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While the names of Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and other civil rights activists may be familiar to many Americans, there are likely others who are lesser known. Bayard Rustin was a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Rustin explained in interviews how his sense of identity was connected to his fight for social justice. Listen to this story to learn about how Rustin’s identity as a gay man and his identity as a Black civil rights activist intersected in ways that had significant impact on his life and his notoriety.
On April 14, 1861, the American Civil War began with a Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, a Union fort located in Charleston, South Carolina. Eventually, the Union surrendered the fort. What followed was a war that would cost more American lives than all previous wars combined. Listen to learn about the attack on Fort Sumter and the story behind the first American killed in the war.
Robert Morris was a rich merchant from Philadelphia who became a banker and supplier to the American army during the Revolution. He built a fortune through international trade. He was successful at a time when reputation and personal relationships were the only guarantee that payments would be made. Initially against independence, Morris went along with the majority of Congress when it decided in favor, and signed the Declaration of Independence. He was instrumental to the success of the American Revolution, financing the war with his own personal credit. Listen to his story to learn about this important and controversial Founding Father, Robert Morris.
In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson argued that “all men are created equal,” yet during his lifetime he owned over 600 men, women and children. Jefferson wasn’t the only Founding Father who owned slaves and supported slavery. How could men who believed in liberty also believe in slavery? This lesson explores this contradiction, as well as the lives of slaves who made Jefferson’s lifestyle possible.
The Founding Fathers are known for uniting the thirteen original colonies, leading the American Revolution, and establishing the new democratic government of the United States of America. The women who contributed to those efforts are less well known. A children’s book called “Founding Mothers” tells their remarkable stories. Listen to learn why one Founding Mother believed American women were actually “better patriots” than their husbands.
This story features an interview with author Jay Cantor about his 2014 story collection, "Forgiving the Angel: Four Stories for Franz Kafka." In this work, Cantor fictionalizes the lives of several friends of renowned Czech writer Franz Kafka’s in order to examine the influence Kafka had on them. In the interview, Cantor explains what drew him to Kafka, the dilemma Kafka created for his close friend Max Brod, and the meaning of the term Kafkaesque. Listen to the story to learn about one writer’s inspiration and his thoughts on a literary giant.
In the 1880s European countries divided up Africa and made them their colonies. In the 1960s, 17 of those nations gained independence. The European countries and their former African colonies still feel the effects of colonization today. France colonized nearly all of northern Africa and large parts of sub-Saharan Africa, as you can see on the map. Holding onto these countries makes France feel strong as a nation and world power. Many French leaders say they will give up their connections to their former colonies that are now independent. However, in this interview with a journalist covering Africa, we learn how France is still very involved in African states they formerly ruled in.
Consumer culture in the United States has been a fixture of the holiday season for years, particularly on the Friday after Thanksgiving–also known as “Black Friday.” That’s the inspiration for the title story in Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s latest book of speculative fiction, Friday Black. In it, he addresses the topics of race and class as they relate to American consumer culture. Listen to hear an interview with the author as he discusses how his experience of these factors influences his work.
Two famous authors, C.S. Lewis and J.R..R Tolkien, had a deep friendship. C.S. Lewis helped J.R.R. Tolkien get published, but Tolkien admitted he didn’t even like Lewis’ work, especially The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, which he thought was terrible. Both were Christians and heavily influenced by Christian ideology. Tolkien says Lord of the Rings was a deeply Catholic book, while Lewis was more influenced by writers of the Renaissance who were fascinated by Pagan mythology. Listen as this radio story explores the two authors' friendship and motivations.
Frogs are well adapted to their environment. They absorb water and oxygen through their skin which allows them to eat and breathe underwater. They are powerful jumpers and good hunters. But perhaps their most unusual adaptation is metamorphosis, the process of changing from tadpole to frog. Metamorphosis helps frogs live successfully in both wet and semi-dry environments, vary their diets, and avoid predators. Listen to hear an animal scientist explain how metamorphosis helps frogs survive, and why they eat their own tails in the process.
Comedian Lewis Black and fruit flies have something in common -- they are both good at acting angry. Scientists say that aggressive behavior and biological responses across species look more similar than people might think. Listen to hear about the animal roots of a powerful emotion with a bad reputation—anger.
Fungi play a crucial role in decomposition. As they follow this process, fungi release nutrients that the trees around it absorb. Eventually, the fungi attach itself to the roots of the nature around them and begin the cycle of giving and getting to keep the environment in balance. Listen to learn how fungi first colonized land and what would happen if fungi were not able to spread.
Anyone interested in astronomy owes a debt of gratitude to Galileo Galilei, a Renaissance-era astronomer and physicist known as the “father of observational astronomy” and credited with inventing the telescope. This audio story describes our modern-day fascination with astronomy and looking deep into space, first made possible by the Italian inventor. Listen to learn about the secrets of the universe revealed by the Hubble telescope, and hear an astronomer predict a “mind-boggling” new discovery he expects in the future.
Galileo Galilei is known as the “father of modern science.” Fascinated by gravity, motion, and the movement of heavenly bodies, Galileo’s work influences how we understand our own world and the solar system. His contributions include improving the accuracy of telescopes and adding to our understanding of gravity and, most famously, our knowledge that the earth, and other planets, revolve around the sun. The latter claim would make Galileo famous and controversial in 16th century Italy. Listen to learn about the story of Galileo Galilei and why he was sentenced to prison for his revolutionary scientific ideas.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a huge area of ocean where hundreds of millions of tons of plastic garbage floats, brought there by a swirling ocean current. Much of the waste comes from single use items like plastic bags, straws, and water bottles. As time passes the trash breaks into smaller fragments but never disappears entirely, posing a threat to ocean life. Listen to hear a reporter describe what this “island of plastic” looks like, and learn what businesses and individuals, including young people, can do to help clean up ocean pollution.
Gary Paulsen, the award winning author of Hatchet and Tracker, has written a memoir. Gone to the Woods depicts a childhood full of difficult challenges and shows how the author overcame them. Paulsen’s novels for young people focus on survival, and Paulsen drew on his own life experiences to write them. Listen to learn more about Gary Paulsen’s inspirational story, and learn why the author says a librarian may have changed the course of his life.
In this episode of the vocabulary-building podcast Good Words, listeners dig deeply into the meaning of the word magnanimous by hearing about how someone donated a kidney to his best friend. Listen to hear more about a quintessential example of a magnanimous act.
The Canadian writer Margaret Atwood has published collections of poetry, short stories and essays, books for children, numerous novellas, and—the works for which she is best known—fifteen novels. Atwood’s early novels were mainly works of realistic literary fiction, the sort of novels that literary critics and academics distinguish from “genre fiction” such as mysteries and thrillers, romance novels, and science fiction and fantasy novels. Atwood has written several novels that some critics and readers would call science fiction, but which she prefers to call “speculative fiction.” In this audio story, Atwood discusses her most recent novel, The Heart Goes Last and explains why she feels this is not a time for realistic fiction.
Scientists say it’s nearly certain that human activity and fossil fuels are warming the planet. The mainstream discussion focuses on alternative energy and reducing fossil fuel emissions. But the field of geoengineering is looking for more large scale and proactive things we can do to offset warming. Some see this as an exciting way to help the planet, others as a threat. Listen to learn about the strategies geoengineers are exploring to prevent further global warming.
A geologist has turned decades worth of data into music. He created a multitrack sequencer for data instead of music. The data and music show a tight correlation between the amount of carbon dioxide and the amount of ice on the earth. Listen to hear what climate change sounds like and how it is helping scientists understand how humans affect our climate.
In a real-life case that has shades of George Orwell’s 1984, the United States Supreme Court must weigh the public good against privacy. Does putting a GPS monitoring device on the car of suspected criminals violate their privacy? Or does it protect society? Listen to this audio story which addresses the issues in the novel 1984, as you discuss this recent case.
In 1963 there was tension in the South. African Americans were demanding the right to equal treatment under the law. They faced strong, often violent, opposition from Southern authorities. One such conflict arose at the University of Alabama. When the school admitted black students for the first time, Alabama’s governor George Wallace stood at the door to block their entrance. In doing so, he protested desegregation and clashed with President John F. Kennedy’s administration. Listen to hear more about George Wallace’s contentious views and his lasting impact on politics.
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.
As the commander of the Continental Army in the American Revolution and our country’s first president, George Washington was one of America’s most respected leaders. Washington spent his early years working on his family’s Virginia tobacco farm and inherited the farm as a young man, after his father’s death. He was schooled at home but learned most of what he knew from hands-on experience. Listen to learn more about the early days of George Washington and the experiences that shaped his views and molded his character.
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.
Girls Scout cookies have long been a part of American culture. The origins of Girl Scout cookies go back to the sale of cookies during the First World War. Since then, it’s become something of an annual tradition to purchase them, something that connects millions of people to a sense of shared cultural identity. For some kids, selling Girl Scout cookies is a great introduction to the concepts of business and marketing. Listen to learn how young people today are using their entrepreneurial skills to sell cookies, and hear kids describe their visions for other businesses they’d like to start.
The Giver is a story about a world without memories. Years after the novel was published, a movie version was produced, depicting this world as a sterile, emotionless place, where order is thought to prevent conflict. Listen to hear an interview with author Lois Lowry about what sparked the idea for the book, which asks, “Would it be easier if we didn’t have memories?”
Venezuela has one of the world’s largest oil reserves, but its economy has collapsed, and its government isn’t doing too well either. The country is beset by shortages—of everything. Listen to this story to find out how a country rich in natural resources has descended from wealth and democracy into financial and political chaos.
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 curveball, 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.
In 1741, New York City was shaken by an uprising led by African slaves. New York was a British colony and had a very large slave population. After a series of fires burned homes in Manhattan, including the Governor’s house, many black slaves were imprisoned, hanged, or burned. There was a great fear that slaves were conspiring against their owners. Listen to hear about the history of the revolt and what the revolt of 1741 can tell us about society today.
The Great Wall of China, a 13,000-mile-long tall stone wall running across Northern China, is one of the world’s most famous sites. Emperor Qin ordered construction of the wall over 2000 years ago to help unify the independent states of China and protect the country from enemies. Building the wall was dangerous work – hundreds of thousands of laborers died in the process – but the result is considered one of history’s most incredible feats of construction. Listen to learn more about the Great Wall of China, the only man-made structure that is visible from space.
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 (the children of gods and humans). 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.
Ancient Greek plays called tragedies were often about characters dealing with the aftermath of war. Today, these sad stories may help modern veterans recover from the emotional consequences of returning home from battle. Listen to find out what today’s veterans can learn from Sophocles’ play “Ajax,” written over 2,000 years ago.
Cassandra Gonzalez is a very young single mother. She had her daughter while she was still a teenager, and as she approaches her early twenties she is struggling to balance her desire to enjoy her life with the responsibilities and expectations of motherhood. Listen to learn more about the challenges she faces, and what she does to confront them.
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.
Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960) was an American anthropologist and writer who focused her research and writing on African American folklore and racial struggles in the American South. In the mid-1930s, Hurston was hired by the Works Progress Administration, an arm of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal aimed at creating jobs, to write a travel guide for Florida. In this story, a present-day writer details what she observed and learned as she made her way through Florida with Hurston’s work as her guide. Listen to learn more about Hurston’s experience working for the WPA and how specific areas in Florida have or have not changed over the past 70 years.