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

New year, and new things to read! We are kicking off 2018 with a new edition of "What we're reading..." to share news, articles and other features that we've found to be interesting, inspiring, or otherwise thought-provoking lately.

This month, we take a look at reading (and what should we read), the "good life," changes to the federal tax code and what that means for 529 plans, beauty that can only seen by looking up, goals and habits for the new year, and more.

Have you read something lately that you've enjoyed? Please share! We're always keeping an eye out for things that spark our imagination, educate or inform!

What does “read widely” mean? Perhaps it speaks to the importance of a balanced diet—a comedy of manners today, a concrete poem tomorrow. Or maybe it means toggling fashionably between high and low, between Mina Loy poems and Mini-Wheats boxes. Or maybe it means testing a spectrum of texts, like paint chips, against your monochromatic taste. Or expanding your bandwidth just enough to capture some pirate-radio clamour—to touch the fringe of something fringey and count yourself catholic. As injunctions go, “read widely” goes pretty wide.

Which is part of the problem. At its most obnoxious, the command to “read widely” reflects the more-is-more ethos that courses, like an energy drink, through our literary culture. My Twitter feed is full of writers and critics who relentlessly strive to be up on their field, logging every literary debut like librarians, returning from writing conferences with shareable jpegs of their book-engorged tote bags, or lighting out for yet another reading, the stacks on the book table like some mountain range, the promise of a horizon.
— Jason Guriel, "The Case Against Reading Everything"

Stressed. That word permeates my subconscious and pulses out the beat of our culture. Everyone, at every stage of life, seems stressed, pushed, rushed. My children, my parents . . . why? I allow my mind to drift nostalgic and dream of the days back when life was “simpler.” If only I could just wash my clothes by hand and gather wood before cooking dinner. Oh . . . wait . . .

But it gives me pause. What is the difference? What is going on? Objectively many things about my flush-toilet life are much easier, but what would Nancy Lincoln, Martha Washington, or Laura Ingalls say if they walked into my Google-filled life?
— Brooke Diener, "The Ever-Elusive "Good-LIfe" and Our Shrunken Souls

It’s early September, and as Hurricane Irma churns in the Caribbean, the administrative halls of the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston, South Carolina, buzz with nervous energy. The latest models show Irma, which will be the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever recorded, bouncing off Miami and careening straight into the coastal city’s harbor. The school’s chief operating officer has left to buy plywood to cover the windows. But remarkably, the mood is upbeat. If any institution of higher learning is prepared to batten down its own hatches, after all, it’s ACBA, the country’s only school offering a four-year degree in the traditional building trades.

Along with pens, paper, books, and computers, students here learn with trowels, chisels, hammers, and anvils. They shape timbers into soaring architectural statements, carve fireplace mantels from limestone, twist red-hot iron into filigreed gates. They’re a scrappy, can-do lot by nature. Besides, hurricanes are in the school’s DNA.
— Logan Ward, "A Class by Itself"

Families with children in private or parochial school will be able to tap their college savings plans to pay for up to $10,000 in tuition and other expenses in the new year, thanks to a provision in the tax overhaul bill going into effect in 2018.

This will require some new math for families and financial advisers, whose saving formulas focused on much longer time horizons for college savings. The 529 plans, named after the Internal Revenue Code section that created them in 1996, offer tax-free growth. More than 30 states allow some kind of tax deduction on money going into accounts.
— Beth Pinsker, "U.S. tax overhaul requires new math for 529 savings plans"

I don’t know about you, but I delight in fresh starts, as long as I carry into the that new beginning a unified vision and the practices to support it.

All classical educators desire to flourish in our vocation, and each new year is an opportunity to hone our vision and bolster the practices that enable us to grow. If you make New Year’s resolutions you may have found that some years your resolutions are more effective than others. Effective goals for the new year pass two tests: They 1) refine the vision, and 2) define habits for flourishing in the coming year. Goals that stick are oriented to a cohesive vision and concrete practices.
— Heidi White, "On Holy Habits and Realistic Goals"

Some of the world’s most glorious sights can only be experienced if you crane your neck.

One day last year, a citizen on a prairie path in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst came upon a teen boy chopping wood. Not a body. Just some already-fallen branches. Nonetheless, the onlooker called the cops.

Officers interrogated the boy, who said he was trying to build a fort for himself and his friends. A local news site reports the police then “took the tools for safekeeping to be returned to the boy’s parents.”

Elsewhere in America, preschoolers at the Learning Collaborative in Charlotte, North Carolina, were thrilled to receive a set of gently used playground equipment. But the kids soon found out they would not be allowed to use it, because it was resting on grass, not wood chips. “It’s a safety issue,” explained a day care spokeswoman. Playing on grass is against local regulations.
The principle here is simple: This generation of kids must be protected like none other. They can’t use tools, they can’t play on grass, and they certainly can’t be expected to work through a spat with a friend.
— & Jonathan Haidt, "The Fragile Generation"