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AMERICAN MOSAIC - May 24, 2002: Child poet Mattie Stepanek  / Music by Cassandra Wilson / Question About the U.S. Educational System - 2002-05-23

Broadcast: May 24, 2002


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC — VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.


This is Doug Johnson. On our program today we:

Play some music by Cassandra Wilson ...

Answer a question about the United States educational system ...

And report about a popular young poet.

Mattie Stepanik


Mattie Stepanek (STE-pan-nick) is known as a poet and a peacemaker. His poetry has influenced the lives of many people. Mary Tillotson tells us more.


Mattie Stepanek is eleven years old. He began writing poetry and short stories at the age of three.

Mattie has a rare form of the disease muscular dystrophy. Muscular dystrophy weakens the muscles. Mattie’s mother has the adult form of the same disease. She did not know she had the disease until she had given birth to four children. Mattie’s sister and two brothers all died from the disease. Mattie and his mother use special wheelchairs to help them move around. Mattie must use oxygen to help him breathe.

Mattie says he writes poetry to express his feelings about living with a rare illness and bringing peace to the world. His poems also tell about the fun of being a child, like playing with toys and having friends.

For several years, Mattie Stepanek had three wishes. One wish was to have his poems published. Another was to share his message of peace on the Oprah Winfrey television program. The third wish was to meet his hero, former President Jimmy Carter. All three wishes have come true.

Three of Mattie’s books of poetry have been published. They are national best sellers. They are called “Heartsongs,” “Journey Through Heartsongs” and “Hope Through Heartsongs.”

Mattie says a heartsong is the feeling in your heart that wants you to make yourself a better person. It wants you to help other people to do the same.

Listen as Bob Doughty reads part of Matty Stepanek’s poem,“Heartsong.”


((CUT ONE - “Heartsong”))

I have a song, deep in my heart,
And only I can hear it.
If I close my eyes and sit very still
It is so easy to listen to my song.
When my eyes are open and
I am so busy and moving and busy,
If I take time and listen very hard,
I can still hear my Heartsong.
It makes me feel happy.
Happier than ever.
Happier than everywhere
And everything and everyone
In the whole wide world
Happy like thinking about
Going to Heaven when I die.

My Heartsong sounds like this:

I love you! I love you!
How happy you can be!
How happy you can make
The whole world be!

United States Educational System


Our VOA listener question this week comes from Poland. Sylwester Singer asks about the American school system.

The education system in the United States is controlled by state and local governments. This is because the tenth amendment to the United States Constitution says that powers not given to the federal government are left to the states. So the federal government has no power to establish a national educational system. Federal agencies do not make education policy. These decisions are made at the state or local levels.

So you might expect education laws to be different in each state. But they are similar. For example, in all fifty states and six territories, all children must attend school from the age of six or seven to the age of sixteen. Public schools are free of charge for grades one through twelve. The schools receive money from the state government.

Private schools also operate in all states and territories. Some private schools are operated by churches and religious groups. Other private schools are not linked to any religious organization. Private schools must be approved by the state in which they operate. Most private schools do not receive government money. The parents of private school students pay the school.

American students generally attend school from the first through the twelfth grades. Students are in school from Monday through Friday. They attend classes from about eight in the morning until three in the afternoon.

The school year usually begins in September and continues until June. Most states require a school year of one-hundred-eighty days. Some schools have changed this schedule and require students to attend school throughout the year.

More than forty-six-million students attend American public schools. Another six-million attend private schools. More than one-million students do not go to school at all. Their parents teach them at home. This home-schooling has become popular in the last fifteen years or so.

To learn more about the American education system, listen to the new Special English Education Report, broadcast each Thursday.

Cassandra Wilson


Cassandra Wilson is one of the truly great jazz singers performing today. Fans of jazz music know her simply as Cassandra. Shep O’Neal tells us more about her.


Cassandra Wilson has become famous for singing not just jazz, but almost any kind of music. During live performances, she sings jazz songs, folk songs and even some blues songs from her home state of Mississippi.

Cassandra Wilson began playing guitar and singing at the age of nine. She began singing professionally in the Nineteen-Seventies. Less than ten years later, she was one of the top jazz performers in New York City. Here she sings “Tupelo Honey.”


That song was on Cassandra Wilson’s third record album, “Blue Light ‘Til Dawn.” Her latest album is called “Belly of the Sun.” Critics say this album shows that she can sing many different kinds of songs extremely well. Cassandra Wilson also shows that she can take an old song and make it new. Here, she shows what she can do with the old country and western song, “Wichita Lineman.”


Cassandra Wilson recorded most of the songs on “Belly of the Sun” last summer in an old train station building not far from her home town in Mississippi. We leave you now with another song from Cassandra Wilson’s new album. This one is “Show Me a Love.”



This is Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today. And I hope you will join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC — VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.

Please include your name and postal address. This AMERICAN MOSAIC program was written by Lawan Davis, Nancy Steinbach and Paul Thompson. Our studio engineer was Tom Verba. And our producer was Paul Thompson.