#360: What Comes After Ambition?
And I warmly invite you to sign up for our discussion of “A Kingdom from Dust”
Hi loyal readers! Thank you for opening this week’s issue of The Highlighter, which includes outstanding selections on ambition, reading instruction, live action role plays, and emotional support animals. If you have time to read just one piece, I recommend (depending on your mood) either “What Comes After Ambition?” or “His Emotional Support Animal Is An Alligator.” The first is about redefining success in life, and the second is about, well, an alligator. If you’re a teacher, don’t miss “The Rise And Fall of Vibes-Based Literacy,” and if you want to be creeped out, go with “My 4 Days In Gay Conversion Therapy.“ Please enjoy! — and if you like, share in the comments which article resonated with you most.
ALSO: Tonight is Highlighter Happy Hour #18! We’re sold out. I’m looking forward to seeing you all there at Room 389 in Oakland beginning at 5:30 pm.
ALSO: There’s still time to join Article Club this month. I warmly invite you to participate. We’re reading, annotating, and discussing “A Kingdom from Dust,” by Mark Arax. Here’s an annotatable version. It’s a brilliantly written, sweeping account of water and farming politics in California, exploring how two non-farming, kitsch-selling business people from the East coast built massive wealth by moving out west and making it big. Already 14 of you have signed up for our discussion on Sunday, September 25, 2:00 - 3:30 pm PT. There’s room for 10 more of you! All you need to do is click the button below.
We know about the Great Resignation of 2021, when 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs. We’ve heard of quiet quitting, the trend of meeting our job requirements, rather than going above and beyond. (I’m not sure how this is quitting.)
But what’s really going on here? Why are so many of us — and in particular, women — questioning the role of work in our lives? Is it just the effects of the pandemic? Is it Gen X wanting to retire early, and Gen Z not wanting to work? Is it a structural effect of late-stage capitalism, or maybe an existential response to climate change – a plaintive cry of “What’s it all for?”
Whatever is causing this decline of ambition, author Ann Friedman expertly captures the feelings of (many) women right now in this well-written piece. She argues that girlboss culture and previous waves of feminism did not break the glass ceiling. The pay gap stubbornly persists, particularly for BIPOC women. Why try so hard when structural inequities remain intractable? Why strive at work when more attainable and satisfying measures of success lie outside the office? (10 min)
Before the latest round of teacher bashing – you know, the one about critical race theory and book banning and LBGTQ grooming – there was another movement by parents to criticize teachers. It was about the way teachers approached reading instruction. About five years ago, with the dogged reporting of education journalist Emily Hanford, proponents of phonics rebranded as “the science of reading,” vilifying educators who supplemented structured lessons on decoding with independent reading and access to high-interest books. In this article, when Jessica Winter notices that her kindergarten daughter is not sounding out words, she grows concerned about the reading curriculum. After first reacting like many parents (trying to cancel Lucy Calkins), Ms. Winter realizes that the solution to the reading wars isn’t an either-or proposition. Instead, we must recognize systemic inequities and provide young people multiple ways (including phonics) to learn to read well. A big thanks to VIP Jennifer for sending this article my way. (27 min)
+ For a summary of Ms. Hanford’s philosophy, here’s a quick guest essay she wrote recently for the New York Times, “School Is For Learning To Read.” Also check out the interview she did with me a few years back.
While Americans love their video games, Scandinavians prefer live action role playing. I’m by no means an expert in Larping, but if you’ve ever attended a Renaissance Faire (not my thing), or heard of a Civil War re-enactment (definitely not my thing), you get the idea. Except Scandinavians take their Larps very seriously, as Jason Anthony explains in this well-written and uncomfortable article about “The Future Is Straight,” a four-day experience in Denmark that simulates a gay conversion camp in a strict heteronormative society. Mr. Anthony, who is queer, takes on the character of Ferret, who in the Larp wants to be straight. This is discomfiting for Mr. Anthony, who nonetheless begins to identify with Ferret, which Larpers call “bleed.” He writes, “While two days earlier Ferret was an idea, his personality had taken over my flesh, a kind of possession.” (30 min)
Like many of us, Joseph Henney gets anxious sometimes. But instead of a lovable Lab or a cute kitten to help him get through the daily stressors of modern life, Mr. Henney relies on his emotional support animal, a 70-pound alligator named WallyGator. “When he returns his nose toward you,” Mr. Henney says about WallyGator, “that means he expects a kiss.” In addition to giving and receiving affection, WallyGator accompanies Mr. Henney (on a leash) on jaunts to the park and the farmers market, where residents of Jonestown, Pennsylvania, greet him and ask for selfies. At home, they watch TV together on the couch, sleep in the same bed, and regularly devour their favorite snack, cheesy popcorn. (15 min)
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