condition and the Love that undid it all.
— Edward Riojas, "Before the Rainbow"

As an undergraduate, I went for walks in rural Michigan. Sometimes alone, sometimes with others. Romantic walks, friendly walks, philosophical walks, beautiful walks. On one memorable walk, I delighted in the loveliness of the effect a streetlight can have on green leaves in the dark. I wasted time on those walks, and it shaped my soul.

Such time-wasting walks do not happen very often in a fast-paced, modern society of constant work. Even when we do walk, we do so quickly. In an interview with National Public Radio, Alan Lightman, physicist and novelist, references a study by the British Council at the University of Hertfordshire that studied walking speed; the study found that in a ten-year period, walking speed had increased by ten percent.

Our speed-walking is connected to our fast-paced world, which Dr. Lightman, in his book In Praise of Wasting Time, argues has lost something essential to human flourishing because it does not encourage time-wasting. According to Dr. Lightman, the modern world, which he calls “the wired world,” is a world in which every moment is filled with projects. We are constantly working, and our advanced technology allows us to do so: “We take our smartphones and laptops with us on vacation. We go through our email at restaurants.” Nor, according to Dr. Lightman, are our institutions of higher learning innocent: “Our university curricula are so crammed that young people don’t have time to digest and reflect on the material they are supposed to be learning.” Students are so busy with assignments that they don’t have the freedom to contemplate the truth and beauty they encounter. It is a loud and crowded world.
— Tiffany Schubert, "Liberal Education, the Wasting of Time, & Human Happiness"

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading more than usual. The children and I have also been getting to the library fairly regularly. I have fond memories of browsing the local library shelves when I was a kid. Usually I gravitated to my favorite authors—Bill Peet and Beatrix Potter in the early days, then Louisa May Alcott or Eloise Jarvis McGraw, among others. Now that I’m a parent, I’m a bit more leery of browsing.

So many of the picture books are just. . . meh. Many are filled with badly-behaved children trying to figure out how to get their way. There’s a lot of B-level writing and mediocre illustrations. There are weird, well-intentioned allegories obviously intended to help kids process various tragedies.

For us, it works best to find most of our new reads by consulting book lists and then putting those titles on holds. We have been able to enjoy a wealth of wonderful stories this way.

Here is a compendium of sources I find helpful as I select books for my children (and, later in the post, you’ll find sources I use for my own reading life too). I thought it might be useful to you as well.
— Anna Mussmann, "Finding Good Books for You and Your Kids: Sources and Lists"

We live in a pathetically dumbed-down culture. Levels of literacy and numeracy plummet and levels of ignorance rise. Knowledge of the past disappears, its lessons unlearned, as the present shows its contempt for the wisdom of the ages and its sages. In short and in sum, and to put the matter bluntly, we live in an age that is characterized by the arrogance of ignorance, which knows nothing but is certain nonetheless that it is smarter than every age that preceded it.

Five minutes with Homer and Sophocles, or Plato and Socrates, could show us that we know less than we think, or, for that matter, five minutes with Dante or Shakespeare, or a few minutes with the inimitable Miss Austen. The problem is that we no longer spend any time with these paragons of wisdom, and we certainly don’t spend time with them at school, from which they have been unceremoniously banished.

But there is good news on the horizon. As a latter-day Bob Dylan might say, the times they are a changing.
— Joseph Pearce, "Classical Education and the Future of Civilization"

Looking for more Advent resources?