Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

David Clark Scott
Editor & product manager

There’s something irresistible about a story that draws a smile.

Consider the 2018 Blobfish Basketball Classic: Republican Sen. Ted Cruz versus comedian Jimmy Kimmel. After the talk-show host insulted the Texan, the senator challenged Mr. Kimmel to a half-court duel.

Kimmel accepted with one condition: Both must wear “very short shorts.” Senator Cruz responded: “Nobody in America wants to see that.” The two men took their grievances to the hardwood Saturday. During the contest, both were mic’d and talked smack. Kimmel criticized Cruz on immigrant detention centers, health insurance, and support for President Trump. "I feel like this is the closest we're going to get to a town hall," Kimmel quipped.

Cruz won 11-9, but only after 80 gasping minutes of what The Houston Chronicle described as a “a slow-motion car-crash of half-court basketball.”

Half-court hoops may not be the best way for every uncivil political conversation to be resolved. But there’s some merit in a friendly match that raises more than $80,000 for charitable causes (even if it utterly disrespects an American pastime). “We apologize to the game of basketball,” said Kimmel later.

On Monday, Cruz, who’s running for reelection, said he’ll introduce a bill this week to keep together parents and children detained at the US border.

Hmm. Maybe basketball is a political bridge builder?


Now to our five selected stories, which illustrate paths to progress for seniors in Spain, for students in Nigeria, and for the bees in Europe.

1. Copyright crush: European ruling could change how we use the web

A proposed EU law would restrict access to online content, raising anew questions about how to value creativity and how much control copyright holders should exert over their content.


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In 2001, the last time the European Union overhauled its copyright laws, there was no YouTube, Facebook, or Google News. Today, the landscape is much different. Users can easily share content, and automated aggregators can scrape news outlets for headlines, photos, and summaries. On Wednesday, the European Parliament is set to address what some see as a “value gap” between copyright holders and online platforms. The proposal would require platforms to pay a fee when quoting news snippets and to establish content filters that would prevent users from posting copyrighted material. Proponents of the law, which include some of Europe’s largest publishing houses and entertainment companies, call it a much-needed relief measure for writers and artists facing declining revenues in the Digital Age. Critics call it censorship. “It’s going to absolutely devastate the public discourse that makes Wikipedia legal,” says writer and activist Cory Doctorow.


1. Copyright crush: European ruling could change how we use the web

The European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs is set to vote on a sweeping overhaul of the European Union’s copyright law Wednesday, in the latest chapter of the ongoing fight between European publishers and Big Tech.

But the battle lines are not clear, and the proposal is deeply divisive across Europe. Proponents say it would level the field between copyright holders and online platforms, but critics warn that it would stifle free expression and interfere with the basic functioning of the internet.

The proposal, which would levy fees for quoting online news stories and limit the protections for platforms that host content uploaded by users, is billed as an attempt to narrow what supporters call a “value gap” between the copyright holders and online platforms, such as YouTube, Pinterest, and Google News, that have seen their fortunes rise as they freely distributed copyrighted videos, photographs, and snippets of news stories. 

This could have immediate consequences for American companies that do business in Europe, just as Europe’s sweeping new law on privacy has. It could also influence the shape of copyright laws well outside of European borders if it’s used as a standard to push for reforms elsewhere, including in the United States.

Its supporters include some of the biggest entertainment companies and publishers in Europe, including Germany’s Axel Springer. Opponents say that the law will do little to put more money in the hands of artists and journalists, and that it would serve only to benefit big tech companies.

“This is supposed to be a way to transfer money from Google to German newspaper families,” says writer and activist Cory Doctorow, “but it’s going to absolutely devastate the public discourse that makes Wikipedia legal.”

The 'link tax'

The proposal itself is far-reaching, the most comprehensive revamping of EU copyright law since 2001, before Facebook and YouTube existed. It includes many measures that have widespread support, such as rules to ease restrictions on sharing educational material across borders. But two provisions have generated an outpouring of criticism.

The first, known as Article 11, would establish fees for quoting snippets of online news articles, such as the headlines, photos, and summaries that you might see on Google News or displayed when someone shares a hyperlink on Twitter or Facebook.

Critics of Article 11 have dubbed it a “link tax,” because, even though it does not prohibit hyperlinking itself, it does limit the ways that links can be displayed. They warn that handing control of even small snippets of news stories to publishers would limit the amount of news that people are exposed to. That’s apparently what happened when Spain’s legislature enacted a similar law in 2014: Google News closed in Spain, and a study commissioned by Spanish publishers found that the law damaged their bottom line.

From the perspective of many news publishers, however, Article 11 simply does for the news what other copyright laws do for other kinds of content.

“Article 11 establishes publishers as rights holders, which enables them to better protect their investments online,” says Wout van Wijk, the executive director of News Media Europe, a trade group that represents more than 2,000 print and online titles. “This is a proven concept: other creative industries, like the music and the film industry have successfully enjoyed such a related right for years now.”

Whether it’s the push to protect privacy of its citizens, including the “right to be forgotten” from search engines, to new laws against who is accountable for hate speech on Twitter, to class-action suits against Facebook, Europeans have attempted to rein in the influence of Silicon Valley that transcends their borders. And this copyright battle has been presented as a similar power struggle, says Leonhard Dobusch, a professor of organization at the University of Innsbruck in Austria who is an expert on transnational copyright regulation and a founder of Right2Remix.

“That is how they sell it,” he says. But it’s not a simple power struggle, despite legitimate concerns about the control of American companies in Europe. One of the major backers of Article 11 is German publisher Axel Springer, Europe’s largest digital publishing house, which Professor Dobusch says is playing off of Europe’s “anti-Google and to some extent anti-American sentiment.”

“In a way,” he says, “it’s why a lot of politicians are on board.”

“Honestly I wouldn’t care about it if it was anti-Google,” says Caroline De Cock, coordinator of the Copyright for Creativity coalition which opposes the measure, “because that’s not my job to protect Google. But the reality is that the way it’s written, it applies to a lot of other things like libraries, which I do care about.”

An end to 'safe harbor' protections?

Another controversial provision, Article 13, would limit the “safe harbor” protection enjoyed by sites that allow users to post “large amounts” of content. Current EU law protects platforms like Facebook, SoundCloud, Dailymotion, and Vimeo from users who upload copyrighted content, treating them as a “mere conduit” for the actions of users.

Véronique Desbrosses, the general manager the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers argues that such platforms play an active role in organizing and distributing material.

“They select the content,” says Ms. Desbrosses, who denies that the law would affect Wikipedia. “They promote certain content. They categorize the content. They cannot be considered passive intermediaries.”

If Article 13 goes into effect, platforms would be required not just to remove infringing material from their site, as they are now, but to preemptively block it from appearing in the first place.

This means that sites would need to employ automatic content filters similar to YouTube’s Content ID system, which allows copyright holders to identify their own works and then block or monetize user-uploaded videos that contain their works.

“What the EU commission has proposed is basically to make every other platform more like YouTube,” says Julia Reda, a member of the European Parliament and of Germany’s Pirate Party, which seeks to liberalize copyright. “It is playing into this fantasy that you can somehow use filters to solve all the problems on the internet.”

In 2016, Google, which owns YouTube, said that the company had spent $60 million developing Content ID. Ms. Reda warns that this price tag could stifle smaller online platforms whose names aren’t “Google” and “Facebook.”

“My fear is that if this proposal goes through it will be exactly those large tech companies that are developing the filters that will benefit from it,” Reda says. “But it will not actually help artists and it will certainly curtail freedom of speech online.”

Mr. Doctorow explains how these filters could limit Europeans’ ability to seek and share information. “The only companies that operate these big copyright filters right now are American,” he says. “So really what we’re about to do is create a rule that says that Europeans communications with each other have to be given to an American company for evaluation, and if the American company doesn’t like them, they won’t be allowed to post them.”

Article 13 has drawn battle lines similar to that of Article 11. One of its biggest backers is the French entertainment industry, which maintains powerful connections with France’s political set. France has always fought against what it perceives as the creep of American cultural imperialism, with rules about content that must be French-produced to protect society from the imbalance of Hollywood budgets.

But Dobusch, and many others, say this isn’t the way to take on Big Tech or American culture.

“Copyright law is very complex,” he says. “Previously it was not of importance for ordinary people. So you bought a book, you bought a CD, you were allowed to resell the book, to make copies from it at a copying machine. … Now with the internet everyone gets into contact with copyright law.”

Eoin O'Carroll reported this story from Amherst, Mass., and Sara Miller Llana contributed reporting from Paris. 

[Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct a transcription error in Leonhard Dobusch's final quote.]


Finding ‘home’

An occasional series exploring what it means to belong

2. How cooperative communities keep Spanish seniors cared for

As demographics shift, more seniors in Spain are living alone. As part of our "Home" series, we look at one solution: finding companionship and care in a co-op community.

Felipe Morales (l.) and Conchi Llanos are part of the founding team of an urban senior co-housing project in its initial stages in the northern city of Bilbao, Spain.
Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor

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Time was, when you grew old in Spain you lived with your children. And their children. Everybody looked after each other. But in Spain, as in so many other developed countries, those relationships just aren’t the same anymore. So Nemesio Rasillo decided that older people had better look after each other, and he has launched a cooperative seniors’ community. It’s open to his friends, his relatives, and his relatives’ friends, and about 370 of them should be moving in by 2021. In a bungalow community built between the mountains and the sea on Spain’s northern coast that the members will own and manage themselves, the able-bodied will help the infirm, and each will take responsibility for the other. It’s an innovative way of coping with a big problem: Spain is aging faster than almost any other country in the world, and its fertility rates are dropping. Soon there just won’t be enough young people to care for the old. As soon as he realized that a co-op could be the answer, Mr. Rasillo says, “all my worries went away.”


How cooperative communities keep Spanish seniors cared for

Like most sons, Nemesio Rasillo Oliver loved his mother. He cared for her over the last eight years of her life. But that experience filled him with dread about where he would live out his own old age and, more pressingly, whom he would burden.

So Mr. Rasillo, a retiree and father of four, scoured the internet and there he came across a good idea: a group of friends in the south of Spain had founded a cooperative housing project so that they could care for one another into their old age. Rasillo began dreaming of a similar setup near his home in northern Spain that would keep him out of a nursing home and free up his family.

Six years later, at age 67, he is close to making that dream a reality. Dressed in a crisp button-down shirt, he pulls out the development plan of his brainchild, Brisa del Cantabrico, a cooperative senior community set in farmland between a mountain range and the Cantabrian Sea on Spain’s northern coast.

He and his new neighbors hope to be moving in within three years, he says. “As soon as I saw this as a possibility, all of my worries went away.”

For centuries, Spaniards grew old at home. But “the traditional home, of four generations, where each took care of the other, has disappeared,” says Miguel Ángel Mira, who heads Jubilares, an association that promotes senior co-housing in Spain. “People are looking for systems of care that are intentional and based on meaningful relations, not on services,” he adds. “The only way is to create new communities.”

That is Rasillo’s goal, even though his youngest daughter feels hurt. When he came up with the idea of the co-op, she cried. “You don’t have confidence in us, we are going to take care of you,” she told him.

But the old model of care for the aging “is ending,” Rasillo says. “We can see it, and we are trying to get ahead of it.”

He is not the only one. As Spain’s population ages and fertility rates fall, the country is asking itself how it will care for a growing number of dependent citizens. Many Spaniards are looking at senior co-housing and its various iterations, managed by seniors themselves, as a way to solve one of the most challenging questions posed by demographic change: where seniors will find home.

Crunch time

The notion of co-housing took off in the 1970s in Denmark and spread around northern Europe and to other individualistic nations, including the United States; now it is appealing to Spain’s family-oriented society.

The Spanish baby boom generation is approaching old age now, and their children are having fewer kids of their own. Spain is one of the most rapidly aging countries in the world: in 2010 there were 25 people over the age of 65 for every 100 people of working age. In 2050 there will be 67, according to a global aging report by the Pew Research Center. 

“We are getting to crunch time in this country,” says David Reher, a population expert at Complutense University in Madrid. “The question is how can society adapt and look for solutions?”

Rasillo’s solution was to gather friends, relatives, and friends of relatives and organize them to travel around the region, pasting posters in cafes and restaurants and holding talks at community centers to explain their project and recruit new members to the cooperative. In 2013 they were 60; today they number 370.

Their plan is much more ambitious than a typical cooperative housing project; its 22 acres will be enough for 190 private bungalows and ample community space for leisure and exercise areas and communal kitchens with eating space. Here the future residents plan to stay for the rest of their lives. There will be facilities to care for those who fall into dependency, and everyone else will live by solidarity, in the way villages ran in the past.

“The idea is, if you have to go to the doctor, I will take you; if you need to go on a walk, I will take you,” Rasillo says. “Notice I say, I’ll help, because I like to think that I’ll be helping instead of being the one needing help.”

But nobody will be under any obligation to help, and that could get messy. Despite their good intentions, many people don’t realize how much time and care is required of certain health situations, warns Prof. Reher.

Rasillo is trying to smooth out the age curve, to ensure a manageable ratio of helpers to helped, by setting quotas for residents by their year of birth. He says more women than men have joined his project, perhaps because men think their daughters will look after them, or perhaps because three-quarters of seniors living alone in Spain are women.

Like 'visiting college dorms'

Conchi Llanos doesn’t plan to be one of them. A busy 76 year old, she sings in a choir, watches films with a movie club, and looks after her granddaughter. She is also the driving force behind an urban cooperative housing project named Egunsentia, which means Dawn in the Basque language, that she and her friends are planning in the Basque city of Bilbao.

Ms. Llanos says she felt a lightness when she learned about the cooperative housing concept. “When I read about it I thought, how fabulous, seniors living together and helping each other,” she recalls, her long hair pulled back into an elegant bun.

So far Llanos has attracted 27 co-op members who have split into groups: one is looking at possible housing sites, another meets with local authorities to investigate public assistance, and another has drawn up Egunsentia’s philosophy, which is based on solidarity and a balance between needs and strengths.

“Our idea is to be the opposite of the typical residence, where people take care of you, which can be a little bit like living in a barracks,” says Felipe Morales, a retired banker who is now the treasurer of Egunsentia. “We want to fight to be independent and autonomous if possible until the end of our lives.”

That has kept co-op members as busy as they ever were during their working years: learning computer skills, creating websites, navigating bureaucracy, and envisioning a new home for their futures.

Ultimately it helps push back against notions about aging and an associated loss of autonomy – and joy, says Charles Durrett, an American architect who first came across senior cooperative housing projects while he was studying in Denmark and who has written a book about them.

“I have never seen anyone happier than people who move into them,” Mr. Durrett says. “They have time. They don’t have kids. Don’t have jobs or responsibilities.”

In fact, he says, “it reminds me of visiting college dorms.”


3. Vote-buying in Turkey? Cost is high, satisfaction not guaranteed.

The ruling party in Turkey is doling out $5.5 billion in social benefits just ahead of this weekend’s elections. Is that a sign of fear about the outcome of the vote?


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Since Turkey’s Justice and Development Party has been in power, social welfare has been an important tool for the government. And recipients of that aid, says an analysis by the Al-Monitor news site, “have become an important element in the AKP’s electoral force.” So perhaps it was not surprising that in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary elections, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s party authorized a new $5.5 billion social benefits package. But Turkey’s economy is heading into troubled times, and analysts expect Turks will eventually pay dearly for the injection of so much new cash into the economy. A key question is whether the largess can even gain the AKP traction against a united opposition. “It’s economic populism on steroids, and it indicates Erdoğan and the AKP are exhibiting growing signs of panic,” says Fadi Hakura, head of the Turkey Project at Chatham House in London. “The $5 billion package announced by the government … may solidify its voter base,” he says. “But I don’t think [it] will be able to attract wavering voters that are now moving to the opposition camp.”


Vote-buying in Turkey? Cost is high, satisfaction not guaranteed.

At the end of April, and despite Turkey’s economic malaise, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party authorized new twice-yearly payouts of 1,000 liras, about $225, to retirees.

The payouts are part of a social benefits package worth more than $5.5 billion, widely regarded in Turkey as a transparent election ploy by the AKP ahead of a hotly contested June 24 vote.

But not everyone is impressed.

Mehmet, a pensioner with gray hair and a goatee, says he’s happy to receive the retiree bonus, but adds the “election bribe” will not erode his support for the opposition.

“The government is nervous, afraid it might lose,” says Mehmet, who asked that a pseudonym be used amid tensions in Turkey’s polarized society.

The bonus “is good and it definitely helps, but it’s not going to change where Turkey is heading, its future,” he says, speaking above the cacophony of tweeting parakeets inside his wife’s Istanbul pet shop. “In this day and age, who doesn’t want free money? It won’t change my vote.”

For some analysts, the irony is not lost that the government largess is meant to affect an election held 18 months early to protect Mr. Erdoğan and the AKP from the anticipated political fallout from a declining economy in the presidential and parliamentary vote. The move signifies a degree of panic, they say, and appears to be a calculation that the price of victory is worth digging the country even further into a fiscal hole.

Analysts expect Turks will eventually pay dearly for the injection of so much new cash into the struggling economy. In April and May alone, the Turkish lira fell 24 percent against the dollar.

'Growing signs of panic'

But another question is whether the handouts can even gain the AKP traction. The party has ruled Turkey relatively unchallenged since 2002, but polls show that a united opposition might disrupt the AKP’s majority in parliament, and that Erdoğan may be forced into a surprise second-round runoff.

“It’s economic populism on steroids, and it indicates Erdoğan and the AKP are exhibiting growing signs of panic,” says Fadi Hakura, head of the Turkey Project at Chatham House in London.

The president and AKP emphasize achieving high growth rates – such as 7.4 percent GDP growth last year – while ignoring that Turkey’s economy can’t sustain such growth, he says.

“If that means pumping five-plus billion dollars into an overheated economy, then so be it,” says Mr. Hakura.

A woman watches as flares are lit behind flags depicting the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, as supporters of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party await an address from their candidate, Muharrem İnce, in Istanbul, June 8, 2018.
Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor

“Erdoğan wants Ferrari growth rates with resources equivalent to a mid-size Audi,” he adds. “It temporarily can reach Ferrari speeds, by spiking the gas and playing around with the engine, but ultimately the car will overheat and break down, and that’s something Erdoğan and the ruling party does not seem to appreciate or understand.”

Pro-government media praised the AKP’s “election package” as “good news for 81 million” – every person in the country. But one antigovernment newspaper noted that the AKP after 16 years of rule had “not abolished poverty,” and yet announced the spending surge ahead of elections. Another declared: “Favors for the bosses; bribes to the public.”

The International Monetary Fund warned on April 30 – the day the AKP rolled out its pre-election benefits plan – that Turkey’s economy is “showing clear signs of overheating,” and that monetary policy “appears too loose.”

Yet Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım promised that same day to find the cash by a host of measures, from re-zoning 13 million buildings to aspirations of an increase in tourism this summer.

“We have no issue with the funding of this package,” he stated.

For AKP, welfare a key tool

Opposition parties have also made big, unaffordable promises, with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), for example, suggesting that bonuses for pensions be raised 60 percent on top of the AKP payment, to make it level with a monthly minimum wage.

But even though only the AKP is in a position to deliver tangible cash benefits before the vote, the impact is not clear.

“It will be effective among a certain group, like the bottom of the social-economic ladder,” says Mehmet in the pet supply shop.

Mehmet doesn’t count himself among the needy. But his family, which in the past ate red meat one week, can now only afford to do so once a month. Prices keep rising, but not salaries – a fact that forced him from his profession four years ago.

The welfare state has expanded quickly throughout the AKP era. Family Minister Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya said the AKP had created a “silent revolution,” with social assistance expanding 23-fold, from 1.4 billion liras in 2002 to 39 billion liras in 2017.

The new AKP election package weighs in at a further 24 billion liras.

“Ever since the AKP came to power in 2002, welfare assistance has been the strongest card of the government, enabling it to connect with various sectors of society from children, students and the elderly to the handicapped and the jobless,” the online news site Al-Monitor wrote in an analysis. “Recipients of such aid have become an important element in the AKP’s electoral force.”

That is no surprise to Mahmut Karaman, a real estate agent and AKP supporter on the Asian side of Istanbul.

“There have definitely been more [pre-election] promises than before, and some – like the pensioner payouts – should have been done before. They waited to the last minute,” says Mr. Karaman, adding that customers have far less money and less motivation to buy or rent these days, amid the economic uncertainty.

Chatham House’s Hakura, who predicts Turkey will face a “major economic crisis” within five years if it does not re-tool the economy, says Turks “are attuned to populist economics pursued by various political parties at election time.”

“The $5 billion package announced by the government … may solidify its voter base,” he says. “But I don’t think [it] will be able to attract wavering voters that are now moving to the opposition camp.”

Still, many believe in Erdoğan

But there are many AKP true believers, despite the current downturn.

“I’m one of the people who suffered most. All our business is in dollars, but I am not at all disturbed,” says Osman Şahin, who runs his family’s coffee company and remembers when, as a boy nearly 20 years ago, Erdoğan patted his head while his father sacrificed a sheep for Erdoğan, who was then-mayor of Istanbul.

Mr. Şahin says the cost of raw materials has doubled, forcing him to raise prices. He employs 150 people.

“We truly believe in Erdoğan,” he says. “He’s really a person who has done some good.”


4. In Nigeria, the powerful persistence of learners

The terrorist group Boko Haram was founded on a desire to stop the teaching of "Western" ideals in schools. But in Nigeria, our reporter looks at the emergence of a defiantly open classroom counterinsurgency.

Third-grade students participate in a lesson at a school for displaced people at Bakassi, a camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria.
Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor

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Northeastern Nigeria is a place of suddenly interrupted lives. Nearly 3 million people have been uprooted since the Islamist movement Boko Haram began its insurgency here a decade ago, taking deliberate aim at education. The group has murdered some 2,300 teachers, destroyed more than 1,400 schools, and kidnapped scores of students. But as war grinds into its 10th year, a counterinsurgency is building on unlikely front lines: battered open-air classrooms inside camps for displaced people, and dormitories at girls’ boarding schools, jammed with chattering teenagers in pink hijabs. Many here say Boko Haram’s fight against schools has backfired, though progress is fragile. “Lack of education is the disease that caused [Boko Haram] in the first place,” says Fanne Abdullahi, a mother of five who lives in a wind-swept camp in Maiduguri. The “classrooms” are little more than grass roofs; the walls were stolen for firewood. On a recent morning, Mastapha Kaltumi taught math to about 50 fidgety third-graders as children played tag nearby. “I’m so relieved to teach again,” Mr. Kaltumi says. “It’s gotten rid of perhaps 30 percent of the trauma I felt. At least I am engaging my mind.”


In Nigeria, the powerful persistence of learners

In Gwoza, the gunmen arrived just after 10 a.m., skidding to a halt outside the school on motorcycles and surrounding the Nigerian students who huddled in small groups around the courtyard, frittering away the short break between their classes.

In Damasak, they came as a teacher was placing an exam paper facedown on the table in front of one of her students. This time, everyone in the classroom heard an explosion first, cracking over their heads like a clap of thunder. First one, then another, and another again. 

In Bama, it was still too early for school when Boko Haram appeared. It happened before dawn, as the morning call to prayer was just beginning to blast out from mosque speakers around the city. The shooting woke up the rest of the town like a staccato alarm clock. 

In the school courtyard in Gwoza, Lydia began to run, tripping over the bodies of her classmates as she fled. In the classroom in Damasak, Aisha ran, too. And in Bama, Fatima’s mother dragged her out of bed and whispered urgently, go. Don’t take anything. Just go. 

Today, northeastern Nigeria is a place of suddenly interrupted lives. Since the Islamist movement Boko Haram began its violent insurgency here a decade ago, nearly 3 million people have been uprooted from their homes and scattered across Nigeria and its neighbors. Among them have been about a million children like Lydia, Aisha, and Fatima, for whom the sudden displacement has often meant an equally abrupt end to their education. 

For Boko Haram – whose name is often translated as “Western education is forbidden” – that fact is no accident. Their campaign for a fundamentalist Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria has deliberately and brutally taken aim at the region’s schools. Since 2009, the group has murdered some 2,300 teachers and destroyed more than 1,400 schools, according to figures from UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s agency. Kidnapping children from schools, meanwhile, has become one of the central ways the group has earned its international notoriety. (Think Michelle Obama staring steely-eyed into the camera as she held up a sign reading #BringBackOurGirls, a nod to the kidnapping of as many as 276 schoolgirls from a boarding school in the town of Chibok.)

Students walk between classes at Yerwa Girls Secondary School in Maiduguri, Nigeria. The school closed for two years as a result of Boko Haram’s insurgency.
Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor

But as Boko Haram’s war against education here grinds into its 10th year, a quiet counterinsurgency is also building strength. It’s a fight with unlikely front lines – like the battered open-air classrooms inside camps for displaced people across this region, where teachers lead geography lessons in open defiance of the group’s flat earth ideology. Or in the dormitories of girls’ boarding schools, jammed with chattering teenagers in pink hijabs, reading romance novels and braiding each other’s hair as though they have never heard of girls kidnapped in Chibok or Dapchi. 

And leading this particular fight are young Nigerians like Lydia, Aisha, and Fatima, who have seen Boko Haram’s terror firsthand, and who, when it comes to their education, have chosen to fight back.

“Going to school is our way of battling against Boko Haram,” says Aisha, tucking a stray strand of hair into her bright pink hijab. After being out of school for three years while in a refugee camp in Niger, the 19-year-old, whose last name has been withheld for her safety, is now less than a year away from graduating from a boarding school in the city of Maiduguri.

“They don’t like education; they don’t want it,” she says. “So just by doing this, we are all fighting them.” 


The tenacity of that fight among northern Nigerians has startled many experts. For decades, after all, northern Nigeria has sat stubbornly at the bottom of nearly every national ranking of educational achievement. Fewer than half of young adult women here know how to read, and only 46 percent of children are enrolled in school at all, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics. 

“This is one of the most disadvantaged places in the country when it comes to education,” says Babagana Goni Ali, secretary of the Education in Emergencies Working Group at the Borno State Universal Basic Education Board. Historically, he says, many parents here haven’t seen the point of sending their kids to school. Life, after all, often seemed to be on a single track. You grew up. You got married. You started farming. There weren’t really other choices, and certainly none that required you to be able to read a novel in English. 

And Boko Haram soon gave many families another excuse. In a YouTube video released in July 2013, the group’s commander, Abubakar Shekau, said, “We are going to burn down the schools if they are not Islamic religious schools for Allah.”

Over the next few years, the group torched schools across the region. The militants often specifically targeted teachers of subjects such as science and geography, which flouted the group’s fundamentalist Quranic interpretation of the world. Sometimes these raids doubled as forced recruitment drives, with the group snatching up young boys to become soldiers and young girls to become “wives” to their commanders.

The mother of recently released schoolgirls, who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in February, reacts with joy in Dapchi, Nigeria.
Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

At first, it seemed to be working. In 2016, the Nigerian government announced that the number of children who weren’t going to school had shot up 50 percent since the start of the crisis. Teachers stayed home, too, fearing targeted attacks. 

But as the group retreated from many of the major urban areas in Borno in recent years, Mr. Ali began to notice something. It seemed Boko Haram’s tactics were beginning to backfire.

“There’s suddenly a huge issue of congestion in our schools that wasn’t there before,” he says. “It’s the blessing behind this tragedy. You find suddenly so many more people are interested in getting an education.”

Indeed, although there aren’t yet statistics to show how much the situation has changed, many here say Boko Haram’s insurgency has done something that decades of low educational achievement failed to do. It has lit a fire under people.

“Lack of education is the disease that caused [Boko Haram] in the first place,” says Fanne Abdullahi, a mother of five who lives in a wind-swept camp for displaced people on the outskirts of Maiduguri. She never had the money to attend school herself as a child, she says, and anyway, her parents didn’t approve of a girl learning how to read. So when she grew up and had children of her own, sending them to school wasn’t much of a priority either. 

But after Boko Haram attacked her village, killed her husband, and sent the family fleeing in 2015, she began to rethink that. When her family moved into the Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, someone told her that UNICEF was running free schools there, and she decided to sign up her three school-age children.

“Instead of them getting brainwashed by Boko Haram,” she says of her reasoning, “it’s better for them to get educated.”

Now, they join about 3,000 other kids each morning in a huddled collection of open-air learning spaces that serve as one of the camp’s two schools. Their “classrooms” are little more than a concrete platform with a grass roof sagging over them. Most once had walls as well, but nearly as soon as they are put up, school officials say, they’re stolen for firewood. 


On a recent morning, as Mastapha Kaltumi taught math to a group of about 50 fidgety third-graders, wind whistled through his classroom, flapping hijabs and fluttering notebooks. Nearby, just beyond the school’s flimsy chain-link fence, children screamed and giggled as they chased each other in a game of tag. A little boy in a raggedy T-shirt walked by flying a kite he’d made out of a plastic bag.

Third-grade teacher Mastapha Kaltumi leads a math lesson in an open-air classroom at the Bakassi camp for displaced people in Maiduguri, Nigeria.
Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor

It wasn’t perfect, Mr. Kaltumi thought. There were still too many kids in his class, and too many kids outside not getting to class at all. But it was something. It was a start. 

“Many students here are coming to school for the first time in their lives,” he says. And he knew that for many of them – like himself – focusing on addition and long division was a way to get out of their own heads: to forget, briefly, the things they had seen.

Boko Haram came to Marte, Kaltumi’s village 80 miles from Maiduguri, late at night, during a heavy thunderstorm. At first, he says, it was hard to tell the explosions from the sonic booms of thunder in the distance. But the next morning, he and the rest of the town awoke to find that several people had been murdered. 

“So we buried those who had died and we ran,” he says simply.

But coming to Maiduguri was, in many ways, little respite. People eyed refugees like him and his family suspiciously – could they be Boko Haram operatives in disguise? He didn’t look like people from the city: His clothes were threadbare and his accent strange. It was almost impossible to find a room to rent. 

There was also nothing to do. For days at a time he stayed home, the crash of thunder and grenades replaying in his head like a looped tape. He longed to go back to teaching, but many of the city’s schools were closed, and anyway, he wasn’t the only displaced teacher wandering Maiduguri looking for work. Far from it. 

In 2016, he moved into Bakassi, and soon after, he found his current job. 

“I’m so relieved to teach again,” he says. “It’s gotten rid of perhaps 30 percent of the trauma I felt. At least I am engaging my mind.” 

But even in places like Kaltumi’s school, progress is fragile. For two years, between 2014 and 2016, all of the secondary schools in Maiduguri were closed because of fears of Boko Haram attacks. Many instead became informal camps for the displaced, who crowded into the same long, low-slung dormitories that students once occupied. 

Outside the city, the situation is even more dire. At the end of last year, UNICEF estimated that 57 percent of schools in Borno state – where the insurgency is concentrated – are still shuttered. Half the schools in the region have been destroyed. Earlier this year, after 110 schoolgirls were kidnapped from the town of Dapchi, in Yobe state, the governor of neighboring Borno announced that nearly all boarding schools in his state would be shut down indefinitely.

The exception to his edict was Maiduguri, the bustling trade city of 1 million that is the northeast’s commercial capital. Here, secondary schools have reopened, and many are now absorbing thousands of students and teachers from other parts of the state.

On a recent morning, Binta Abba Kura, headmistress of the Yerwa Girls Secondary School – the school Fatima, Aisha, and Lydia attend – gathered nine other women in her office for a weekly check-in. All nine had once been principals of their own schools, scattered across the province, before Boko Haram sent them fleeing.

Binta Abba Kura, headmistress of Yerwa Girls Secondary School in Maiduguri, was the first girl in her village to finish high school. Now she’s educating the next generation of Nigerians.
Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor

When Yerwa reopened in 2016, it didn’t just have to contend with a gap in learning (its students had lost two years of schooling). It also had 100 teachers and more than 1,000 new students waiting for a classroom – displaced people who needed a school, too. 

“These were girls who had suffered incredible trauma, many of them, and they showed up on my doorstep with nothing – no uniform, no notebooks, no basic supplies,” says Ms. Kura.

So she went to work. With the support of UNICEF, she handed out free uniforms – highlighter-pink dresses and hijabs – and enrolled any girl who came through her doors. When some complained that their families didn’t have enough to eat at home, she hired their mothers to work in her kitchens and clean her classrooms.

For Kura, who grew up in a village a hundred miles from Maiduguri, all this was deeply personal. Her father tried to pull her out of school after the eighth grade. What does a girl need an education for? he asked her. You’re just going to get married. 

But Kura’s headmaster intervened and persuaded her father to let her make the bus trip to Maiduguri and enroll in a boarding school there. When she graduated, she was the first girl in her village ever to do so, she says. 

“So many people here are now seeing that the reason Boko Haram could fool us is that we weren’t educated,” she says. “So now that’s become a challenge for all of us.” 

Activists in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, hold a vigil for the Chibok girls – 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram from a boarding school in April 2014.
Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor

From the government’sperspective, it also doesn’t hurt that northern Nigeria’s current crisis has brought a wave of international money and expertise into its schools.

“The government has always had an interest in educating kids here, of course, but the international assistance makes a big difference in what we’re able to do,” says Ali of the Borno State Universal Basic Education Board.

Last year, humanitarian organizations in the region received about $12 million for educational projects in the region. But at Yerwa, Fatima doesn’t know about any of that. She’s got her eye on one thing: finishing high school next year. After that, if she can somehow manage to scrape together the money, she hopes to go to college and train as a doctor. When she lived in a displaced persons camp, she saw firsthand what happens when there isn’t a good medical system.

“I saw people dying in hospitals and just being left there to die because they couldn’t pay,” she says. “When I’m a doctor I won’t do that. I will save your life, and then later, if it’s possible, you can help me.”


Global voices

Worldwide reports on progress

5. One answer to the bee crisis: Turn everyone into backyard breeders

Our next story is part of a global project by news organizations to highlight solutions journalism. In this case, we look at how two biologists in Europe are spreading a novel way to revive the bee population, one home at a time.


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In Switzerland, two scientists have found a way to engage the public in the effort to preserve bees – and pollination. They’ve designed kits that allow people to set up homes for mason bees in gardens and on balconies. Five years after the launch of their start-up business, the concept has already won over some 30,000 clients and 300 farmers in Switzerland. And the number of takers is on the rise. Starting this year, the offer was extended to France. The scientists estimate that each bee home – with 25 bee cocoons – can lead to the birth of more than 100 bees per year. Growing the number of bees helps with food production. Of the 100 plant species accounting for 90 percent of the world’s food, more than 70 percent rely on bees for pollination. And mason bees are particularly important. “One single wild bee pollinates as much as 300 honeybees,” says biologist Tom Strobl.

This story is one of several from world news outlets that the Monitor is publishing as part of an international effort to highlight solutions journalism.


One answer to the bee crisis: Turn everyone into backyard breeders

Having wild bees as pets might sound a little off the wall, but such is the case for Tom Strobl and Claudio Sedivy. The two biologists from Zurich are working with an environmental issue at heart: boosting the populations of these endangered pollinators.

In 2011, a United Nations report set alarm bells ringing. It said that the worldwide bee population is in free fall. According to the UN, the phenomenon is due to a reduction in flowering plants, as well as the presence of pesticides and air pollution. And the stakes are high. Without bees acting as pollinators, one-third of our food supply could disappear. Of the 100 plant species accounting for 90 percent of the world’s food, more than 70 percent rely on bees for pollination.

A growing number of documentaries and articles about the issue indicate that the countdown has truly begun. But is the demise of these insects unavoidable? Could we take individual action and work toward a reversal of the trend?

Banning pesticides worldwide is beyond any one person’s control. However, the Zurich startup Wildbiene + Partner, founded in 2013 by Mr. Strobl and Dr. Sedivy, offers ordinary citizens the chance to help the bees with a simple gesture. By setting up a mason bee nest on a balcony or in a garden, any person can become a breeder and provide bees with a place to reproduce.

Unlike honeybees, mason bees have no queen, do not sting and do not produce honey. These furry little amber-colored insects prove rather agreeable company in an urban garden or on a balcony, where they can enjoy a diversity of plants. They are hard-working pollinators.

“One single wild bee pollinates as much as 300 honeybees,” Strobl says.

But not all flowers have quite the same draw for mason bees. They particularly enjoy fruit trees and plants such as strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. 

Five years after the launch of the startup, the concept has already won over some 30,000 clients and 300 farmers in Switzerland. And the number of takers is firmly on the rise. Starting this year, the offer was extended to France. All one needs to do to become a breeder is order the equipment from the startup’s website, then wait for delivery of a bee home and a population of 25 bee cocoons.

The Swiss-German startup sells two different bee home options, one for private clients and the other for professionals. The first is a small home, around 20 cm (8 inches) wide, with roughly 100 nesting holes. It costs 120 Swiss francs ($120). The second is a similar structure but eight times the size, and it sells for 200 francs ($201). Strobl and Sedivy recommend that breeders have as many different homes as possible to optimize pollination. “Depending on the nature of their crops, we advise people to install two to four nests, or homes, per hectare [100 acres],” Strobl says.

To increase the population of wild bees in Switzerland, and fight their extinction, Wildbiene + Partner suggest that bee home owners pay a small fee to send the inside structure of their bee homes back every autumn and the nesting tubes each hold six to 12 cocoons. The eggs, collected by the biologists, are then used to make new stocks and replenish the bee homes. They claim each bee home can lead to the birth of more than 100 bees per year.

In exchange, the biologists check the returned bee homes for parasites. “As this is not their natural habitat, the risks of infestation are higher,” explains Strobl. They keep statistics for every bee home, giving breeders a way to know exactly how many bees they’ve brought into the world since setting up their operation.

Aside from boosting pollination, the two Zurich biologists are trying to raise people’s awareness of how bees live. For a slightly higher fee, individuals can order a bee home equipped with an observation drawer. Any curious breeder can then study the insect along its evolutionary cycle from egg to cocoon. Although mason bees zoom in and out of their homes between March and June, from July onward the majority of their activity takes place inside the structure.

This story was reported by La Tribune de Genève, a news outlet in Switzerland. The Monitor is publishing it as part of an international effort by more than 50 news organizations worldwide to promote solutions journalism. To read other stories in this joint project, please click here.


The Monitor's View

In immigrant detention, a role for children

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President Trump faces outrage – from faith leaders, members of his party, and perhaps soon the courts – over a policy of separating immigrant children from their parents, denying them parental care and sometimes even the knowledge of a parent’s whereabouts. Three years ago President Barack Obama drew criticism over the holding of children in detention centers along with parents who were considered flight risks. In both cases the moral and legal issues can be complex, a result of the difficulty in finding a balance between the justice system’s often-competing demands: safety for society from people facing legal charges, compassion for immigrants, deterrence of illegal entry, and mercy toward those fleeing violence or persecution. The issues are compounded by clashing views of immigration. Yet beneath the moral debate lies a common link, one that is spiritual in nature and thus might lead to finding common ground for a resolution in how to treat immigrant children. From different directions, both sides have shown some recognition of the innocence of children and the need to protect them. This is a starting point. Innocence itself, as reflected in children, has often served as a restorative quality in the justice system. Perhaps now it can do so in the current US debate.


In immigrant detention, a role for children

Just three years ago, many Americans were in moral outrage over a particular immigration policy of President Barack Obama. Faith leaders decried it. Hillary Clinton, then a presidential contender, considered it inhumane. And a federal judge ruled it unlawful.

Now President Trump faces similar outrage – also from faith leaders, top members of his party, and perhaps soon the courts – for a particular immigration policy.

Mr. Obama’s action involved the holding of children in restrictive jail-like detention centers along with their parents, who were considered flight risks either because they had entered the country illegally or because their request for asylum had not yet been verified. Those who were presumed innocent, or minors, were in a harsh lock-up with the presumed-guilty: adults.

Mr. Trump’s action involves separating immigrant children from their parents, often into shelters more than hard detention. In his case, the presumed-innocent are being denied parental care, even sometimes the knowledge of a parent’s whereabouts.

In both cases, the moral and legal issues can be complex, a result of the difficulty in today’s political climate in finding a balance between the justice system’s often-competing demands. Those demands include safety for society from people facing legal charges, compassion for immigrants, deterrence of illegal entry, and mercy toward those fleeing violence or persecution in their country.

The issues are compounded by clashing views of immigration in general, legal or illegal. In addition, some elected leaders, including Trump, have used such issues as tools for political purposes.

Yet beneath the moral debate lies a common link, one that is spiritual in nature and thus might lead to finding common ground for a resolution in how to treat immigrant children.

From different directions, both sides have shown some recognition of the innocence of children and the need to protect them from either illegal confinement, harsh conditions, or harsh isolation. This is a starting point. Innocence itself, as reflected in children, has often served as a restorative quality in the justice system. Perhaps now it can do so in the current US debate.

The best examples of the effect of innocence are different practices in the United States and elsewhere that allow children to keep in touch with detained parents, either those awaiting a hearing or deportation, or serving a sentence in a jail or prison. If a parent is not deemed unfit, many places of incarceration welcome visits by children. The encounter can bring hope to detained parents. A child can be someone who sees them as innocent in character.

The various programs differ in how they try to retain a bond between parents and children. Some have nurseries for infants. Others hold book readings. Some allow supervised visits at a relative’s home or in dormitory-like settings. Many try to limit the exposure of prison life to kids, such as a pat-down of a parent.

Among the earliest programs in the US are two in Texas’ Bexar County. One is called Mothers and Their Children (MATCH), which began in 1984, and the other is Papas And Their Children (PATCH), which launched a decade later. The contact between kids and their parents who qualify for the program, say officials at the Bexar jail, has led to lower rates of rearrest for many of those released. The program also has a calming effect inside the jail.

Detained parents who are nonviolent or who endure confinement while awaiting justice are often punished enough without also not being allowed to have contact with their children. In fact, children can be a healing presence, just by being pure of heart. 

The practical question is for how long and under what conditions. US officials can look for examples in a wide variety of programs in detention centers around the world. Innocence is a known quality for either solace or rehabilitation of confined parents.


A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

‘Home in every place’

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Today’s column, which includes a poem and related quotes, considers a sense of home we experience through feeling close to God.


‘Home in every place’

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Home is the consciousness of good
That holds us in its wide embrace;
The steady light that comforts us
In every path our footsteps trace.

Our Father’s house has many rooms,
And each with peace and love imbued;
No child can ever stray beyond
The compass of infinitude.

Home is the Father’s sweet “Well done,”
God’s daily, hourly gift of grace.
We go to meet our neighbor’s need,
And find our home in every place.
– Rosemary C. Cobham, alt., “Christian Science Hymnal: Hymns 430-603,” No. 497

My people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.
Isaiah 32:18

Home is not a place but a power. We find home when we arrive at the full understanding of God.
Mary Baker Eddy as quoted by Irving C. Tomlinson, “Twelve Years with Mary Baker Eddy,” Amplified Edition, p. 211



In art’s wake

Swimmers exercise in the Serpentine River in front of Christo's 'The London Mastaba,' in London’s Hyde Park June 19. The floating work is made of some 7,500 barrels and weighs about 650 tons. It will be on display through Sept. 23.
Henry Nicholls/Reuters
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

In Our Next Issue

( June 20th, 2018 )

David Clark Scott
Editor & product manager

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story out of Sierra Leone, where a mining case may be rewriting the textbook on international justice.

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June 19, 2018
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