#294: “I Feel Like I’m Just Drowning”
Hi there, loyal readers, and thank you for opening up this week’s issue of The Highlighter. Back nearly six years ago, when I launched this newsletter, most of its articles directly related to education. After all, I’m an educator, like many of you, so it made sense. Over time, though, my reading tastes have shifted. It’s less common now that I feature pieces on schools and teachers and students. Maybe it’s the pandemic. Or maybe it’s just that I’m reading more expansively now and looking for new topics (like Hot Cheetos, see below).
But no matter where my reading takes me, there’s no way I was going to pass up this week’s lead story — an expertly reported, well-written, kind, generous article about a group of young people in Missouri who have navigated the past year of distance learning. It’s one of my favorite articles of 2021 so far, and I highly recommend it. In fact, I’ll be reaching out to the author, Susan Dominus, to see if I can persuade her to join Article Club in August so we can talk about her piece all together.
+ Not into education? No problem. This week’s other articles — about Hot Cheetos, TikTok influencers, and rent payment grace periods — are worth your reading time and energy, too. Please enjoy!
+ I’d love to hear from you. All you need to do is hit reply.
“I Feel Like I’m Just Drowning”
Before the pandemic, 15-year-old Charles read Shakespeare plays for fun, scoured the Federalist Papers to complement his love of the musical “Hamilton,” and enjoyed bantering with his classmates about Chipotle. But then Hickman High School in Missouri moved to distance learning, and Charles stopped attending classes and turning in work, even for his favorite AP World teacher, Ms. E.K. Like thousands of young people across the country, Charles was barely leaving his bed, instead eating burgers and playing video games all day, depressed and putting life on hold.
This is the dire, touching story of Charles, several of his peers, and their dedicated teacher who texts, cajoles, and supports them the best she can in a year of isolation and desperation. (Her salary: $50,000.) Reporter Susan Dominus, a parent of twin teenagers herself, gets in there and tells an embracing, big-hearted story. If you’re a parent or an educator, or if you care about kids, this is an hour well spent. (57 min)
The Fiery Debate Over Hot Cheetos
It’s been a roller coaster week for Hot Cheetos. It began with this feel-good Planet Money episode that celebrated Richard Montañez, the janitor from Southern California who said he invented the flavor and rescued the brand. But wait: There’s no evidence of that, said Frito-Lay and Los Angeles Times writer Sam Dean, in this exposé, which debunks Mr. Montañez’ claim. That’s the end, right? Not so fast. Mr. Montañez is sticking to his story, and the Latinx community is defending him, asking why everyone’s so quick to believe a white reporter over the son of migrant workers. (Eva Longoria still plans on making a Hot Cheetos movie.) (24 min)
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+ A big thank you to VIP Mark for sharing this article with me.
I met Derek, a curious student in San Francisco, a few years ago, when he was in ninth grade. Now he’s graduating. It’s been a challenging year for him. But a few months ago, good news arrived, in the form of an email. (3 min)
Educating The TikTok Generation
Last year during the pandemic, English professor Barrett Swanson needed a vacation. His teaching had become less about analyzing James Baldwin and more about tending to his students’ anxieties and their comfort animals. Prof. Swanson wondered, Was there another way to support young people as they headed into adulthood? Indeed there was — at the Clubhouse for the Boys mansion, a collab house in Los Angeles where TikTok stars “hone their voice.” One of the owners says, “We really see ourselves as an influencer university.” Tons of layers here. (38 min)
+ For the record: I’m a big fan of TikTok. It’s great.
The Battle For 1042: Landlords And Tenants Struggle With The Pandemic
Alfonzo Hill, who lives with his 13-year-old daughter at 1042 Cutler in Schenectady, New York, is broke. He lost his job at the local tavern last March and has been unemployed ever since. Like the 8 million Americans behind on rent (average debt: $5,600), Mr. Hill appreciates that the federal government has banned evictions until at least July. But that’s not good news for landlord Romeo Budhoo, an immigrant from Guyana, who hasn’t collected any rent in more than a year and can’t pay the mortgage and property taxes. “This house is slowly killing me,” he said. (12 min)
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