This week on The Learning Curve co-hosts U-Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and DFER’s Alisha Searcy interview Henry James biographer Sheldon Novick. Mr. Novick discusses the complexities of Henry James’ life and writing career, highlighting his significant literary contributions, the influence of his family’s intellectual legacy, and the realistic portrayal of social tensions in his works. Novick explores Henry James’ life experiences that shaped his novels like The Portrait of a Lady and The Golden Bowl. He shared more on James’ important friendships, particularly with the novelist Edith Wharton, emphasizing James’ enduring influence on modern fiction. In closing, Novick reads a passage from his biography Henry James.

This week on The Learning Curve co-hosts U-Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and Ret. MN Justice Barry Anderson interview USAF Academy’s professor emerita, Jeanne Heidler. Dr. Heidler discusses Henry Clay’s legacy as a seminal figure in American history. She covers Clay’s early life, his transformation from a Virginia farm boy to a leading statesman, and his being mentored in the law by Founding Father, George Wythe. Dr. Heidler explores Clay’s key contributions to U.S. public service, including his diplomatic role in ending the War of 1812, as well as his legislative work during the Missouri Compromise, the Nullification Crisis, and the Compromise of 1850. She addresses Clay’s controversial role in the Election of 1824 and his tenure as secretary of state. She continues by discussing Clay’s private life, his wife Lucretia, his conflicting positions on slavery, and his enduring impact trying to preserve the Union. In closing, Dr. Heidler reads a passage from her co-authored book, Henry Clay: The Essential American.

This week on The Learning Curve co-hosts U-Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and DFER’s Alisha Searcy interview Harvard student Maya Shiloni. Ms. Shiloni discusses her Israeli upbringing, academic journey at Harvard, and experiences as a world-class dancer. She addresses leadership crises in higher education, religious toleration, and the impact of the October 2023 Hamas attacks on Israel. In closing, Shiloni also highlights her aim to bridge understanding on American campus issues and international conflicts.

Maya Shiloni is an Israeli-American student at Harvard College studying Government and Economics with a citation in Arabic. She is an opinion editor with The Crimson, Harvard’s leading student newspaper. In 2023, Maya interned for Knesset Member Meirav Cohen, and this summer, she will be working for Congressman Josh Gottheimer. She is also three-time gold medalist at the Dance World Cup, the largest international dance competition.

This week on The Learning Curve co-hosts U-Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and Steven Wilson interview Kimberly Steadman, co-director of Edward Brooke Charter Schools. Steadman reflects on her educational background and leadership in urban charter public schools. She discusses the importance of rigorous academic expectations for K-12 students, and how this outlook influences her educational philosophy co-directing the Brooke charter school network. Ms. Steadman shares the challenges faced by Massachusetts charters due to the post-2016 ballot loss, and how she and other charter public school leaders advance supportive policy reforms.

This week on The Learning Curve co-hosts U-Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and Dr. Jocelyn Chadwick interview Cheryl Brown Henderson, daughter of the lead plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education. She explores her family’s pivotal role in the Brown case, detailing her father’s part within the NAACP’s wider legal strategy. Cheryl discusses the influence of religious faith on the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the impact of segregation on her family, and their courageous decision to confront the legal barriers to racial equality in K-12 education. She emphasizes the ongoing need for comprehensive school reform leadership that will address the racial disparities still found across American public education.

This week on The Learning Curve co-hosts U-Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and DFER’s Alisha Searcy interview POLITICO’s Peter Canellos, biographer of Justice John Marshall Harlan. Mr. Canellos delves into Harlan’s upbringing in a prominent slaveholding family, his Civil War service in the Union Army, and his rapid rise in Kentucky politics as a Republican. He highlights John Harlan’s mixed-race half-brother Robert Harlan and key legal precedents like the notorious Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), which influenced Harlan’s views on race and equality. Canellos explores Harlan’s famously farsighted dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), emphasizing its significance in laying the groundwork for future civil rights legal victories, notably Brown v. Board of Education (1954). In closing, Mr. Canellos reads a passage from his book, The Great Dissenter: The Story of John Marshall Harlan, America’s Judicial Hero.

This week on The Learning Curve, co-hosts University of Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Barry Anderson interview General Counsel of U.S. Cyber Command, Colonel Pete Hayden. He shares insights about growing up in western Massachusetts, attending law school, his military service, and emphasizes the legal aspects of his national security work. Col. Hayden discusses Cyber Command’s mission, distinguishing it from the NSA, while stressing the importance of defending the nation in cyberspace. He talks about Cyber Command’s daily operations and international cooperation, highlighting partnerships with various entities, and the delicate balance of public engagement and classified national security. In closing, Col. Hayden advises young people on navigating the complexities of technology and encourages aspiring military legal professionals.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts University of Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and Mariam Memarsadeghi interview Stanford University senior fellow and biographer of Joseph Stalin, Dr. Stephen Kotkin. He explores Stalin’s origins, consolidation of power, and his Communist despotism. Kotkin delves into Stalin’s cunning political maneuvers, his complex relationships with other Soviet leaders like Lenin and Trotsky, and the devastating consequences of his regime, including the forced collectivization and mass starvation of millions. Additionally, Dr. Kotkin examines Stalin’s role as a wartime leader, his alliances with Western powers, and the far-reaching implications of the Nazi-Soviet pact. He shares a preview of the forthcoming third volume of his Stalin biography, offering insights into Stalin’s Soviet Union during the post-WWII era and the early years of the Cold War. In closing Dr. Kotkin reads a passage from his first volume, Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts University of Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and Charlie Chieppo interview Johns Hopkins’ Institute for Education Policy director, Dr. Ashley Berner. She discusses educational pluralism’s role in improving K-12 performance, exploring European models and the impact of U.S. school choice programs. Dr. Berner analyzes universal ESAs and vocational-technical schooling, addressing persistent academic struggles and civic knowledge gaps. She shares how the potential of liberal arts education could unify a divided society. In closing Dr. Berner reads from her new book, Educational Pluralism and Democracy: How to Handle Indoctrination, Promote Exposure, and Rebuild America’s Schools.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts University of Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and Dr. Jocelyn Chadwick interview renowned poet and Boston University professor, Robert Pinsky. He discusses his memoir Jersey Breaks: Becoming an American Poet; the enduring influence of sacred texts like the Psalms; and the wide cultural significance of classic poets like Homer and Shakespeare. Through his book Democracy, Culture and the Voice of Poetry, he shares his views on the vital role of poetry in shaping a vibrant American democracy. Pinsky also talks about the power of poetry in inspiring social change, the importance of reading poetry aloud, and the timeless wisdom embedded in classic poetry, like his translation of Dante’s Inferno. In closing, Pinsky reads his poem “Shirt.”

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts University of Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and Charlie Chieppo interview U.S. Chamber Foundation VP, Hilary Crow. She discusses the state of K-12 civics, emphasizing the Chamber Foundation’s role in addressing America’s wide civic education deficits. Crow highlights a recent national civics survey, alarming civic literacy gaps, and links between political unrest and our nation’s educational shortcomings in K-12 civics. Ms. Crow also stresses the importance of local engagement and initiatives like the Chamber Foundation’s National Civics Bee.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Charlie Chieppo and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Barry Anderson interview UCLA’s classical historian, Prof. Ronald Mellor. Dr. Mellor delves into the enduring influence of Tacitus, the great Roman historian, on both America’s Founding Fathers and contemporary understanding of politics and government. He discusses Tacitus’s insights on the early Roman emperors, unchecked authority, moral judgment of leadership, and the decline of the Roman Republic, as well as ancient lessons for modern governance. Prof. Mellor closes with a reading from his book, Tacitus.

This week on The Learning Curve, University of Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and guest co-host Alisha Searcy interview Tufts University Prof. Elizabeth Setren. Prof. Setren discusses her recent study of METCO, a pioneering voluntary school desegregation program under which Massachusetts students in Boston and Springfield are bused to surrounding suburban districts. She discusses METCO’s history, the academic performance of students in the program, enrollment challenges, long-term benefits, and disparities among students. She urges policymakers to make evidence-based policy decisions and calls for further research to enhance the program’s effectiveness.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts DFER-MA’s Mary Tamer and educator and noted Mark Twain scholar Dr. Jocelyn Chadwick interview Trinity College Prof. Joan Hedrick, author of Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life. During Women’s History Month, Prof. Hedrick discusses Harriet Beecher Stowe’s wide literary influence on U.S. history. From her abolitionist activism to the publication of the international bestseller Uncle Tom’s Cabin, they explore Stowe’s New England upbringing, anti-slavery convictions, and lasting impact on American literature and social reform in the 19th century. Prof. Hedrick closes with a reading from her Harriet Beecher Stowe biography.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts University of Arkansas Prof. Albert Cheng and Alisha Searcy interview Dr. Adrian Mims, founder of The Calculus Project. He delves into his mission to enhance math education for minority and low-income students, drawing inspiration from Bob Moses’s Algebra Project and Jaime Escalante’s teaching legacy. Dr. Mims navigates through the contentious “math wars” and underscores the pivotal role of Algebra I as a gateway to higher math. He also evaluates the negative impact of Common Core math standards, and proposes strategies to combat pandemic-induced learning setbacks and bridge the gap in math proficiency between American students and their international counterparts.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Alisha Searcy and Charlie Chieppo interview Yale Prof. Beverly Gage, author of G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American. Gage delves into the enigmatic life and career of J. Edgar Hoover, tracing his formative years in Washington, D.C., his rise to prominence as director of the FBI, and his enduring influence on American law enforcement and politics. She discusses his early career monitoring domestic radicals to his aggressive pursuit of gangsters like John Dillinger, communists, spies, and Civil Rights-era figures. Hoover’s tenure at the FBI was marked by both innovation and controversy. She closes with a reading from G-Man.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Barry Anderson interview UK University of Warwick Prof. Benjamin Smith. Prof. Benjamin Smith, author of The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade provides insights into various aspects of the Mexican drug trade, including its historical context and the evolution of illicit drug products over time. He discusses key cartels and their methods, the impact of the drug trade on Mexico’s murder rates, the immense financial scale of the trade, its effect on Mexico and the U.S., and the challenges law enforcement face in combating it. Smith explores the relationship among Mexican cartels, other foreign countries, and the illicit drug market in the U.S. He closes with a reading from his book, The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Alisha Searcy and Charlie Chieppo interview Mary Tamer, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, Massachusetts. She focuses on the historic impact of the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act on the commonwealth’s students’ high achievement on national and international measures. She explores the politics of the Massachusetts Teachers Association advocating against the MCAS test as a graduation requirement. In closing, Ms. Tamer also discusses the rise of teacher strikes and their implications for education reform in the Bay State.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Alisha Searcy interview University of Tennessee Prof. Robert Norrell. He explores Booker T. Washington’s early life in slavery, his transformative leadership at Tuskegee Institute amidst Jim Crow racism, and his advocacy for vocational education as a means for racial uplift. Prof. Norrell also discusses Washington’s 1901 autobiography, Up From Slavery; his controversial White House dinner with President Theodore Roosevelt; and his often overlooked legacy following the activism of the 1960s Civil Rights era. In closing, Prof. Norrell reads a passage from his book Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington.

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Alisha Searcy and Charlie Chieppo interview the executive director of TIMSS & PIRLS, Dr. Matthias von Davier. He explores his educational background and its influence on directing TIMSS & PIRLS, shedding light on psychometrics and standardized testing. Dr. von Davier discusses the shift in education policy’s focus, the global education data landscape, and the pandemic’s effects on K-12 education around the world. He addresses the alarming decline in U.S. educational performance, emphasizing the urgency to bridge achievement gaps. Drawing from international experiences, Dr. von Davier highlights global examples for American policymakers from higher-performing countries, emphasizing the crucial links between education, skills, and innovation on the global economy.