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

Welcome back to school! We are so thrilled to commence a new school year and welcome all of our new and returning ILS students and families back to campus! As you may imagine, though busy, things are much quieter on campus over the summer, and it is a great joy to see smiling faces, hear the return of beautiful singing and music, and experience the delightful buzz of learning happening all around us.

If you're joining us here for the first time, each month we  share a new edition of "What we're reading..." here on the ILS Blog. This feature includes a variety of articles or news stories that our faculty and staff have found to be interesting, intriguing or otherwise thought-provoking. We hope you enjoy the chance to read and explore them as well!

This month, we have a variety of articles, including a look at screen time - and the encouragement to look up from our screens, ideas on nurturing a love of reading in our kids, a piece on collecting a personal library, yet another look at the importance of play, another excellent feature from Miss Marie Landskroener, our ILS Music Teacher, as well as Pastor Christopher Esget's sermon for the wedding of ILS Teachers, Mr. Shawn Barnett and Mrs. Molly (Leithart) Barnett. We hope you enjoy this selection!

We also love to hear from you! Have you read something lately that you think we, or other ILS families, may enjoy? Please leave us a note in the comments!

“Lead us not into temptation,” we pray. Yet today the Lord does precisely that. Or rather, He leads you into the testing. For the word can mean either one: tempting, or testing.

For you pedagogs, Shawn and Molly, tests are part of your daily work. What are they for, these tests? To ascertain if the right facts have been learned, of course. But a good test will itself teach, leading the discipulus—the disciple—to an integration of the material.

The goal of a classical education is not to impart enough knowledge so the pupil can become successful. In our work as classical educators, we are training men to be free. Free to delight in what is true, what is beautiful, what is good as God declares goodness.

It is not good for the man to be alone. Therefore, Shawn, God gives you today bone of your bones and flesh of your flesh. And today, Molly, you receive a head. And in these gifts God becomes your pedagog. Today the testing begins. This testing is designed to make you free precisely by teaching you how to be a slave.

For the truth is, we are by nature slaves to our own desires. Filled with lust, pride, and a desire to be served, marriage calls you into the life of Christ, who did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for the many.
— Pastor Christopher Esget, "Sermon: The Wedding of Molly Leithart & Shawn Barnett"

A rooster crows and awakens my family at the farm where we are staying for a long weekend. The air is crisp, and stars twinkle in the sky as the Sun rises over the hill. We walk to the barn, where horses, cows, chickens, pigs, dogs and cats vie for our attention. We wash and replenish water bowls, and carry hay to the cows and horses. The kids collect eggs for breakfast.

The wind carries the smells of winter turning to spring. The mud wraps around our boots as we step in puddles. When we enter a stall, the pigs bump into us; when we look at the sheep, they cower together in a corner. We are learning about the urban watershed, where eggs and beef come from, and how barns were built in the 19th century with wood cauls rather than metal nails. We experience the smells of the barn, the texture of the ladder, the feel of the shovels, the vibration when the pigs grunt, the taste of fresh eggs, and the camaraderie with the farmers.

As a parent, it is obvious that children learn more when they engage their entire body in a meaningful experience than when they sit at a computer. If you doubt this, just observe children watching an activity on a screen and then doing the same activity for themselves. They are much more engaged riding a horse than watching a video about it, playing a sport with their whole bodies rather than a simulated version of it in an online game.

Today, however, many powerful people are pushing for children to spend more time in front of computer screens, not less. Philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have contributed millions of dollars to ‘personal learning’, a term that describes children working by themselves on computers, and Laurene Powell Jobs has bankrolled the XQ Super School project to use technology to ‘transcend the confines of traditional teaching methodologies’. Policymakers such as the US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos call personalised learning ‘one of the most promising developments in K-12 education’, and Rhode Island has announced a statewide personalised learning push for all public school students. Think tanks such as the Brookings Institution recommend that Latin-American countries build ‘massive e-learning hubs that reach millions’. School administrators tout the advantages of giving all students, including those at kindergarten, personal computers.

Many adults appreciate the power of computers and the internet, and think that children should have access to them as soon as possible. Yet screen learning displaces other, more tactile ways to discover the world. Human beings learn with their eyes, yes, but also their ears, nose, mouth, skin, heart, hands, feet. The more time kids spend on computers, the less time they have to go on field trips, build model airplanes, have recess, hold a book in their hands, or talk with teachers and friends. In the 21st century, schools should not get with the times, as it were, and place children on computers for even more of their days. Instead, schools should provide children with rich experiences that engage their entire bodies.
— Nicholas Tampio, "Look up from your screen"

In his 2015 book Raising Kids Who Read, University of Virginia psychology professor Daniel Willingham explains the concept of “virtuous cycle” of reading. Children who read well tend to enjoy reading; because they enjoy reading, they read more; because they read more, they become better readers.

But how do you generate literary enthusiasm among kids who are not in the virtuous cycle—those who struggle with reading, or who’d simply prefer to play outside rather than curl up with a book? Willingham and DM Crosby, a deputy headteacher at a primary school in Nottinghamshire, England, have some suggestions.
— Jenny Anderson, "How to make your kids love reading"

Not long ago, I popped into a Salvation Army store in suburban Maryland to check out the used-book section. I’d unearthed plenty of gems in similar places, so it wasn’t surprising that the visit proved similarly productive. Home came copies of William Safire’s On Language and the novel Van Loon’s Lives, an 890-page tome written in 1942 that imagines what dinner parties featuring some of history’s most famous people might look like — Torquemada dines with Robespierre, Saint Francis with Mozart, and so on. Or, at least, this is what Wikipedia informs me Van Loon’s Lives is about. The thing is, I probably won’t read Van Loon’s Lives. Actually, I may never again crack open Van Loon’s Lives. Yet there it sits on my bookshelf between well-worn copies of A Short History of Byzantium and A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton — and, if I have my way, there it will sit for the next 30 years.

This kind of bibliophilic overindulgence has caused me plenty of angst over the years. The last time I moved my family — and we’ve moved multiple times — there were many more boxes of books than there were of clothing, utensils, dishes, and all other household items combined. So, unsurprisingly, every so often, mutiny breaks out and domestic forces prod me into scaling back my collection. This typically entails frivolous protests about the amount of “space” my books take up or equally unpersuasive arguments about how stacks of “messy” books scattered across the house are aesthetically disagreeable. Other shaky arguments include: “You’ve already read them.” “You’ll never read it again.” “Why don’t you get a Kindle like a normal person?”
— David Harsanyi, "Personal Library"

Imagine a drug that could enhance a child’s creativity, critical thinking and resilience. Imagine that this drug were simple to make, safe to take, and could be had for free.

The nation’s leading pediatricians say this miracle compound exists. In a new clinical report, they are urging doctors to prescribe it liberally to the children in their care.

What is this wonder drug? Play.

“This may seem old-fashioned, but there are skills to be learned when kids aren’t told what to do,” said Dr. Michael Yogman, a Harvard Medical School pediatrician who led the drafting of the call to arms. Whether it’s rough-and-tumble physical play, outdoor play or social or pretend play, kids derive important lessons from the chance to make things up as they go, he said.

The advice, issued Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics, may come as a shock to some parents. After spending years fretting over which toys to buy, which apps to download and which skill-building programs to send their kids to after school, letting them simply play — or better yet, playing with them — could seem like a step backward.

The pediatricians insist that it’s not. The academy’s guidance does not include specific recommendations for the dosing of play. Instead, it asks doctors to advise parents before their babies turn 2 that play is essential to healthy development. It also advocates for the restoration of play in schools.
— Melissa Healy, "Doctor's orders: Let children just play"

Throughout grade school and high school, I was fortunate to participate in quality music programs. Our high school had a top Illinois state jazz band; I also participated in symphonic band, which gave me a greater appreciation for classical music. It wasn’t enough to just read music. You would need to sight read, meaning you are given a difficult composition to play cold, without any prior practice. Sight reading would quickly reveal how fine-tuned playing “chops” really were. In college I continued in a jazz band and also took a music theory class. The experience gave me the ability to visualize music (If you play by ear only, you will never have that same depth of understanding music construct.)

Both jazz and classical art forms require not only music literacy, but for the musician to be at the top of their game in technical proficiency, tonal quality and creativity in the case of the jazz idiom. Jazz masters like John Coltrane would practice six to nine hours a day, often cutting his practice only because his inner lower lip would be bleeding from the friction caused by his mouth piece against his gums and teeth. His ability to compose and create new styles and directions for jazz was legendary. With few exceptions such as Wes Montgomery or Chet Baker, if you couldn’t read music, you couldn’t play jazz. In the case of classical music, if you can’t read music you can’t play in an orchestra or symphonic band. Over the last 20 years, musical foundations like reading and composing music are disappearing with the percentage of people that can read music notation proficiently down to 11 percent, according to some surveys.
— Jon Henschen, "The Tragic Decline of Music Literacy (and Quality)"

A music history professor once painted this picture for me: “Imagine you are a commoner in the Middle Ages, slaving away in the fields every day. Now imagine you walk into church. When it is cold outside, the church is warm. When it is hot outside, the church is cool. Now imagine you come into church and hear this.” And she played for us a Gregorian chant.

The ancient chant plays an important role in church: its beauty affirms that this is a sacred place, a place set apart from the rest of the world. It tells the people who walk through the doors that they can find rest here. Take heart and be of good cheer for here you learn of heavenly things. Here you are forgiven and strengthened so that you are able to continue through your week with courage and hope. And here you will join in a communion that exists not just today but has existed through the ages and continues to thrive.
— Marie Landskroener, "Why Ancient Music Matters in the Church Even Today"