What We're Reading (May edition)...

It is hard to believe that we have already begun the last full month of the school year and are sharing our next to last edition of "What we're reading..." for the 2018-2019 school year!

As we do throughout the year, our feature includes a wide variety of articles and sermons that we have found to be interesting. This month, we explore education, a look at summer screen time for kids, vocation, black holes, history and duty. We conclude with sharing Pastor Esget’s sermon from Easter 2019.

Have you read (or written!) anything recently that you think we and other ILS families may enjoy? We always welcome you to share any articles or blogs with use to consider including in future blog features.

We ought to discern the truth about our modern schools, remove our children from their ravages, and turn to the building of homeschooling communities and to involvement in classical charter schools. It is the only reasonable response to our modern schools, which have become unreasonable and morally irresponsible.

As parents bring school age children into the structures of public education, the accumulating weight of colossal failure intrudes upon incessant propaganda asserting the merits of compulsory public education. As the shine of materialist schemes fades under the shadows of mortality, more and more souls are beginning to realize that they themselves were not well educated by the public schools. There is the growing apprehension that something deep and purposeful is missing. The exact quality and quantity of this gaping lack is difficult to grasp. It is, however, increasingly intuited. To begin the process of clarification, it is helpful to learn that there are two distinct types of education; one is the kind we would like for ourselves and for our children, the other is a travesty foisted upon the American public for generations.

I have been teaching in the public schools for nearly a quarter of a century. From the beginning, I realized that modern methods and content lull children into what I call an “educational coma.” The majority of students are accustomed to giving automatonic responses as if they were test subjects in Pavlovian experiments. Many students demonstrate a genius for doing the bare minimum as forgetfulness becomes habitual and apathy takes root in their souls. I perceived long ago that the ideologies propagated by the modern school are soul crushing. I endeavored to understand and explain why.
— Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg, "Two Kinds of Education"

Last month marked the 210th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. To the professional educator, Lincoln is endlessly fascinating. His family followed the frontier, and his accomplishments came in spite of the limited time he spent in a schoolhouse, among them some of the finest examples of political rhetoric in the English language.

So how did he do it, and what can we learn from his example? The present mantra in secondary education is “college and career readiness.” Lincoln invites an uncomfortable question: Had Lincoln attended a school on the vanguard of the college and career readiness movement, would it have prepared him for future greatness? Would Lincoln have become Lincoln?

This may seem like a strange question. After all, Lincoln is very distant from the present. But maybe that’s why he is helpful: His example stands far enough from the present to help us to see ourselves with fresh eyes.

When I look at Lincoln, three thoughts come to mind. Each challenges the sufficiency of the reigning paradigm for high school education.

Perhaps we should pay more attention to culture-building. Much has been made of Lincoln’s self-education. We encounter stories of the young Lincoln walking miles to borrow a book and staying up to read by candlelight—a habit of self-improvement begun in youth and continued through adulthood. Historians tell us he studied grammar into his twenties and worked through Euclid’s “Elements” as a young congressman.
— Stephen Shipp, "Today’s Schools Should Emulate The Education That Produced Abraham Lincoln"

In the past decade there has been an explosion in research and anecdotes demonstrating that screen use has some highly negative effects that are worse for children. In response, a niche market has cropped up among people trying to use technology better, as represented by, for example, Cal Newport’s new book, “Digital Minimalism” and James Clear’s writings on productivity.

Yet it seems our society at large is still in the “early adopter” stage of questioning and limiting our tech addictions. Public schools continue to amp up screen-led learning despite myriad high-profile failures at giving all kids a device and the increasing amount of research questioning those decisions. While I ran errands last week, the majority of children I saw out with their parents or grandparents were staring at phones or tablets as they sat in their strollers or in restaurants.

Time use studies still find Americans, including children, gobbling insane amounts of green-glow time. Kids ages 2 to 8 average 2.5-3 hours of daily screen time, or about 20 hours per week. Kids ages 8 to 12 average 4.5 hours of daily screen time, or more than 30 hours per week. Teens average more than six hours per day, or more than 40 hours per week. Teens could literally hold down a full-time job if they cut out the video games and YouTube. None of this is for school, either, as school-age kids average 16 minutes of daily school-related screentime.
— Joy Pullman, "Why You Should Plan a Low-Screen Summer for Your Kids"

In his essay “The Freedom of a Christian,” Luther declares, “Wherefore it ought to be the first concern of every Christian to lay aside all confidence in works and increasingly to strengthen faith alone and through faith to grow in the knowledge not of works, but of Christ Jesus, who suffered and rose for him.”

In other words, the calling to faith does not mean that we Christians are drawn out of the world and away from responsibilities. Instead, it is exactly within these three estates—the family, the Church, the community—that we are called to live in faith and love.

“Because we are justified through faith in Christ, we are freed to engage in a wide range of activities under God’s Word in the world for the service and well-being of our neighbors,” said Rev. Dr. John D. Pless, assistant professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind.

This is the Lutheran doctrine of vocation.
— "Vocation: How God Provides for Us"

We used to think that science is reductionistic, that once we have a “scientific” explanation we now understand it, the mystery is banished, it’s no longer a big deal, and we can move on. But now science has come so far that the more we understand the physical world, the more mysterious it becomes. I am currently awestruck that scientists have photographed a black hole–described as “perhaps the most profoundly mysterious objects in the universe”–and that we can actually see one of these mind-confounding cosmic paradoxes.

We aren’t seeing the black hole, of course, since its gravity is so massive that light cannot escape from the thing. (That’s one of its weird properties that we are witnessing.) What we are seeing is the “event horizon,” the area around the point of gravity collapse, specifically the gasses that are falling into it. As material gets so close to the black hole, it is accelerated so much that it approaches the speed of light. When it does that, it gives off energy in different forms that we can detect and that is the basis of this visual image. (Here is how the photograph was made.) So what we are seeing is gas that is moving at close to light speed as it is being torn apart and annihilated. (That’s another weird thing we are witnessing.)

But the weirdness is only beginning. At the event horizon, time slows down. (We are seeing where that happens.) Whatever falls into the black hole would be pulled into the center, the “singularity,” described as “an inconceivably small point with a monstrous mass where gravity and density theoretically approach infinity and space-time curves infinitely.” Here the laws of physics are confounded–both Newtonian physics and quantum physics.
— Gene Veith, "Seeing a Black Hole"

The historian is one who meditates upon the past. Hidden away amidst mountains of books, documents, relics, and other dusty objects, the historian explores a world that is not his own. He stands at crossroads where wagon-trains rolled on into the sunset and upon hills overlooking bloody battles. He is but a traveler interested in listening to stories, uncovering great ideas, and chronicling events. But there is one thing which haunts him: he can never fully comprehend the vast web of time. Numerous intersections crisscross each other in an endless murky space. Some historians search blindly for the spider, the source of the web.[1] Yet like the damned in C. S. Lewis’ Great Divorce, they travel alone, distancing themselves from their brethren until they are all permanently lost. Others attempt to preserve bits and pieces of the web, in all of its complexity, simply out of a desire to share with the present. Such collectors are not bothered by the work’s difficulty, the endless trials and details that must be sorted through. Instead, they work like bees, sorting and archiving because they know their work is inherently valuable.
— Zachary Palmer, "History and Historians""

In George MacDonald’s fairytale-fable The Wise Woman, a little girl is put to a test in which she must complete a list of chores in the magical cottage of the Wise Woman. This little girl never stoops to do chores in her own home, but at the Wise Woman’s, she condescends to spend a day sweeping and tidying and tending the fire. Yet these acts of obedience do not make her more virtuous; on the contrary, they stir her “to think herself Somebody”—to become more vain, more haughty, more selfish. For, as MacDonald sagely observes,

“However strange it may well seem, to do one’s duty will make any one conceited who only does it sometimes. Those who do it always would as soon think of being conceited of eating their dinner as of doing their duty. What honest boy would pride himself on not picking pockets? A thief who was trying to reform would. To be conceited of doing one’s duty is then a sign of how little one does it, and how little one sees what a contemptible thing it is not to do it . . . “

Until our duty becomes to us as common as breathing, we are poor creatures.

In our culture of Somebodies, the word “duty” has accrued a connotation as distasteful as the tasks it references, tasks often marked by tedium, labor, thanklessness, and above all, repetition. Duties are the unglamorous chores that are noticed only when neglected, and that, as often as we do them, must be done again.
— Lindsey Brigham Knott, "The Wise Woman: Beauty of Duty"

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“Who will roll away the stone?” Plodding in sorrow to the tomb of Jesus, the women ask this impossible question. Impossible for more than reason of the stone’s weight. The question ponders the weight of countless stones entombing countless bones dry and lifeless.

“Who will roll away the stone?” is a question some other women dared not ask just eight days earlier. Those two women had seen their brother die.

And Jesus had let them down. One of them, named Martha, said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” It had taken Jesus four days to arrive. He’s too late! she thinks. Her sister Mary stays in the house. She won’t come out and greet Jesus. He has let them down. He’s too late!

Their brother is already in the tomb. Behind the stone, the corpse reeks. Death had visited them, and they were unprepared. Is anyone ever prepared?

Experience teaches us something dreadful: Death is stronger than life. The idea of God becomes an accusation. “Why?! Why make us for this?” From such a point of view, hostility to religion has a certain logic. Alexander Schmemann put it this way: “What is this intense conflict with religion, if nothing other than a mindless attempt to root out of human consciousness the memory and concern with death and consequently the question: why do I live this brief and fragile life?” (O Death, Where Is Thy Sting?, p24). In other words, we must drive from our minds the idea of death, lest it reveal the meaninglessness of our lives.
— Pastor Christopher Esget, "Sermon: The Resurrection of Our Lord 2019"