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

March has arrived, which means that it is time for another new edition of "What we're reading..." Each month, we use this feature to share news, articles, stories or other items that we've read recently. Whether we have found to be interesting, inspiring, or otherwise thought-provoking, we hope that you will join us in reading them and sharing what you think! Please feel free to comment below on any of the articles in this month's feature, or let us know if there are other articles you think we should check out also!

In this month's review, we take a look at the Enlightenment, reason and faith; we explore the challenge of getting our minds to read; we examine the lost art of oratory; we tackle the age-old question of why the study of Latin still matters; we reflect on the value of a shared meal; and finally, we hear from our own ILS Music Teacher, Miss Marie Landskroener, as she reflects on another beautiful hymn this Lenten season.

As always, we hope that you find these articles interesting, informative or thought-provoking. We would love to hear what you think about any of these pieces, or if there are other things you've read lately that you would like to share.

Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard University, plays fast and loose with the term “The Enlightenment” in his latest column for the Wall Street Journal. In an essay adapted from his new book, “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress,” Pinker argues that the progress we have been enjoying for more than two centuries is due to the triumph of reason and science. But he writes as though there is only one understanding of the Enlightenment, and he surely is referring to the French Enlightenment and what he thinks is a wholly secular event at odds with religious belief.

Pinker is a smart guy who surely knows some of the history of the Enlightenment, but you would not know it from his latest polemic. Except for his blatant bias against religion and misconstruing of who and what actually launched the age of Reason, his is an informative and admirable piece, listing all the ways that human life has improved since roughly the eighteenth century.
— Paul Bonicelli, "No, Steven Pinker, The Enlightenment Doesn't Pit Reason Against Faith"

Americans are not good readers. Many blame the ubiquity of digital media. We’re too busy on Snapchat to read, or perhaps internet skimming has made us incapable of reading serious prose. But Americans’ trouble with reading predates digital technologies. The problem is not bad reading habits engendered by smartphones, but bad education habits engendered by a misunderstanding of how the mind reads.

Just how bad is our reading problem? The last National Assessment of Adult Literacy from 2003 is a bit dated, but it offers a picture of Americans’ ability to read in everyday situations: using an almanac to find a particular fact, for example, or explaining the meaning of a metaphor used in a story. Of those who finished high school but did not continue their education, 13 percent could not perform simple tasks like these. When things got more complex — in comparing two newspaper editorials with different interpretations of scientific evidence or examining a table to evaluate credit card offers — 95 percent failed.
— Daniel T. Willingham, "How to Get Your Mind to Read"

  • O Oratory! - Glenn Arbery, The Imaginative Conservative
Of all the public arts once honored, oratory might have fallen the farthest. It is now hard to imagine the great hunger that audiences had for political speeches, sermons, lectures—anything that demonstrated the power of language to educate, persuade, or inspire—in the days before the technological revolutions of the past century. They would stand all day in the sun just to listen. Crowds of up to 15,000 people listened to Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debate about popular sovereignty before Illinois’ senatorial election in 1858, and this was hardly an isolated phenomenon.
Has the capacity to speak well in public ceased to be important? By no means. Effective rhetoric still has extraordinary power. In fact, it can be an antidote to the steady manipulation of opinion through the news media, the entertainment industry, the courts, and the universities. There is nothing as bracing as live, forthright speech, vivid, well-organized, and well-delivered.
— Glenn Arbery, "O Oratory!"

You may have heard that Latin is a dead language. This is a strong, negative pronouncement to most ears. Scholars, however, use the term in a technical sense that leaves plenty of room for life. A “dead” language is one that is no longer the native language of any community, even if it is still in use in other ways. An extinct language, by contrast, is one that no longer has any speakers or any written use. Some languages are also called liturgical languages, because they continue to be used in religious contexts, or classical languages, which continue to be studied and read through a rich body of ancient literature. Greek, Latin, Chinese, Arabic, and Sanskrit are all considered classical languages. Some would even include Hebrew and French in that list.

Latin is both a classical and a liturgical language, a dead language that never died. By this we mean that while Latin may not be the native language of any community, it is still spoken (even if only by a few) and is commonly studied and read for a variety of compelling, beneficial reasons.

Latin also has not died because it was reborn and renamed as French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian—the five Romance languages. About 90 percent of the vocabulary of these languages comes from Latin. These Romance languages are actually forms of Latin that have evolved over the centuries in various regions with some interaction from other local tongues.
— Christopher Perris, "10 Reasons to Study Latin"

You’ve seen a variation of this image in countless commercials: Warm lights illuminate tables where joyful people join together to share delicious food and each other’s company. While these staged scenes obviously lack the mess, chaos, and frustration that family meals can actually entail (anyone with a toddler is nodding right now), the images work because they play on our universal desire for togetherness and belonging. And what better place to enjoy this than over steaming hot, succulent fare?

Unfortunately, fewer and fewer families take time to sit together and eat. Incredibly, according to a 2014 report in The Atlantic, “the average American eats one in every five meals in her car, one in four Americans eats at least one fast food meal every single day, and the majority of American families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week.” Despite many, many proven reasons to join together at meals, from nutritional advantages to better educational outcomes to improved family relationships, we often fail to make it happen.
— Emily Olson, "Let these gifts be blessed"

As the recently arrived Lent spurs Christians to reflect on their mortality and sinfulness, to give up vices, and to contemplate the suffering of Christ, we begin looking forward with great eagerness to Easter. While Lent may be a beautiful and necessary part of the Church Year, the solemnity of this time can sometimes turn discouraging. This year, I have turned to Paul Gerhardt’s text of “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth” (LSB 438) to seek comfort, assurance, and confidence in the hope of the resurrection.
— Marie Landskroener, "Reflection on "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth""