TEACHERS: Get free access to all Lessons and Current Events
George Washington was the hero of the American Revolution with a victory at Yorktown in 1781. He could have used his victory to seize power, but he went home to Mount Vernon. In this audio story, the remarkable characteristics of George Washington are considered. He is a historic figure not only because he was a great general, statesman and politician, but also because he voluntarily gave up power. His action cemented the United States as a democracy, in which citizens, rather than absolute rulers, have the power to govern the nation. Listen to hear how Washington’s actions are analyzed and interpreted.
Gerrymandering is the manipulation of the boundaries of voting districts in a way that favors one political party, usually by dividing up groups of opposing voters. The U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the authority to draw congressional districts. Often, whichever party has power in the legislature gerrymanders in its own favor. The majority of legal experts agree that gerrymandering is unfair, but is there any legal way around the Constitution? In 2015, the United States Supreme Court heard a case about the state of Arizona’s strategy for avoiding gerrymandering. Listen to this audio story to learn about the arguments for and against an approach to redistricting that does not involve the legislature.
Venezuela has one of the world’s largest oil reserves, but its economy has collapsed, and its government isn’t doing too well either. The country is beset by shortages—of everything. Listen to this story to find out how a country rich in natural resources has descended from wealth and democracy into financial and political chaos.
In 1741, New York City was shaken by an uprising led by African slaves. New York was a British colony and had a very large slave population. After a series of fires burned homes in Manhattan, including the Governor’s house, many black slaves were imprisoned, hanged, or burned. There was a great fear that slaves were conspiring against their owners. Listen to hear about the history of the revolt and what the revolt of 1741 can tell us about society today.
We owe a lot to the Ancient Greek civilization. Everything from architecture to medicine to music is based on Greek culture. This audio story describes the influence of ancient Greek culture, specifically in music, and how it has shaped what we know today.
In 1791, in what is now known as Haiti, Toussaint Louverture led a revolt against slavery that led to independence from France. In a time of many other attempted revolts, this was perhaps the most famous and successful. It went on for many years until 1804 the independent state of Haiti was formed. Louverture is interesting in that he is a complex and contradictory historical figure. Previously enslaved, Louverture gained his freedom in 1776 and, according to recently discovered evidence, gained wealth and social standing before the revolution. The story shares details about some of the contradictions of Louverture’s life, including the fact that he may have, at one time, been a slave overseer himself. Listen to hear about the revolt in Haiti and more about this politically smart and charismatic leader.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland. She escaped and came back to lead hundreds of enslaved people to New York and Canada along the route of the Underground Railroad. She was also a spy for the United States Army during the American Civil War. Nearly 200 years after her birth, Harriet Tubman is being honored with a visitor center in her name, located near her birthplace in Maryland. The visitor center depicts her life and the Underground Railroad, including interactive images that show her journey to the north. Listen to learn more about Harriet Tubman and this inspirational and historic place.
Modern Hebrew is one of the two official languages of Israel. But for 1,700 years it wasn't spoken. This radio story describes how new words are added to the Hebrew language today. It also explores the history of Hebrew, its decline over the centuries to a point where almost no one spoke it, and how it was revived in the 1800s by one dedicated Israelite.
Budgeting, paying bills, and managing bank accounts are all important personal finance skills. One high school in Vermont gave students an opportunity to learn about the world of personal finance in a unique way. A local non-profit group teamed up with employers and financial institutions to create a game that resembled the classic “Game of Life,” and invited students to play the game and learn about money management in the process. Listen to hear about the challenges and insights students had as they participated in the process of learning about personal finance.
Henry Clay is an overlooked and very important 19th century American politician. As a Senator, House Speaker, and Secretary of State, he helped shape antebellum America’s growth and, some say, helped hold off civil war for decades. He is credited with doing this through compromises that enabled America’s territorial expansion without allowing the issue of slavery to be a barrier. In this audio story, an historian tells the story of the Missouri Compromise, brokered by Clay, and looks at his legacy and relevance in today’s politics, where compromise is often seen as a sign of weakness.
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan ended World War II in 1945. At the time, Americans were happy the war was over and some people even wanted to drop more atomic bombs. This radio story describes how Americans’ attitudes towards dropping atomic bombs on Japan changed from mostly positive to mostly negative, in the years after the second World War.
During the Holocaust, six million Jews and others were killed by Germany’s Nazi regime, led by Adolf Hitler. Some Jews and members of other persecuted groups survived by fleeing to safety or going into hiding. Others were freed from concentration camps when World War II ended in 1945. What happened to these survivors? Listen to hear from one Holocaust survivor in Israel and learn why she and many others currently live in poverty.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 not only changed many Americans sense of security, but it also changed the organization of the security apparatus of the U.S. Federal Government. It led to the creation and funding of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This department receives billions of dollars in funding every year to improve state and federal readiness efforts. But there is a growing debate about the role and effectiveness of the department and the way this money is spent. Listen here to learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of the Department of Homeland Security.
Some basic economic norms shape how most retail stores operate. These include: attract as many potential shoppers as possible; make it easy for them to find what they need; and make it appealing for them to return often so that they will spend money at the store. But some members-only warehouse stores break all those rules--and succeed anyway. Listen to find out why these stores do it differently, and why, despite breaking the rules of retail, they thrive.
Middle school history teachers have different strategies for how to engage students in learning. One way is to use topics that kids already find interesting and connect them to historical events. One example is insects. A children’s writer featured in this story, uses stories involving bugs to teach important events in history such as the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark. Her belief is that through topics that appeal to kids’ love of things gross and skeevy, important learning can happen.
In the mid-1890s, when the U.S economy was in a depression, news spread across the country that rich deposits of gold had been found in the Yukon and Klondike regions of Alaska and Canada. Thousands of people flocked to the frozen Northwest in the hopes of striking it rich. The voyage was dangerous and conditions in the remote gold fields were exceedingly harsh, but this didn’t stop the unprecedented wave of migration that came to be known as the Yukon Gold Rush. Listen to hear about three individuals of the time: a prospector, a con man, and a detective.
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in the early 1800s, escaped as a young adult, and went on to become the most famous abolitionist of his time. A renowned author, speaker, and activist, Douglass also became an early master of what is now known as "public relations," or use of the media. Douglass purposefully used photography to depict himself as a dignified counterpoint to derogatory depictions of African-Americans. Listen to learn how Douglass’s use of photography furthered the abolitionist cause.
Higher Education in the United States is largely independent from the government, and provides value in the form of knowledge, degrees, and increased earnings. College campuses are known for being at the forefront of progressivism and the fight for racial equality, but this wasn’t always the case. In the early days of the American colonies, academic institutions were closely involved in the development of slavery. Listen to hear how one history professor explored the complicated legacy of slavery in American higher education.
In 12th century France, the Catholic Church began the Inquisition for the purpose of stamping out heresy. In later Middle Ages the Inquisition expanded in response to the Protestant Reformation and also expanded to other European countries and their empires in the Americas. This audio story draws parallels between the Inquisition of medieval times and the surveillance and bureaucracy of the present day. It also discusses similarities to methods used in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, at the United States’ detention camp. Listen to hear how the institutionalizing of the Inquisition hundreds of years ago is linked to persecution today.
This story explores an important economic question: When a kid loses a tooth, how much should the tooth fairy pay? That may sound like a joke, but the tooth fairy’s payoff provides an example of inflation—the amount the price of goods increases each year—and of the economic principle called “income elasticity of demand.” Listen to the story to find out what teeth are going for these days, and what economists have to say about it.
The United States is a nation of immigrants. European immigrants in the late 1800s populated our nation and were granted citizenship upon entry. The immigration system has changed dramatically since, and America’s borders are no longer open to all. Hostility towards immigrants has led to a crackdown on illegal immigration in various states. Arizona’s “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Acts” commonly known as SB 1070 was passed in 2010 and became the strictest anti-immigration measure in recent history. Listen to learn how this law has impacted Arizona and its immigrants.
Scarcity is a basic economic problem: people have unlimited wants and needs, but the world has limited resources. Resources in that equation include materials, capital, and labor. A pasta factory in southern Italy faced a very particular sort of labor shortage. The Barilla pasta factory in Foggia, Italy had enough employees to keep up with production schedules, but the employees weren’t showing up to work. The absentee rate among workers threatened the survival of the plant. Listen to the story to learn how bosses and managers changed employees’ attitudes and behavior and solved their scarcity issue.
In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes wrote an essay in which he predicted that by the time his children were grown up, people would be working just 15 hours a week. Today, in some countries, people do work a bit less than they did fifty years ago, but Keynes’s prediction was essentially wrong. There is a counter-intuitive response to incentives, and that is one factor that keeps people working long hours. According to his descendants, Keynes himself was a workhorse who couldn’t slow down. Listen to this audio story to learn more about Keynes and why making money doesn’t necessarily free us to work less.
The rivalry between India and Pakistan dates back to the partition of the former British colony in 1947. Lines were drawn along religious lines. Pakistan was a region for Muslims and India a region for Hindus. More than 60 years later the relationship remains tense. Listen to hear a story about partition from the perspective of India and learn about recent events in India that have intensified the rivalry. This piece, told from the viewpoint of India, is a companion piece to the audio story at the heart of the lesson Trouble between India and Pakistan Dates Back to Partition which focuses on partition and the Pakistani perspective.
In India people are separated by a strict social stratification called the “caste system.” Since independence in 1947 the government has tried to eliminate the caste system, but it’s still alive today. This public radio story looks at the toll the caste system takes on the Dalits, the “lowest of the low”, often called the Untouchables.
Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas was only one of many schools being desegregated in accordance with the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This public radio story describes the attempt by nine black students to integrate Central High School in 1957. But the protests against its desegregation made Central High the symbolic focus of white resistance to civil rights for black Americans.
Google Maps is playing an unexpected role in modern-day disputes over borders, or so called "border wars." In 2010, Nicaragua claimed the Costa Rican island of Isla Calero and defended its actions by pointing out that Google Maps showed the island as Nicaraguan. A year later, the Netherlands complained that Google Maps gave land claimed by the Netherlands around the Ems River to Germany. Google says its Maps tool is only for “entertainment purposes”, and should not be used to make “territorial, political, or military decisions.” This public radio story explores how satellite mapping has changed border disputes.
Recently, Colorado State University (or CSU) proposed changing its policy of allowing students to carry concealed handguns on campus. The change has aroused opposition as well as support. In this public radio story the lawyer for a gun-rights advocacy group and a local sheriff both speak out against the move, with the advocacy lawyer claiming the group will sue the University if it moves forward and the sheriff stating that he will not enforce the law.
During the Great Depression, high unemployment affected millions of Americans. In this audio story, people who lived through the depression as young people share their experiences of being out of work and hungry, and depending on relatives or strangers for food. The lack of any government safety net for the unemployed meant that people who could not find work were on their own, and many had to resort to begging to survive.
The mascot of a high school in Bucks County Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia, is being challenged. The name ‘Redskins’ accompanied by the image of a Native American warrior has been deemed offensive by a preliminary panel of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. A parent at the high school, who is Native American, complained to the school nearly two years ago that the mascot was an offensive racial slur and was used to discriminate against her son. The school district argues that the mascot is not insulting and is fighting for the right to keep the ‘Redskins’ name, either officially or to use as a nickname. Listen to learn more about the controversy from the Commission, schoolboard, and the students’ perspectives.
On April 15, 1947 African American baseball player Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was an interesting choice for the Dodgers to break the race barrier in baseball because he was an older player and was not seen as the best player in the Negro league at the time. Listen to learn how Robinson’s strong character, as much as his talent, helped to successfully integrate baseball.
Established in 1607, Jamestown, Virginia, was the first successful English colony in North America. In 2010, scientists discovered four skeletons that had been buried in what was the colony’s first church. The archaeologist working on the site theorized that these must be the remains of members of the colony’s elite. Listen to this story to learn what led to the evidence scientists uncovered to support this theory.
In 2005, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi issued an apology on behalf of the Japanese people for its colonial rule and aggression before and during World War II. The apology came at a time of increased tensions between Japan and its east Asian neighbors, including anger over Japanese textbooks that seemed to downplay the atrocities Koizumi was apologizing for. The story touches upon present day circumstances that can limit the effectiveness of such an apology. The story also raises powerful questions about how societies make meaning of the past, the legacy of oppression, and the degree to which history impacts the present day.
Kendo is the name of the centuries old martial art of Japanese fencing. It’s still being practiced today. This audio story describes the popularity of kendo. The college tournament, held annually at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the largest intercollegiate kendo competition in the United States, and it reflects the growing popularity of this sport.
In 1939 Marian Anderson an African-American opera singer was prevented from singing to an integrated audience at Constitution Hall. At the time, Washington DC was a segregated city but didn't have the "Whites Only" signs familiar in the South. Anderson instead performed an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial. This audio story describes the controversy over a recent children’s book about Anderson’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial that showed “Colored Only” signs in public places. You'll hear from people living in the capital at the time talk about when the de facto racial segregation that did exist in the city was exposed when Marian Anderson was not allowed to sing in Constitution Hall.
Joan of Arc was an uneducated girl who followed the voices of angels and worked to free France from England’s domination. When she was captured by the English, she was burned at the stake. Later she was pronounced a Catholic Saint. Listen to learn how her religious and political legacy still inspire French politicians today.
John Calvin, one of the central figures in the Protestant reformation more than 500 years ago, has left an indelible mark on American culture. Though we think of his theology as representing the most joyless version of Protestantism possible, some of what we think about him now isn’t particularly accurate to who the man was and what he believed. Listen to find out how one historian views Calvin’s legacy, and what more we can learn from his example.
Senator Joseph McCarthy led a crusade against Soviet spies he believed were operating in the United States government. He called Democrats "soft" on the war on communism. This audio story describes why the American public's view of Republican Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist campaign in the early 1950s continues to be sharply divided.
From 1975 to 1979 a terrorist organization called the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia, an east Asian nation. The Khmer Rouge launched a genocide against its own people, killing men, women, and children. Two million people out of a total population of 8 million were killed. Today, survivors of the genocide are left to cope with their difficult memories while young people in Cambodia either don’t know about the genocide or don’t believe it happened.
In the 17th Century, civil war gripped Great Britain. Over the course of the century, war and revolution would eventually lead to the transformation of England into a constitutional monarchy in which the monarch was to share power with Parliament, and the rights of the people would be legally protected. Along the way, England would experience political turmoil and incredible amounts of bloodshed. Part of this story is the trial and execution of King Charles I. Listen to the story of Charles I’s trial and execution, the motivations of the men behind it, and the important legacy it left behind.