Happy Thursday, Loyal Subscribers, and welcome to The Highlighter #98! This week centers on two big questions: (1) What does it mean to be American? and (2) Isn’t history, particularly when it’s about quirky things, sometimes great? Most young people no longer believe in the American Dream, and thei
Happy Thursday, Loyal Subscribers, and welcome to The Highlighter #98! This week centers on two big questions: (1) What does it mean to be American? and (2) Isn’t history, particularly when it’s about quirky things, sometimes great?
Most young people no longer believe in the American Dream, and their sentiments are pretty much right on. Maybe the problem is that too many Americans are sucking up all the possible wealth and not giving the young ones a chance. Or perhaps the issue is with segregation and how our public schools get to dictate who has access to the American Dream. The effects are both systemic and personal, both out in the world as well as inside our homes.
The study of history is boring for some people, and for others, it is extremely painful. For me, reading historical pieces helps me build background knowledge so that I can avoid sounding foolish when talking to people. That’s precisely why I’ve included histories of the U.S. Postal Service and pink doughnut boxes in today’s digest. Go out there and educate the unsuspecting masses!
I live in the Bay Area (as do some of you!), where the cost of living is high, where houses are hard to buy, and where people earning $100,000 a year complain that they’re living month to month. Brookings scholar Richard Reeves, author of the new book Dream Hoarders, argues that our country spends too much time admonishing the top 1 percent, when really it’s the top 20 percent — households earning more than $112,000 a year — that are “hoarding the American Dream” and keeping lower-income people from ascending the economic ladder. The hoarding comes in many forms, including owning a home, sending your children to private school, and saving for college. The problem, of course, is that people in the top quintile don’t see themselves as upper-middle class, and attribute their success to hard work, rather than privilege or luck.
At first glance, this is a feel-good story about how a high school in Chicago welcomed refugees from around the world with open arms and built a warm, inclusive community. Nearly half the students at Sullivan High School are first-generation immigrant students, coming from 38 countries and speaking 35 languages. What this article fails to mention, however, is how the school used to serve large numbers of African American students. After earning poor marks from the district, and after being perceived as unsafe, administrators at Sullivan High decided on a strategy to alter the school’s demographics by pushing out students with spotty attendance records. Unfortunately, Sullivan is not unique. Many public schools find success by rearranging their notion of public.
Yoojin Grace Wuertz is a new mom and Korean American and married to a white man. She is deciding whether or not to speak to her kid in Korean. It seems like the right thing to do: being bilingual is great; all her smart friends are doing it; she wants to do the right thing. But something doesn’t feel right, so Ms. Grace Wuertz outsources the language study to her parents, who later balk at the assignment. She then has to make a decision, but as you’ll find out, by then, it’s a little too late.
I like history and I like the U.S. Postal Service, and this article has both all in one! If you’re dubious, please consider this: The Post Office was once the bastion of innovation, research, and development. One example: In 1959, it tested out delivering mail from New York to San Francisco via a 30-foot missile. (Landing was the tough part.) Did that catch your attention? How about this one — that during World War II, letters to soldiers were first scanned to microfilm, then shipped overseas, then printed out for delivery? Given that exciting history, too bad the U.S. Postal Service has recently fallen on hard times, with its $15 billion debt and 25 percent decrease in parcels since 2008. Still, it’s a wonder that we can send a letter clear across this nation, to some random house on the side of a country road, for 49 cents.
More delightful history in this article. If you’re from California, you know that a pink box has delicious doughnuts inside. Apparently this isn’t the case in other parts of the country. The pink box originated in Los Angeles in the late-1970s after several Cambodian-owned mom-and-pop doughnut shops opted for pink over white. What began as a business decision (the square 9-inch boxes were a few cents cheaper, plus the perfect size for a dozen doughnuts) became iconic and famous and saliva-inducing.
Thank you for reading this issue of The Highlighter! Hope you liked it. Let’s please welcome new subscriber Anne! Also, this is the week where I’d like you to read the digest extremely conspicuously, maybe on public transportation, and when a stranger asks you what you’re reading, stretch out your arms and loudly proclaim, “The Highlighter!” Then kindly let me know how they respond. Have a great week, and see you next Thursday at 9:10 am!