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Current Events

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October 23, 2020


Debate: Should Standardized Tests Resume?

When the pandemic hit and schools closed in spring 2020, the U.S. Secretary of Education waived requirements for federal standardized testing in reading, math, and science. Recently, however, she said K-12 testing must resume. Those who support the move say the tests are a crucial tool in identifying students who have lost academic ground during the pandemic and can help to address the achievement gap. Opponents argue that the money would be better spent on other priorities, including collecting data locally much earlier on what kind of support students need. Listen to learn more about the controversy over testing and then debate: Should standardized tests resume?

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October 22, 2020


Teaching Black History as American History

High school students in Colorado took a trip that changed the way history is taught at their school. After the group traveled with their principal to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C., they realized that aspects of Black history were left out of their school’s American history curriculum that they thought should be included. Listen to hear the principal explain how the students pushed for change and what effect she hopes the new curriculum will have on teaching and learning.

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October 21, 2020


Iroquois Nationals Prepare for Top Lacrosse Competition

One of the best lacrosse teams in the world was left off the invitation list to the 2022 World Games. The Iroquois Nationals are considered the third best team worldwide. The Native American members of the team come from a generations-long tradition of playing lacrosse, a sport that originated with the Haudenosaunee people. When another team heard how the Nationals were snubbed, they took decisive action. Listen to learn why the Iroquois Nationals were excluded from play and how others responded to what they saw as an injustice.

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October 20, 2020


2020 Election Results May Be Delayed

As the 2020 U.S. presidential election approaches, many are warning that a winner is unlikely to be declared on Election Day. Some say a delay is not a problem, and may actually help the country arrive at a more fair and accurate result. More voters than ever before are mailing ballots to avoid coronavirus exposure. With extra time, election officials can ensure every vote is counted and errors are corrected. Listen to a voting rights expert explain why she is not worried about a delayed election result, and learn what Americans can do to support fair elections.

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October 19, 2020


The Rise of Private Militias

The actions of armed anti-government groups, often calling themselves “militias,” are gaining attention in the U.S. One such group was recently accused of plotting to kidnap the governor of Michigan. Militant groups sometimes claim the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which calls for “a well-regulated militia,” protects their right to exist. But are private militias really legal? Listen to learn whether armed anti-government groups can operate legally in the U.S. and how social media platforms help them thrive.

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October 18, 2020


Weird News: Cardboard Car at a Drive-Through

Listen to hear about a family trip to McDonald’s in a cardboard car.

Vocabulary: craving, embarrassed

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October 16, 2020


Debate: Should 16-year-olds Be Allowed to Vote?

Americans are currently eligible to vote at age 18, but some say the age should be lowered to 16. Supporters of the change say younger generations have proven they are engaged and informed through their political activism and should have a voice in decisions that will affect their future. Opponents fear that 16-year-olds lack the maturity to vote and may be heavily influenced by parents and teachers. Listen to hear a young activist argue for lowering the voting age and then debate: Should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote?

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October 15, 2020


Native American Cultural Burning Prevents Forest Fires

Wildfires are burning out of control in California and other western states. Recently, officials have turned to traditional Native American practices to help combat them. For thousands of years before being removed from the land, Native people applied controlled fire to a variety of plants. The technique boosts new growth and helps clear away dead matter that could fuel uncontrolled wildfires. Listen to learn how cultural burning was suppressed in America and why officials believe that bringing it back could help reduce or prevent future blazes.

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October 14, 2020


All-Black Rowing Team Wins in Life

When a recruiter invited Black high school students in Chicago to take up rowing, most initially declined. Crew was a predominantly white sport and seemed to have nothing to do with them. Those students who eventually joined, however, learned skills and gained insight that transformed their lives. Listen to an author reflecting on his experiences as a member of the first all-Black high school crew team, and hear how being on the team helped him succeed.

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October 13, 2020


Disinformation Campaigns Foreign and Domestic

Russia is trying to meddle in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, just as it did in 2016, through disinformation campaigns on social media. This year, experts say it is easier because foreign actors need only repeat falsehoods being circulated by Americans, including the current administration, which has questioned the integrity of the U.S. election process without supporting evidence. This has the effect of eroding voter confidence in democratic institutions and processes and encouraging actual interference with those processes. Listen to learn which tactics foreign adversaries are using to influence the 2020 election and how American national security experts and technology companies are trying to combat them.

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October 11, 2020


Weird News: Dog Receives Honorary Degree

Listen to hear about a dog receiving his very own college degree.

Vocabulary: honorary, veterinary, therapy

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October 9, 2020


Debate: Should TikTok Be Banned in the U.S.?

A judge recently blocked President Trump’s order to ban all U.S. downloads of the video sharing app TikTok, which is currently owned by a Chinese company. Trump views the app as a national security threat, saying that the data it collects from American users may be accessible to the Chinese government. Defenders of the app say no evidence exists that the Chinese government could access American TikTok data, which is housed in the U.S. Listen to learn more about the controversy surrounding TikTok and then debate: Should TikTok be banned in the U.S.?

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October 8, 2020


The Role of Superspreading Events in Coronavirus Transmission

A recent outbreak of coronavirus infections at the White House is highlighting how superspreading events can quickly infect large numbers of people. People with COVID-19 are most infectious before they show symptoms and can unknowingly spread illness to others. The virus continues to spread in this way, creating a cluster of infections. Health experts say superspreader events are typically indoor gatherings where people are not following safety guidelines. Listen to a professor explain how COVID-19 clusters arise and how to avoid future outbreaks.

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October 7, 2020


The Lasting Popularity of "Settlers of Catan"

The popular game “Settlers of Catan” is celebrating its 25th anniversary. When it first appeared, the board game revolutionized game playing by requiring players to communicate and work together in order to win. Although the game has sold steadily through the years, its popularity has surged during the pandemic, when many people are stuck at home. Listen to hear the German inventor of the game explain where the idea for “Settlers” came from and why he thinks it continues to attract so many fans.

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October 6, 2020


The First Presidential Debate of 2020

President Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden recently faced off in Cleveland, Ohio, in the first of three presidential debates leading up to the 2020 election. The debate was marked by angry exchanges, frequent interruptions, and calls for order by the moderator. This audio story analyzes the two candidates’ goals going into the debate and how well they succeeded in meeting them, as well as the impact of the president’s remarks about white supremacist groups and the peaceful transfer of power. Listen to learn more about this unusually contentious and chaotic presidential debate.

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October 5, 2020


Amy Coney Barrett Nominated to Supreme Court

Amy Coney Barrett, a judge, former law professor, and mother of seven, is President Trump’s nominee for the next Supreme Court Justice. She is highly accomplished and well-regarded at Notre Dame Law School, where she taught for 15 years. She once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and her conservative judicial record generally follows his approach to interpreting the Constitution. If her nomination is approved by the Senate, some worry that the Court will pursue a conservative agenda that includes overturning the Affordable Care Act. Listen to learn more about Amy Coney Barrett and what her appointment could mean for the future of the Supreme Court.

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October 4, 2020


Weird News: World's Oldest Gamer

Listen to hear about a 90-year-old gamer who broke a Guinness World Record.

Vocabulary: veteran, longevity

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October 2, 2020


Debate: Is Studying America's Flaws Unpatriotic?

President Trump is establishing a new commission to promote what he calls “patriotic education.” Trump objects to teachers using resources such as the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which addresses the history of slavery and systemic racism in America. He suggests that learning about these issues will brainwash students into hating their country and prefers that the curriculum focus on America’s strengths, such as its foundational democratic principles. Many educators believe that students benefit from examining America’s history in all its complexity, including where it has fallen short of the ideals expressed in its founding documents. Listen to hear more about the battle over teaching history and then debate: Is studying America’s flaws unpatriotic?

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October 1, 2020


History of Police Response to Protests

Police responses to protesters in America have varied over the past century. At times, police have used force, including tear gas and riot gear, to subdue protesters. At other times, their approach has been softer, as when an officer recently took a knee to express solidarity with protesters’ demands. Listen to learn why policing strategies have shifted since the 1960s and why one expert thinks many modern day police have returned to a “militarized mentality.”

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September 30, 2020


Tricky Bumble Bees

Are bees smarter than some people think? Scientists studying bee behavior noticed the insects taking tiny bites out of plant leaves. It turns out that this surprising behavior actually helps bees, though not immediately. Listen to learn how biting leaves benefits bees, and hear about another interesting trick bees use to get a good meal.

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September 29, 2020


Census Deadline in Dispute

Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau counts everyone living in the U.S., and the results determine state funding and political representation. The coronavirus pandemic is making collecting data for the 2020 census especially challenging, and last spring the Census Bureau extended the deadline. Soon after, however, the White House pressed the Census Bureau to finish counting earlier than originally proposed. The Census Bureau says the shortened window would prevent an accurate count, significantly impacting some communities for the next decade. Listen to hear how some leaders are trying to motivate people to ensure they are counted.

Update: Since this story aired, the court decided to uphold the extension of the census data collection deadline of October 31, 2020.

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September 28, 2020


RBG: Champion of Working Mothers

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died. Ginsburg, the second woman ever to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, was a fierce advocate for gender equality. Her groundbreaking work as a lawyer and judge changed how both men and women are treated in the workplace. Ginsburg was a hero to Americans fighting for gender equity and is affectionately known as RBG. Listen to learn more about the life and legacy of RBG and hear about the discrimination she herself faced as a working mom.

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September 27, 2020


Weird News: Mac and Cheese Fiasco

Listen to hear about a mac-and-cheese accident of enormous proportions.

Vocabulary: tragedy, fiasco, damaged

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September 25, 2020


Debate: Should Teachers Address Current Events?

The dramatic events of recent months, including a worldwide pandemic, protests over racial injustice, and raging wildfires in the West, are on the minds of students and teachers, and some teachers are incorporating them into the curriculum. They say placing current events in the context of classroom study helps students make sense of the issues and boosts their civic engagement. Others worry that these issues can be polarizing or upsetting and want the classroom to be an escape for students from the drama taking place outside of school. Listen to secondary school teachers explain their views on bringing current issues into the classroom and then debate: Should teachers address current events?

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September 24, 2020


Understanding Systemic Racism

Systemic racism, also called structural racism, refers to the way institutions in our society are set up to disadvantage black Americans. Often the racist systems are rooted in the past, such as the “redlining” system banks used in the early 20th century to refuse housing loans to people of color, but they created racial inequities still felt today. George Floyd’s death prompted protesters and others to call attention to systemic racism in policing, education, criminal justice, medicine, and other key societal institutions. Listen to a writer explain how systemic racism works to keep minorities from advancing, and what she believes could lead to meaningful change.

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September 23, 2020


Hope for Orcas in the Pacific Northwest

An orca is about to become a mama – again. Tahlequah first became famous in 2018 when she carried her calf, who died shortly after its birth, next to her for several weeks. Orcas, also known as killer whales, are endangered in the Pacific Northwest. The event highlighted not just the whales’ capacity to feel sadness, but also the challenges faced by orcas as they struggle to reproduce. Now scientists have confirmed that Tahleqhah is pregnant again. Listen to hear why the pregnancy is giving scientists hope and what people can do to help orcas survive.

Note: Since this story first aired, Tahlequah gave birth to a healthy new calf.

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September 22, 2020


Increasing Young Voter Turnout

A majority of eligible young voters have not voted in recent elections, but the 2020 presidential election could mark a change in that trend. This year, many young people have become civically engaged, motivated by issues such as racial justice. A nonprofit, nonpartisan organization aims to boost youth activity at the polls. The group sets up voter registration programs in high schools, where students can lead efforts to register their peers. Listen to hear a high school senior explain why she encourages her classmates to vote, and learn why a professor believes civics education needs to change.

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September 21, 2020


The Impact of COVID-19 on the Latinx Community

Latinx communities have been hit hard by the coronavirus. The vast majority of those who have contracted COVID-19 in Marin County, CA are Latinx. Many work low-wage jobs and live in crowded conditions, making it especially difficult to take the necessary steps to stay safe. The disproportionately high rate of infections in Latinx communities has highlighted the large gaps in income and access to healthcare in the U.S. Listen to hear about the challenges faced by a Latinx community in California and learn what one nonprofit is doing to address the health crisis.

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September 20, 2020


Weird News: Panda Escape

Listen to hear about a panda who escaped from his zoo pen.

Vocabulary: surveillance, skirt, roam

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September 18, 2020


Debate: Should Texts Include Punctuation?

Text messaging is changing the way people are using punctuation to express themselves. Some feel that periods at the end of texts can indicate seriousness or even anger. Others believe that writing sentences without periods is an insult to their teachers. Not everyone uses punctuation in the same way, and a period at the end of a text can easily be misinterpreted. Listen to hear a variety of reactions to texts ending with periods then debate: Should texts include punctuation?

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September 17, 2020


Western Fires Require Federal Help

Wildfires are burning out of control in California, Oregon, and other states in the western U.S., and now National Guard units from outside the region are being sent to help battle the blazes. Officials are asking other countries like Canada and Mexico to send fire crews, too. The huge fires are moving close to cities and towns and have posed a dangerous threat to homes, people, and wildlife. Listen to hear why fires are becoming bigger and more frequent in the West and what firefighters have been prioritizing as they spread out of control.

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September 16, 2020


Eliminating the Penny

The penny has become almost worthless, and some people want to see it eliminated. It costs the U.S. Mint two cents to produce every penny, and the Mint loses millions of dollars each year by manufacturing them. Some people have argued the penny should be retired, but many Americans have strong feelings about keeping the historic coin in circulation. Listen to hear more about the controversy surrounding the penny, and learn why all coins are in short supply during the pandemic.

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September 15, 2020


Focusing Youth Activism on Elections

As the 2020 presidential election approaches, many young people feel that voting is an essential component of active citizenship but not enough by itself. Youth today are more engaged in politics than in years past, and a large number of them plan to vote. But they also believe political action, including public protests, is a crucial way to bring about social change. Listen to hear young people talk about why they participate in protests and learn how increased youth activism could help boost voter turnout.

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September 14, 2020


Fresh Air Can Prevent Coronavirus Transmission

Scientists are understanding more and more about how to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. In indoor spaces with poor ventilation, clouds of virus particles can stay suspended in the air and be inhaled by others, even from a distance. Fortunately, though, even a slight breeze can help disperse the coronavirus clouds, making outdoors spaces much safer. Listen to learn more about how fresh air helps protect people from infection, and what can be done to reduce risk when it is necessary to be indoors.

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September 13, 2020


Weird News: Sandwich Support Saves Diner

Listen to hear about how a generous customer helped support a diner during the coronavirus pandemic.

Vocabulary: anonymous, gesture

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September 11, 2020


Debate: Should College Athletes Play if Students Are Not on Campus?

Two North Carolina colleges have recently shut down in-person classes and sent students home after a spike in COVID-19 cases. The schools are moving forward with their football programs, however, saying they can keep athletes safe on a largely empty campus, and are testing frequently for signs of virus. Critics say the move puts athletes at risk and wants the NCAA, the organization governing college athletics, to prioritize the students’ health and education over sports. Listen to a sports law professor explain more about the controversy then debate: Should college athletes play if students are not on campus?

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September 10, 2020


Concerns About the 2020 Election

The 2020 presidential election faces an unprecedented set of challenges. Mail-in voting, adopted by many states to protect voters from exposure to the coronavirus, could overwhelm the U.S. Postal Service and delay election results. And the spread of misinformation may cause fear and confusion among voters, potentially suppressing voter turnout. Listen to hear a journalist explain why he thinks a “perfect storm” of problems could be coming, and what Americans can do to make sure their votes are counted.

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September 9, 2020


Endangered Parasites

Parasites are creatures that live in or on a host animal. Some people dislike parasites because they can be slimy, and they often cause harm to their host, but they can also play a key role in supporting ecosystems. Now, climate change is threatening the survival of host animals such as elephants and polar bears, putting their parasites at risk, too. Listen to hear about the surprising life cycle of a flatworm and learn what scientists are doing to try to save important parasites.

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September 8, 2020


Marching on Washington: Then and Now

On the 57th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington demanding voting rights and an end to segregation, protesters marched again in Washington, DC for racial justice and an end to police violence. In this audio story, participants in the 1963 March on Washington recall details from the day, which featured Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech, and reflect on a struggle that spans generations. Listen to hear sounds and voices from the 1963 and 2020 marches, and learn why one man believes the fight for equality will continue beyond his lifetime.

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September 6, 2020


Weird News: Young Skateboarder Shreds World Record

Listen to hear about a young skateboarder setting a world record for landing a 1080-degree spin on a vertical ramp.

Vocabulary: uninspired, rotation, opportunity

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