The Best Of Our Knowledge | WAMC

The Best Of Our Knowledge

Fridays, 3:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Produced and hosted by radio veteran Bob Barrett, this show examines education from the classroom to state education departments. Bob interviews various educators about the subjects they teach, and will, every now and again, throw in a surprise, like speaking to the family behind "Dracula."

Twitter: @TBOOKnowledge

Ways to Connect

teacher on trial dot com

The longest and most expensive trial in the history of the state of Georgia had nothing to do with robbery, rape or murder. It involved teachers, erasers and a whole lot of history. Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll talk to one of the teachers convicted in the scandal.

Follow Shani's appeal at teacher on trial dot com.

We’ll also spend an Academic Minute becoming political consumers.

Early this year, Jordan Taylor Hill traveled to Senegal and Guinea to expand his musical training. It wasn’t the first time his passion for drumming took him to West Africa. Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll hear his story.

We’ll also hear about a foreign student trying to navigate dating in the US, and spend an Academic Minute searching for long lost languages.

Is academic freedom under attack in American colleges and universities?

Next time on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll talk about academic freedom and how it’s not the same a freedom of speech.

We’ll also hear about a student economic tour of Asia, and spend an Academic Minute bemoaning the pay gap between men and women.

I’m Bob Barrett…that’s this week on The Best of Our Knowledge.

When it comes to teaching young people about race relations and racism, children of color get the talk at a much younger age.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll discuss the need for educating all children, of all races, about the way we interact in a diverse society.

We’ll also spend an Academic Minute with historic artwork depicting African American farmers.

I have a large stack of books on my desk right now, and I’m looking forward to reading through them and reporting back to you on what one or two of them have to say. So for now, let’s talk about one that I read about this time last year.

The way we tell stories has been a constantly changing part of human history. New inventions and writing technologies like paper, the printing press, even the book itself have shaped that history, affecting religion, politics and commerce. And those innovations continue.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Politicians and pundits start accusing teachers of being socialists and indoctrinating students into their nefarious way of thinking, and demand an investigation. This actually happened in New York just before the start of the Second World War and it is now seen as the seed that gave birth to McCarthyism after the war.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll look back at that investigation and how it ripped through the school system.

Without coffee, the entire educational system would collapse. Sure, that may sound like hyperbole, but if you’ve ever sat through an 8 am chemistry lecture on a Monday morning you’d be nodding in agreement right now. The fact is coffee has become engrained not only in American, but around the world as our go to pick-me-up of choice. And some coffee sellers travel the world to find the perfect bean.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll about the travels of a fair trade coffee merchant and his decades of combining environmental activism and caffeine.

You may have noticed, but in the last few months we’ve been talking a lot about history. It’s not because it was my favorite class (spoiler alert – it was). But it’s because out of all the academic classes and programs, history has the best stories. Now, a life long professor of history has turned his research on himself and has written about his life in history.

It’s kind of hard to describe what it feels like walking through New Orleans to someone who has never been there. But according to a newly published history, if you want to understand New Orleans, watch a few of its funerals.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll talk about the Crescent City with a New Orleans native who has just written a character driven history of one of America’s great cities.

We’ll also spend an Academic Minute trying to recreate the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.


Artificial intelligence is no longer a theory or a science fiction plot. It is all around us and most of us use it every day.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll hear about a new national commission on artificial intelligence, and how ethical questions about its use start and end with us, the humans.

Then we’ll talk to a film maker who, in her latest project, travels around the world listening to people’s stories about climate change. You can watch those films HERE.

Over 20 years ago, a sociology professor named James Loewen wrote and book that had people taking a closer look at the history that we thought we knew. Now, with over 2 million copies sold, that book is still significant and changing the way teachers teach.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll take another look at the book Lies My Teacher Told Me. And get a closer look at another of Loewen’s books that detailed a very specific and prevalent form of American racism.

And we’ll spend an Academic Minute comparing how different communities react to hardship.

Roxanne Turpen for NPR

For six days last month, about 600 thousand students had their school days turned upside down as teachers in the Los Angeles school district went on strike. That follows a number of other labor actions by teachers last year.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll talk about the teacher’s labor movement kin the US.

Then we’ll head to New York State, where a new program is helping some students with autism succeed in school, and a university is trying to evict a photography club from its darkroom.

And we’ll spend an Academic Minute with scary movies.

Much to the frustration of their parents and teachers, there are some truly brilliant young people out there who are just terrible students.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll listen again to our talk with a veteran educator about what it takes to develop the skills that help a student learn how to learn.

Then we’ll head to New York State, where the new Democratic majority in the state legislature has voted to give college tuition assistance to the children of undocumented immigrants.

Bob Barrett

A great way to understand the history of a region and its people is to study their music. And in Mississippi, that music is the blues.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll hear about the Mississippi Blues Trail, and how it traces the history of this uniquely American genre of music from its roots around the state to cities around the world.

While attending school at every level, everyone has their own special, personal relationship with math. For some it’s fear and loathing. For others calm acceptance. There are even some students who see it as love at first sight. But a popular math blogger has a more practical approach.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll talk to that blogger who is also the author of a new book about living with the subject called Math with Bad Drawings.

We’ll also spend an Academic Minute reducing the stress in your life by trying a little forgiveness.

Being a kid ain’t what it used to be. And no, I’m not saying that in a ‘all you kids get off my lawn” kind of way. It’s just a fact. So how can parents and teachers deal with students who have grown up with wi-fi and technology and screens? It’s not that they’re not trying. 

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll talk the new childhood, and how to help young students thrive in a connected world.

Then we’ll hear about a New York school that has a very different way to get books in student’s hands.

And we’ll spend an Academic Minute tracking the different critters that may be living in your water.

The relationship between politicians and scientists in the US has always been complicated…and that was especially true during the cold war.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll talk about the cold war struggle for the soul of science.

Then we’ll hear how laptops have become standard equipment in college classrooms across the country, and how using that technology in that setting isn’t always a good thing.

And we’ll spend an Academic Minute exploring the intersection of STEM and the humanities.

Bob Barrett

You meet the coolest and most interesting people putting together a weekly program like this, and every year we like to look back and listen again to some interesting conversations with fascinating people. Back in the spring we had a conversation with the head of one of the country’s largest teacher’s unions about labor actions taken across the country.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, our talk with Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the National Education Association.

There are some end of year traditions that we all look forward to, and one of mine is looking back over the last 12 months and listening again to some of what we feel were the best stories we told. For years, the cable network C-SPAN has toured the country in a well-equipped bus visiting schools, book fairs and state capitols.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll re-take our tour of the C-SPAN bus.

Does a love of language spur people to travel the world, or is it the other way around? I don’t know if we’ll be able to answer that question in the next 25 minutes, but with any luck you’ll have something to think about.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll meet a teacher who took the dream of living abroad, and turned it into a career…a family…and a life.

We’ll also spend an Academic Minute with Woody Guthrie, Charles Schultz and a comic book…with a little communism thrown in for good measure.

When it comes to the medical field, women have come a long way in 50 years. It’s no longer surprising to see women as physicians and surgeons. However the story remains very different when it comes to medical professors.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll hear about a program at a major US medical school to help groom more women as professors.

Then we’ll catch up with Dr. Karen Hitchcock, a long time co-host of this program, and hear how she’s been in the 10 years since she left us.

We’ll also spend an Academic Minute with beer…cause we like beer.

There are tons of books available about finding the right college and rating colleges and universities and listing the best of this and the best of that in higher education and basically trying to teach you and your child how to choose a college. But a college professional says those books and most parents and students are doing it wrong.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll talk to that educator about how he believes families should tackle that decision…and what he did when it was his family’s turn.

Bob Barrett

A failing high school in North Las Vegas, Nevada was given a chance to remake itself and change the lives of some struggling students. Now, less than two years later, the experiment is paying off.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll take a tour of Desert Rose High School, and hear how students from all over the region are buying in to their new program.

We’ll also see how a college in New England is celebrating its history, and spend an Academic Minute learning about a growing social movement: neurodiversity.

Teachers have a huge effect on the lives of their students. And one of the biggest and most important parts of a teacher’s job is something where they get little to no training of guidance: handing out grades.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll talk to a veteran educator who says the way teachers grade their students in the US is broken…and how that system can be fixed.

Then we’ll wait until the very end of the show for an Academic Minute on procrastination.

There’s a college in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains of New York whose culinary program has grown to the point where they had to leave the campus and open up a restaurant downtown.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll hear from the president of SUNY Adirondack about Seasoned, a culinary experience located downtown.

We’ll also learn how archeologists are studying sound, and how archeo-acoustics combined with other research can provide a more holistic understanding of the past…and spend an Academic Minute exploring the stigma of being single.

Educators around the country occasionally have to teach some controversial topics. But odds are you wouldn’t put reading in that category. You’d be wrong.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll talk to a long time education journalist about her new documentary about how the science of teaching reading is losing in the classroom.

We’ll also spend an Academic Minute with a special font that is helping people with dyslexia to read.


Society in the US is becoming more and more diverse. Colleges and universities are seeing many more immigrants, minorities and first in family college students applying and attending their institutions every semester. For those students, and the entire school population, the office of diversity is becoming a staple of the modern college campus.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll travel to Las Vegas, Nevada…and talk to someone who has created an office of diversity at universities on both sides of the country.

Consent has become a powerful word. A significant number of college students have reported sexual abuse on campus, and there have been policies put in place by many schools across the country to combat the problem. But getting those new rules in place was not easy.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll talk about the complicated issue of consent on campus…and how some safeguards that were recently put in place may be getting rolled back.

We’ll also spend an Academic Minute making sure younger students are getting sex ed.

When a man or woman leaves the military they can expect to get a helping hand with college tuition. But there’s an effort now from schools and communities to help veterans get a head start in business.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll learn about one of those programs.

We’ll also tour a facility that helps train Veteran’s Administration doctors, hear about college students’ new found stress…and spend an Academic Minute urging older adults to volunteer.

#1463: "The Tango War"

Oct 4, 2018

World War 2 earned its name. When studying the history of this conflict you will find yourself talking about Europe, Asia, Africa and the United States. And you should also be talking about a region that played a very important part of early Axis success…and the ultimate Allied victory: Latin America. Our neighbors to the south were a source of materials vital to the war efforts of both sides.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, it’s back to history class to learn about the role of Latin America in World War 2.