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

Summer has started! We hope that you're like us and that your summer plans include lots of time for reading, so we're getting things started with a new edition of "What we're reading..." As we do throughout the school year, we'll continue our series this summer each month with a new selection of articles and stories that we have found to be interesting, inspiring, or otherwise thought-provoking.

We hope that you enjoy taking a look at some of the things that have caught our eye of late, and as always, we want to hear what you're reading as well! Please share any links in the comments below so that we can take a look at what you've been reading as well.

This month's review includes another reflection from our own Miss Marie Landskroener on the importance of teaching hymns to children, an interesting look at the idea that all stories follow one of just 6 basic plots, some examinations of technology and social media in relation to children and young teens, an article making the case students should learn cursive first, a look into the famous painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring," and more! 

In The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald casts both an unlikely hero and an unlikely weapon to defeat the enemy. In what is almost unimaginable in today’s culture, the hero is a twelve-year-old boy, and his weapon is verse. When the goblins threaten to attack, only a chant or rhyme can defeat these villains. The hero, then, must possess a nubile mind capable of overpowering a hoard of foes with an appropriately rhymed meter, and Curdie fits the bill:

The chief defence against [the goblins] was verse, for they hated verse of every kind, and some kinds they could not endure at all. I suspect they could not make any themselves, and that was why they disliked it so much.[1]

The character of Macdonald’s rhyme-wielding hero should raise the question: What would a twelve-year-old male exiting childhood and entering young manhood look like in our twenty-first-century world? More specifically, would a modern-day Curdie have any resources to call upon in his repeated encounters with the goblins, if he had the misfortune of being raised in a culturally mainstream family? Sadly, our zeitgeist would collide with and crush Curdie’s powerful arsenal of weaponry: a deep well of imagination undergirded by a sense of responsibility and honor.
— Allison Burr, "Children Under Siege in the Digital Age"

Thanks to new text-mining techniques, this has now been done. Professor Matthew Jockers at the University of Nebraska, and later researchers at the University of Vermont’s Computational Story Lab, analysed data from thousands of novels to reveal six basic story types – you could call them archetypes – that form the building blocks for more complex stories.
— Miriam Quick, "Every story in the world has one of these six basic plots'"

Like all of us, teens are made to live in relationship. They are social, interested in peers, and looking for connection in the relationships they build. They are also growing in independence. For many, social media is newly available to them and it is tailor-made made for those who are just entering the social scene. It offers an easy way to connect with people and places a world of information at their fingertips. It can even offer community to those who are shy or more isolated and need a connection to the outside world.

However, this new way of relating can be dangerous to a teen who is unaware of its potential risks. Indiscriminate use of social media can have many negative impacts. It is addictive. It can create a felt need to always be “connected” for fear of missing out on something. Some teens will start to lose sleep and lose interest in other activities. Others will constantly create and recreate themselves online while feeling a false sense of security because of the perceived safety of an electronic screen. This might lead to a lack of discretion about what is okay to post and make them vulnerable to on-line bullying, sexting, and pornography. It can even increase the risk of victimization from online predators.

These problems are serious and, as parents, we need to be in ongoing conversations with our kids about them. Just like teaching a child to handle a stove, a bike, or a car, we must also prepare them to use social media well. We would never let a young child simply turn on a stovetop and begin playing with it, nor would we hand a 14-year-old the keys to a truck and expect them to have the knowledge, skill and good judgment to handle it. Likewise, we should not hand kids a smart phone or other connected device without first proactively shaping how they think about and interact with this new technology.
— Julie Lowe, "Young Teens and Social Media"

Years ago, when my sons were small, we had a delightful friend at church who also had young boys. He often repeated to his sons his own father’s refrain to him: “Be a man!” We had an uproariously great time at church picnics, gruffly repeating that phrase whenever a kid would come complaining about some infraction or injury or the alleged actions of another child. “Be a man!”

I must admit, I’ve written a lot about numerous subjects, but I’ve never really attempted to write about what it is to be a Christian man. I’ve experienced the joy and struggle of being a son to my parents, a brother to my brother and sister, a teammate, a dorm mate, a friend to other men, a husband to my lovely Christian wife, a father to boys and now young men, an honorable co-worker to men and women, a subordinate, a leader of men and women, a brother among brother pastors and many other things. My gender is anything but incidental to my being. It is a part of my concrete existence, the very expression of my being. Every cell of my body is coded male, and therefore there is no aspect of my existence that can be viewed apart from who I am and who God created me to be: a man.
— Pastor Matthew Harrison, "On Being a Man"

Christianity is not a simple thing. As church musicians, we understand this and strive to use our music to help teach doctrine in all of its complexities and subtleties to congregants both young and old. In fact, what better way to prepare and teach our young people than by teaching them robust, doctrine-filled hymns?

As Lutheran schools around the country wind down at summer’s approach, students and teachers will be looking forward to the final chapel service of the year. These services may vary, and I cannot speak to every school and every chapel. But I can tell you one thing: the children at a certain Lutheran school on the East coast will be singing hymns. In fact, they will sing all six stanzas of the hymn “Jesus, Priceless Treasure” (LSB 743)—from memory.
— Marie Landskroener, "The Importance of Teaching Hymns to Children"

As a culture we have been mistakenly led to believe that manuscript is easier for students to learn than cursive. By reserving cursive for third grade we have given a whole generation the false impression that cursive is the “adult” form of handwriting and printing is simpler. However, this is simply not the case.

At Logic of English we strongly recommend beginning with cursive. Cursive has six primary advantages over manuscript:

1. It is less fine-motor skill intensive.
2. All the lowercase letters begin in the same place on the baseline.
3. Spacing within and between words is controlled.
4. By lifting the pencil between words, the beginning and ending of words is emphasized.
5. It is difficult to reverse letters such as b’s and d’s.
6. The muscle memory that is mastered first will last a lifetime.
— Logic of English, "Beginning with Cursive"

Very little is known about the 17th Century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer – or his masterpiece, Girl with a Pearl Earring. Who is she? What is she about to say? These are questions that have intrigued the millions of viewers who have flocked to gaze at her over the years.

A new research project led by the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague – where Girl with a Pearl Earring is a star attraction – hopes to address some of the questions that exist, about how she was painted, the materials used and what Vermeer himself intended.
— BBC Culture