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

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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.

Depending on when you grew up, discipline in school can mean anything from a time out to detention to that proverbial ruler against the knuckles. But a former teacher says that, in some school systems, there is next to no discipline at all…and that is doing kids a disservice.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, a conversation about school discipline and the appropriately named book Sit Down and Shut Up..

We’ll also spend an Academic Minute with teenagers and energy drinks because what could possibly go wrong there?

College and university campuses have been the birthplace of a lot of American ideas, good and bad…benign and controversial. But today, a lot of speakers are being prevented from talking about those ideas on campus…and students are one of the main culprits.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, a first amendment expert talks about the coddling of American minds on campus.

#1460: "White Kids"

Sep 13, 2018

There’s very little doubt that white privilege is a thing, how much of a thing is the big question. While some parents say they are raising color-blind children, they could be ignoring opportunities to teach tolerance.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll hear from a sociologist whose long term study is the topic of the new book called White Kids.

Then we’ll hear from a consumer advocate about toxic chemicals found in some common back to school items. And we’ll spend an Academic Minute finding toxins in the dirt in the backyard.

Some recent court rulings have us thinking again about a segment we ran earlier this year, so as we head into the new school year, let’s take another look at just how much are teachers valued in the US? There are a lot of politicians, media outlets and education reformers who can’t say enough bad things about teachers and teachers unions. But every school day kids around the country sit down in front of teachers dedicated to their jobs.

Woodstock Day School

You can learn a lot by sitting down and talking to a teacher.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll highlight my conversation with David Penberg, a veteran educator who has worked as a teacher and school administrator around the world and has settled down as the new head of a school in New York’s Hudson Valley.

We’ll also hear about some Hudson Valley college students who spent some of their summer rebuilding homes in Puerto Rico, and spend an academic minute finding out that security for you might mean something very different for everyone else.

20 years ago, a Sociologist named James W Loewen wrote a book exposing the inaccuracies and outright lies in most history textbooks.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll talk to Loewen about the latest edition of the book Lies My Teacher Told Me.

We’ll also spend an academic minute finding out if mom really liked you best.

#1456: "BRAINS!"

Aug 16, 2018

Just about any teacher will tell you that dealing with teenagers for a living can range from rewarding to nightmarish. But don’t blame or credit the child…it’s all on the child’s brain.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll learn how the constantly changing brain of teenagers makes them who they are…eventually.

We’ll hear the story of a Massachusetts woman whose brain underwent changes due to a childhood trauma, the care that was needed to help get her life back…and we’ll spend an academic minute finding out just who is likely to develop PTSD.

Living life as a trans-gendered adult carries its own set of issues and challenges, and society seems to slowly be opening up to accommodate and even celebrate these people. But most trans adults were once growing up as a trans child who needed support.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll talk about the children and parents who make up the current trans generation.

We’ll also spend an academic minute exploring how Americans feel about trans-gender rights.


A while back, we told you about a young scientist who was also a world class diver who was training for a mission with NASA call Project NEEMO. Well she’s now an award winning scientist.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll catch up with Dr. Dawn Kernagis, and talk about the results of Project NEEMO, and her shiny new trophy.

Also stories on a NASA study on fresh water on Earth and continued diversity in New York State schools…plus we’ll spend an academic minute looking for water in the Everglades.

There are parts of US history that many of us are not proud of…and slavery has got to be either on or very near the top of that list. And the history of slavery in the new world is entwined with another huge part of early colonial life: Christianity.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll open up history class and learn about the paradoxes and justifications of Christian slavery in America.

We’ve been hearing about the problem of rising student debt for so long that some graduates are using it as a badge of honor. A lot of that debt is generated by for-profit colleges, who continue to attract a growing number of students. Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll talk about the rise of for profit colleges and how inequality, both financial and academic, is fueling that rise.

We’ll also spend an academic minute learning how to check our facts because, apparently, we really stink at it.

Gloria Rangel

Parents who send their children to a neighborhood school in a small California city were devastated over the announcement that the school will be shut down. Then, they started taking action.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll tell you about the fight to save Fair Oaks Elementary School in Redwood City, California.

Then we’ll meet a high school English teacher who has published a series of young adult fiction book with the help of some unusual editors…the student in his creative writing class. And we’ll spend an academic minute at recess.