Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

Bluff The Listener

Our panelists tell three stories about advances in education.

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CARL KASELL: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR News quiz. I'm Carl Kasell. We're playing his week with Maz Jobrani, Amy Dickinson and Paula Poundstone. And here again is your host, at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

Thank you, Carl. Thanks, everybody.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Thank you all so much. Right now, it is time for the WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! Bluff the Listener game. Call 1-888-Wait-Wait to play our game on air. Hi, you're on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

HUGH O'DONNELL: His, this is Hugh O'Donnell calling from North Tonawanda, New York.

SAGAL: North Tonawanda?

O'DONNELL: Yes, it's a suburb of Buffalo.

SAGAL: A suburb of Buffalo, I know, that's awesome. What do you do there?

O'DONNELL: I'm a writer and podcast producer.

SAGAL: Oh, really? So what do you - what podcasts do you produce?

O'DONNELL: I produce The Way of the Buffalo podcast.

SAGAL: The Way of the Buffalo?

O'DONNELL: Yes, we produce short fiction and talk to new media writers and artists.

SAGAL: And is it centered around Buffalo because you're in Buffalo and it's called The Way of the Buffalo?

O'DONNELL: Well, I just heard a lot of editors saying that short fiction is dying out, it's going the way of the buffalo.

SAGAL: Oh, I see.

(LAUGHTER)

KASELL: Wow.

AMY DICKINSON: That's so cool.

MAZ JOBRANI: Deep.

SAGAL: Well, it's nice to have you with us, Hugh. You're going to play the game in which you must try to tell, speaking of fiction, tell truth from fiction. Carl, what is Hugh's topic?

KASELL: I learn good.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: We know our schools in America aren't great, but this week we read about a surprising new teaching tool being used somewhere else in the world that makes our schools look a tiny bit gooder. Guess the real story of a new teaching method, and you will win Carl's voice on your home answering machine or voicemail, whatever you want to use. Ready to play?

O'DONNELL: Yeah.

SAGAL: First, let's hear from Amy Dickinson.

DICKINSON: I want to state for the record that my intentions were noble. That's Owen Heitchekel(ph), cultural minister of the Republic of Belarus, apologizing for what went wrong when one man tried to school an entire country on how to party. Heitchekel spent his junior year abroad in Boston. When he became culture minister of his native country last year, he decided to teach the new republic how to celebrate its independence American-style.

Starting six months ago, he ordered state television to play a steady stream of American movies, "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "Independence Day" and "Born on the Fourth of July" and launched an education campaign with a flood of cultural messages with no context whatsoever.

(LAUGHTER)

DICKINSON: This led to some confusion. On independence day, knowing Americans eat hot dogs, locals ate dog dogs. A contest to design the Belarus Uncle Sam yielded a Jeff Goldblum look-a-like in a stovepipe hat. And then the mayor of Minsk got creative. With the Belarus Philharmonic blasting the "1812 Overture," he unleashed an actual cannon pointed directly at City Hall.

(LAUGHTER)

AMY DICKENSON: Repairs should be completed in time for next year's celebration.

SAGAL: Belarus tries to learn to celebrate their independence day our way and does not do a good job of it. Your next story of a new frontier in education comes from Maz Jobrani.

JOBRANI: The leading English school in Sao Paulo, Brazil, has found a unique way to teach their students English: by correcting celebrity tweets. The task, led by team leader Andrea Baena(ph), is simple: Students between the ages of eight and 13 were assigned to follow their favorite celebrities on Twitter and then to look for grammar and spelling errors in their Twitter feeds.

(LAUGHTER)

JOBRANI: When the students were able to find an error, they had to read the tweet to their classmates and explain what the mistake was and how to fix it. Then the students would reply to the celebrity tweet. For example, when Rihanna tweeted: She's my rock, so I hold on to she tight, a student at the school tweeted her back, saying hi @Rihanna, I love your songs. My name is Carolina(ph). I'm 11 years old. It's not to she, it's to her. Bye-bye.

(LAUGHTER)

JOBRANI: Spokespeople for Rihanna could not be reached for this article, but we are pretty sure that she tweeted back hi, 11-year-old Carolina from Brazil, I'm a grown woman and a celebrity, so shut up.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Brazilian schoolchildren learning English by correcting the celebrity tweets they find with errors. Your last story of a new frontier in education comes from Paula Poundstone.

PAULA POUNDSTONE: On the tiny island country of Palau, Stevic Patris(ph) is huge. The bronze medal he brought home from the heavyweight class of the 2008 Olympic weightlifting competition is the only Olympic medal Palau has earned ever in the history of the small nation. My picture is all over this island, says Patris, but what does it matter? I want to give back. And give back he has. Patris is using his celebrity to motivate young students in his country. The schools include weightlifting in almost every subject.

(LAUGHTER)

POUNDSTONE: Patris himself is often there to lend a hand. He stands before a group of young math students holding high a 50-kilogram hand weight while he asks if Stevic wants to carry 100 kilograms altogether, how much more must he carry? Delighted children shout out mostly correct answers.

In English class, he goes over the vowel sounds. As he jerks 204 kilograms with a huge smile on his face, he bellows: What letter makes the sound (makes noises)?

(LAUGHTER)

POUNDSTONE: Principal Mars Topan(ph) is pleased with the results but wants more. I cannot say enough good things about Mr. Patris' help with our young people, but there are limits. Of course, our students can only calculate sums up to 408 kilograms because Mr. Patris cannot lift more than that.

(LAUGHTER)

POUNDSTONE: Also, many of them think you have to make a funny face in order to use a vowel.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, then, here are your choices. Somebody's trying to teach something in an unusual way somewhere in the world. Is it from Amy Dickinson, somebody trying to teach independence in Belarus using American techniques and not getting very far; from Maz Jobrazi, learning English by correcting celebrity tweets in Brazil; or from Paula Poundstone and the island nation of Palau, their national hero, a weightlifter, teaches everything through weightlifting. Which of these is a true story of unusual education in the week's news?

O'DONNELL: It's a tough choice. I'm going to go with Maz's story.

SAGAL: You're going to go with Maz' story, which is about the celebrity tweet correction in Brazil to teach English grammar.

O'DONNELL: I used to teach in an ESL program, and I could totally believe that.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: OK, with a personal experience influencing your choice. Well, to bring you the correct answer, we spoke to someone familiar with the true story.

JULIE MOORE: The school was getting its students to correct celebrity tweets, kind of acting like grammar cops.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: That was Julie Moore. She was the head of English Language Programs at Northwestern University here in Chicago. She was talking about students in Brazil learning English by celebrity tweet correction. Congratulations, Hugh, you got it right. Your instincts were correct. You earned a point for Maz. You've won our prize. Carl Kasell, standing right here, with us again, will record the greeting on your voicemail. Well done.

O'DONNELL: Thank you.

SAGAL: Thank you so much for playing with us here.

(APPLAUSE)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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