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The United States Constitution is the basis of our laws and structures our government. It contains the founding principles of our nation. Since its creation in 1787, Americans have debated its full meaning, and worked to apply it to new situations that the Founders could never have imagined—certain that this 18th-century document is ready to tell us what to do in the 21st century. Any group trying to make change calls on the Constitution for backup. Listen to learn how the Tea Party is using the Constitution to back its political goals and challenge the Bill of Rights.
The First Amendment is the basis for the separation of church and state. The government and organizations funded by the government, like public schools, cannot promote a particular religion. This separation, highlighted in the U.S. Constitution, led to a national debate in 2004 when a fifth-grade teacher in California was asked to keep his religion out of the classroom. Listen to learn more about both sides of this debate, and the rights students have against indoctrination.
Note: Since this public radio story first aired the lawsuit was settled out of court.
Chances are, you’re wearing something made from cotton. You can check the label on most garments to find out where they were made. But where was the cotton grown that was the starting point? This story tracks down the source of the cotton that went into a T-shirt. A spinning mill in Indonesia is where the fabric may have been made, and the cotton fields of Mississippi is where the cotton may have been grown. But cotton is grown all over the world. Why would a textile mill in Indonesia buy cotton from the U.S. when they can get it from much closer? Listen to this story to find out how technology and subsidies give American cotton farmers an advantage in international trade.
Social media has the power to influence our personal lives as well as the world around us. In this audio story, you will hear about a group of teenage girls who took to social media to fight bullying and to effect change in their educational environments. Students explain how Instagram helped them to build confidence among their group of friends, as well as how they used Twitter to raise awareness about dress code issues at school. Listen to learn more about the positive ways in which teenage girls are using social media to build self-esteem and feel empowered.
In Afghanistan, getting an education can be very difficult. Girls in particular face many challenges getting an education and may never even have the opportunity to use the education they receive. Though there has been much progress since the Taliban left in 2002, there are still many obstacles for girls seeking an education. Listen to learn how three teenage girls in Afghanistan deal with school and how they plan to accomplish their dreams despite the odds.
In the early 2000s, housing prices in the U.S. rose quickly, and many people paid high prices to buy houses. In 2008, the housing market collapsed and prices fell fast. Many of the folks who had bought homes couldn’t make their monthly mortgage payments and couldn’t sell the houses for anywhere near what they paid for them. Many lost their homes to foreclosure. In 2012, an enterprising 14-year-old girl in Florida saw a business opportunity from the housing crisis. She started selling things that people had left in their foreclosed homes, eventually saving enough money to buy a house herself, which she rents out. Listen to learn how a 14-year-old became a real estate entrepreneur.
When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, many families forced to flee the island were resettled in towns throughout the United States. Some of these, of course, were students in the middle of their high school careers. Listen to hear how one high school senior is dealing with the tremendous challenges and uncertainty of finishing high school while being uprooted because of a natural disaster. This audio was provided through partnership with New England Public Radio. See the original story here.
For many high school students, stress related to academic achievement, extracurricular activities, and homework affects their mental and physical health. In this audio story, psychologists discuss when stress is helpful and when it is hurtful. Some parents and their teens discuss ways they have tried to lessen school stress, allowing life to be more manageable and enjoyable. Listen to hear more about how high school students and their parents have decided to make changes to lessen stress while still aiming to be high achievers.
In Texas, vast expanses of farmland have been converted to urban land over the last several decades. As farmland changed to cityscapes, children growing up in these areas have had fewer and fewer opportunities to interact with nature. This audio story follows several students in East Dallas as they experience life on a Texas farm. Listen to find out more about how the urban students responded to working with animals, and how the experience has influenced them.
Since the founding of the United States, there has been a debate about the issue of church and state and how much faith should influence law and political debate. The first amendment to the Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Nonetheless, there are people who advocate for more government support for religious institutions and preference for one faith over another. Listen to this conversation about the current tax-exempt status of churches, evidence of how our founders dealt with the issue, and President Trump’s executive order on religious liberty.
In 221 B.C., China was unified for the first time by Qin Shi Huang Di, who declared himself its emperor. During his rule, he had workers build thousands of life-sized statues of soldiers using terracotta, or baked clay. He believed that these soldiers would protect him in the afterlife. Each one of the 7,000 statues is unique, which makes scientists scratch their heads and ask: Who were the soldiers modeled after? Listen to learn more about what these mysterious statues reveal about China’s first emperor.
Sandra Cisneros writes about working class Latino life in America and has won many awards for her writing. She is best known for her book, The House on Mango Street. The themes in her writing include the meaning of home, belonging, crossing boundaries and cultural expectations of women. Her new memoir, A House of my Own, describes how her own life also reflects these themes. In this interview, she talks about being connected to Mexico and to the United States, and how she hopes to be an ambassador passing between the two cultures. Furthermore, she works to honor the women in her family while also being an independent woman and breaking some cultural traditions. Listen to hear more about how Sandra Cisneros has created a house of her own.
When the world feels like it is continuously changing, it can be important to stop and think about all of the things in life that are constant. Rebecca Stead’s book, The List of Things That Will Not Change, finds the main character, Bea, adding items to her own list of things that will not change and working to understand her emotions with the help of a therapist. Her list brings her comfort and support during her parents’ divorce, and it makes the reader stop and think about what things in their own lives will not change.
Each year, thousands of children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. People with autism may learn, think, communicate, and behave in ways that are considered unorthodox, or different from what is traditionally expected. Rather than encourage autistic people to conform to non-autistic norms, it can be helpful for neurotypical people to learn about autism and how to best support, encourage, and include their autistic peers. Listen to learn more about the word unorthodox, and hear an autistic boy explain what he and other autistic people most need from others.
Who is innocent and who is guilty? While this appears to be a simple question, the history of racism in America makes the answer complex. Author Kim Johnson discusses why she chose to write a novel about race that is focused on America’s flawed criminal justice system. Listen to learn how the author’s own experiences informed the novel and how she hopes her book will inspire readers to work towards a more equitable future.
Thomas Cromwell was an influential 16th century English statesman who rose through English society to become advisor to King Henry VIII. In this position, Cromwell was credited with overseeing the Reformation in England. Eventually, Cromwell was betrayed by his political enemies and executed in 1540, but his influence would live on. In this audio story, novelist Hilary Mantel discusses Bring Up the Bodies, the second book in her trilogy featuring Cromwell. Listen to hear Mantel discuss what made Cromwell such a savvy political figure and the circumstances that led to his sudden downfall.
Thomas Paine was a British essayist and political philosopher in the years leading up to and during the American Revolution. His writings and the pamphlets he published were very popular among American colonists and politicians alike. He took on such ideas as America as universal concept, the supreme importance of liberty, and the proper role of a just government. His essay, “Common Sense,” written less than two years after Paine’s arrival from England, was the single most influential document leading to the Declaration of Independence. This audio story takes a brief look back at this influential writer and contains several passages from “Common Sense.” Listen to learn more about Thomas Paine’s life and ideas, and about how his writings helped inspire a revolution.
A compromise is a way to settle a dispute by meeting each other halfway. Sometimes, a compromise may be acceptable in the moment, but there can be hidden costs. The head of Emory University caused a significant disruption by citing the Three-Fifths Compromise of the U.S. Constitution “as a positive example of political compromise.” But according to a history professor at the institution, this was “the Constitution’s fatal flaw.” This constitutional amendment impacted the future of slavery in the United States. Listen to hear one Emory professor’s perspective on the controversy and how the country’s history of slavery continues to affect us today.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Italy in 79 CE buried the nearby cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. For the people living there, it was an unimaginable horror. Nearly 2000 years later, however, the remains of those two cities are a source of valuable information about Romans’ daily lives in 1st century Rome. This audio story is about modern day tension between archaeologists and volcanologists over access to the sites. The story is a reminder that the study of the past requires the expertise of people from multiple fields of study in order for us to get a complete picture.
Many people in Dakar, Senegal, choose the least expensive way to dispose of the raw sewage that collects in their septic systems. The result is that sewage contaminates their neighborhoods and makes people sick. The healthier option is more expensive, and it stays expensive because sewage collection companies have agreed not to compete with each other. They set a price that makes the cost too high for most people to pay. Listen to learn about how an economist implemented a new program to bring down prices and clean up the local environment.
American novelist Toni Morrison is best known for her novels exploring the experiences of African Americans. When she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, she said at the ceremony that she was “pleasantly haunted by ghosts.” In this interview, Morrison discussed the ghosts inhabiting her writing. The novel Beloved has a ghost as a central character in a story about two slaves who fell in love. The novel Jazz recalls Harlem in the 1920’s and explores the themes of purgatory and jazz music. Listen to this story to learn what sparked Morrison’s creativity.
George Orwell is widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s most influential authors. His most famous book, “Animal Farm,” is considered to be a commentary on the dangers of Soviet-style totalitarianism. The book follows a group of animals who overthrow their human owners and establish self-rule on the farm. Over time the hopes of a better life fade as a small group of pigs take control and establish a dictatorship over the rest of the animals on the farm. “Animal Farm” continues to resonate with those who read it. This audio story commemorates the 60th anniversary of the publication of the novel and discusses its plot, its influence, and connections to today’s world.
The tradition of town meeting day has faded away in most states. This audio story describes a town meeting in Starksboro, Vermont, and a longstanding tradition of town meetings in New England beginning in the 1600s. While it can be difficult to give 100 people all the time they want to debate issues and air their opinions, let alone come to an agreement on them, town meeting remains a vitally important institution that its members value. Listen to this story as it looks at what makes it work.
John Steinbeck took a 11,000-mile journey across the United States with his dog, Charley, and then wrote about it in the book, “Travels with Charley”. He wanted to answer the question: “What are Americans like today?” Recently, a journalist retraced Steinbeck’s steps from Sag Harbor, New York through Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont, and then straight to the northernmost part of Maine. He used Steinbeck’s "Travels with Charley" as a guide, and discusses his travels and the challenges he has faced while trying to accurately follow Steinbeck’s route. He also discusses the differences and surprising similarities between Steinbeck’s trip and his own, focusing on the places he has visited, the people he has encountered, and the technology he uses along the way.
Dante Alighieri finished writing the three-part epic poem “Divine Comedy” in 1321. The poem is written in three parts: hell, purgatory, and heaven. It follows one man on his journey through all three places. This great work of Italian literature has survived the ages and remains a classic today. There have been many translations of Dante’s work. This story interviews Clive James, the most recent English translator, as he talks about this epic poem and his translated version of “Divine Comedy.”
In 2010, a copper and gold mine in northern Chile caved in. Thirty-three men were trapped 2,300 feet underground and were rescued 69 days later. Fortunately, this group established rules and structure and the confinement did not become a Lord of the Flies situation. The miners had little food or privacy, but kept each others' morale up. How do humans respond to isolation and a lack of structure? Listen to hear about the psychological risks and advantages of these scenarios.
When Gert Berliner fled Germany during the Holocaust, he had to leave his entire family behind despite being only 14-years-old at the time. Almost 80 years later, his son Uri is attempting to reconstruct his family history around that traumatic event and rediscover long lost relatives. Listen to hear how one toy monkey connected the Berliners to new relatives and helped bring a family closer in the wake of incredible trauma.
In the pre-Columbian world, Mayan civilization thrived in what is now modern-day Mexico and Central America. The Mayans created an advanced civilization that included developments in math, astronomy and writing among other achievements. Spanish conquests were destructive to Mayan history and culture. However, archaeologists have helped the world rediscover the rich civilization of the Mayan people. In this audio story, we learn about the discovery of over 200 Mayan artifacts found in a cave on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, which researchers hope will give insight into the rise and fall of Mayan civilization.
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” has been an American classic for 75 years. This novel centers around a poor young Irish girl and her family struggling to make it in Brooklyn. It’s loosely based on the author’s experiences growing up in New York. Listen to find out what middle schoolers think of this celebrated novel and what the author changed when she turned her real life into fiction.
India and Pakistan have been in conflict since the British drew a line across India in 1947 that created two opposing nations. Pakistan’s military focuses on preparing for a conflict with India, and its government teaches its citizens to fear India. India and Pakistan have gone to war twice over the disputed region Kashmir that lies between them like a no-mans-land. Listen to learn about the legacy of the 1947 partition.
Alfred Tennyson, better known as Lord Tennyson, was Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland for 42 years during the reign of Queen Victoria. His short lyrical poems appealed to the people of the 19th century, many of whom couldn’t read. One of this most famous poems “The Charge of the Light Brigade” describes a real event during the Crimean War. This charge, during the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, became the most well-known action of the war thanks to Tennyson’s poem, even though the poem wasn’t entirely accurate. Listen to learn more about the Crimean War, the real charge and how Tennyson’s words brought this event to life for the British people.
After World War II, the United States became a global leader. Former President Harry Truman gets much of the credit for that. His “Truman Doctrine” was the basis for U.S. foreign policy after WWII, promoting strength abroad, which protected the U.S. and its allies and promoted international partnerships. President Donald Trump’s doctrine of “America First” threatens to reverse this by reshaping America’s role in the world, potentially antagonizing allies and, some fear, making America less secure. This audio story looks at the history behind the Truman Doctrine and how events today could permanently shift America’s role in the world.
American slavery destroyed generations of human lives, and citizens in all parts of the country were complicit. The horrors of the slave system and the damage it did are at the heart of the current debate over whether descendants of enslaved people should receive reparations, or compensation for past wrongs. Listen to hear an historian make the case for reparations, detailing the brutalities of slavery and explaining how Americans at the time rationalized a cruel national institution.
Tsunamis are created by tectonic plates thrusting against each other and then lifting the sea floor and dropping it down, which creates a giant wave. A 2010 earthquake in Chile was caused by a shift in the seafloor. This same shift set off tsunami detection buoys and left scientists waiting for the tsunami to hit. But it ended up being small. Listen to learn more about this quake and how tsunamis are created.
When people started using large nets to capture tuna in the 1960s, many spotted dolphins were killed because they were found living with tuna. Scientists responded by sending “observers” on tuna boats to keep track of the number of dolphins killed. Listen to hear from a scientist who is studying the spotted and spinner dolphins to try to learn how to preserve dolphin populations.
Scientists are creating bacteria batteries by using wastewater to generate electricity. The microbes from sewage can be harnessed to develop microbial fuel cells. The process could provide ways to provide energy in remote places for very little money. Listen to learn how scientists are developing this energy and what they are learning from it.
The Old Truck is the tale of a hard-working truck that, after many years on the farm, comes to sit in the weeds until someone decides to bring it back to life. Two brothers worked together to write and illustrate the picture book. They created over 250 detailed handmade stamps to help bring the story to life. Listen to hear the brothers discuss their creative process, what it was like for them to work together, and how the lessons they learned as children continue to guide them.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume were two of the most prominent philosophers of the late 18th century. Despite being in many ways opposed to one another in terms of ideas, they briefly became friends--and then almost immediately afterwards, bitter enemies. Listen to learn about the relationship between these two great thinkers, and how it turned out to be more human than you’d expect.
One of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded struck recently, with minimal damage, no tsunami and it barely made the news. That’s because there are two kinds of earthquakes. This earthquake happened when two tectonic plates moved past each other horizontally, while more damaging earthquakes are caused when one plate slips beneath another. This radio story explains the two types of earthquakes and how they are gradually redefining the boundaries of the tectonic plates.
North and South Korea have been separate nations for over 70 years. The North has never accepted this division and is on a mission to either force South Korea back into a united communist Korea or destroy it. Explore this modern hostility by looking back to the historic source of Korea’s division and analyzing the impact it has had on the life of people on both sides.