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#115: Birth of a White Supremacist

Hello loyal subscribers! This week’s issue of The Highlighter begins all doom and gloom but gets more hopeful as you progress through the articles. The first two pieces continue the conversation from last week about our divided, tribalist country. The first chronicles the transformation of a white man from Basic Neighborhood Contrarian to Crazy White Supremacist. The second explains the power of attributing evil to “them” while assigning good to “us.” After the photo break (an invite to the second Highlighter Happy Hour), you’re in for a double dose of goodness. You just can’t go wrong with Nikole Hannah-Jones and Nora the Polar Bear. Please enjoy! 


Birth of a White Supremacist
Birth of a White Supremacistwww.newyorker.com

Not all disaffected white men end up becoming racist white supremacists. But this profile of Mike Enoch explains how quickly some people can latch on to hateful ideologies. Author Andrew Marantz presents many layers in this piece, but what’s clear is how Mr. Enoch needed something to soothe his feelings of inadequacy. Believing that white people are superior did the trick. If you’re interested in learning more, listen to This American Life’s “White Haze” (59 mins). Bonus: Want to read a version of the article that includes my highlights and annotations? It’s your lucky day⏳⏳

The Power of Negative Thinking
The Power of Negative Thinkingnewrepublic.com

This is a thoughtful analysis of Donald Trump’s success and allure. The secret: Aggrandize yourself and vilify your opponents. This strategy works because it is in line with Protestant tradition, all the way from early America to The Power of Positive Thinking, whose author was Mr. Trump’s pastor. Author Jeet Heer suggests that Democrats do something similar (though kinder) in 2018. ⏳

Talk about the articles in real life at the Highlighter Happy Hour! Let’s meet up at Room 389 in Oakland on Nov. 2, 5:30 – 7:30 pm. You might want to get your tickets soon! www.highlighter.cc/events.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Beyoncé of Journalism (and My Favorite Reporter)
Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Beyoncé of Journalism (and My Favorite Reporter)www.kappanonline.org

Nikole Hannah-Jones (#18, #22, #46, #47, #65, #82) is my favorite education reporter. Now she’s a MacArthur Genius! Good job, Nikole: You’ve made The Highlighter proud. This profile provides a solid history of Ms. Hannah-Jones’s career — how she got into journalism and why she cares about school segregation. Like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ms. Hannah-Jones doesn’t believe it’s her responsibility to give white people hope. Want more? Here’s her interview with the New York Times. ⏳

The Loneliest Polar Bear
The Loneliest Polar Bearprojects.oregonlive.com

Unless you are immune to all feelings, this series (5 parts in all, plus a 30-min video!) will tug at your heartstrings. Follow Nora the Polar Bear and read about all the challenges she’s faced since her birth at the Columbus Zoo. To balance out the cuteness, learn more about how humans may cause the bears’ extinction sooner rather than later. ⏳⏳⏳

This Week’s Podcast: My friend and former colleague Laura Hawkins is on this week’s episode of The Highlighter Podcast. A Math teacher in San Francisco, Laura believes in putting statistics and data sets in front of her students that will challenge their bias. On the show, we talked about Andrew Sullivan’s article from #114 and grappled with what we can do to combat our increasingly tribalist country. Please take a listen, and if you’re impressed, go ahead and subscribe!

You’ve reached the end of The Highlighter #115. Thank you for being a loyal subscriber. Let me know what you thought (thumbs are below). Also, please welcome new subscribers Maria, Nick, Karen, and Tarik! If you are moved, forward this newsletter right now to a friend and write a heartfelt message encouraging them to subscribe. You’ll be happy; they’ll be happy; I’ll be happy. Have a wonderful week, and I’ll see you again next Thursday at 9:10 am.

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#114: Secrets of the South

Hi there, it’s time for The Highlighter #114. This issue, there are articles about millennials (and where they eat), teachers of color (how there aren’t many), loyal tribalists (who might hasten the end of America), and powerful women (meeting gloriously in secret). If you want to be inspired, read the first article. If you want to be concerned, read the second and third. If you’re a millennial, or a non-millennial who is obsessed with millennials, start with the last piece first. Please enjoy!


Secrets of the South
Secrets of the Southwww.lennyletter.com

Too many secret societies are reserved for white supremacists or privileged Ivy Leaguers. That’s why this article about the United Order of Tents (“Successful Women Bridging the Past Upholding the Future”) is so refreshing. A semi-covert organization for African American women, the Tents was founded in 1867 by Annetta Lane and Harriett Taylor. The Tents promote sisterhood, empowerment, and service toward others. After a downturn in membership after the Civil Rights movement, the group’s popularity and power are once again on an upswing. ⏳⏳

Can Our Democracy Survive Tribalism?
Can Our Democracy Survive Tribalism?nymag.com

For years we’ve heard about red and blue states and about how we’re divided as a country — liberal coastal elites vs. Middle America. Andrew Sullivan goes further in this article, arguing that the United States has become a tribal nation. Facts and reason no longer matter; we extol our leader while vilifying our enemy. There is no pathway to compromise. Though I agree with many of Mr. Sullivan’s claims, his solutions rely on old myths of America that are woefully lacking. Still, I recommend this piece because of the excellent and thought-provoking prose. ⏳⏳⏳

If you’ve seen Big Night (1996), you know about the famous timpano. Loyal subscribers Lynna and Peter (with help from loyal subscriber Erin) successfully re-created the dish this weekend at our book club’s annual retreat in Aptos. Inside the crust you’ll find ziti with sauce, sausage, meatballs, cheese, and hard-boiled eggs.

Diversifying the Classroom
Diversifying the Classroomwww.urban.org

Students of color do better when they have teachers who look like them. The problem is that the great majority of American teachers are white. This succinct research report does a great job detailing the gap. Take time with the graphs. They’ll explain clearly how the pipeline of potential teachers of color narrows so quickly and relentlessly. ⏳

Applebee's Deserves to Die
Applebee's Deserves to Diewww.eater.com

Please everyone read this piece, particularly if you’re a millennial or if you’re a non-millennial who doesn’t like millennials. (I like millennials.) Bijan Stephen explains why chain restaurants like Applebee’s are closing, and in the meantime, he captures the essence of what it means to be a millennial. Mr. Stephen’s writing is smart and fresh and funny. Big thanks to loyal subscriber Morenike for sending in this article. ⏳

This Week’s Podcast: My friend and former colleague Nicholas Woo is on this week’s episode of The Highlighter Podcast. A former teacher and academic director, Nicholas now serves as a data and evaluation associate at Partnership with Children in New York City. Nick believes that teachers and schools alone cannot meet the needs of young people living in poverty. Please take a listen, and if you’re impressed, go ahead and subscribe!

We’ve arrived at the end of The Highlighter #114. Hope you enjoyed the ride. Let me know what you thought (thumbs are below). Also, please welcome new subscribers Sharon and Heidi! Let’s keep growing The Highlighter community and making it stronger. Have a wonderful week, and I’ll see you again next Thursday at 9:10 am.

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#113: The Anguish of Activism

This week, we are reeling from the shock of another horrific mass murder. It is impossible to process. The articles in today’s issue will not mention the massacre, nor will they offer solace or specific means forward. In fact, three of the pieces may serve to confirm or exacerbate a lack of hope. But I chose these articles because they poignantly tell the truth about what we face. (If you’re not in the mood, skip to the last piece for a pick-me-up.) As always, thank you for being a loyal subscriber to The Highlighter, and I hope that these selections will help you through.


The Anguish of Activism
The Anguish of Activismhighline.huffingtonpost.com

In our divided country, too often we don’t spend time learning about and listening to the people advocating for change. This profile of activist Jedidiah Brown tells the story of his unrelenting passion, his fight to prevent violence, and his campaign for better opportunities for African Americans in Chicago. At the same time, this article also explores the emotional toll Mr. Brown endures as a leader, which brings him to the brink of suicide. ⏳⏳

On American Identity, the Election, and Family Members Who Support Trump
On American Identity, the Election, and Family Members Who Support Trumplongreads.com

There are many reasons to read this moving essay by Nicole Chung. Simply, Ms. Chung knows how to write. She captures how no amount of American-ness suffices when a white person decides you’re Other. She extends this argument to include the loving and racist white family who adopted her. For Ms. Chung, the question is, What now? What to do with this burden? ⏳

Here are loyal subscribers Aletheia and Jessica at the Inaugural Highlighter Happy Hour last Thursday at Room 389 in Oakland. It was great to see everyone there! If you want to join next time, check out www.highlighter.cc/events.

How Fake News Turned a Small Town Upside Down
How Fake News Turned a Small Town Upside Downwww.nytimes.com

This brilliant article (and podcast) by Caitlin Dickerson focuses on how fake news and conspiracy theories following a sexual assault on a girl last year stoked the fears of white residents in a small town in Idaho. Once Facebook groups and YouTube channels began spouting that Syrian refugees had committed the crime, no amount of fact or reason could prevent the vile response. Honestly, when I read an article like this, I don’t exactly know what to do. ⏳⏳

Long Live the Group Chat
Long Live the Group Chattheoutline.com

According to Aaron Edwards, group chats are havens for Black and brown people. They’re safe spaces for expression. He explains: “[Group chats are] an incubator for ideas, a compass for emotions, a jury balanced toward your best interests (“is he cute or does he just have dreadlocks?” as my friend likes to ask), and a gut check for ways to respond to (or endure) whiteness in contexts that range from casual annoyances to blatant racism.” Is he right? ⏳

This Week’s Podcast: I’ve been a big fan of writer Lauren Markham ever since I read “Our School” in #78.  When “The Girl Gangs of El Salvador” was chosen lead article in #110, I invited her on the show, and she agreed. Our conversation centered on Ms. Markham’s writing and her work in Oakland with newly arrived immigrant youth. She’s also the author of The Far Away Brothers, which I recommend and which received a glowing review in The New York Times. If you haven’t listened yet, please do!

Thank you for reading The Highlighter #113! Are you feeling connected to the newsletter? Hope so. Let me know what you think (thumbs are below). Also, we had a bonanza of 14 new subscribers this week! Please welcome Caity, Dara, Reuben, Lara, Hannah, Brett, Joycelin, Seewan, Brittany, Laura, Elizabeth, Lesley, Rosie, and Shruti. Let’s keep growing The Highlighter community and making it stronger. Have a wonderful week, and I’ll see you again next Thursday at 9:10 am.

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#112: The College Try

Hello there and welcome to the 112th issue of The Highlighter newsletter. This week, I have four thought-provoking articles for you. If you can, try to read the first two pieces together. Both center on how low-income people deal with persistent financial stress. The first article follows two young people trying to realize their college dreams given their financial reality. The second article unveils how the bankruptcy system works against African Americans seeking a fresh start from their financial woes.

After a video quotation break (the first ever at The Highlighter), hunker down for a dispiriting yet important article about how multinational corporations have addressed the problem of malnutrition by making poor people fat. Rounding off this week is a quick and refreshing article about archivists of rare documents — which to me means “advanced librarians.”

Big announcement: The Highlighter is no longer simply a weekly newsletter, a weekly podcast, and a wonderful community of caring, thoughtful, incisive people. Beginning this week, The Highlighter is also a website. Everything over at the website is organized and looks fantastic. There are dedicated pages for the newsletter, the podcast, the latest news, and upcoming events. Most important, the subscribe page is simple and elegant. Please head on over and check it out. You’ll be happy you did!

All right, back to the newsletter. Please enjoy today’s articles, and have a great week! 


The College Try
The College Trystory.californiasunday.com

Most high schools push their students to go to college. It’s the great equalizer, the best way to attain upward social mobility. It’s the ticket to more money, less stress, and a better life. For most young people, though, college is a major financial burden. This is the story of two women, Liz and Kersheral, and their experience attending Cal State Long Beach. As first-generation college students, they forge their way, figuring out how to pay for tuition and housing. For Liz, the question is, Will she graduate? Only 20 percent do in four years. And for Kersheral, who has just graduated, the question is, Will this degree be worth it? ⏳⏳

How the Bankruptcy System Is Failing Black Americans
How the Bankruptcy System Is Failing Black Americansfeatures.propublica.org

There are two ways to declare bankruptcy: Chapter 7 is more expensive up front and requires you to liquidate your possessions. Chapter 13 forgoes lawyer’s fees and allows you to keep your possessions — as long as you make payments for five years. In much of the South, if you’re white, your lawyer suggests Chapter 7, and if you’re Black, your lawyer encourages Chapter 13. This excellent piece explains why, for many poor African Americans, this system of bankruptcy-on-credit does nothing to stop the cycle of poverty. ⏳⏳

How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food
How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Foodwww.nytimes.com

Big food companies are making poor people fat. This is happening not just in America but all over the world. This disheartening piece details how Nestlé (“Good Food, Good Life”) has infiltrated Brazil, employing women, Avon Lady-style, to travel door to door, peddling high-calorie, sugary products. For many years, too many Brazilians didn’t have enough food to eat. Now the problem is different: There’s plenty to eat, but it’s mostly junk. As a result, obesity, diabetes, and other health problems have skyrocketed. Meanwhile, Nestlé says that people need to make better choices. ⏳⏳

Keepers of the Secrets
Keepers of the Secretswww.villagevoice.com

There are librarians, and then there are archivists. This profile of Thomas Lannon, archivist at the New York Public Library, is a fascinating look into the mind of a person who spends his life taking care of rare documents. Mr. Lannon knows secrets about New York, but he keeps them tucked away in folders, hoping one day a patron will swing by to make a discovery. Instead of wearing gloves, Mr. Lannon prefers to touch the documents with his fingers — in order to understand their fragility. What frustrates Mr. Lannon is the explosion of paper. Though it means that his job is secure, it also means that he gets less time to peruse. His job is to sort, organize, “refolder.” ⏳

This Week’s Podcast: Professor of Education Tony Johnston was a delight this week. We chatted about a number of topics, including fireflies, Black masculinity, and Advanced Placement classes. As usual, Tony was great. I’m still finding my voice as an interviewer and podcast host, but my guests invariably are thoughtful people with important things to share. The good news is, I’m cranking up the volume levels so that the podcast can supercharge your Monday morning commute. On the show this week is educator and writer Lauren Markham, who wrote “The Girl Gangs of El Salvador,” the lead story in The Highlighter #110. Please tune in!

That is it for The Highlighter #112. Hope you enjoyed today’s issue! Let me know what you thought (thumbs are below). Also, please welcome new subscribers Chris, Heidi, Alex, Aletheia, Sarah, Tiffany, Chloe, José, Abby, Alicia, and Michael. Let’s keep growing The Highlighter community and making it stronger. Have a wonderful week, and I’ll see you again next Thursday at 9:10 am.

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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.