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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.
Scientists have wondered why giant squid and colossal squid have such enormous eyes. Their eyes are the size of basketballs. Their thinking about this question has been hampered by the rarity of these animals and the difficulty of preserving eye specimens. Using some clever techniques and luck, researchers have been able to measure the size of giant squid eyes. This has led to an interesting hypothesis about why their eyes are so enormous.
Throwing a curveball is one of the most difficult pitches in baseball. Bill Lee, a former pitcher for the Red Sox, explains how important it is to consider physics when trying to throw a curveball. Listen to learn how objects travel through space and how gravity affects a curveball.
Gravity keeps our feet on the ground, it creates a curve ball, and it can also be used to find new planets. The star at the center of our solar system maintains life on Earth and its gravitational pull creates the orbit of planets. But our sun is just one of many stars in an ever expanding universe. Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to our solar system and new technology is allowing us to better understand our neighbor. Observations of Alpha Centauri date back to 1592, but it wasn’t until 2012 that astronomers in Chile were able to identify a planet orbiting one of the stars in Alpha Centauri because of its gravitational wobble. Listen to learn more about the properties and potential of this new planet.
Even though it is the weakest of all forces, gravity is why we exist. Gravity keeps the earth, moon, and sun in orbit. It keeps us on the ground instead of floating in space. Listen to hear how gravity affects the velocity in rockets, the shapes of planets, the trajectories of baseballs, and even the strength of the human leg bones.
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.
A series of young-adult novels called “Percy Jackson and the Olympians”, by Rick Riordan, has struck a chord with millions of readers. In the novels, Percy goes to Camp Half-Blood to train with other demigods. He then goes on various adventures involving Greek mythology mixed in with the modern world. Recently, independent bookstores have been running day camps for children, inspired by the fictional camp from Riordan’s novels. Listen to hear about how an actual Camp Half-Blood harnesses Greek mythology to create learning experiences for kids, and about Greek mythology’s continued appeal today.
Author Marjane Satrapi created the graphic novel “Persepolis”—later adapted as a movie—about her experience growing up during the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Satrapi was a rebellious teenager, fighting to maintain her beliefs and individuality while living under a government that dictated how its people should live—for example, mandating that women must wear veils. Listen to hear about the Iranian government’s reaction to the movie and how others reacted to it.
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.
Heirloom seeds are more than 50 years old and are not genetically modified. Jere Gettle, author of "The Heirloom Life Gardener," is particularly fascinated by heirloom seeds and he noticed they were being dropped by seed catalogs in the 1980s. The plants they produce are typically different from what we see in the grocery store. Listen to learn more about Gettle’s fight to bring heirloom plants back to our dinner tables.
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.
In 1928, Ernest Hemingway began writing "A Farewell to Arms," a novel with big themes: the horrors of war, the power and pain of love, the inescapable cycle of life and death. The novel is set in World War I era Italy and tells the story of an American ambulance driver who falls in love with an English nurse. Although unmarried, the two conceive a baby and escape together to Switzerland, where tragedy strikes: the woman dies in childbirth. The heartbreaking ending—famous for bringing the most stoic readers to tears—is a major discussion point of this audio story, as it was discovered in recent years that Hemingway wrote over forty endings for the novel. Listen to hear why Hemingway wrote so many endings and why, ultimately, he chose to stick with his original, heart-wrenching conclusion.
Cells are used in research to make scientific discoveries. A certain set of cells are among the most widely used in biomedical research worldwide. These HeLa cells have been used to research almost every disease and have played an important role in many scientific breakthroughs including the development of the polio vaccine. The cells come from a woman named Henrietta Lacks who has been mentioned in more than 70,000 published scientific papers. Listen to hear more about how these cells are used and the issues of privacy with her family.
Herman Melville’s classic American novel “Moby-Dick” tells the story of whaling captain Ahab’s quest to kill the white whale Moby-Dick. This somewhat simplistic plot retelling misses the thematic and historical undertones of this massive novel. The novel was a critical and commercial failure when it was released in 1851 but experienced a resurgence after World War I. Listen to learn about the writing of “Moby-Dick” and how Melville was influenced by the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Shakespeare, as well as the tensions of pre-Civil War America.
Serving in the military during a war can lead men and women to experience events that affect them for the rest of their lives. Louis Zamperini was one example. Laura Hillenbrand wrote a best-selling novel, “Unbroken”, which tells his story. It is set in World War II where Zamperini fought for survival on a life raft in the Pacific Ocean, was held as a POW by Japan, and later struggled in civilian life to deal with his war memories. This story, told at the time of his death in 2014, is a previous interview with Hillenbrand, where she recounts Zamperini’s story of survival during the war and his struggle to find closure in the decades following his return home. Listen to hear this extraordinary story of courage, despair and redemption.
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.
Two men imprisoned in Somalia began tapping messages to each other through a thick wall. One man had Leo Tolstoy’s novel “Anna Karenina”. Because they were forbidden to talk, one man tapped the story out on the wall, letter by letter, to the other man. The more the other man heard of the novel, the more he understood his own situation and feelings and ultimately, how to get through one of the most difficult experiences of his life. Listen to this story about how a book can inspire empathy and change your life.
Published in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” changed the way Americans viewed slavery and was a driving force that steered the political direction of the country during the 1850s as well. For many Americans, the characters in the novel are familiar, although their names have taken on new and unexpected meanings, and the novel’s theme still resonates today. Listen to learn more about the cultural impact of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in America and discover Harriet Beecher Stowe’s inspirations for writing the novel as well as how the novel still reminds us of what “freedom” means today.
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.
The Grand Canyon has amazed visitors and scientist alike since it was discovered. The debate over what created this geologic wonder has been reignited in recent years. Is the Grand Canyon 6 million years old or 70 million? Listen to learn more about this debate between two geologists who have very opposing viewpoints.
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.
The phrase “no two snowflakes are alike” is actually scientifically accurate. Snow forms high in the atmosphere, and despite its uniform appearance, each snowflake is different based upon where and how it was formed. Although snowflakes are non-living, they grow and change from the time they are formed to the time they reach the ground. Listen to learn how snow is formed, and why it exists in some places but not others.
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.
Storms and cold weather play an important role in Mary Shelley’s famous horror novel “Frankenstein.” Apparently, the bad weather in her story may reflect the weather at that time. When Shelley was writing the novel, the world was enduring a particularly cold and gray few years. Scholars hypothesize that the weather influenced Shelley to write about the weather for the novel. Listen to hear more about how true-life conditions affected this writer, and consider how climate change may influence future works of literature and art.
Writing college application essays can be stressful. Some companies are trying to help applicants through the process by analyzing essays of admitted students, gathering data, and offering targeted advice. But one college counselor cautions that sometimes, trying to follow these tips can lead students astray. Instead, she hopes that students will look to themselves for inspiration and write essays using their own voice. Listen to hear more about how students can stay true to themselves as they write college essays.
A United Nations report in 2014 shows that human activities are changing the planet. The scientists are more confident in their conclusions that humans are causing global warming. There are rising sea levels, higher temperatures and impacts on wildlife. This conversation with a public radio reporter looks at the long term trend in global temperatures and what humans can do to reverse the trend.
The play "Hedda Gabler" by Henrik Ibsen was written in 1891. It features a female protagonist who feels trapped and bored by her loveless marriage and the rules of Victorian society, and relieves her frustration through manipulating others. A play called "Heddatron," is a comedic reinterpretation of "Hedda Gabler." The producers of "Heddatron" updated the play for a 21st century audience by incorporating robots into the cast. As new forms of technology are showing up in unexpected places, the integration of robots in this play challenges our thinking about the role of technology in our culture and our society. Listen to this story to learn why the producers decided to bring robots into a century-old play, and what challenges they faced in bringing their reinterpretation to the stage.
The Tibetan Plateau is one of the highest and coldest places on Earth. Many of the world’s tallest mountains, including Mt. Everest, is on the Tibetan Plateau. For millions of years, animals living in this region have needed to adapt to extremely cold temperatures. When an ice age took over Europe and Asia about 2.5 million years ago, this adaptation may have given animals living on the plateau an evolutionary advantage. Listen to hear about the discovery of the woolly rhino on this plateau and the new theories resulting from the discovery.
In 2015, the United States resettled nearly 70,000 refugees as wars and political instability continue to drive people from their home countries. Resettlement isn’t easy for the person coming to a new country. One of those people, Barwaqo Mohamed was born and grew up in Somalia, but came to the U.S. as a political refugee in 2006. In this audio story, Barwaqo talks about her experience as an immigrant with a journalist who volunteered to tutor her in English for over four years. Barwaqo describes herself as a natural at learning languages and that helped her fit in. Listen to the interview to learn how that skill has served her since she came to the U.S.
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.
Energy and how it converts to power is a never-ending exploration for scientists. The most significant issue concerning energy right now is how to store it, especially for long periods of time. It's possible to get solar energy from the sun, but what happens to the energy when it's not a sunny day? There's also the problem of having enough space to hold all of this energy. Listen to learn how scientists are trying to figure out how energy can be stored long-term to power the things we use every day.
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.