#109: Touching Death
Welcome to The Highlighter #109! Now that we’ve passed Labor Day, the school year has officially begun, which means that parents are happy and teachers are looking forward to Winter Break. I’ve got a solid assortment of articles this week, so I encourage you to find some quality time — how about maybe three hours? — to curl up in a comfy place and read well-written pieces about seeking God (via snake handling), protecting whiteness (via President Trump), resegregating schools (via district secession), teacher sustainability (via side hustle), and cheap clothes (via worker exploitation). There’s something for everyone in this week’s issue of the newsletter, so dig in and let me know what you think. Please enjoy!
Touching Death: The Turbulent Life of One of America’s Last Snake-Handling Preachers
In the South there are Pentecostal churches whose pastors handle venomous snakes and drink poison to get closer to God. Congregants of these “signs-following” churches believe that contact with cottonmouths provides a spiritual epiphany that no opioid can offer. One parishioner said, “It’s a feeling that’s completely unexplainable. The hair on your head and your arms stands up. It’s something better than drinking, smoking, or pill taking. It’s better than all of that.” This article by Jordan Ritter Conn reminds us that our country is big and diverse. Take your time, and check out the videos, too, to gain the full effect. (⏳⏳ - 30 mins)
Please read every word. I woke up this morning to find this article by Ta-Nehisi Coates (#3, #10, #48, #58, #71) and scurried to read it and include it in today’s issue. (By noon, it’ll be shared all over the Internet.) In scintillating prose, Mr. Coates convincingly argues that white liberals like to attribute President Donald Trump’s election victory to the economic angst of working-class white Americans. No way. White people from every socioeconomic group preferred Mr. Trump, and the 2016 election served to protect whiteness and white supremacy. As usual with Mr. Coates, be ready, if you’re white, for a proper history lesson and a swift punch to the gut. (⏳⏳⏳ - 46 mins)
The Resegregation of Jefferson County Via School District Secessions
Brown v. Board of Education (1954) mandated school desegregation but did not prevent towns from seceding from their districts to form segregated autonomous districts. That’s the focus of this brilliant piece by Nikole Hannah-Jones (#18, #22, #46, #47, #65, #82), my favorite education reporter. Ms. Hannah-Jones traces how white people in Jefferson County in Alabama argued for “local control” of their schools and fought for “colorblind” policies that have splintered the school district and reversed the racial and educational progress that integration brought fifty years ago. When it comes down to it, Ms. Hannah-Jones suggests, white parents just don’t want their kids learning together with African American kids. (⏳⏳⏳ - 46 mins)
Paloma is a wonderful dog and belongs to loyal subscriber Jamie.
Silicon Valley Courts Brand-Name Teachers, Raising Ethics Issues
It’s the beginning of the school year, so that means it’s time for the annual bashing of public school teachers. This article blames teachers for courting tech companies for swag, merchandise, and side gigs. While I’m not a proponent of the over-corporatization of schools, I won’t denigrate a teacher’s hustle or their development of money-making schemes. (The most a teacher in San Francisco can make is $93,000, after 28 years in the classroom. You’d better have a wealthy partner, or no kids, or a Prop. 13-protected home, or all of the above.) (⏳⏳ - 23 mins)
A $6-an-Hour Worker in Los Angeles Makes the Shirt You Bought for $13
This is a clear, well-written article about the clothing industry in Los Angeles and how large retailers like Forever 21 protect themselves from liability stemming from manufacturers underpaying their workers. Ross, TJ Maxx, and Forever 21 contract with companies that employ undocumented Latinos and pay by the piece — 51 cents to sew an entire tank top, for instance, or 10 cents just for the neck. Check out the photos and videos, too, including the one with Dov Charney (formerly of American Apparel, before he was ousted for sexual harassment). (⏳ - 15 mins)
This Week’s Podcast: The podcast went big and revolutionary this week, thanks to loyal subscriber and social studies teacher Allison McManis. Last Thursday, Allison let me know that she was college roommates with Zoë Carpenter, who wrote “What’s Killing America’s Black Infants,” which I highlighted last week. Let’s get her on the show! I said. And it was done. For the first time, the podcast features not only a loyal subscriber of The Highlighter but also the author of one of its articles. This could be a thing! If you haven’t listened yet, here it is — please do. Then subscribe!
Thank you for reading this week’s issue of The Highlighter! The digest’s momentum continues apace. Let’s welcome new subscribers Joanne, Robert, Amanda, Katy, Travis, and Alison! (Big thanks to loyal subscriber Jessica for her outreach.) Please keep encouraging your friends and family to subscribe, and let me know what you thought of today’s issue (thumbs are below). Also: At the end of each article blurb, do you prefer reading times, or hourglasses, or both, or neither? Have a wonderful week, and I’ll see you again next Thursday at 9:10 am.
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