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#111: Summer in the Heartsick Mountains

Welcome to The Highlighter #111! I think that you’re going to appreciate this week’s articles. The first two pieces can’t possibly be more different — one focuses on fireflies, while the other focuses on patriarchal machismo. But read them together because they both explore the consequences of growing up. After a photo break, spend time marveling at the wonders of Dutch farming, then round off your reading by considering whether Advanced Placement is helping urban students of color. Please enjoy!

Summer in the Heartsick Mountains
Summer in the Heartsick Mountainsjezebel.com

Ellie Shechet returns to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where she grew up, after last year’s wildfire (#95), to find out what’s happened to the Smoky Mountain Synchronous Firefly, whose population has plummeted in recent years. “You start noticing things in a different way when you know you’re going to lose ’em,” a firefly expert tells her. This brilliant piece is about the magic of fireflies, their association with childhood, their importance across various cultures. It’s also about how humans have brought the Photinus carolinus to the brink of extinction. Mostly, though, this is a reflection on growing up and leaving your hometown — and losing as much as you have gained. (22 mins)

I Was Forced to Fight, Now I’m Learning to Cry
I Was Forced to Fight, Now I’m Learning to Crywww.vice.com

Black boys are not allowed to express their emotions because doing so makes them sissies. In this excellent essay, Wilbert L. Cooper recounts his journey growing up, noting that his family and community celebrated swagger and fight over emotional depth. Connecting with the writings of bell hooks and James Baldwin, Mr. Cooper admits that only recently has he moved through patriarchal machismo and toxic masculinity. His epiphany came when he visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture and approached the casket of Emmett TillThank you to loyal subscriber Heidi for sending me this article. (19 mins)

City Arts and Technology High School, San Francisco

This Tiny Country Feeds the World
This Tiny Country Feeds the Worldwww.nationalgeographic.com

Finland knows education; the Netherlands knows food. Only the United States, at 270 times the size, makes more food than Holland. They’re the world’s top exporter of potatoes and onions and a global leader in tomatoes. How do the Dutch do it? A few reasons: building tons of greenhouses, reducing the need for water, creating self-sustaining ecosystems, and being passionate about data. Farming in the Netherlands is revolutionary, and it had better be. By 2050, 10 billion people will live on Earth, which means we’ll have to grow as much food over the next 40 years as in the past 8,000. Thanks go to loyal subscriber Jamie for submitting this excellent article. (23 mins)

Who Benefits From the Expansion of Advanced Placement Classes?
Who Benefits From the Expansion of Advanced Placement Classes?www.nytimes.com

The year I taught AP English Literature in San Francisco, my students were wonderful. We became a strong learning community, and I pushed them hard. At the end of the year, four of my students passed the exam, out of a class of 23. The results were devastating to me. But this article by Alina Tugend explains why my students’ results were not outside the norm. Urban schools, in order to offer greater access to challenging curriculum, have expanded their Advanced Placement programs. But there has been less emphasis in supporting students to bridge longstanding skill gaps. Meanwhile, the College Board does very little except collect millions of dollars. (22 mins)

This Week’s Podcast: If you haven’t yet checked out the podcast, this week’s episode is the one to try, especially if you care about American history. Loyal subscriber Clare Green interviews Columbia history professor Eric Foner about Confederate monuments, the teaching of history, and historiography. It’s a great conversation! The Highlighter Podcast comes out on Sunday night and is meant to supercharge your Monday commute. Tell your friends and subscribe on iTunes! On the show this week is Anthony Johnston, professor of education at the University of Saint Joseph. 

Thank you for reading Issue #111 of The Highlighter! Please let me know what you thought (thumbs are below). Please welcome new subscribers Linda, Gerry, and Amanda. Let’s keep growing The Highlighter community and making it even stronger. Have a wonderful week, and I’ll see you again next Thursday at 9:10 am.

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The Highlighter Podcast #9:

Nation editor Zoë Carpenter and teacher Allison McManis

favicon The Highlighter newsletter, which comes out every Thursday at 9:10 am, is all about connecting loyal readers with high-quality articles about race, education, and culture. Ever since I launched the podcast two months ago, I’ve made sure to have loyal subscribers on the show — because what we read matters to what we do and how we are. I’ve wanted subscribers to get to know each other, and I’ve appreciated how our community has grown and gotten closer together.

This week on the podcast, there’s a big surprise. In addition to having a loyal subscriber on the show, there is also an author of one of the articles from last week’s newsletter.

I’m pleased to announce that Zoë Carpenter, editor at The Nation and author of “What’s Killing America’s Black Infants, is a guest on today’s episode.

Interviewing Zoë is social studies teacher Allison McManis, who teaches World History at City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco. They talk about Zoë’s article, systemic inequities, and how our society allows infant mortality among African American babies to remain at a staggeringly high rate.

Please take a listen below and enjoy. Also, if you like the podcast, please feel free to subscribe!

Listen now: j.mp/hipod9zoe
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Thank you, and see you next Sunday evening for the next episode of the podcast!

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The Highlighter Podcast #6:

Academic Data and Assessment Manager Angelina Garcia

favicon In tonight’s episode of the podcast, I got to chat with Academic Data and Assessment Manager Angelina Garcia. Angelina is fantastic: She knows data, she has a passion for education, and she understands teachers — working side by side with them in order to support young people in their learning.

Angelina and I talked about a number of things, including why she’s a loyal subscriber to The Highlighter, why educators should care deeply about data, and why she bristled at the bar graph in last week’s article, “Homeless Students Drawn to Seattle Schools by Sports Are Often Cast Aside When the Season Is Over.” (Just so you know, we also talked about the article!)

Please take a listen below and enjoy. Also, if you like the podcast, please feel free to subscribe!

Apple Podcasts: j.mp/hipod
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Thank you, and see you next Sunday night at 9:10 pm for the next episode of the podcast!

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The Highlighter Podcast #5:

History Teacher Erin Brandvold

favicon It was a big delight to speak with History teacher Erin Brandvold this week. Erin is an excellent teacher, teacher-leader, instructional coach, and fitness guru.

We chatted about “Fear and Loathing in Homer and Rockville,” a fascinating episode of This American Life that I highlighted in last Thursday’s issue of the newsletter. It’s a story of a man in a small town in Alaska who researches his stance about immigration for an upcoming vote on a local measure.

I’ve decided that Erin should have her own podcast — that is, after she keeps teaching her students like the star she is, and after she completes half marathons and five-minute planks as part of Teacher Beasts.

Please take a listen and enjoy. Also, if you like the podcast, please feel free to subscribe!

Apple Podcasts: j.mp/hipod
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Thank you, and see you next Sunday night for the next episode of the podcast! favicon

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The Highlighter Podcast #4:

Humanities Teacher Marni Spitz

favicon Last week’s episode of The Highlighter podcast was very popular — there were more than 120 listeners. What a great way to start!

I just published the fourth episode, and I’m pretty excited about my conversation with Humanities teacher Marni Spitz. If you’re a fan of Iserotope, you’ll know that Marni is a contributor to TEACHER VOICES. Now she’s a podcast star, too.

In this episode, Marni and I chatted about “Youth From Every Corner,” an excellent article from last week’s digest. As a teacher, Marni knows firsthand how marginalized students of color face the unfair challenge of being labeled as failures even when offered opportunities to gain power in our society.

Please take a listen and enjoy! favicon

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The Highlighter Podcast #3:

Artist and Art Teacher Heidi asks me questions

favicon The Highlighter Podcast is becoming a real thing! In this week’s episode, I chat with East Bay artist and art teacher Heidi, who flips the script and asks me questions, rather than the other way around.

It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to speak with Heidi.

Please check it out, and feel free to leave your comments about the episode below! Also, if you like the show, please subscribe via Apple Podcasts (or by searching for “The Highlighter” on other podcast catchers.) favicon

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Amazon Education donates 200 Kindle Fires!

favicon This is a wonderful way to start a week!

Amazon Education has generously donated 200 Kindle Fire HDs and 200 cases to the Kindle Classroom Project. This is one of the largest donations in KCP history!


I am very grateful to Alicia (San Mateo, CA), who connected me in February with representatives at Amazon. After several conversations, the team at Amazon Education in Seattle followed up and completed the gift.

The Kindles and cases arrived on Friday and are ready to be processed, assembled, registered, and delivered to students next month!

The devices will go to students at Envision Academy in Oakland. Last year, the school ran a very successful reading program, with every student having the chance to read on a Kindle. With these new devices, I look forward to deepening our partnership this year.


One big benefit of this donation is that it means that students and teachers at Envision Academy will not have to learn how to use various types of Kindles. Even though Kindles are relatively easy to navigate, it’s better if everybody is using the same version.

Additionally, because Fires come with color touch screens and speakers, students will have access to all of the features that the Kindle affords, including text-to-speech.

Thank you again to the team at Amazon Education! This is a huge day for the Kindle Classroom Project, and I really appreciate your enormous contribution. favicon