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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.

2017
May
22
Monday

Who could possibly defend a “dementia tax”? That term was coined by opponents of British Prime Minister Theresa May. It refers to her proposal to have older people pay for more of their care. In the fallout, Ms. May’s Conservative Party has seen its lead shrink ahead of June elections, according to polls

British voters will best judge May’s ideas, but the apocalyptical nickname game doesn’t help. The same thing happened in the United States – but in the opposite political direction – when President Barack Obama was accused of creating “death panels.”

Scaring voters about health-care reforms is easy. Solving the actual problem is much harder: Aging populations in the West are putting a financial strain on health care. Playing on voters’ fears only makes it harder to create an atmosphere where the best ideas – from left and right – can come to the surface. 

And now, here are our five stories for today.

1. Why Saudi arms deal could deliver conflicting outcomes

President Trump’s deal with Saudi Arabia is about more than weapons. It links the United States to Saudi Arabia’s vision for the Middle East. 

Mark
 

The 30 Sec. ReadThe landmark 2015 nuclear deal negotiated between the United States under President Barack Obama and Iran yielded an unprecedented level of cooperation. But it also raised tensions with Iran’s sectarian and regional rival Saudi Arabia, which felt the deal was achieved at its expense. Now, with the $110 billion arms deal President Trump has signed with the Saudis, the US has pivoted hard back to its traditional Middle East ally. According to an expert at the London School of Economics, the US is embracing the Saudis’ anti-Iran vision in the region, and is “engaged in the regional cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.” The result, says the expert, is that the US “has poured gasoline on the raging fire” of sectarian conflict that has bedeviled the Middle East with proxy wars from Yemen and Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. The most significant immediate effect of the arms deal is likely to be in Yemen, where a Saudi-led campaign has been defined more by civilian casualties than by any military accomplishment.

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1. Why Saudi arms deal could deliver conflicting outcomes

The $110 billion arms deal President Trump signed with Saudi Arabia may ultimately be as destabilizing in the Middle East as it is good for business in the US.

“Our vision is one of peace, security, and prosperity,” Mr. Trump told Sunni Arab leaders in Riyadh, as he called on them to crush Islamic State jihadists and to isolate Iran. He thanked Saudi King Salman “for the creation of this great moment in history, and for your massive investment in America, its industry, and its jobs.”

But the mammoth deal is likely to further embolden Saudi Arabia in its devastating war in Yemen, analysts say, even as it retools a strategic alliance that places the United States squarely on the side of Saudi Arabia in its sectarian and regional rivalry with Iran.

“It’s the deal of the century,” says Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert with the London School of Economics.

“This is a deal not just about selling weapons … but ensures that the US is committed to the strategic security of Saudi Arabia,” says Mr. Gerges. The US is embracing the Saudi “vision in the region … to counter Iran, standing up to Iran, preventing Iran from spreading its influence. The US now is engaged in the regional cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This is why the Saudis are elated.”

The result, says Gerges, is that the US – wittingly or not – “has poured gasoline on the raging fire” of sectarian conflict that has bedeviled the Middle East with proxy wars from Yemen and Iraq to Syria and Lebanon.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who championed Iran’s landmark nuclear deal in 2015 and was reelected by a wide margin days ago, was disparaging of the Sunni summit in Saudi Arabia in a news conference Monday, saying it “had no political value and will bear no results,” Reuters reported.

“Who can say regional stability can be restored without Iran?” he said. “Who can say the region will experience total stability without Iran?”

Impact on Yemen

The most significant immediate impact of the arms deal is likely to be in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been accused of war crimes. Its two-year involvement has been defined more by civilian casualties – with airstrikes against hospitals, schools, and infrastructure – than by any military accomplishment.

A strike against a funeral in the Yemeni capital Sanaa last October killed 140 people, for example, provoking especially strong criticism from Washington. US military cooperation “is not a blank check,” an official in the Obama White House said at the time.

Such reservations appear to be gone, as Trump renews the traditional US embrace. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, especially, say their fight in Yemen is to defeat Houthi rebels, which have modest backing from Iran, and re-install the Saudi-backed government.

The result has been an asymmetric fight that has reduced Yemen – one of the poorest countries in the world – to the brink of famine. Analysts say the US military support is likely to intensify the fighting, even if the new weaponry has a limited impact on the militias.

“It’s not just allowing the conflict to burn on, but to escalate the conflict severely,” says Adam Baron, a Yemen specialist with the European Council on Foreign Relations, speaking from Beirut.

“Full-throated endorsement of a world view that puts Iran as the cause of all problems in the region seems like a recipe for escalation, rather than de-escalation of tensions,” he says.

“If you look at the history of conflicts in Yemen, this is often a place where firepower alone is not going to hand you a decisive victory,” says Mr. Baron. “It’s hard to see anything other than a political solution. Of course, the longer this war goes on, the more difficult it is to get to a political solution.”

Tensions over Iran nuclear deal

Saudi Arabia has for half a century played a critical role in projecting US and Western military power in the Middle East, punctuated by multi-billion dollar arms purchases that until the 1990s the Saudi kingdom rarely used – or could even deploy effectively with its relatively small armed forces.

President Barack Obama kept up the pace of arms sales, selling $115 billion worth in eight years. And many elements of the new Trump deal were hammered out by the Obama administration.

But US-Saudi tensions rose as Washington negotiated the nuclear deal with its Shiite rival, Iran. The US and Iran were still implacable enemies, on paper, but the deal yielded an unprecedented level of cooperation that the Saudis felt was achieved at their expense.

Still, Yemenis in Houthi-controlled territory, including the capital, Sanaa, often blame American support of Saudi Arabia for their suffering.

There is “widespread and growing hatred of the US for its support of the war, which Yemenis find difficult to comprehend,” says April Longley Alley, a senior Arabian Peninsula analyst with the International Crisis Group, in a report about a late-April visit to Sanaa. “As an American, probably the most frequent question I am asked is: ‘Why is the United States attacking us?’”

That view was echoed by Sen. Chris Murphy (D) of Connecticut after the Trump arms deal was signed.

“US supplies bombs that terrorize Yemen, helps w targeting, refuels Saudi planes. With $110b sale, we are more complicit in this than ever,” Mr. Murphy wrote in a tweet.

Son-in-law personally intervened

Despite sharp criticism of Saudi Arabia by Trump on the campaign trail, the Saudis have been heartened by the fact that Trump has reaffirmed a decades-long strategic relationship.

The president’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, personally intervened in the Saudi deal on May 1, calling the chief executive of Lockheed Martin to ask if the price of a particular radar system could be lowered, while in the presence of “slack-jawed” Saudi officials, The New York Times reported last week.

“I’m not very convinced about arguments in favor of continuing to supply large numbers of weapons to the Saudis or other Arab states. I think there are major concerns about that,” says Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher for the Arms and Military Expenditure Program of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

“It might create instability, and further asymmetries in the military balance, and also [they] show their willingness to use these weapons,” he says.

“I don’t see how the Saudis can defeat the rebel groups in Yemen unless they use even more extreme force,” he adds, “which would have humanitarian effects that are completely unacceptable.”

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D.C. Decoder

2. Collusion? Obstruction? Washington parses key terms.

What’s really at stake in Robert Mueller’s investigation of President Trump and Russia? Typically, Washington is looking for bombshells. But the nuance could be more important. 

Mark
 

The 30 Sec. ReadA key question surrounding President Trump and Russia is whether illicit collusion has occurred. Some Trump foes think evidence will emerge, perhaps involving candidate Trump and Russia both having big stakes in the 2016 election outcome. The president has issued pointed denials, saying last week that “there is no collusion.” But all this may miss an important fact: Many implications of the Russia investigations are of the highest gravity, some analysts say, even if no “smoking gun” regarding collusion ever emerges. Some former Trump associates are in legal trouble because of connections with foreign governments. There’s also what some call tacit public collusion with the Russians. “Trump does a lot out in the open,” says Chris Edelson, a government expert at American University. During the campaign Mr. Trump publicly called on the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, Mr. Edelson notes. And beyond these issues are questions of whether Trump may be seeking to obstruct justice through his actions and comments surrounding the investigations.

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2. Collusion? Obstruction? Washington parses key terms.

If there’s a single word at the center of the FBI investigation into the Russian connection to the 2016 US election, it might be “collusion.” It means secret or illegal cooperation, especially to cheat or deceive others.

That’s what President Trump’s fiercer critics think the Justice Department’s newly appointed special counsel, former FBI chief Robert Mueller, will eventually unearth: proof of collusion between Mr. Trump and Moscow, probably about release of hacked Democratic Party emails. They see that leading to Trump’s impeachment in the House and removal from office by the Senate.

Collusion is also the particular offense that Trump often heatedly denies. “The entire thing has been a witch hunt. There is no collusion,” he said last week at a joint press conference with the Colombian president, though he added he was only speaking for himself.

But it might be a mistake to treat collusion as the alpha question, the most crucial issue for the FBI to probe and the public to learn. That could set up an unrealistic binary test in regards to Trump campaign culpability. It could deflect attention away from Russia’s larger (and troubling) meddling with US politics and the alleged lower-level offenses of Trump campaign officials and hangers-on.

“That is important stuff for the public to be aware of even if it absolves the campaign staff of ‘knowing collusion,’ ” says Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who studies national security and intelligence surveillance, in an email interview.

Of course, it would be a shocking, paradigm-altering event if it turned out that Trump, or someone associated with him, had met with Russians prior to last November’s vote and authorized or encouraged the hacking of Democratic accounts. Serious consequences would undoubtedly ensue.

No evidence yet

But Trump is right that so far there’s no public evidence that happened. Even serious Trump critics say that’s the case. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, who’s often critical of the president, said in a Fox News appearance last week, “There is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians as of this date.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California said the same thing in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “There are newspaper stories, but that’s not the same thing as evidence,” she said.

If any such evidence existed, surely it would have been leaked by now, writes Jim Geraghty in the conservative National Review. Trump’s opponents in the intelligence community or buried in other parts of the government had every incentive to leak such info prior to the election, or around Inauguration Day, to maximize its effects. But they haven’t.

Democrats have pumped up their base to believe that revelations proving collusion will appear and impeachment will then magically remove a president they view in apocalyptic terms, writes Geraghty. But what if this scenario does not actually appear?

“Are any Democratic lawmakers starting to fear that they’re not going to find that evidence?” he writes.

Some Democrats are indeed talking about a future where the Russia investigations produce a relatively inconclusive outcome. David Axelrod, former chief political strategist for Barack Obama as a candidate and president, tweeted last week that one possible “storyline” for the Russia inquiries is that the appointment of Mr. Mueller mutes the House and Senate probes into the situation. Mueller, lacking evidence, indicts no one for collusion.

Trump would then claim vindication. “Not a remote scenario,” according to Axelrod.

A string of concerns

The problem is, there are many implications of the Russia investigations that may not touch on collusion but are nonetheless of the highest gravity, according to some analysts. They shouldn’t be diminished or swept aside.

The first is that Russia’s meddling occurred at all. Remember, the US intelligence community has reached a consensus that the government of Vladimir Putin interfered in the US vote with various means, from hacking to promotion of fake news. That’s a big deal and a huge national security problem.

Second is the possibility of obstruction of justice. Obstruction of justice is what brought down Richard Nixon. He tried to get the CIA to tell the FBI to stop investigating the burglary at Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate building. Proof of that was the “smoking gun” tape that turned congressional and public opinion against him.   

Obstruction is a difficult crime to prove. It involves intent as well as actions. But Trump’s firing of FBI Director Comey, combined with his statements on the subject, have increased attention on this issue. Fueling the talk on Friday was a New York Times report that Trump told Russia’s foreign minister, in a May 10 White House meeting, that “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off [by the Comey firing].”

Third, focusing on evidence of collusion that has not appeared shouldn’t distract voters from things that are already known, according to the president’s critics.

Some of Trump’s former associates, such as former campaign chief Paul Manafort and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, are in deep legal trouble due to their connections, financial and otherwise, with foreign governments. On Monday, associates of the retired Lieutenant General Flynn revealed he would not comply with a Senate subpoena for documents and would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination to avoid testimony.

Follow-on questions are what, if anything, Flynn’s troubles may say about the White House as a whole. For instance, are Trump’s positions on Russia influenced by his own family business activities involving that nation?

Tacit collusion, out in public?

Finally, there’s the evidence of what some call Trump’s tacit public collusion with the Russians.

“Trump does a lot out in the open,” says Chris Edelson, as assistant professor of government at American University in Washington.

During the campaign Trump publicly called on the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, Dr. Edelson notes. At the time he called it a joke. However, this was after the Russian government had already been associated with hacks of other Democratic accounts.

Numerous times on the campaign Trump said he loved Wikileaks or loved “reading those Wikileaks” after the group began publishing emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

This overt and public communication was perfectly legal. It may indeed have been a joke or just something that popped out of Trump’s mouth. But it’s also possible that Russia was listening and inferring from the comments that its strategy was working. As any reporter knows, jokes often have a bit of meaning hidden inside.

For all the above reasons, collusion isn’t just a question of whether there’s a smoking gun communication between a known Russian intelligence operative and a Trump insider. It shouldn’t be the sole determinant of the seriousness of the FBI’s investigation, says Edelson.

“People talk about it like it’s either/or. It’s way more complicated than that,” he says.

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3. In New Hampshire, high school gets a radical rethink

What if we did school differently? What if we stripped away all the traditional trappings of public education and just asked: How do kids learn best? New Hampshire offers a glimpse of what that growing revolution could look like.

Mark
 

The 30 Sec. ReadIn an age of rising global competition, are US high schools doing a good enough job of preparing students for a brave new job market? Not even close, is the consensus of many business and education leaders. This discouraging conclusion has made school officials across the country more open to radically rethinking secondary-level education. But perhaps no state has gone further toward embracing change than New Hampshire. The Granite State is currently experimenting with a new kind of school that drops industrial-age school structures like 45-minute class periods, rote lecture-style teaching, and age-based grade levels in favor of self-directed, competency-based education intended to more fully engage students even as it better prepares them for the world of work. Currently New Hampshire’s program is mostly focused on vocational education, but its innovations are expected to work their way through all the state’s high schools and eventually – as other states watch with interest – the rest of the country.  

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3. In New Hampshire, high school gets a radical rethink

Two-dozen high school students are gathered around a large work table as manufacturing teacher Dan Cassidy holds out boxes of metal bars and gears. The students choose among the parts to build model bicycles. “What else are we going to use today? Let me hear some vocab here,” he says. When a student shouts out “chains,” he nudges them until they recall another term for it: “linkage.”

This isn’t a manufacturing class. It’s actually a combined geometry and physical science class. While clusters of students work at stations assembling miniature two-wheelers, others rotate through a lesson on the computer and reason through a problem about parallel triangles the old-fashioned way – with paper and pencil. Mr. Cassidy and co-teacher Athanasia Robinson, whose specialty is math, circulate and check on everyone’s progress.

“I have a really hard time just sitting in a class and focusing on a teacher and writing notes,” says sophomore Hope Nichols as she and a purple-haired classmate bolt together a bike. “But here, everything is hands-on ... or I can kind of teach myself, which I really prefer.”

Students rarely see textbooks here at the Manchester School of Technology High School (MST-HS), a low-slung utilitarian building a few miles from the river where high-tech businesses occupy former textile mills. In most classes, they don’t get standard letter grades. They don’t automatically move on to the next level at the end of the school year, but instead advance once they have mastered the material. Students buttress their classroom learning with real-world experiences – such as building a house or working as a chef – to help prepare for future careers.

Sophomore Tessa Arrigo learns drafting and geometric construction in a class taught by an architect.
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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

Welcome to what, in some ways, may be a prototype of the high school of tomorrow. Here, vocational education meets cutting-edge academic innovation.

At the core of the school’s curriculum is a wide variety of career pathways students can choose from – ranging from nursing to policing. The four-year public institution itself is embedded within a career and technical education center that has long served juniors and seniors from other high schools who come to take work-related courses.

While the focus on career development here is stronger than at most high schools, MST-HS is symbolic of efforts across the United States to make education more relevant and engage students with new approaches. 

In an age of struggling public schools and rising global competition, education officials are searching for ways to break out of the pervasive industrial-age school structures – think 45-minute class periods, rote lecture-style teaching, and age-based grade levels. Some schools now wrap learning around community projects. Others have students create portfolios and do internships. Still others incorporate students into decisionmaking for how the school or classroom will operate.

Some of the boldest experimentation is going on in New Hampshire. The state has become a leader in the “competency-based” education movement – in which success is less about “seat time” in a classroom or passing traditional tests and more about students showing they can apply skills and knowledge to complex challenges. 

Nationally, “there is a lot of interest in delivering education in new, more-flexible ways that address students’ differing needs, differing learning styles, and the differing paces at which they acquire knowledge,” says Thomas Toch, director of FutureEd, a think tank at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy in Washington. “New Hampshire’s commitment to the competency model is ... seen as a thoughtful and cutting-edge effort, though not one without its challenges.”

 

Initiatives are popping up across the state. One district, in Rochester, N.H., has become a pioneer in allowing even the youngest students to make choices about how they are learning. Rochester and eight other districts are also part of a first-in-the-nation pilot project in which achievement is measured by performance on tasks created by teams of teachers, rather than on standardized tests. MST-HS has become its own showcase of innovation, created with students like Hope in mind, students who might not flourish in a traditional high school but enjoy learning math and other skills with the help of sprockets and spokes.

New Hampshire’s quiet education revolution, if it proves successful, could inspire a dramatically different future for American schools.

Tessa Arrigo sits at a drafting board, her pink polished nails gently turning a compass to bisect an angle. She swivels on her stool to consult a computer for a self-paced series of 26 exercises in instrument drafting.

The sophomore is part of Design Communication, the “cool” career pathway that enticed her to try this school. She’s considering a future in biomedical engineering. The classroom – a sleek studio with state-of-the-art equipment and a creativity-inducing vibe – was designed by teacher and architect Stephen Koziatek. It has a lounge area for brainstorming and critiques, and shelves suspended from the ceiling to display models made with 3-D printers. 

“It doesn’t feel like school,” Tessa says. “I hated coming to school in middle school.... But I actually enjoy coming to this school because it’s self-paced. I don’t feel stressed out too much because I have time to get things done.” 

She opens her portfolio to a drawing of her mermaid chair. She has a beach-themed bedroom and recently dreamed up the scallop-backed seat for her industrial design project. First she had to research all the components that go into building a chair. Then she had to draw it from various angles and create an advertisement to sell it.

Teacher Daniel Cassidy (c.) helps students in the manufacturing technology lab.
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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

Mr. Koziatek (“Mr. K,” to the students) keeps up with what’s new in design so they’ll be well prepared, whether they go to work as a drafter, head to community college for a CAD (computer-aided design) certificate, or opt for a six-year master’s in architecture. 

Each career program at MST-HS has an advisory board that includes professionals and partners from local businesses and colleges. They ensure the curriculum keeps up with changes in the field, and they set up internships for students and allow them to shadow professionals. Koziatek hears from students who have gone on to college that “they’re the ones that are, in some cases, showing the other kids how to do things.” 

The high-tech and academically demanding nature of some of the career programs at MST-HS often surprises people in the community, who remember its roots as a vocational school in the 1980s. “They really have that stereotype ... that it’s for kids that can’t make it academically, so here all they do is work with their hands,” Koziatek says. 

Education policy makers understand that the world of work has changed, and that for long-term success, some college-level education is going to be required for most people to earn a living wage. Career-tech schools with strong academics show that “there are multiple pathways to it,” says Shaun Dougherty, a professor at the University of Connecticut Neag School of Education. 

Many students are attracted to MST-HS’s motto: “As fast as you want, as slow as you need.” 

The academic grading system at the school is 1 through 4, with students progressing along the scale from fall to summer, or until they reach Level 3, which means they’ve demonstrated competency in all the key elements of a course. Reaching Level 4 means they’ve gone above and beyond.

“At a normal school, you could skate by and get a C,” says junior Tyler Burke. “But here ... instead of doing a paper just ’cause I had to do it, I have to be able to know it and give the teacher an example of it. Now I know stuff really well,” he says during manufacturing class, above the din of a student grinding metal. 

During open houses, teachers tell prospective students they have to be self-motivated. “That’s part of the model: There’s a lot of freedom,” says English and humanities teacher Jillian Corey. But students also have to take ownership of their learning. “With first-year students, we spend a lot of time initiating them, breaking down old ways of thinking,” she says. Barely passing “does not exist here.... That blows their mind.”

Another challenge: Too many of the students take the mantra “as long as you need” too literally in completing their work. So school principal Karen Hannigan Machado says the staff has been working to build into courses more self-direction, perseverance, and planning – traits often included in lists of “21st-century skills” that employers seek.

Justin Michaud (l.) and his twin brother Ryan use geometry to construct a small bicycle in the manufacturing lab at Manchester School of Technology High School, where students learn by doing hands-on projects.
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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

Like many high schools in New Hampshire, this one is working toward having students move on to new classes or alternative learning opportunities as soon as they’ve mastered the coursework. It’s not an easy transformation, but it’s already happening in the side-by-side, self-paced math classrooms run by Amanda Egan and Callan Cardin. In the middle of a 100-minute block, a girl walks up to Ms. Cardin and hands in her final test for a geometry unit. The teacher immediately pulls out the materials to get the student started on the next section. 

In Ms. Egan’s room, freshman Matthew Peterson works on his final unit for Algebra I, erasing mistakes as he talks through a graphing problem with a student teacher. “I’m just about done,” Matthew says, wearing a T-shirt plastered with images of cash, of the math course. 

He expects to be ready to move to Geometry the following week, with two months still to go in the school year. “I’m already ahead, rather than having to slow down and wait,” he says. Matthew has some incentive: Finishing Geometry is a prerequisite for starting the popular Game Design program.

The day before, freshman John Thornton had fulfilled his promise to finish Algebra I before April vacation. “I walked right into the Geometry classroom and asked for a full unit and started doing it as soon as I got home,” he says. He finished six out of eight papers for the new unit that very night.

Not everyone is so self-motivated. To help students not fall too far behind, teachers often work with them to set goals, and Egan even offers small prizes for meeting them. The students say they don’t need rewards, but, Egan says, “it helps. They’re still kids.”

Out of 30 students in Egan’s Algebra I class, 29 are on track to either complete it this year or take “summer recovery” courses rather than having to come back in the fall. That’s a big improvement over last year, when she and Cardin first started the self-paced approach. 

She also tracks how her students compare with similar students nationwide. Ninth- and 10th-graders perform in line with the national norm for math, she says, but 11th-graders surpass it. She thinks that’s because they are able to apply the skills they built up in the first two years.

The self-paced approach addresses a problem many teachers around the nation face. Advanced students often feel stunted because they have to sit through the basic instruction that many of the others in class need. “But with the self-paced program, we cater to every type of student,” says Cardin. “I just love it.”

Teens gravitate to MST-HS for a variety of reasons. Some like the small setting. Some are self-proclaimed geeks or students who have been bullied in other schools and feel more comfortable here, Ms. Machado says.

Of the 325 full-time students, about 25 percent require accommodations because of disabilities or medical issues. The school, which started in 2012, hopes to expand, because it usually has a wait list of at least 50 students after all the seats are filled through a lottery. Another 437 students come part time from “feeder” high schools in Manchester and beyond.

Visiting teachers from around the state participate in a question-and-answer session with instructors at Maple Street Magnet School in Rochester, N.H. New Hampshire has become a leader in revamping its schools and education methods, including giving young students, like the ones at the Maple Street school, greater choice and autonomy.
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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

While competency-based education offers the potential for improving educational equity by tailoring learning to students’ individual needs, it also comes with risks. One is what happens if slower students never catch up. “If we’re not able to give [struggling students] effective support, and the others take off, then we are exacerbating achievement gaps, hurting the kids that this model is designed to help,” says Mr. Toch of FutureEd. 

But Cardin says she has witnessed students who would be trapped in low-level classes in a traditional high school come here and surpass expectations. She points to one boy who took a year and a half to finish Algebra I, so he came into her Geometry class well into the school year. “Now he’s ahead of almost everyone else in the class,” she says, because he took advantage of custom-fit resources and instruction.

Not everyone is excelling academically, though. On the SAT exam, 21 percent of MST-HS 11th-graders scored proficient or above in math in 2015-16, compared with 28 percent in Manchester and 40 percent statewide. Scores for reading showed similar gaps, but such disparities often reflect demographic differences – and at this school, in particular, many students struggle with traditional testing. Yet the dropout rate here is very low – less than 3 percent. 

Perhaps most unusual about the school is the inventive nature of the instruction. It requires flexibility and adventurousness on the part of both students and teachers. 

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, when we have a successful lesson, it’s because we didn’t pull it out of a textbook,” says Ms. Robinson of the geometry and physical science class.

The mingling of academics with real-world problems can lead to unexpected moments of discovery. Kevin McDonnell, who teaches Green Technology, recalls when his students were concerned about too much algae in the big blue tubs where they keep fish for a project that combines hydroponics and aquaculture. In science, they had just learned about freshwater plankton and realized the organisms could eat the algae. Problem solved. 

“That was amazing,” Mr. McDonnell says. “That’s what we’re hoping to go for, building-wide – their ability to make that connection....”

Sitting on couches in the Game Design classroom, four teenage boys rank the traits of characters they are creating, such as charisma and stamina, when Jonathan Richard declares: “This class taught me English!” 

His friends agree, saying they recently watched an anime film that helped them understand story arc and other concepts their English teacher has offered up in different contexts. “It was deep,” Jonathan says. 

In Game Design, “if they don’t know how to break down a story and write good concepts, then they’re in trouble,” says teacher Ryan Frasca.

Over in the Algebra I class, Egan sends two students, Nayshalee Rodriguez and Conor Flanagan, on a mission to check three ramps in the school to see if they are in compliance with the ADA (which they’ll learn later is the Americans with Disabilities Act). She suggests they borrow a tape measure from the manufacturing teacher, and then they’re on their own.

They struggle at first, not sure exactly how to measure the height and length of the ramp and translate that into the “rise over run” formula for slope. It’s the kind of exploration that Egan says will motivate real learning. When they come back with their first round of “crazy measurements,” she gives them just enough guidance that they feel confident to try again, and eventually they can show that the ramps do indeed comply.

When the four-year high school first opened, both teachers and students found the adjustment to competency-based grading awkward. Machado, as principal, was given a shoestring budget and only three months of planning time to open the school. But some of the early graduates now see the benefits of having to be self-starters, even if they didn’t then.

Trevor Harrington says he didn’t care about learning until his time at MST-HS. “Now, two semesters into college, I’m almost an entirely A student,” says the 2016 graduate who attends Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). “And it’s because the teachers, although they were not always perfect ... taught in a way that made us appreciate the education.”

Several of his fellow graduates agree. One of them used college credits earned senior year to jump-start her university education. Another says he can work in great restaurants to help pay for college, because of the culinary program he took – but exploring that in high school also saved him from investing more time and money in a career he decided he didn’t want after all.

Teachers, too, have thrived with the experimentation. “I’ve grown far more as a professional than I honestly feel that I would have in a traditional kind of school setting,” says Ms. Corey.

Despite all the innovation going on in schools across the country, most classrooms remain fairly traditional in their approach to learning. Perhaps as a result, only 38 percent of public school students in one national survey said most or all of their classes challenged them to their full potential. To bring deeper learning into classrooms on a large scale would require a “seismic shift” that could take generations, says Jal Mehta, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, in a report published by Jobs for the Future.

New Hampshire has a head start. High schools here have been shifting into competency-based education since 2005, and some districts have voluntarily transformed all their grade levels to the new approach.

Challenges remain. One is explaining the new way of grading to parents – and college admissions counselors. For those who go straight to a college program aligned with what they studied at MST-HS, that’s not usually a problem. 

But generally there will be a transition period, Toch says, in which some colleges may be skeptical of competency-based transcripts. The traditional high school credit represents a standardized measure of time spent in the classroom, even though it may not equate to actual learning. It’s a currency colleges understand, he says. Mr. Harrington had to explain his grades to an admissions officer at SNHU.

“Thank God they had individualized comments” by teachers on the transcript, he says. But having seen his teachers learn as they go, he’s better able to adapt to new situations. “College is a lot like this school,” Harrington says. “Every year is different.” 

This story was produced with support from the Education Writers Association Reporting Fellowship program.

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Point of Progress

What's going right

4. A small city’s street-level approach to beating opioids

In many ways, the opioid crisis in West Virginia seems too enormous to handle. Addiction is rampant. But the people of Huntington started by doing what they could with what they had. And that has ended up being quite a lot. 

Mark
Jan Rader (l.), fire chief of the Huntington, W.Va., Fire Department, calls the 911 dispatch center after responding to a suspected overdose call. The city’s team approach – drawing nationwide interest – combines expertise in law enforcement, health, and data analytics.
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CHRISTA CASE BRYANT/THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
 

The 30 Sec. ReadHow can a cash-strapped city with 26 overdoses in a single afternoon tackle an opioid epidemic that has killed as many people as gun violence? With grit, creativity, and faith. Huntington, W.Va., is pioneering a fresh approach to America’s opioid crisis, cobbling together a team – the first of its kind in the state – that combines expertise in law enforcement, health, and data analytics. Their example has drawn the attention of several other counties as well as the state government, which want to implement similar initiatives. “We are resilient, we are proud, and we are hardworking,” says William Ihlenfeld, former US attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia. “If we ever climb out of this hole that we’re in … it won’t be because of what D.C. does, or even the state government. It will be because of what the people are doing at the street level.”

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4. A small city’s street-level approach to beating opioids

Within a minute of the siren sounding in Station 4, three firefighters are barreling through a red light.

Dispatch recaps the 911 call: A person walking by an apartment overheard someone say, “Pops, Pops, I told you not to take that. It’s too strong.”

When the truck pulls up to an apartment building, Huntington (W.Va.) Fire Chief Jan Rader is already there, jumping down from her tricked-out red Suburban. The firefighters climb the staircase two steps at a time. “Fire department,” they announce, their voices echoing in the fluorescent-lit hallway. An older man opens the door and says he’s fine.

“You sure?” asks Rader, who spots a telltale sign of opioid use. “Your pupils are pinpoint.” Just then a tattooed young man rolls up a small bag and walks to the bathroom. Rader and one of the firefighters exchange a look: This story isn’t adding up.

Two police officers arrive and find an empty can of naloxone, an overdose-reversing
drug. They search the purse of a younger woman in sweatpants. Used needles. Meth. A spoon, which is often used to cook heroin.

But then, as a police officer gives the woman a court date, Rader tells her about a city program to help drug users. There, she can meet a recovery coach.

The teamwork is emblematic of Huntington’s pioneering approach to America’s opioid epidemic, pairing law enforcement with compassionate outreach.

Rader and the rest of the Huntington team – the first of its kind in the state – are not waiting for the state or federal government to take action against opioid addiction. They can’t afford to: The Huntington Fire Department responds to at least five overdose calls per day. On one memorable August day, there were 26 – in just a few hours.

Statistics like those have made West Virginia ground zero in the fight against opioid addiction. But a budget crisis has left the state strapped for cash, pushing Huntington and other West Virginia cities to tap other resources. “We are resilient, we are proud, and we are hardworking,” says William Ihlenfeld, former US attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia. “If we ever climb out of this hole that we’re in ... it won’t be because of what D.C. does, or even the state government. It will be because of what the people are doing at the street level.”

Between 2000 and 2015, opioid overdoses killed more than half a million Americans – equivalent to the number of Americans killed by guns. Americans represent less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet they consume 80 percent of the world’s opioids. Now, what began as a prescription painkiller crisis is becoming more lethal, as addicts turn to more-powerful substances such as heroin and carfentanil.

In West Virginia, one person died from drugs every 10 hours on average in 2016. That’s due to a number of factors, say experts: chronic pain from manual labor, the lowest education rate in the country, and an influx of pills from drug wholesalers.

Unemployment may be the largest factor. West Virginia has lost 35 percent of its coal jobs since 2011. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of coal miners dropped from about 16,000 to about 12,300, according to state labor figures. Experts have found a direct correlation between unemployment and drug use.

“We have a sense of hopelessness here,” says Chelsea Carter, a former drug addict from southern West Virginia who now counsels others through recovery. “They’ve lost everything they’ve worked for – houses, cars, everything – and you have this emptiness feeling. You’ll look for something else to make you feel better.”

When Chelsea Carter heard the jail door slam behind her, she made a commitment to quit drugs. She now helps others in Logan, W.Va.
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CHRISTA CASE BRYANT/THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

The team: a policeman, fire chief, data guru

At first, Mayor Steve Williams hired more police officers to deal with the opioid crisis. But he came to believe that law enforcement couldn’t solve this problem alone, so in 2014 he established the Office of Drug Control Policy. He repurposed talent the city already had – bringing on retired Police Chief Jim Johnson to head the office, along with Rader and crime analyst Scott Lemley.

“They’re forward-thinking,” says Mr. Ihlenfeld, speaking of members of Huntington’s law enforcement, whose establishment of a dedicated office preceded any such move by the state. “We need somebody to work on this issue 24/7 and not just have it added to their list of other duties they have in state government. This needs to be the only thing they do.”

Huntington’s team is a diverse crew. Johnson, a Huntington police officer of 29 years who has already retired three times and “knows everybody,” has built a reputation for breaking down silos across the city. Mr. Lemley, a data guru from the police department, has turned his formidable number-crunching skills to the opioid problem. And Rader, the state’s first female fire chief, blends the care of a nurse – her former profession – with the street smarts of a first responder. Together, they take a comprehensive approach, coordinating the efforts of a diverse array of local stakeholders.

“I think we serve now as a model for every locality, whether it be a large city or small city, as to how a community can rise up to fight this,” says Mr. Williams, “because we started utilizing all the resources at our disposal: the county health department, the hospitals, the medical schools, the pharmacy schools, the universities, the business [community], the churches, the neighborhood groups.”

Currently there is no system in place to track overdose data in West Virginia – national statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are two years old. So as with many other things, Huntington took data collection into its own hands.

All the information Lemley uses is readily available – it just requires someone pulling together a “master list” of overdose data from police departments, local hospitals, and 911 dispatch logs.

Based on graphs showing overdoses by location and time of day, Rader, Johnson, and Williams beefed up first-responder staff between 5 and 8 p.m. and located resource centers in specific overdose “hot spots.”

“The data allows us to do our job better,” says Lemley, “to better use the limited resources that we have.”

Data collected by Huntington’s Office of Drug Control Policy allowed Cabell County to be designated as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a classification that allows counties to access a federal grant program. “Data equals funding,” quips Lemley, who says several counties have approached the team about implementing similar initiatives.

Huntington has also established a Harm Reduction Program, which includes naloxone training, recovery assistance, and syringe-exchange programs. Participants are also educated on the dangers of drug use and introduced to a recovery coach. While advocates say that giving drug users clean needles cuts down on infectious diseases and provides an opportunity for them to engage with professionals who can help them, many in this largely conservative, Christian city did not welcome the idea of a syringe-exchange program, at least at first.

But some, including Johnson, have come to support the program. “As Jim [Johnson] puts it: Enabling is not saying something to a friend who has an addiction problem, or to a family member ... and then burying them,” says Lemley. “Jim had to do that.”

Lawsuits against the ‘big three’

The opioid crisis surpasses other drug epidemics in the United States’ recent history, with opioids killing five times as many people per capita as crack cocaine, for example. It began with a surge in prescription painkillers in the 1990s, when medical attitudes toward pain treatment shifted and the use of opiate painkillers – marketed by pharmaceutical companies as largely nonaddictive – became far more prevalent.

In West Virginia’s Wyoming County, the No. 1 county nationwide for fatal prescription-drug overdoses, virtually everyone is affected. Dee, a Speedway attendant in Oceana, knows five people addicted to opioids – on one side of her family.

Lawyers have argued that drug wholesalers disproportionately targeted vulnerable populations in West Virginia. In December, the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s Eric Eyre reported previously withheld data showing that drug wholesalers distributed more than 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to West Virginia between 2007 and 2012. In just two of those years, 9 million hydrocodone pills went to a pharmacy in Kermit, W.Va., a town with fewer than 400 people.

“Profits came before people. They didn’t care about the overdose rate,” says Justin Marcum, a lawyer and Democratic state representative from the district in which Kermit is located. “These corporations had no respect for the people of West Virginia.”

Mr. Marcum is leading a suit against the “big three” – Cardinal Health, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen – on behalf of Logan County. He and other lawyers argue that drug distributors have a duty to monitor themselves. Cardinal Health denies wrongdoing, telling the Monitor that “the facts and the law are on our side.” McKesson and AmerisourceBergen did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen paid West Virginia $36 million in January, settling a lawsuit filed in 2012 by Darrell McGraw, then West Virginia attorney general. However, some consider the settlement mere pocket change. Huntington alone spent roughly $100 million last year dealing with the health consequences of intravenous drug use, Rader says.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey inherited the state lawsuit when he was elected in 2012. But after a West Virginia bar investigation found that Mr. Morrisey had earned $250,000 for pharmaceutical lobbying and had received $8,000 in campaign contributions from Cardinal Health, he voluntarily recused himself. Last year, Morrisey also recused himself from state cases involving AmerisourceBergen and McKesson.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Anthony Martin denies any wrongdoing on the part of the attorney general, arguing that Morrisey can still effectively fight drug addiction in West Virginia without participating in lawsuits against the big three.

In the interim, cash-strapped West Virginia communities have taken matters into their own hands.

Rusty Webb, a medical malpractice lawyer and former state legislator, is suing drug distributors on behalf of the city of Huntington.

“Our lawsuits are alleging public nuisance claims. The damages are the costs to alleviate, abate, or remedy the nuisance,” says Mr. Webb. “And there’s no limit to the damages.... It’s the sky.”

In April, the West Virginia Legislature passed the West Virginia Drug Overdose Monitoring Act with bipartisan support: The state Senate approved the act unanimously and the state House passed it 96 to 4.

The act, which would create a statewide Office of Drug Control Policy similar to Huntington’s, is awaiting a final signature by Democratic Gov. Jim Justice.

Even though the state Legislature is very diverse, says Marcum, “when it comes to this issue we are very united.”

But as states like West Virginia cracked down on pharmacies and doctors prescribing excessive amounts of painkillers starting in 2010, patients who had already become hooked turned to cheaper and more dangerous drugs: heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil. A less-than-$5,000 investment in fentanyl – which is 50 to 100 times as strong as heroin – can reap $1.3 million on the street.

“On Monday we shut the pill mill down, put the guy in jail,” says Johnson, speaking metaphorically. “But Tuesday morning, there were 100 people lined up at that doctor’s office. What did we do with them? Where did we send them?”

‘I never give up on people’

Ms. Carter, who got hooked on painkillers in her teens and later turned to stealing to support her drug habit, says she still remembers the sound the jail door made when it slammed behind her.

“That’s a noise you never forget,” says Carter, who was charged with 17 felonies and convicted of two. “I hit my knees and I prayed. I said, ‘Lord, if you ever bring me out of this, I’ll never touch a drug again.’ ”

And she hasn’t.

But she says treatment is essential and it’s important to tailor it to each person. Her medication-assisted treatment center is criticized for employing drugs to treat drug addiction, but she has seen lives turned around.

“I’ve had people come to this program who live in tents,” she says. “And in six months they have their very first apartment. And you’re telling me it can’t work?”

Rocky Meadows (2nd from r.), who credits his turn- ing to God with bringing him out of addiction, visits men at one of the sober homes he now runs in Huntington, W.Va.
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CHRISTA CASE BRYANT/THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

Back in Huntington, Rocky Meadows runs another sort of recovery initiative – a sober-living program with seven homes, called LifeHouse. Unlike many sober-living programs, it does not turn away repeat customers. 

“The reason I never give up on people is because God never gave up on me,” says Mr. Meadows, who was arrested more than 37 times and spent cumulatively 10 years in prison; he says he eventually got sober through his Christian faith. “You fall down? I don’t care, I’ll pick you up. Let’s go again.”

Staff writer Christa Case Bryant contributed reporting.

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5. A rainbow of ways to talk about ‘color’

How do we distill the nearly infinite range of color down to something that fits into a box of Crayola crayons? The funny thing, scientists say, is that all cultures pretty much do it the same way.  

Mark
 

The 30 Sec. ReadIs my red the same red as your red? It’s a question that has intrigued dorm room pontificators for decades partly because it’s one that science just isn’t going to be able to answer. But linguists have teased out the answer to a potentially more intriguing question: Do color categories come from human biology, or do they exist only in the mind? Researchers have determined that babies can recognize red, along with four other colors, long before learning to speak. A recent study of 179 newborns presents the strongest evidence yet that color categories spring more from biology than from culture, chalking up a big win for nature in the latest round in the nature versus nurture debate of language and thought. But nature’s victory isn’t perfect, the researchers told staff writer Charlie Wood. Nurture also comes into play, as evidenced by cultures that, lacking a concrete need for a distinction between green and blue, make do with a kind of catchall “grue.”

How different cultures name color

SOURCE: "Biological origins of color categorization," Skelton et al., PNAS
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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5. A rainbow of ways to talk about ‘color’

Apparently a rose by no name at all looks just as red.

Even before learning to speak babies can recognize red, along with four other colors, according to a paper published in April in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study presents the strongest evidence yet that color categories spring more from biology than from culture, the latest round in the nature vs. nurture debate of language and thought.

When linguists first wondered where color categories came from, physicists had no answer. The rainbow features no obvious breaks, yet most English speakers have no trouble splitting the spectrum according to Roy G. Biv. Early textbooks predicted nurture would rule, with different cultures slicing the rainbow in random ways, but field researchers found that even completely unrelated languages often agree on color boundaries, hinting that vision mechanics were stacking the deck in nature’s favor.

Now, the most complete infant color study to date reveals that 4- to 6-month-old babies can tell the difference between many of those same colors, despite not knowing the words for them.

“We were able to compare the way that our babies were looking at the colors to the way adults in the world talk about colors,” says lead author Alice Skelton, a PhD student at the University of Sussex in England.

Newborns can’t tell scientists what colors they see (that’s the point), but they can vote with their attention. Babies shown the same color in repetition eventually lose interest and look away, but a new color tends to hold their gaze. By exposing 179 infants to dozens of samples, scientists could infer which hues looked novel to each child.

Similar setups in the past had shown infants can sort colors, but this study was by far the most comprehensive to date. Ohio State University psychologist Angela Brown praised the experiment for its “ginormous data set,” which covered the whole hue circle.

“Previous work with babies has concentrated on one particular corner of color space ... and it’s just really hard to get a convincing picture of infant color categories from that piecewise approach,” continues Professor Brown, who was not involved in the research. “I frankly had sort of despaired that anyone was going to succeed in doing what Skelton et al. have managed.”

And the picture they got was more familiar than even Ms. Skelton had hoped. The infants could reliably distinguish between red, yellow, green, blue, and purple, five categories already well-known to researchers from wide-ranging surveys of adults representing dozens of languages.

“We were perhaps expecting some reflection of that in our infant data but it wasn’t necessarily guaranteed,” she says.

In the nature vs. nurture debate, it’s a big win for nature. “If [pre-verbal infants] understand the same color categories as adults, then language can’t be responsible for the color categories,” explains Brown. At 6 months, nurture just hasn’t had time to muck things up.

But nature’s victory isn’t perfect. “It’s not like it’s absolutely set in stone. Culture is able to build upon it,” says Skelton. These divisions aren’t so much hard biological limits as they are a starting point from which language can then diverge.

SOURCE: Biological origins of color categorization," Skelton et al., PNAS
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

For example, linguists have found languages that lump “green” and “blue” into a kind of catch-all “grue” color, despite the infant preference for two separate categories. Reduced color vocabularies are more common in pre-industrial societies, where artificially colored objects are rare. Skelton calls these “use it or lose it” cases: “Categories are all about being efficient… If you’re not making that distinction between blue and green, it’s not efficient to keep hold of it so it kind of goes away.” 

After all we don’t name the millions of colors we can see, in part because it would be overwhelming, explains Brown. 

So why is it these five that get special treatment? Skelton discovered that if they sorted their data based on the response of certain light-sensitive cells in the eye, they got a graph where just about one color cluster fell into each quadrant.

“That can explain four out of five of our color categories, and then the fifth one [red/yellow] – we don’t know yet basically,” she says.

Brown finds this result “really interesting,” but cautions against over-interpreting it. While the graph is a good description of what’s happening in the eye and optic nerve, a number of poorly understood image-processing circuits separate it from the high-level representation of color accessible to the conscious mind, the one babies might actually act on. 

“The problem is that it is not a perceptual color space,” Brown says. “It’s a great step in unraveling that chain connecting the optic nerve with whatever higher level system we’re using ... but it will take a long time to fully understand the implications of this analysis.”

But just because we may all share a biological basis for color doesn’t mean dorm room pontificators are out of a job. No experiment can tell us if my colors are your colors, Brown says. “We can test various aspects of the perception of blue [reaction time, memory]..., but that is never going to get to the quality of blue.”

Internal sensation aside, Skelton says physical color perception does vary, but that’s beside the point. “There are things like the distribution of color receptors in our eyes that will be different, so my red is probably not your red, but for communication purposes it doesn’t matter.”

She’s more curious about why our adult vocabulary grows to include mauve, magenta, and crimson. “How we move from these five categories into six, seven, eight, nine categories depending on what language you’re speaking is a really, really interesting question.”

Brown too sees colors as just the start. Their universality and reproducibility make them easy to study, opening the door to more general theories of perception and language.

“It’s proven to be an extremely rich field of study for understanding how we begin to unite what we see to what we say,” she says.

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The Monitor's View

Trump’s fresh approach to the Middle East

 

The 30 Sec. ReadBy design, President Trump's first official trip abroad alights in the centers of three faiths, signaling his hopes that they can use their common roots to unite against terrorists and their supporters. Mr. Trump’s “tour de faiths” is based on his desire that leaders in the three religious hubs will find some unity based on a shared Abrahamic conception of a loving God. Under this approach – somewhat different than that of Trump’s predecessors – moderate religious leaders in the Middle East could now seek some agreement on divisive issues, especially terrorism. The enemy lies not in other religions but rather each faith’s inability to see the common good in each other.

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Trump’s fresh approach to the Middle East

By example as much as by words, President Trump has used his maiden trip abroad to demonstrate a fresh direction for the Middle East, one that could be called ecumenical diplomacy. First he visited Islam’s birthplace, Saudi Arabia. Then he was off to Israel, the center of Judaism. And finally on May 24, he visits the Vatican, governing entity for about half the world’s Christians.

This tour de faiths is based on Mr. Trump’s hope that leaders in the three religious hubs will find some unity based on a shared Abrahamic conception of a loving God.

How is his approach different from other presidents in the post-9/11 era?

President George W. Bush mainly pushed for political rights in the region, even by the use of force in Iraq. President Barack Obama emphasized human rights, even by use of force in Libya. While Trump did strike the Syrian military for its use of chemical weapons, the focus of his trip has been on the common principles of the main monotheistic faiths. He even said the Middle East, as the birthplace of the three religions, is waiting for “a new renaissance.”

Yet to achieve that goal, the president had to label groups such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State as outside religion. The struggle against terrorists, he stated in a speech in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, “is not a battle between faiths, different sects, or different civilizations.” It is simply a “battle between good and evil.”

He asked the region’s religious leaders to make clear to those who purposely kill innocent people that their “life will be empty.” The path of terror brings “no dignity.”

In other words, the common theology of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity must bring light and cannot tolerate terrorism’s dark ideology. In an action along those lines, he convinced the six Arab nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council to agree to new ways to cut off sources of money for radical groups.

Trump also fingered those leaders in Iran who support the killing of civilians by such foreign groups as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. One early test of Trump’s approach will be in how he deals with a few leaders in Iran who oppose the government’s support of foreign radicals. The last two elections for president in Iran, while rigged in the selection of candidates, did reflect strong public opinion against extremism and for a focus on the economy and individual rights.

In fact, in reelecting President Hassan Rouhani on May 19 by a wide margin, Iranians suggest they seek a voice in choosing the replacement for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and a curb on the military forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC.

In his victory remarks, Mr. Rouhani said the election showed that Iran seeks “a path which is distant from extremism and violence.” And during the campaign he called for “freedom of thought” and criticized the IRGC’s test-firing of a missile inscribed with a call for Israel’s destruction. A Shiite cleric, he offered talks with his Sunni counterparts in Arab states.

With Trump’s alternative approach, moderate religious leaders in the Middle East could now seek some agreement on divisive issues, especially terrorism. The enemy lies not in other religions but rather each faith’s inability to see the common good in each other.

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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.

The divine Love that meets our needs

 

We can rely on God no matter the circumstance, and expect to see evidence of His care.

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The divine Love that meets our needs

A few years ago, I had a store in New York City with a high monthly rent. I had no trouble paying the rent until there was a sharp downturn in the economy. The day before my next rent payment was due, I found myself short by a considerable sum. We had almost no customers after the economic downturn, so I seemed to have no prospects for sales. In addition, there was a penalty for a late rent payment, and the thought of compounding the problem made me more distraught.

My first inclination was to vilify my landlord, thinking of him as greedy, and lacking in understanding and compassion. But as I so often have done throughout my life when I find myself in a situation where I think there is no way out, I turn to God for answers, as Christ Jesus showed us how to do. I try to follow the Bible’s admonition: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5, 6).

I asked God what I could do to better understand His love for everyone, including me, at that moment. It came to me very clearly that I needed to love my landlord, not resent him. I started thinking about all the kind and generous things he had done for me when I first became his tenant. I felt appreciation for the beautiful space I was able to rent from him and the care he took in making sure it looked just the way I wanted it to look. But most important, I was able to feel love for him because I knew he was a spiritual child of a God that is only good. That’s the truth about all of us.

I also made an effort to focus on all the good I did have, instead of focusing on what I didn’t have. Rather than feeling burdened, I began to feel blessed. My resentment and frustration quickly turned to gratitude.

As I sat at my desk praying, a customer came through the door – a rare sight for the previous several weeks. He went straight to two pieces of merchandise that, under normal circumstances, would have required much discussion, negotiating, and time to sell. Without hesitation he took out his form of payment and said he wanted to buy them. The combined price of these two items totaled exactly the amount I needed for the rent.

I could have thought this was a coincidence, but I have seen too many times how trusting God, the source of all good, turning to Him in prayer, and striving to love better, results in many kinds of needs being met with great precision. In this situation, relying on God provided the supply of right thoughts that were needed so I could see myself and my landlord as God had created us both – perfect and cared for by divine Love.

( 497 words )
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Viewfinder

A cooler path

A man herds his cattle in Allahabad, India. Early monsoon-season rains brought some relief from temperatures approaching 120 degrees F.
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Jitendra Prakash/Reuters
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( May 23rd, 2017 )

Thanks for reading. And stop back tomorrow. We’re working on a story about evolving power relationships in Iran, and trying to answer the question: How deeply did the recent vote change the Islamic Republic?

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