TEACHERS: Get free access to all Lessons and Current Events
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.
Even beautiful plants can sometimes be detrimental to the environment. This public radio story takes place in Michigan where the sale of Japanese knotweed has been outlawed following unchecked growth of the large ornamental plant. Japanese knotweed is fast-growing, aggressive and hard to control. It can destroy pavement and even houses and it is unlikely to be eradicated any time soon.
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.
Thomas Jefferson’s vegetable garden at Monticello contains over 300 varieties of more than 90 different plants, demonstrating the diversity of Earth’s ecosystem. The former President and founding father prided himself on his diversified and rare collection of plants. And he never failed to record his gardening achievements in his famed “garden book”. Listen to learn more about the history of Jefferson’s garden and it’s current state following restoration.
Children of immigrants can often feel like they’re never completely accepted either in their adopted home country or their parents’ country of origin. The author Jhumpa Lahiri was born to Indian parents in London and raised in Rhode Island. She is an author of many books, including "The Namesake" and "The Interpreter of Maladies." But she says she’s struggled to feel like she belonged in America. Mixed feelings about identity form a central theme in her work. Listen to hear how Jhumpa Lahiri has dealt with the difficulties of immigration and the struggles of tradition and how these themes have influenced her writing.
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 place 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.
When American author John Irving was 14 years old, he read "Great Expectations," by Charles Dickens and it changed his life forever. That book played a pivotal role in shaping Irving’s success as a writer. Now the author of more than a dozen narratives and an Academy Award-winning screenwriter, Irving continues to base his works on similar themes and ideas found throughout the novels of his literary mentor. Listen to the audio story as Irving explains the ways that Dickens impacted his accomplishments and which one book remains for Irving to read when he can no longer write.
The book "Into the Wild" chronicled the journey of twenty-four year old Christopher McCandless who died in April of 1992 after attempting to survive alone and virtually unaided on a remote Alaskan hiking trail. While McCandless’ official cause of death has been recorded as starvation, author Jon Krakauer has evidence suggesting otherwise. Krakauer, who wrote "Into the Wild," has conducted extensive research on McCandless’ death even after he first published the book chronicling McCandless’ experiences. His findings have led him to believe that McCandless’ death may have been caused by the ingestion of a poisonous potato seed that is only deadly if you are malnourished. Listen to hear what evidence led Krakauer to this conclusion.
Writer Joyce Carol Oates is the successful author of more than 50 novels and even more works of non-fiction, poetry, plays and short stories. Her writing, known for its high quality, is filled with ideas, themes and subjects across multiple genres. Many readers and fans of her work are aware of the violent, dark nature of some of her stories, but may not realize that many of these themes are based on events she experienced in her early years. Oates shares these stories in her recent memoir, “The Lost Landscape.” Listen to hear Oates explore how her early life shaped her not only as a person, but as a writer.
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.
Julia Alvarez is a Dominican-American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her novels include “How the García Girls Lost Their Accents” and “In the Time of the Butterflies.“ Growing up in the Dominican Republic, she learned about the massacre of over 20,000 Haitians living in the Dominican Republic in 1937. She was consistently presented with negative stereotypes of her Haitian neighbors. For these reasons, Alvarez felt too ashamed and even afraid to visit Haiti. But she made the trip to attend a wedding after the 2010 earthquake. Listen to learn more about how Alvarez needed to cross many borders—internal, historical, cultural—that stood in her way.
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.
Have you ever heard a killer whale? Biologists studying killer whales face the challenge of studying organisms that spend a majority of their time underwater. This public radio story goes underwater to hear what whales sound like and looks at the reasons scientists are willing to work so hard to study them. In addition, the story explores the adaptations that different populations of killer whales have evolved to capture prey.
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.
Christianity and Islam share many things in common. Their holy books contain some of the same narratives and many religious scholars would say they worship the same God. However, war and terrorism have led to widespread misunderstanding for and hostility towards Islam and Muslims. Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, a Catholic raised in England, believes that one key to combatting this hostility is through education. As a believer in this, Fitzgerald has dedicated his life to learning about, and teaching, Islam to both Christian and Muslim students. His goal is for students to have a deeper appreciation for the particular beliefs and customs that make Islam distinct.
At the turn of the 20th century, Atlanta was considered a beacon of modernity and racial harmony in the Jim Crow South. A killing spree known as the Atlanta Race Riot in 1906 shook that image to its foundation—and was quickly covered up. What can students today learn from this incident? Can a negative event be used to inspire a positive reaction?
Many schools now have gardens where students grow and harvest food that they cook themselves in class. The “Let's Move Initiative,” a program created by former First Lady Michelle Obama in 2010, has generated awareness about school gardens and teaching cooking skills that enable students to learn about healthy lifestyle habits in an effort to fight the national obesity epidemic. Listen to learn more about how a gardening and cooking project at a school in Maine is a rewarding way to learn about nutrition and healthy lifestyle skills through hands-on class activities.
In the early 20th Century Americans streamed to the middle of the country because of the Homestead Acts. These were federal laws that gave people ownership of the land for free. In this audio story you will hear from people who grew up on homesteads in Montana in the early 20th century. Both families were fairly isolated and self-sufficient, working hard to make a living off the land, but their affection for that lifestyle is still strong.
Leonardo da Vinci was the model of a Renaissance man and studied anatomy, botany, music, sculpture, and design. He painted the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. He also used the scientific method 100 years before Galileo Galilei, who was previously believed to have discovered it. This story describes how da Vinci’s study of patterns in nature was different from other scholars of his time who relied on the Greek and Roman classics. Listen to discover more about the scientific discoveries of Leonardo da Vinci.
When Roman Emperor Hadrian took power of ancient Rome in 117 A.D., Romans were mired in debt and war plagued much of Rome's land. It was similar to when President Barack Obama began his term as President of the United States. He inherited war, financial problems, and social issues. Throughout the two decades of his rule, Hadrian used his position as emperor to bring Rome back to a peaceful and powerful glory. Listen as the audio clip explains the steps Hadrian took to improve the country at the beginning of his rule.
Young Muslim Americans are learning about the life of Muhammad, the seventh century prophet who founded Islam, through a series of lectures called "Portrait of a Prophet." The course, held at mosques across the country, aims to teach Muslims what the prophet was like as a person, including how he treated others, what he liked to eat—even how he wore his hair. Listen to the story to learn about why the classes have been popular in Muslim American communities.
William Shakespeare’s tragic romance of star crossed lovers, based on an Italian tale, graced stages in the 1590’s and continues to capture audiences and imagination today. Modern adaptations demonstrate the timelessness of this romantic tragedy. Juliet appeals so directly to people that they actually write to her! Listen to learn more about the Juliet Club and the 6,000 letters they receive a year.
Vladimir Putin is the current president of the Russian Federation. He has served as either President or Prime Minister since 2000. Russia was in political and economic turmoil when Putin came to power, and many have credited Putin’s policies with making Russia more stable and prosperous. However, aggression against neighboring states, and rumors of corruption have cast a cloud over his administration. This story discusses life in Russia under Putin in the last two decades. Listen to learn more about why people think Putin is such a popular leader, what challenges Russians continue to face under Putin, and what the US still needs to understand about its former political arch-rival.
American soldiers who fought in the trenches of World War I were told they were going into a great adventure to fight for democracy. But new technology, from machine guns to poison gas, made this war more terrible than any previous war. The conditions in the trenches destroyed men’s clothes, food, and spirits. Eight and a half million soldiers and sailors died in the war, including 117,000 Americans. In this audio story you hear from an American solider who recalls what it was like to fight in the trenches of World War I.
"The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," tells the story of Arnold Spirit, a young Native American who leaves the reservation to get a better education. In this semi-autobiographical book, author Sherman Alexie discusses big issues including choosing your identity, figuring out where you belong and the hardships American Indians face living on reservations.
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is one of the most important speeches in American history. In it, Lincoln used the dedication of a Union cemetery as an occasion to tie the soldiers’ sacrifice to America’s founding principles. Lincoln spoke for just over two minutes. In just 272 words Lincoln explicitly linked human equality and democracy to the Union war effort. Listen to hear more about the original context of the speech, and hear about Lincoln’s thought process in writing the speech.
Bullies can have a lasting effect. In this audio story, Rob Littlefield discusses his experience being bullied at 13 years old. As a result of his lifestyle, Littlefield was bullied by other students and even physically abused. He had thoughts of suicide because of his experiences. As Littlefield reflects, he imagines what his tormentors might think today about what they did to him. Listen to learn more about Littlefield, how and why he was bullied, and the ways in which teen bullying still affects him today.
You are losing weight, just by breathing! This public radio story describes how people lose weight when sleeping, and that much of that lost weight comes simply from breathing. You will learn how matter is recycled and how everyone contains atoms from historical figures. The story also helps you visualize just how small and numerous atoms and molecules are.
The civil war in South Sudan drove thousands of people from their homes. Many of them were children who were separated from their families. They were called "The Lost Boys." For more than a decade these refugees moved around, and many of them were relocated to the United States. In this radio story you will hear from a Lost Boy who was resettled in Colorado but later went back to Sudan to help his home country.
In Medieval England, British King John was at war with a group of English Barons because he extracted money from them to fight a war with France. To appease the Barons, the king wrote the Magna Carta, which essentially says the King cannot arbitrarily collect taxes from Barons. This revolutionary document, signed in 1215, limited the power of the monarchy and outlined the basic principles of the modern judicial system. The Pope invalidated the document just ten weeks later but its ideas have lived on and served as the basis of portions of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Listen to learn how the British library celebrated the 800th anniversary of this revolutionary document.
Mao Zedong, or Chairman Mao, ruled China with an iron fist from 1949 to 1976. The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) led by Mao was meant to wipe out all things non-communist in China. The Chinese government wanted its people to forget about literature, art, school, professional careers and anything else that China’s communist government considered foreign, elitist or in any way opposed to the communist system. Mao’s communist philosophy changed the government, economy and lifestyle of all Chinese people. A group called the Red Guard helped make this a reality. This public radio story tells how people who were part of the Cultural Revolution are beginning to tell their stories.
Samuel Clemens became famous as an author under his pen-name, Mark Twain. As one of the most famous American authors of his time, Twain is well known for his biting sense of humor and keen sense of observation. As Samuel Clemens, though, his life was complex and tumultuous, often directly contradicting the things his alter ego said in books and articles. Listen to find out how one of America’s greatest novelists lived, and how that may have informed his writing.
Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech was delivered at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. In this public radio story you will hear from activists who were present that day and heard the speech. They remember that its power came not only from the words MLK spoke, but the way he spoke them, in rolling cadences that “raised his audience.”
Maya Angelou was an author, poet and icon. She grew up during segregation and used her work to empower and give voice to the African American community. Her memoir, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" changed the literary world and opened doors for African American authors and women.
Medieval warfare happened in the 1600s but is recreated in modern times in "wars" held several times a year around the country. This public radio story describes a medieval “war” held in Wisconsin held by the SCA—the Society for Creative Anachronism. Participants create their own weapons and armor and gather by the thousands to do battle. You will hear what it sounds like and feels like to be part of one of these recreated battles.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Americans of Japanese descent were taken away to internment camps. The terrible conditions they lived in during internment were only surpassed by the shock and humiliation the people suffered as they saw themselves changed overnight from loyal Americans, often American citizens, to “enemy aliens.” In this audio story you will hear first person accounts from people who lived in the internment camps when they were children.
There are few Holocaust survivors still living today. In this public radio story we hear from one woman who escaped a Nazi death camp. She tells the story about being led out of the camp with many other women to an open field to be killed. Thankfully, she escaped, but has lived for over 70 years with survivor’s guilt.
Note: This story contains disturbing details about a Nazi concentration camp.
The ancient Mesopotamian citadel of Ur Bilum, located in Northern Iraq, sits atop a hill overlooking the modern day city of Erbil. Ur Bilum was originally built by a group of ancient peoples known as the Sumerians but was also home to a variety of civilizations including the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Ottomans. More recently, the citadel was home to hundreds of families of Kurdish refugees until 2007 when it was evacuated. This was an effort by Kurdish authorities to gain the necessary approval of the United Nations for the citadel to become a World Heritage Site. Listen to learn more about Ur Bilum’s rich history and the hardships faced by its last inhabitants.
Changes to a neighborhood park in Illinois have affected the Northern White-Footed mice who live in the forest nearby. In this audio story, you'll hear from a scientist who is studying living mice today and comparing them to museum samples of dead mice to understand how they've changed and why. What they are finding is that the mice are growing much faster than their ancestors. Listen to learn more about their fascinating story.