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During Jim Crow, systemic racism cut into virtually every aspect of political, social, and economic life. This included an act as seemingly simple as shopping. For African-Americans, shopping in a store meant being badly treated including being ignored by sales people. The Sears Catalog, which had photographs of hundreds of products and gave people the ability to order them by mail, was revolutionary for black Americans because it allowed them to have the same shopping experience as white Americans. This audio story deals with the ways in which the idea of shopping by catalog leveled the economic playing field during Jim Crow.
The Tuck family gains immortality after drinking from a magical spring, but living forever brings sadness as well as joy. That is the premise of Natalie Babbitt’s classic novel Tuck Everlasting, about a 10-year-old girl who learns the Tuck family’s secret and wrestles with the decision about whether to drink from the fountain herself. Listen to hear fifth graders share their ideas about the book’s central themes, including death, eternal life, and living each moment to the fullest.
Although racial segregation had been outlawed 20 years earlier, in 1974 most Black children in urban Detroit were not attending integrated schools. Their parents sued, claiming that discriminatory housing practices were preventing Black families from moving into suburbs, blocking their access to the new and better schools being built there. The Supreme Court’s decision in that lawsuit upended Brown v. Board of Education, the decision establishing that separate schools were unequal, and shaped the future of integration and bussing plans throughout the country. Listen to hear why, more than half a century after segregation was ruled unconstitutional, more than 9 million American students still attend racially segregated and underfunded schools.
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.
In 1967 Nobel prize winning Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote "One Hundred Years of Solitude". The novel takes place in the fictional and fantastical town of Macondo. Macondo serves as a setting as well as a metaphor for Colombia itself. The novel’s magical realism inspired a genre of writing and in an ironic twist of fate inspired the naming of the oil field that was blown out by the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2011. Listen to learn more about the literary and thematic connections between the two.
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 an interview with Jackson’s biographer to learn more about Jackson’s life, the society in which she lived, and how her own background impacted her writing.
In 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was shot and killed. The assassination started World War I and changed the course of the 20th century. This story takes you to the street corner in Sarajevo where it all began and discusses the aristocracy at the time and how lax security led to the assassination. Listen to learn more about the motivations of the assassins and the series of events that led to the start of World War I.
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.
For years, researchers believed that siblings’ birth order shaped their personalities. However, recent research has shown that this theory is false, and the factors that influence personality are far more complex. What truly shapes character, the research shows, is how siblings play and argue with and teach and mimic each other. Together, siblings learn and teach each other key life skills, such as how to communicate and negotiate conflict. Listen to learn more about the important role of sibling interactions in the development of personality.
Time zones have reflected a changing world of politics, commerce and technology. This audio story explores the history of time zones and the transition from local time to a global, coordinated standard time, which wasn’t always an easy transition.
Slavery in the Americas was perpetuated through control, and slave owners often sought to limit the information and ideas their slaves could access. Many slave owners opposed teaching the Bible to enslaved people for fear it could be used as a tool of liberation and rebellion. To appease slave owners, 19th century missionaries trying to Christianize enslaved people used heavily edited versions of the Bible that left out liberation stories. Listen to hear the history behind an abridged “slave Bible” on exhibit and how people today have reacted to this historical practice.
On the Fourth of July, many Americans celebrate gaining freedom from British rule. It is important to remember, though, that for African American enslaved people, July 4th, 1776 did not bring freedom; instead, it brought many more years of enslavement. In fact, many Black enslaved people joined the British army during the Revolutionary War, as the British had promised emancipation, or freedom, in exchange for their service. After the war, some of these brave soldiers did find freedom, but it was imperfect or incomplete. Listen to hear more about what happened to the African American enslaved people who fought for better lives during the Revolutionary War.
During the War of 1812, when the British were blockading the Chesapeake Bay, many enslaved people from the state of Maryland sought asylum with the British Navy. As the war escalated, the navy made some key changes to their policy on runaway slaves. These changes increased the number of enslaved people seeking freedom from the British. Some historians estimate that there were more than 700 enslaved people who escaped during that war. Listen to learn how and why they did it, and what happened to them after the war.
Wolverines are fierce predators and scavengers that live in the remote forests near the Arctic Circle. As these solitary animals need at least 500 square kilometers of space each and can travel vast distances each day, they are very difficult to spot in the wild. Wolverines play an important role in the ecosystem as they scavenge the carrion left behind by other predators. Listen to hear more about this elusive mammal, including why people walking through the forest shouldn’t worry about being attacked by one.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn was one of the 20th century’s most influential writers. Early in his life, the Russian novelist was a passionate believer in Soviet communism. After spending time as a prisoner in the Soviet gulags, however, he became disillusioned and used his literary talent to expose the Soviet Union’s corruption. Later, while in exile in the United States, he also rejected what he saw as the moral failings of democracy. He eventually returned to Russia and died in Moscow. Listen to learn more about the life of this controversial writer and the impact his work had on perceptions of the Soviet system.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed to America and claimed the land for Spain. This event became an American holiday 400 years later, but some people think it shouldn’t be a holiday at all. To some, Columbus represents the beginning of European colonization. Today, Columbus Day is a time for celebration and protest across Latin America. In countries spanning Central and South America, people commemorate the holiday by celebrating both their Spanish and indigenous heritages. In addition, leftist leaders have used Columbus Day as an opportunity to show support for native people and customs. Listen to learn more about the many different meanings of this holiday outside the United States.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee has only been cancelled twice, first for three years during World War II and then in the year 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. But that hasn’t stopped the spellers from studying, practicing, and learning new words. Two students who were supposed to compete in the 2020 spelling bee have some techniques and rituals they use to help them along. Listen to hear more about their quirky rituals and how they use strategies like identifying root words to help them spell unfamiliar words.
During World War II and the Cold War that followed, the U.S. competed intensely with rival countries. The scientific community rushed to be the first to develop an atomic weapon and after the war, the U.S. continued to strive to stay ahead of its enemies through scientific advancements and intelligence gathering. In pursuit of these goals, some outrageous, impractical, and, in some cases, alarming ideas were pursued. Listen to hear about some of the more outlandish ideas proposed by the military to weaken other countries, and learn why, ultimately, they were never implemented.
In 1765, the British imposed a tax on the American colonists called the Stamp Act. It charged a tax on all newspapers and documents. The colonists opposed this tax and it was repealed in 1766. The Stamp Act led to the tax on tea, which led to the Boston Tea Party and ultimately the American Revolution. Listen to learn more about the Stamp Act and how effective these protest were in opposing British taxes.
American author John Steinbeck published his epic novel “The Grapes of Wrath” in 1939, but his journey writing the novel was much longer. The novel tells the story of Oklahoma migrants fleeing the Dust Bowl for work in California’s migrant worker camps. Steinbeck did months of research and spent much of mid-to-late 1930s with migrants in camps for a series of articles in the San Francisco News. As a result, “The Grapes of Wrath” spoke to the working class during the Depression era, and continues to resonate today with its themes of struggle, redemption, greed, and goodness. Listen to learn more about this great American novel.
The spies seemed just like any other all-American married couple. They lived in an upper-middle class neighborhood on a suburban street, where their two daughters rode pink tricycles up and down the block. They were friendly with their neighbors, and cheered on American sports teams. But, FBI agents suddenly arrested them along with nine other people across the country. These normal-seeming parents were Russian spies, deep undercover. Why were they spying on us? Listen to former Director General of MI5 and spy novelist Stella Rimington discuss the accused Russian spies’ goals and tactics.
Imagine a large asteroid on a collision course with Earth. How would scientists know, and what could they do about it? An international group of scientists, engineers, and emergency managers recently held a planetary defense exercise, including the simulation of an asteroid predicted to hit near Denver, Colorado. Listen to learn more about how these experts plan to defend Earth from devastating impacts, and how they might respond if those defenses fail.
The apples we are used to seeing in the supermarket are the same basic size and shape and they have familiar flavor profiles. But there are more apple varieties than you might imagine. There's a whole world of biodiversity in apples, but these apples don’t make it to the supermarket. Listen to learn more about America’s history with apples and the apple Renaissance taking place today!
The novel Esperanza Rising tells the “riches to rags” story of a girl who lived comfortably in Mexico in the 1930s until her family’s situation changed. She and her family had to move to California, where they worked in farm labor camps and lived in poverty as migrant workers during the Great Depression. Listen to hear an excerpt and a book discussion and learn how the author’s grandmother’s experiences inspired her to write the novel.
The characters in our alphabet look the way they do and stand for their unique sounds for a reason. There are many stories behind the letters we use so often. The earliest forms of writing evolved because members of ancient civilizations needed more efficient ways to express themselves. Listen to this story to hear about the origins of individual letters, as well as learn about the connection between shape and meaning in our modern alphabet.
In February of 2018, 17 people were killed in a shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Though not the first mass shooting of its kind, this tragic event, some say, represents a turning point the country’s tolerance for gun violence in schools. Since Parkland, student-led protests have risen up nationwide demanding a change to gun laws in America. This NPR story, told from a student’s perspective, reflects on the impact of school shootings. In particular, it focuses on the impact shootings have on students’ lives and how they shatter the notion of school as a safe haven.
People with dyslexia face unique challenges. For people with this condition, words may seem scrambled, and letters or numbers may appear backward or upside down. Dyslexia has nothing to do with a person’s intelligence, however, only with how the brain “sees” symbols. Listen to hear a woman with dyslexia describe how the condition has affected her life and how the lessons she’s learned from living with dyslexia have helped her achieve her goals of becoming a teacher and Arctic explorer.
During the early stages of the American Revolutionary War, many colonists weren’t fully committed to fighting for independence from the British Empire. That changed during the summer of 1776. In his book, “Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence,” historian Joseph Ellis describes the events that swayed popular opinion toward leaving the British Empire. Listen to this interview with Ellis to learn more about military and political developments during this critical moment in America’s history.
The number of billionaires in China is growing. Chinese children in billionaire families often show off their wealth, demonstrating how different life is for rich and poor kids. These attitudes toward money are shaping Chinese morals. One company has taken an interest in this topic and created courses to teach wealthy kids to care about others. They are educating the rich about giving back to the poor and raising money for charity. Listen to hear more about how this social issue affects China and learn how rich Chinese children develop empathy.
Racism is a serious subject, and one that is a topic of conversation in the lives of many Americans. People across America are protesting the way some police officers have treated people of color, particularly those who are Black. Jason Reynolds confronts this difficult topic in his novel Miles Morales: Spider-Man, which features a Black superhero who fights racism. Listen as Jason joins Kojo Nnamdi for a conversation about racism in America, answers questions from kids, and offers ideas about what people can do to address problems caused by racism.
To lower dependency on fossil fuels, some Americans have installed solar panels on their homes to produce their own clean energy. This decision involves a cost-benefit analysis of cost value and environmental impact. In some regions this cost-benefit ratio has been upset by fracking, and the cheap natural gas that it produces. How does supply and demand impact the cost of energy? How does the cost of energy impact people seeking alternatives such as solar energy? Listen to learn how one family has dealt is dealing with this shifting energy landscape.
Can we get an accurate account of American history just by examining its laws? In this audio story, a professor of economics examines the effectiveness of patent laws. As a Black graduate student, she questioned the theory that innovation is driven mainly by strong patent laws, and she discovered periods in American history in which Black innovation declined despite those laws. Listen to hear how her research connects this decline with racist and violent historical events and reveals what has been lost as a result.
In 1989, a plane flying from Denver to Chicago malfunctioned. The pilots crash landed and were able to save many of the people on board, but tragically, more than 100 died in the fiery crash. An author recently published a book telling the stories of Flight 232’s survivors. He interviewed many of the people on the flight about their experiences during and after the catastrophe. Listen to learn how they survived and how the experience has affected the rest of their lives.
The people of Sudan, a country in northeast Africa, have faced many difficult challenges, including civil war, drought, and famine. This audio interview focuses on A Long Walk to Water, a story about two young survivors of extreme hardships in Sudan. One character, Salva, is based on an actual person who escaped from war and searched for his family. The other character, Nya, is a fictional composite of several girls from Sudan’s refugee camps. Listen to hear students discuss the book and learn how the author created a work of fiction based on a factual story.
From 1975-1979, the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia and killed one quarter of the population in a horrific genocide with the intent of creating a communist, agrarian society. Author Patricia McCormick has written a young adult novel, “Never Fall Down”, based on Cambodian genocide survivor Arn Chorn-Pond’s life. Listen to hear them discuss the importance of sharing this story of survival with young people, and discover how seeking support from others can help someone endure a challenging past.
After the Aldabaan family escaped civil war in their home country of Syria, they found refuge in the United States. The family’s difficult journey and the challenges they faced as newcomers to America have been documented in a prize-winning graphic novel called Welcome to the New World. Listen to hear how one family’s search for safety and freedom led them to the U.S., and find out what surprised them when they arrived.