TEACHERS: Try our Lessons free — free access during COVID-19 school closures
What should the government spend its money on? With a growing national debt this has become an important question. Economists see the government’s role in providing goods and services to be one that fills a need. The government should pay for things that make our lives better but that the private market cannot or will not provide. Listen to this story from Planet Money to learn the reasons why government has decided to pay for public goods such as lighthouses and autopsies.
Puritans who arrived in New England in the 17th Century faced a harsh and brutal new existence. The conditions were so brutal that, as this story reminds us, many newborn babies died. Puritan settlers dealt with the reality of their lives by turning to religion and, in the case of Anne Bradstreet, to writing. Anne Bradstreet was a woman who became one of America’s earliest popular poets in a time when few women could read and write. Listen to this story to hear about the circumstances that led Anne Bradstreet to begin her life as a poet and the challenges she overcame during her life.
A basic rule of economics is that the price of products increases when demand exceeds supply, and the price decreases when supply exceeds demand. But producers can tinker with that formula. If they want to get around the supply-and-demand cycle, they can stockpile supplies and decide how much of a product to make available for consumers. Listen to find out how maple syrup producers in Quebec, Canada keep prices high for this prized commodity.
Do you ever wonder what happens to the trash you throw away? Jenna Jambeck is an environmental engineer specializing in waste management, and she is on a crusade to raise public awareness of plastic waste and its impact on the environment. As she takes a reporter on a tour through a landfill, she explains what happens to different types of trash. Listen to this story to hear about how scientists and their research shape public policy and behavior, and what everyone can do about the problem of too much plastic.
In Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee, a twelve-year-old orphan runs away in search of a home and finds himself in a small Pennsylvania town segregated by race. There, the mysterious stranger, who earns the nickname “Maniac” for his legendary athletic feats, confronts prejudice and breaks down racial barriers. Listen to hear a fifth grade book club discuss how the lessons of Maniac Magee could be applied to their own communities.
The War of 1812 was, at the time, the greatest national crisis America faced since the adoption of the Constitution. During the war’s worst period, the British burned much of Washington D.C. to the ground. The war ended months after the burning with a treaty that ensured America’s survival, but the burning of Washington remains a critical experience in the history of American warfare. To commemorate the 200th anniversary of that event, journalists illustrated what it would have been like to report something like that today. In the story, the British attack on Washington is revisited as if it were a breaking news event. Listen to learn more about the burning of Washington D.C. during this war.
“The Canterbury Tales” is a collection of stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14-century, and is widely considered to be one of the influential works of early European literature. It is a “frame story” containing a collection of tales told by a fictional group of religious pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at the Canterbury Cathedral. Chaucer made specific use of real locations to root his stories in the world of his time. Listen to hear about how the Canterbury Road has influenced other famous writers, and about how the locations of Chaucer’s tales have changed over the centuries.
‘Harry Potter’ is a popular series of fantasy novels written by British author J.K. Rowling. The novels chronicle the life of a young wizard as he makes his way through magical schooling, forming friendships and fighting supernatural enemies. The title character, Harry Potter, has a tremendous impact on the wizarding world. It turns out that the boy wizard may also have an effect on the real world. According to a recent study, reading “Harry Potter” books could influence readers’ empathy and attitudes. Listen to find out how J.K. Rowling’s work might make a real difference to readers.
While J.D. Salinger still receives acclaim for his novel "The Catcher in the Rye”, few Americans know about the regret he felt after writing it. “The Catcher in the Rye” was a huge success for the aspiring writer, but that fame came at a price. A new biography and accompanying documentary explore Salinger’s life and the experiences that inspired him to write as well as those that led him to desire a more private existence. Listen to learn more about J.D. Salinger’s life, the effect “The Catcher in the Rye” had on him and on America, and the release of previously unpublished works that may shed new light on this reclusive American author.
The "cash for clunkers" program was a limited federal government program in the U.S. that gave people credits to trade in their old, gas guzzling, polluting cars for newer ones. The goal was to get older cars off the road to improve pollution. Because the “cash for clunkers” program did not allow the re-sale of old car engines, junkyards were forced to turn the cars into scrap metal. Listen to learn what this scrap metal can be turned into.
Machu Picchu is an ancient city high in the Peruvian Andes. Sometimes referred to as a “cloud city,” it is one of the most significant archeological sites in the world. It was built around 1450, with an incredible architectural design that allowed it to remain standing for centuries, despite being situated atop multiple fault lines. There are many theories about the purpose of the city, but many believe it was a once sacred center for the Incas, the ancient civilization that lived there. In 1911, an explorer discovered Machu Picchu and brought this amazing city to the attention of the United States. This audio story discusses an author who retraces the steps of the person who discovered Machu Picchu. Listen to learn about this journey and more about the city of Machu Picchu.
For many, Henry David Thoreau is best known for his 1854 experiment on simplicity, where he lived in the woods of Massachusetts on Walden Pond. The resulting book "Walden; or, Life in the Woods," has connected generations of readers to his vision of self-reliance, closeness to nature and transcendentalism. An art museum located near Walden Pond has launched a show, Walden Revisited, with works inspired by and responding to Thoreau’s work.
Toni Morrison, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature, believes in addressing reality in her writing, no matter how painful. In this audio story, she reflects on writing about unfortunate truths, such as racism. Morrison’s stories are full of complicated characters and interesting dialogue while portraying harsh realities. Listen to hear Morrison reflect on the realities of racism today and learn what Morrison's writing means to one admirer who values Morrison's talent for storytelling.
A group of items wrapped in cloth and believed to have spiritual power is known as an African spirit bundle. Found in Annapolis, Maryland in 2008, the African spirit bundle gives us insight into who would have used it and why. It dates back to the early 18th century and is most surprising because of where it was placed. It hung at a crossroads, which in the Yoruba tradition is a place of great danger. Listen to hear more about the items in the bundle and who may have put them there.
The separation of church and state is part of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was intended to ensure religious freedom. It’s been debated and challenged for decades. Most recently, the debate centered around what role religious beliefs should have on what students learn in biology class. Should schools teach evolution or intelligent design? Or should schools note evolution is a theory? Listen to learn more about the first major legal challenge to a policy on how to teach biology in Pennsylvania.
Note: Since this public radio story first aired a U.S. District Judge rules the Dover school system could not insert intelligent design into the science curriculum because it violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
In the age of American imperialism, perhaps the most well-known event was the Spanish-American War. One of that war’s most recognizable figures was Theodore Roosevelt, who organized and led the volunteer regiment known as the Rough Riders in battle during the war before he became president. Listen to this story to learn about the legacy of the Rough Riders and the parallels between the Spanish-American War and the 2003 Iraq War.
In 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic group in the African nation of Rwanda carried out a genocide against the Tutsi ethnic group. Over 100 days, more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, often by their neighbors. This story looks back at the Rwandan genocide on the tenth anniversary of this terrible chapter in world history.
Was there a single event that launched the modern Civil Rights Movement? Some argue that it was the death of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy viciously beaten and murdered in Mississippi in 1955. Till’s murder gained national attention, in large part because of his mother’s decision to hold an open casket funeral. After years of appeals by the Till family, the Justice Department recently decided to reopen its investigation into the killing. Listen to hear a cousin of Emmett Till describe the impact of the murder on her family and the nation and question how justice can be served in a case more than a half-century old.
In 1780, the Marquis de Lafayette, a French general and American ally, sailed from France to aid George Washington in the American Revolution. His ship, the French frigate, the Hermione, would also see action in battle on behalf of America’s war for independence. Lafayette would be with Washington in 1781 during the decisive Siege of Yorktown, the battle that would hasten the end of the war. In 2015, a replica of the Hermione set sail across the Atlantic, recreating Lafayette’s journey. This audio story describes the process with which the replica was created and examines the significance of Lafayette and his role in the end of the Revolutionary War.
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is the process of putting liquid into shale to remove natural gas. There's concern that when the drillers get rid of wastewater from fracking, it goes into the ground and causes earthquakes. This is happening in places such as Arkansas, and now residents are speaking up to try to put a stop to it. Listen to learn how residents figured out where the earthquakes were coming from and how they are taking the issue to court.
When people think of the history of “Indian Removal” in American history, the most familiar story is that of the 1838 “Trail of Tears,” during which 15,000 Cherokees, 4,000 of whom died, were forcibly relocated from land in the east to federally-owned land in Oklahoma. A lesser known story is the story of Polly Parker, who staged a daring escape from captivity in 1858 at the end of the Third Seminole War. Parker, along with other Seminoles, were being forcibly relocated west. Listen to this audio story to learn about the inhumane treatment native people have suffered at the hands of the U.S. government and how they tried to resist.
The African Meeting House is the oldest standing black church in America. The Meeting House recently underwent a $9 million restoration to make it look like it did in 1855. This audio story looks at the re-dedication of a building that helped shape Boston’s and America’s history. Listen to hear more about the floors where Frederick Douglass walked and the place this building has in African American history.
By the end of World War II, the city of Berlin, like Germany as a whole, was divided. The eastern part of the city was dominated by a USSR-led communist regime, and the western part had a democratic government influenced by America and Great Britain. In 1961, the Berlin Wall was raised physically dividing the city into East and West Berlin. Travel between the two sides was prohibited. Since the reunification of Germany and the demolition of the wall in 1989, city planners have been trying to rebuild the city, tearing down the old buildings of communist East Berlin and replacing them with new structures. But the new buildings have sparked controversy over what should be preserved and what should be torn down. Listen to this story to hear different perspectives about how the city should move toward a unified future.
The Mongol Empire of the 13th and 14th centuries was the largest contiguous land empire in world history, and the man responsible for its growth was the legendary Genghis Khan. Khan united numerous tribes in Asia to form the empire. During its expansion, Khan went as far west as modern day Iraq, a remarkable feat that places Khan in the company of people like Alexander the Great. In the audio story, a biographer of Khan pushes back against the historically negative viewpoint many scholars have of him (that of a brutal barbarian who conquered land and ruled as a cruel dictator) and suggests that Khan was in actuality a visionary, sophisticated and effective leader whose military genius and leadership skills fueled the empire’s growth.
Recent discoveries on the battlefields of Lexington, Massachusetts have altered our understanding of a Revolutionary War battle. In the Minute Man Park, archaeologists discovered musket balls that will help historians understand exactly where militiamen were standing during the battle. The story describes what these militiamen might be feeling during the fighting. Listen to learn how technology helps us continue to adjust our understanding of history.
Author Richard Wright is well known for his novel "Native Son" and autobiography “Black Boy." These books explore what it was like to grow up black and poor in America during the 1930s and 40s. Although Wright became famous for his writing, some Americans, including his own daughter, are still discovering who Richard Wright is and why his writing is significant. Listen to learn more about the impact Richard's Wright’s experiences and writing had on his daughter, his readers, and aspiring writers.
As the ocean rises, some island nations might disappear and the coastlines change. This is critical for some island nations that are at risk of slipping under water as sea levels rise. Political, economic and personal consequences are factors in how the climate problems in these nations are dealt with. Listen to learn what can be done to prevent these catastrophic changes in our geography.
Roald Dahl’s life was plagued by tragedy, and yet he wrote some of the most famous children’s books of our time, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. This public radio story takes you into Dahl’s life and explores what motivated his writing. Listen to learn more about his relationship with his wife and children, his special writing hut, and the legacy he left behind.
Franz Kafka worked at an insurance company and wrote in his spare time. He asked that all his personal papers, including literary manuscripts be burned when he died. After Kafka’s death, his friend and literary executor Max Brod ignored Kafka’s wishes and published many of his manuscripts. "The Trial," a novel about law, justice and the arrest and prosecution of a man for an unknown crime, was one of these manuscripts. Other people face similar decisions around respecting the wishes of an artist or writer by destroying their work. Listen to a conversation with an ethicist as he discusses the implications of this debate through a modern day example.
Most people can think of ways to splurge, or spend money on something expensive and pleasurable just for fun. Splurging, though, often takes planning and saving money over time. Listen to hear people describe what they would like to splurge on and why, and learn how a 12-year-old accomplished the ambitious goal of buying himself a car.
The Articles of Confederation, created in 1777 and ratified in 1781 by the Continental Congress, established the first system of government for the United States. Created in the midst of the war for independence, the Articles were strongly influenced by the ongoing struggle against what many American colonists saw as a tyrannical government in England. Designed in part to preserve the independence of the newly formed states, the Articles placed strict limits on what the national government could do, including the power to tax and to create a national judiciary. The Constitutional Convention of 1787 aimed to improve upon the articles and ultimately led to the creation of the U.S. Constitution. Listen to hear about the first national display of the original Articles at the National Archives in 2009 and learn about the history of this foundational document.
Small green sea slugs puzzle scientists because they can photosynthesize energy, just like plants. These Eastern Emerald Elysia sea slugs also appear to have several different types of DNA. Scientists are hopeful these sea slugs might help them discover more about human DNA and treat human diseases. Listen to learn how these tiny creatures are teaching us more about genetics.
The roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict trace back centuries. Israelis and Palestinians have cultural, religious, and social differences, but have shared space for a long time. In 1948, Israel became an independent state, creating a refugee population of Palestinians as Israel expanded its borders. Certain areas in Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza, are occupied by Palestinians, while some areas like Jerusalem have both Israelis and Palestinians living among each other. The result has been segregation between the groups within Israel and a lack of empathy for others. Listen to hear the different opinions among Israelis and Palestinians.
The United States Constitution gives specific powers to each branch of government. This separation of powers between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches is meant to prevent one branch from becoming too powerful. In the last decade, the Legislative branch has been unnerved by the growth of Executive power under President Bush and President Obama. Listen to learn about an FBI raid in 2006 that had congressmen from both parties alarmed.
Playwright Arthur Miller wrote plays that spoke to the common man. From his commentary on the American dream in "Death of a Salesman" to McCarthyism in "The Crucible," Miller wrote hard-hitting personal dramas that also resonated with a wide spectrum of American people, especially the working class. Listen to learn more about Miller’s roots, his writing process, and how his personal background—particularly his house and writing space—compare to backgrounds shared by his characters.
Shakespeare’s classic play "Hamlet" has been performed many hundreds of times since its original performance in 1609. In honor of Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, the touring company from the Globe Theater in England planned an ambitious tour, performing one of the bard’s greatest tragedies in every nation on Earth over two years. They chose the play “Hamlet” and performed it in 197 countries. Listen to learn how they planned to accomplish this monumental task, and what the world can learn from “Hamlet.”
As plants and animals reproduce over time, they are able to change and adapt to ensure or improve their chances of survival. The evolutionary goal of reproduction is paired with the concept of natural selection and survival of the fittest to determine who will reproduce. From colorful plumage to size, different species use different strategies to ensure reproduction and mate selection. The sand tiger shark has a unique strategy to ensure successful reproduction - and it depends on the timing of mating. Listen to learn more about the ultimate sibling rivalry while in the womb.
The increasing acidity of the oceans could eventually affect your dinner plate. There is a decrease in the number of juvenile oysters known as "seed" due to the increase of CO2 in the ocean. Listen to learn how workers are dealing with the issues and how it affects the seafood we eat.
During her short life, Shirley Jackson was a famous author. Jackson wrote several novels, including two best-sellers--one of which was nominated for the National Book Award. Her most famous book was her 1959 "The Haunting Of Hill House," but her short story “The Lottery,” published in The New Yorker magazine, also made an impact on readers. Jackson’s novels incorporate both terror and humor as they relate to the human condition. Listen to this interview with Jackson’s biographer to learn more about Jackson’s life, the society in which she lived, and how her own life impacted her writing.
This story takes a deep look at the word “ostentatious” with a focus on nuances of meaning that distinguish words that are close synonyms. While some showiness can be harmless, fun, or even desirable, “ostentatious” has a negative connotation and implies over-the-top behavior intended to impress. Listen to kids tell stories from their own experience of showy behavior and hear how synonyms differ slightly in meaning.