When I featured “79” as one of last year’s best three articles (see Issue #173), naturally I wanted to speak to author Brian Broome. He graciously accepted the invitation, and I’m honored to present our conversation to you, loyal Highlighter Podcast listeners!
I get to work with teachers, which makes me happy, and a few weeks ago, one of my colleagues, who is in her mid-20s, told me something that got me thinking. She said, “I know how to work hard. That’s not the problem. It’s just that I don’t want to work hard all the time.” That sentiment is at the heart of today’s lead article, “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.” I can’t wait until you read it. It’ll get you to think, no matter which generation you claim.
This week’s newsletter features articles, podcast episodes, and photo essays on a variety of subjects, including the child-welfare system in Florida, an upstart charter school in New York, the reading gap in Chicago, and an exploration of what home means. If you have time for just one article, please read “The End of Forever,” which tells the story of a boy who never had a home, who “never had parents at all.”
Want to begin this new year with your heart open? This beautiful set of 17 photo essays — exploring the theme of home — will point you in the right direction. You’ll meet families separated at the border, juvenile offenders, California firefighters, Alzheimer’s patients, women vying for a room in Oakland, and formerly homeless men moving into the Minna Lee Hotel in San Francisco. You’ll also peruse beloved keepsakes, home-cooked meals, and the eight homes of a 13-year-old foster kid. Click around, choose your own adventure, and enjoy the audio clips that complement many of the images.
Today’s issue marks the end of the third year of The Highlighter. We’ve built a robust community of 500+ avid readers who care deeply about race, education, and culture. Thank you for your readership, whether this is your first issue or if you started with Issue #1. (Note: Please don’t look at Issue #1. 😬)
This year’s 50 issues featured more than 200 excellent articles on important topics by talented writers. How to choose the best ones? You know it’s a tough contest when Jia Tolentino, Michael Hobbes, Sara Mosle, and Roxane Gay don’t make it past the semifinals.
There was no magic to my process — except for tons of open browser tabs, various scribbles in my composition notebook, and many hours of re-reading and rumination. In the end, I’m really happy with the three winners. Please enjoy them! If you’re moved, kindly hit reply and share with me your thoughts.
Two years ago, in the middle of the night, in a small town in West Virginia, R.J. Williams, a 23-year-old Black man — drunk and suffering from anxiety, upset he couldn’t see his son — told his ex-girlfriend he was going outside to threaten the police with an unloaded gun, hoping they’d kill him.
Tragically, Mr. Williams’s wish came true. The Weirton police shot and killed him. But the first officer on the scene, Stephen Mader, a white man, a former Marine trained in de-escalation, chose not to fire his weapon, even after Mr. Williams refused to drop his gun. This is the story of what happens to a police officer who makes a decision not to kill.
Benjamin joined Barrio 18 in El Salvador when he was 12. To join the gang, he had to kill another boy. Now it’s a decade later, and after killing dozens of his MS-13 rivals, Benjamin wants out. For most of the 60,000 gang members in El Salvador, this isn’t option. But Benjamin is lucky — that is, until he finds out that life outside the gang isn’t any better than it is inside. Lonely and ostracized, Benjamin spends his days smoking weed, looking for work, mostly staying indoors, and always watching his back.
When you buy your dream home, be sure it isn’t haunted. Unfortunately, Derek and Maria Broaddus, who fell in love with the house on 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey, did not heed that advice. Soon after the Broadduses moved in with their three children, they began receiving creepy letters from “The Watcher,” who did not appreciate the new owners. Here’s a sample: “Will the young blood play in the basement? Or are they too afraid to go down there alone? I would be very afraid if I were them. It is far away from the rest of the house. If you were upstairs, you would never hear them scream.” This article, one of my favorites this year, is part horror, part detective mystery, and part ethnography of an affluent suburban town, when neighbors turn on each other.
The rise of white nationalism and the alt-right did not begin with the election of President Trump. This article follows the surge of white hate groups since 9/11, featuring our government’s ignorance of the threat and its decision to focus on Muslim extremism. By the time President Obama was elected, it was too little, too late. This piece by Janet Reitman, who wrote “All American Nazis” (#142), is brilliantly reported.
Why are we still teaching reading the wrong way? Why are so many educators ignoring settled research and brain science and doing their own thing instead?
In “Hard Words: Why Aren’t Our Kids Being Taught to Read?” Emily Hanford investigates these important questions. Emily’s documentary was featured in The Highlighter #162, and it was wonderful to have a conversation with her.
Emily was generous to be on the podcast. Please take a listen!
After Dylann Roof killed 12 Black churchgoers in South Carolina in 2015, members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church forgave him. President Obama sang “Amazing Grace.” The media marveled at the victims’ families acts of absolution, and white America sighed with relief. For Hafizah Geter, this sequence of events was an act of theater. Ever since slavery, when white people commit violence against Black people, there is a compulsion, rooted in Christianity, for Black people to forgive. The only other option, Ms. Geter argues, is rage, which white society does not tolerate — unless, of course, that rage turns inward, destroying the Black family, the Black body.
If you want to know where we’re headed as a country, follow what’s happening in California and Texas. That’s the premise of this outstanding eight-article collection, which centers on four key topics: immigration, urban policy, the economy, and transportation. Try to read them all, but if you can’t spare two hours, I recommend starting with “Los Angeles vs. Legal Weed” and “When Electric Isn’t Good Enough.” Also refreshing: These pieces, while focusing on the challenges we face, aren’t all doom and gloom. (Plus, these are great for social studies teachers.)
Many Highlighter subscribers call Oakland their home. But you don’t need to live in Oakland to understand the city’s rapid changes. What many say has happened in San Francisco (e.g., unaffordable housing, gentrification, displacement, a loss of identity and character) is happening in Oakland. This report, which focuses on one block in North Oakland, explains the effects that Proposition 13, passed by voters in 1978 to reduce taxes for homeowners, has had on education, housing, and business. Take your time: click on all seven stories, take a look at the maps and charts, and realize that there isn’t a simple solution to this mess.
The biggest problem in American education, according to our lead article two weeks ago (#163), is not the achievement gap. It’s the opportunity myth. We promise kids of color that if they work hard, they’ll be rewarded. This is a lie. Across the country, we’re comfortable offering a separate and unequal education to Black and Brown students, as long as white kids get the resources they need.
In January, Roxane Gay (#82, #99) decided to get a sleeve gastrectomy, which greatly reduced the size of her stomach. “As a fat person,” Ms. Gay writes, “I am supposed to want to lose weight. I am supposed to be working on the problem of my body.” She told no one, not even her family, about the operation. Now she’s losing weight — but isn’t any happier. (21 min) (For more on weight and our sense of self, see #104, #105, #124)