What We're Reading - October Edition

As we enter the second month of the school year, it is delightful to watch the rhythms and routines of the school year return as the school is filled with the joyful sounds of singing, poetry, learning and laughter. We pray that our families are also finding comfort in the routines and traditions of the year, and we have so enjoyed seeing families in the mornings on the playground, at our First Friday Coffees, joining us in worship for Wednesday Chapel, and other events.

As we have noted previously, this community, and the close relationship between home and school, is fundamental to all we do at ILS. It is a privilege to serve each of our families, and we want to encourage and support you in the important work you are doing with your children. That desire to encourage inspired this blog series, our monthly "What we're reading..." feature. Here, we try to share and encourage discussions on culture-building and culture-shaping, and how we can together support this important work both at school and at home.

We hope that our ILS families and friends enjoy spending some time reading and reflecting on the articles, sermons, and news articles we share each monthl, and then join us at a First Friday Coffee or other parent program to discuss these and other topics.

We also love for families to pass along things they have read that may be interesting to others in our ILS community! Please feel free to share a link in the comments to email us any time!

If you haven’t read the books, listened to the TED talks, downloaded the podcasts, and bought the organizing system, you’ve surely at least heard snippets of the trending-now talk of minimalism. People are feeling great about dumping pointless shelves-worth of expired pantry-stuff, old clothes and dusty books.

That’s cool. It beats thinking that our life consists in the abundance of our possessions. It’s better than building bigger barns (or renting larger storage units) for the laying up of earthly earthliness that will never last. A discipline of cutting the needless things from our life can help us to keep in mind the “one thing needful,” our dear Savior.

And yet sometimes we can be focused on getting rid of worldly objects, and forget that we are still holding tight to worldly objectives. Notions, priorities and standards in the world around us can’t be kicked to a physical curb, but are as much in the “unnecessary” category as the box of Disney VHS tapes we donated last week.

These tips are for Christians, especially Christian parents, who would like to reduce some of the non-tangible earthly junk in their households.
— Deaconess Rosie Adle, " Christian parents' guide to minimalism"

I’ve been thinking a lot about the persistence of people’s belief in learning styles lately. Everywhere I go, teachers and coaches talk about the idea as if was established fact when in reality it is an idea without scientific basis.

Recently, I started asking myself Why is the myth so persistent when a little bit of reading should debunk it? Why does it appear to be so intuitively obvious that people don’t even think to question it? It must resonate with people for a logical reason. Such wide-spread allegiance to a flawed idea can’t be random.

This morning I read the chapter on attention in Steven Johnson’s Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life and it helped me to make sense of some possible reasons why.

Johnson starts his chapter by picking apart the idea of attention. It is not one thing but several things at once. “Even if the proverbial man on the street continues to think of attention as a unified thing, neuroscientists and psychologists know it to be a collection of different skills, sometimes overlapping and sometimes not.” Attention is the ability process information coming into the brain from different sensory sources in a series of steps: you must sustain concentration on the stimulus and then encode it in short term memory for example.

‘Switching’ might be the most important function in attention. Switching is the brain determining what information (and which sensory channel) to attend to and what to ignore.

“At any given moment,” Johnson writes, “so much data about the external world enters your brain through your sensory channels that the key proficiency of consciousness is not the ability to perceive the external world but rather the ability to shut so much of it out… you think being conscious means perceiving everything around you but in fact it means perceiving small slices of reality and .still being able to switch back and forth between them with extraordinary ease.”
— Doug Lemov, "Replacing "Learning Styles" with "Attention Types""

Why do we teach music?

It could be the cognitive abilities music education grants students. Or perhaps the emotional well-being it provides. Maybe it’s a way to give at-risk children an outlet and a safe place. Perhaps music education teaches one generation to preserve its culture’s musical heritage. Could it be the higher test scores music students supposedly receive? Or maybe it’s the health benefits, the soothing of minds and bodies with music. What about the memory and learning abilities of music students?

Are these why we teach music?

In my classes of older students, I take a singing attendance, forcing each student to reply with a sung “present” if they are, indeed, present. It’s deliciously uncomfortable and embarrassing for the students, a reality they make known to me in no uncertain terms. So I tell them: the beauty of learning to sing and make music is that it forces you to be courageous, to have grace under pressure. To sing by yourself in a room full of people is no small feat. If you can master that, public speaking is a walk in the park.

Is that why I teach music?

My colleagues and I use songs and jingles constantly in class so that our students can recite every preposition and continent, so they can tell you the function of an adverb and adjective, so they can count by twos, so they can remember the eras of music, so they can recall the meaning of “to love” in every form in Latin.

Is this why we teach music?
— Marie Greenway, "Why Music Education is Important"

My 14-year-old son just started high school, and he does not have his own smartphone. When I tell people this, I get the same face I imagine I would if I said that I hadn’t fed him for several days. My son is fine, though—really. I don’t think he’s ever been lost, stranded, or even inconvenienced by his lack of that quintessential 21st-century accessory.

Now that my oldest is in ninth grade, it occurs to me that this decision not to buy him the one thing that every other kid has might be the most subversive, countercultural gesture of my entire life. I’m a total conformist. I follow the rules. I return my library books on time or pay the fine. My husband is a captain in the Navy—certainly not countercultural. As soon as the first baby came along, we bought a minivan. We’ve never been out there trying to make any bold statements. And yet, when it comes to allowing my teenagers access to smartphones, I am apparently a rebel. Is resisting this ubiquitous technology really worth it?

For me, it is. I believe that a smartphone too accessible, given too early, and in the wrong hands is at best an addictive distraction and at worst a handheld siphon draining away children’s youth one beep, one swipe, one notification at a time.

The smartphone delay in our house started long before the devices were as prevalent as they are today, and at the time it was more an omission than an act of resistance. When our boys were babies and toddlers, we heeded the advice of pediatricians and child-development experts who warned against too much TV for young children. We watched the PBS morning lineup and Disney movies, but that was the extent of our screen time. Then, in 2009, when my oldest was 5, my dad gave us a book by Richard Louv called Last Child in the Woods. The thesis left an impression on us. Louv asserts that children suffer from “nature-deficit disorder” when they don’t spend enough time under the sky among other living creatures. Already in the habit of limiting our kids’ screen time, it was natural to delay buying them electronics. We relented with the purchase of tablets, mainly for use during our frequent trips to visit faraway family, but we never graduated to smaller, more portable devices. We wanted our children to spend their time playing outside. And reading books. And talking with us. So we never bought them phones. They kept getting older, and we kept not buying them phones. Now that they are in middle and high school, I realize that their childhood has been somewhat different from their friends’—and also remarkably different from mine.
— Sarah P. Weeldryer, "I Won't Buy My Teenagers Smart Phones"

Medieval monks had a terrible time concentrating. And concentration was their lifelong work! Their tech was obviously different from ours. But their anxiety about distraction was not. They complained about being overloaded with information, and about how, even once you finally settled on something to read, it was easy to get bored and turn to something else. They were frustrated by their desire to stare out of the window, or to constantly check on the time (in their case, with the Sun as their clock), or to think about food or sex when they were supposed to be thinking about God. They even worried about getting distracted in their dreams.

Sometimes they accused demons of making their minds wander. Sometimes they blamed the body’s base instincts. But the mind was the root problem: it is an inherently jumpy thing. John Cassian, whose thoughts about thinking influenced centuries of monks, knew this problem all too well. He complained that the mind ‘seems driven by random incursions’. It ‘wanders around like it were drunk’. It would think about something else while it prayed and sang. It would meander into its future plans or past regrets in the middle of its reading. It couldn’t even stay focused on its own entertainment – let alone the difficult ideas that called for serious concentration.

That was in the late 420s. If John Cassian had seen a smartphone, he’d have forecasted our cognitive crisis in a heartbeat.
— Jamie Kriener, "How do reduce digital distractions: Advice from medieval monks"

That said, the fact is that all children are home schooled and every home is a school of some sort. As Christians we not only admit this fact but count on it. Our understanding of the faith and the primary examples of the faithful come not from the Church but from the home in the form of our parents. It has always been this way and always will. Even those who profess no faith at all are home schoolers. They are surely imparting their values (or lack thereof) and teaching their children by implication and impression if not by outright design.

This is the fact so often lost on the role and power of the family. Every home with children is a home school. Whether by deliberate intention or by accident, every child is first shaped by what they see, hear, experience, and learn from the home environment. Mom and Dad have no choice but to be teachers and examples. Though we do not often phrase this in this way, this is the profound truth and impact of the home upon the life of the child, for good or for ill.
— Pastor Peters, "Home schooling..."

Not only have you as individuals been graced with a multitude of gifts and talents; your age has been showered with a wealth of instruments and opportunities for the doing of good. Nevertheless, in the midst of plenty, you continue to waste away your gifts, burying them under the ground rather than investing them in and for God’s Kingdom.

Part of the problem is that your age, unlike my own, does not recognize that the gifts are gifts, that you were given them, not to satisfy your own desires, but to serve God and your fellow man. You lack gratitude, preferring to ascribe your talents to impersonal nature rather than the personal God who created nature. This error has made you bitter, cynical, and thankless. You no longer think of yourselves as stewards guarding a sacred trust, but as spoiled children of privilege to whom a life of pleasure is somehow owed.

You must relearn what you have so conveniently forgotten: that we are not our own but were bought at a price; that every good and perfect gift comes from above; that it is the Lord, not we, who gives and takes away; that to those who have more will be given while from those who do not have even what they have will be taken away.
— Louis Markos, "Dante on Gifts"


That’s how many seconds per day the average American spends consuming media. That’s 11 hours every day looking at smartphones, tablets, televisions and laptops.

The World Health Organization recently stated that children younger than two should not have any sedentary screen time, while children between two and five should be limited to just one hour per day. Curiously, it appears grown-ups are the ones with the real screen-time problem. A recent report found that adults check their smartphone, on average, 150 times per day. Companies have even created smartphone apps for tracking screen time in an attempt to help people reign it in.

It’s pretty obvious: Our screen time is excessive, technology is addictive and we should probably stop spending half our day staring at glowing rectangles.

Less obvious, however, is this: What should we look at instead? If we look at our smartphones and televisions way too much, what are we not looking at enough?
— A. Trevor Sutton, "Learning to See Beyond Our Screens"

Emotions are felt participating in things and events insofar as they matter. We can know as much as we want about van Gogh’s Starry Night, and we can stare at the thing until our eyes bleed, but it is only when we perceive the painting as mattering that we are affected. The onrush of feeling ­reverses the order of knowledge. Instead of me grasping the thing, it grasps me. Instead of me capturing the painting, the painting captures me.

It is precisely this experience of emotion that eludes us at the museum. We are an age divorced from tradition and history, educated for usefulness within a market economy, given to fulfillment in and through technology, and now, thrown into a room of objects we assume, theoretically, to be valuable, significant, and beautiful . . . we are disappointed. We know we should be “having an experience.” Indeed, we were told to go to the museum for an “experience.” But what experience?

My Internet-trained generation stands before the Caravaggio without religious sentiment or aesthetic education, and panics. We know its greatness in theory only; our hearts remain stony. We act upon it with scrutinizing eyes; the painting does not act upon us. The agent does not become the patient; the outside object does not become the source of movement within our soul. We do not feel.
— Marc Barnes, "Click Fix"

We have things so easy in our country that we forget that we are at war. We forget that there are demons that are seeking to devour us by separating us from Jesus. Our World War II era ancestors were tough. Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers stormed the beaches while they were teenagers. Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers temporarily gave up their scarves and gloves and took up power tools in factories working long hours to contribute to the war effort. Today, our young people need safe spaces because someone might disagree with them in a college classroom.

Spiritually, we have become similarly weak. But worse yet, dear friends, we don’t even know it. When we let other things take priority over the Word of God and the Sacrament of the Altar, we are becoming spiritually weak, ripe for the temptation of the devil and his evil angels. When we stop praying, stop reading and studying the scriptures, and when we allow the world to shape us and mold us through hours and hours of devouring entertainment, we are taking the bait. As the famous book title says, we are entertaining ourselves to death.

Michaelmas reminds us that we are at war. And this war is largely unseen except through the eyes of faith. And the stakes of this war are eternal – for us and for our children.
— Rev. Larry Beane, "Sermon: Michaelmas - 2019"

Additional Reading on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels