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

We still aren't quite sure how it is already May, and how we are already entering the final month of the school year, but a new month means a new edition of "What we're reading..."with a new selection of articles and stories that we have found to be interesting, inspiring, or otherwise thought-provoking. Some are new, and others have previously made the rounds, but we still found them to be worth re-visiting, and we do hope you enjoy spending some time reading these also. 

In this month's review, we include an article on J.S. Bach, an interesting look at the myth of "learning styles," the academic benefits for religiously engaged adolescents, a few looks into parenting and raising children, and another great Easter music reflection from our own ILS Music Teacher, Miss Marie Landskroener! We hope that you again find these interesting or thought-provoking, and we'd love to hear your thoughts on any of these pieces, or any other news or articles you've found interesting lately. Let us know, and we might include them in our June edition!

Bach biographers don’t have it easy. Has there ever been a composer who wrote so much extraordinary music and left so little documentation of his personal life?

Life-writing abhors a vacuum, and experts have indulged in all manner of speculation, generally mirroring their own approaches to the world, about how Bach must have understood himself and his works.

The current fancy is that Bach was a forward-looking, quasi-scientific thinker who had little or no genuine interest in traditional religion. “Bach’s Dialogue With Modernity,” one recent, indicative book is called. In arriving at this view, scholars have ignored, underestimated or misinterpreted a rich source of evidence: Bach’s personal three-volume Study Bible, extensively marked with his own notations. A proper assessment of this document renders absurd any notion that Bach was a progressivist or a secularist.
— Michael Marissen, "Bach Was Far More Religious Than You Might Think"

In the early ‘90s, a New Zealand man named Neil Fleming decided to sort through something that had puzzled him during his time monitoring classrooms as a school inspector. In the course of watching 9,000 different classes, he noticed that only some teachers were able to reach each and every one of their students. What were they doing differently?

Fleming zeroed in on how it is that people like to be presented information. For example, when asking for directions, do you prefer to be told where to go or to have a map sketched for you?

Today, 16 questions like this comprise the vark questionnaire that Fleming developed to determine someone’s “learning style.” Vark, which stands for “Visual, Auditory, Reading, and Kinesthetic,” sorts students into those who learn best visually, through aural or heard information, through reading, or through “kinesthetic” experiences. (“I learned much later that vark is Dutch for “pig,” Fleming wrote later, “and I could not get a website called vark.com because a pet shop in Pennsylvania used it for selling aardvarks—earth pigs!”)

He wasn’t the first to suggest that people have different “learning styles”—past theories included the reading-less “VAK” and something involving “convergers” and “assimilators”—but vark became one of the most prominent models out there.

Experts aren’t sure how the concept spread, but it might have had something to do with the self-esteem movement of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Everyone was special—so everyone must have a special learning style, too. Teachers told students about it in grade school. “Teachers like to think that they can reach every student, even struggling students, just by tailoring their instruction to match each student’s preferred learning format,” said Central Michigan University’s Abby Knoll, a PhD student who has studied learning styles. (Students, meanwhile, like to blame their scholastic failures on their teacher’s failure to align their teaching style with their learning style.)
— Olga Khazan, "The Myth of 'Learning Styles'"

Adolescents who practice religion on a regular basis do better in school than those who are religiously disengaged, according to new research from Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE).

The findings indicate that religious communities socialize adolescents to cultivate two habits highly valued in public schools: conscientiousness and cooperation. Religious engagement may influence grades more than researchers realize.

“The United States is a highly religious country, and religion is a powerful social force,” said the study’s author, Ilana Horwitz, a doctoral candidate at the GSE. “If we, as education scholars, are trying to understand adolescents in America, we should pay attention to this very important part of their life.”
— Carrie Spector, "Religiously engaged adolescents demonstrate habits that help them get better grades, Stanford scholar finds"

“I should like to record my own love and my children’s love of E.A. Wyke-Smith’s Marvellous Land of Snergs,” reads an endorsement on the cover of that book. The endorser is J.R.R. Tolkien, and it was very kind of him to offer the guidance. Without him, it is likely we would only have visited a rather haphazard derivation of the Land of Snergs, and not the real place. Although one catches some fragrance of Tolkien on the way through Wyke-Smith’s book, the stronger odor is of Roald Dahl. A hobbit might suggest himself to the reader as a lovely elaboration upon the Snerg concept, but the sloppier Oompa Loompa shambles much more loudly to mind. And one cannot help tripping over the reformed giant Golithos, if one has ever read The BFG.

Roald Dahl is famous and beloved for recklessness, but the trajectories of that recklessness are curious. Wyke-Smith’s Golithos is a seven-foot ogre who has vowed to stop eating children, confining himself instead to a diet of vegetable matter. He is gentlemanly; apparently his departure from the essence of ogrish behavior reforms his entire person. But an ogre’s an ogre, no matter how resolute. Though “[n]ot a child had passed his lips for years,” the appearance of two such morsels upon his threshold plunges Golithos into vile, calculating recidivism.
— Rebekah Curtis, "Good Parenting & the Redemption of Giants"

It’s not a happy thing to read that so many of our countrymen are “nones,” belonging to no church and adhering to no way of paying homage to God. How do we raise children in a no-land, where their deepest beliefs will be met with what’s sometimes more discouraging than enmity, with the shrug of indifference and incomprehension?

I think we must bear in mind the character of this nothing. It is not deep — it cannot conceivably be deep — but it is broad, like a vast slick of muddy water and wreckage after a flood, shallow as a few inches in most places, but lapping at every post and foundation in sight.
— Anthony Esolen, "Raising Children in an Age of Nothing"

“At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” provides a joyous picture of the community of the Christian church gathered to celebrate at a feast. Much like our liturgy states, this is a “feast of victory for our God” (LSB 171). The picture is one of celebration after a glorious, victorious battle. The text in our hymn states that Christ has “conquered in the fight” (st. 5). And this is not some arrogant warrior who wins one battle today but must continue to fight at the risk of a future loss. Oh no, this victory is complete, total, and final, the victory of a “Victim” (st. 5), a humble Lamb sent to die for us.

Feasting on Easter Sunday, then, provides a tangible representation of the whole Christian community celebrating the ultimate victory of Christ over sin, death, and Satan. While it is impossible for the entire body of Christians to gather on earth, our own feasts with family and friends give us a taste of that gathering—a gathering we know will happen some day in heaven. So the celebration and feasting of Easter Day give a glimpse of the “Lamb’s high feast” (st. 1) we look forward to with undying hope.
— Marie Landskroener, "Reflection on "At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing""