Monthly Archives: December 2013

World Council of Churches Stands By As Christians Perish, Churches Wither

by Malcolm Lowe

By Malcolm Lowe

Courtesy of the Gatestone Institute

Who needs the WCC any more? Would the world, let alone Middle East Christians, be better off without it?

The World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva claims to represent and serve 345 churches worldwide. What has it done to help the persecuted churches in Iraq, Syria and Egypt? Or the flood of Syrian refugees into Jordan and Lebanon? Answer: it has devoted the whole of 2013 to promoting a World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel(September 22-28). That is, it has poured its Swiss francs into stirring up the one corner of the area that is currently almost calm.

It is not as if it is a secret that Muslim violence in Iraq drove out half the Christian population within a decade. Or that affiliates of Al-Qaeda have emptied whole Syrian villages and towns of their Christian populations. Or that almost a hundred Coptic churches in Egypt were assailed by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood shortly after President Morsi was deposed. And that was merely one chapter in the ongoing martyrdom of the Copts, which has seen 100,000 of them fleeing Egypt since the downfall of President Mubarak.

All such facts are documented on many websites, above all that of Raymond Ibrahim, which also records the endless attacks on Christians in Pakistan and Nigeria, indeed worldwide, by Muslim groups. Since August 2011, the Gatestone Institute has published his monthly roundup of such reports. Look at the website of the WCC, however, and you will hardly notice any awareness of all that. Instead, the WCC’s website is loaded with schemes and resources relating to the Palestinians. The “resources” offer compilations of Palestinian propaganda, including calls for the so-called Palestinian “right of return” (that is, the transformation of Israel into an Arab-majority state).

The excuse for this absurd imbalance is that the WCC has maintained for decades, and insists on maintaining against all evidence, that the churches of the Middle East have no other real problem than the Palestinian issue. Earlier this year (May 21-25), the WCC held a conference on “Christian Presence and Witness in the Middle East” near Beirut, Lebanon. Its closing statement proclaimed: “Palestine continues to be the central issue in the region. Resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestine in accordance with the UN resolutions and international law, will greatly help resolving the other conflicts in the region.”

 

Rifat Odeh Kassis, co-author and general coordinator of the WCC’s Kairos Palestine initiative, former head of the WCC’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, and Special Adviser to the WCC’s General Secretary, is pictured above giving an interview to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV. (Photo source: Kairos Palestine)

 

Given the misery that has overwhelmed Christians in the wake of the so-called “Arab Spring,” who in the world still believes such nonsense except inveterate Jew haters? For sure, the WCC could round up a few of the latter among bishops in the Middle East, but is that its excuse? How can any sane well-educated church bureaucrat, of the sort from which the WCC is recruited, make such a statement only a two-hour ride away from the turmoil in Syria, which has sent hundreds of thousands of refugees into the same Lebanon where they were conferring?

Such is the current level of persecution of Christians in Egypt that even the WCC cannot wholly overlook it. OnAugust 15 last, Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, the WCC General Secretary, sent a brief letter of solidarity to WCC member churches in Egypt. In the letter, he expressed regret for “attacks against several churches and properties of the Christian community.” The word “several” shows unawareness that already fifty churches and a thousand Christian businesses had been set on fire on the day that President Mursi was dismissed, according to Egyptian attorney Ehab Ramsy. That is, if Tveit did not deliberately understate the severity of Coptic suffering.

The WCC’s website informs us that “in addition to his letter” Tveit remarked that “I hope that this will not be interpreted as a conflict between Christians and Muslims.” Who did he think was organizing the systematic assault on Egyptian Christians? Balinese Hindus? Papuan animists? Martians? Even Amnesty International, which is itself otherwise over-busy with the Palestinians, dared to mention – in a detailed report (sixteen pages with ample illustrations) on “Egypt’s Christians Caught between Sectarian Attacks and State Inaction” – that Muslims were responsible for the attacks.

The 234 words of Tveit’s letter constitute the WCC’s contribution to alleviating the suffering of ten million or more Egyptian Christians (it is part of their misery that Egypt provides no reliable statistics). Syrian Christians number some two and a half million; the WCC’s help for them consisted of holding a one-day conference in Geneva onSeptember 18 and issuing a call for peace the next day. By contrast, for the last decade the WCC has been investing real money into promoting the Palestinian cause, although a mere 50,000 Christians dwell in the West Bank and barely a thousand in the Gaza Strip. As an article titled “The Myth of Palestinian Christianity” pointed out, there are far more Arabic-speaking Christians in Israel itself, where they enjoy higher social status (education, income) than even the Jewish population.

For the Palestinians, the WCC has created a special branch of its bureaucracy: its Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF). On the WCC’s What We Do page, the item “Churches in the Middle East” is defined as follows: “This project aims to build a Palestine/Israel Ecumenical Forum as a space where the entire ecumenical movement can put its collective energies and resources together for lasting peace.” In the Middle East, that is, the WCC cares only about Palestine and it wants all the churches in the world to share this exclusive focus.

The PIEF, created in 2007, is the body that organizes the mentioned “World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel.” It has also set up an office in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Interchurch Center, which seeks to recruit local Christians for activities that promote the Palestinian cause. An example is the notorious Kairos Palestine Document, an initiative created by WCC employees in conjunction with an unrepresentative handful of local Christians, and which the WCC has bombarded upon its member churches.

The WCC’s most lavishly funded Palestinian project, however, is its Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), now in its twelfth year. The dedicated website of this WCC offshoot defines its purpose as follows: EAPPI “brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. When they return home, EAs campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions.”

The “internationals” are recruited mainly from Western Protestant churches and they spend just three months gaining their “experience” (read: intensive indoctrination in Palestinian “narratives” the veracity of which they have no chance to check). Why only three months? Because this is the length of a standard Israeli tourist visa, so they can come and go as tourists without being noticed. On their return, they are required to spend as much time touring their churches to promote the message that they have learned.

Here we see the real evil that results from this scheme. Through EAPPI, the bureaucracies of the rich Protestant churches have been convinced that the only thing that they need to worry about in the Middle East is the Palestinian situation. All the mission resources of Western Protestants are focused on Palestine and their relevant bureaucrats are just as totally obsessed with the issue as is the WCC itself. The persecuted Christians of Iraq, Syria and Egypt may as well go hang.

Why, one might ask, has the WCC not even thought of setting up “accompaniment” programs for countries where Christians are dying and their churches are withering away? One answer is the preposterous lie propagated by the WCC, as quoted above: that Palestine is the “central issue” and that solving this issue will rescue the Christians perishing elsewhere in the Middle East.

Another answer is sheer cowardice. The main task of EAPPI internationals, apart from listening to unverifiable Palestinian tales, is to watch Palestinians go through Israeli checkpoints. The number of checkpoints has been drastically reduced in recent years and the Israeli authorities are introducing quicker and surer means of identification, so not much risk there. If the EAPPI internationals want a little whiff of danger, they can go on a Friday to watch – from a safe distance of course – a ritual battle between Palestinian youths throwing stones and Israeli soldiers responding with tear gas. In Egypt or Syria, on the other hand, they would have faced a real danger from machine guns, arson or bombardment with conventional and chemical weapons.

Fortunately for the Christians of the Middle East, the Vatican never joined the WCC and merely sends observers on the rare occasions when the WCC remembers its original purpose: to encourage theological discussions about divided Christianity. In Syria and Egypt, Catholics of the Franciscan Order, among others, are courageously facing serious danger in providing aid to persecuted Christians of all denominations.

Unlike the WCC and the Western Protestant churches influenced by its obsession with Palestine, the Russian Orthodox Church has assumed a real financial burden on behalf of Syrian Christians. In August this year, the Moscow Patriarchate transferred over a million dollars to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch to aid them. “Donations were coming from dioceses, parishes, monasteries, and individuals from various cities, including Kaliningrad, Vladivostok, Yekaterinburg, Syktyvkar, Saransk, Murmansk, Pskov, Orenburg, Volgograd, Tula, and even Krymsk which underwent devastating floods last year,” the Moscow Patriarchate noted. “Money was also transferred to the account of the Department for Church Charity and Social Service from Israel, Armenia, Italy, Germany, and other countries.”

Yes, even Russian Orthodox in Israel made a contribution. Likewise, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem is working among Syrian refugees in Jordan. There are also Jewish groups in Israel that have taken upon themselves the dangerous task of supplying food and medical supplies to victims of Syria’s civil war. At the same time, hundreds of wounded Syrians have been smuggled into Israel to receive medical care in hospitals, provided free, while the Israeli army has set up a field hospital near the border for less urgent cases. In Israeli medical institutions, of course, Muslims and Christians work alongside Jews to provide treatment for everyone, enabling easy communication with Syrian Arabs. So here is the paradox: the WCC relentlessly spreads discredit of Israelis in churches worldwide, while Israelis are doing vastly more than the WCC to help victims of the violence in Syria.

Let us note what the WCC is, and what it is not. It describes itself as an organization of “345 member churches representing over 500 million Christians in more than 110 countries and territories.” This aspect of its existence, however, is in evidence only once every few years when it organizes an assembly or a conference. For the rest of the time, the WCC is no more than a bunch of bureaucrats at its Geneva office. Its activities and declarations are determined by them and them alone. When one of them retires, the others choose a successor. Preponderantly, they come from a small number of Protestant churches in North America and northern Europe. Exceptionally, during 2004-2009 the General Secretary was a Kenyan, but he suddenly resigned after questions were raised about his doctorate. The current incumbent, Tveit, is a Norwegian Lutheran.

Those Protestant churches are the ones most in thrall to the WCC’s Palestinian agenda. Consider, for example,Robert O. Smith, who is a co-moderator of the WCC’s PIEF, as well as covering Europe and the Middle East on behalf of a major US Lutheran church (the ELCA). Smith is constant critic, or rather denigrator, of Christian Zionism, whether in his doctorate, his articles or a recent book.

Another example is the US Presbyterians (PCUSA). Their Middle East bureaucrats have for years tried to drag the church into a pro-Palestinian stance. Many of the laity, however, are opposed, whether because of sympathy for Israel or resentment at being dictated to by those bureaucrats. So every two years a battle is fought out at the PCUSA’s General Assembly. Both sides invest large amounts of money to muster support, money that desperately poor Egyptian Coptic families could have used much better. To date, the bureaucrats have mostly lost, but only until the next General Assembly.

In the PCUSA, at least, Presbyterian democratic principles still function. Not so in various European Protestant churches, where the laity is less able to exert itself. Elsewhere, I have documented how deeply flawed pro-Palestinian reports were officially accepted by the British Methodists and the Church of Scotland. The first major church to go in this direction, however, was the Church of Sweden. In such instances, what has arrived is a new kind of replacement theology: the Palestinians have become the Chosen People and the Kairos Palestine Document takes precedence over the Bible. Indeed, while these churches encourage severe criticism of the Bible, Kairos Palestine is treated as infallible Holy Writ.

It is not surprising that churches that have discarded the fundamentals of Protestant theology have also suffered a massive drop in membership, financial crises and a general loss of direction in recent decades. That connection was pointed out in a masterly analysis by Dexter Van Zile three years ago; the intervening time has merely confirmed it. He wrote when PCUSA membership was dropping at around 3% annually; in 2012 it was 5.26%.ELCA membership has dropped 5.95%, 4.98% and 2.68% during 2010-2012.

The agenda of the WCC’s conferences and assemblies, along with any statements issued, are also determined in Geneva. A Franciscan friend was once invited to such a show. When he arrived, he was told that his task was to read out a greeting from the Christians of the Holy Land. Looking at the text that was thrust into his hand, he protested that he had never seen it before, that he had certainly not brought it from the Holy Land, and that there were things obviously wrong in it. No, he was told, he must read it out exactly as it was.

Similarly, the upcoming Tenth Assembly of the WCC (October 30-November 8 in Busan, Korea) is already fully predetermined. The theme dictated from Geneva, “God of life, lead us to justice and peace,” is a giveaway: “peace and justice” is a familiar slogan of pro-Palestinian propaganda. The Handbook of the Tenth Assembly indeed shows that EAPPI and Kairos Palestine will be strongly featured, along with the “Eco-Justice of Palestine.”

What is Eco-Justice, one might wonder? Answer: “The speakers will address the daily injustices of the occupation and the critical condition of the environment in the Holy Land. Water shortage, issues of solid-waste management and food sovereignty, are all pressing concerns for Palestinians. Addressing how these concerns affect the human population economically, culturally, and psychologically, the workshop will inform participants about eco-justice and foster a discussion on the necessity for international solidarity on this issue.”

Just don’t expect them to mention such issues as the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to engage in joint sewage treatment projects with Israel, the immense wastage in the leaky water mains of Palestinian cities, or the illegally dug wells that have caused the water table of Gaza to become polluted with seawater. No, the Palestinians will make Israel the scapegoat, as usual, for all their own sins against the environment.

At the beginning of last year, Prof. Haim Gwirzman of Bar-Ilan University’s BESA Center published a total refutation of all the often-repeated Palestinian lies about their water situation. A summary of his findings can also be found here. It is typical of Palestinian propaganda, however, that the same old lies are constantly repeated, never mind how often or how thoroughly they have been refuted. And never mind when Christians do the same. When Israel is to be besmirched, truth is immaterial – just one of the links between anti-Israelism and antisemitism.

On the other hand, the words “Syria,” “Egypt,” “Iraq” and “Lebanon” occur nowhere in the Handbook for the WCC’s upcoming assembly. The word “Jordan” features only in the name of the “Environmental Education Center of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land,” the presenter of the nonsense workshop on “Eco-Justice.” Once again, the WCC will totally ignore the truly pressing miseries of Middle East Christians in favor of pro-Palestinian agitation.

Yes, you may object, but surely there is much more on the agenda of the Tenth Assembly? Put it the other way round: if the other sessions are on a similarly low level, why go half way round the world to get there? Let whoever can spare the time look throughout the Handbook and draw their conclusions. They may find that the WCC is unconcerned about what is on offer, provided that all participants go home with a fixation on Palestine.

This leads to a broader question: Who needs the WCC any more? Would the world, let alone Middle East Christians, be better off without it? When the WCC was founded in 1948, it was highly unusual that leaders of diverse churches conferred together. Today it is commonplace and facilitated by quick and cheap air transport. Popes and prelates whizz around everywhere. If the WCC simply disappeared, it would end a convenient parking place for Protestant bureaucrats who feel bored or out of place in their particular churches. But who else would miss it?

As for this year’s “World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel,” its impact seems to have been rather small. PIEF published a brief note about participation “in at least 22 countries worldwide” together with a more detailed list. It amounts to saying that in just 20% of the WCC’s “more than 110 countries and territories” at least one church responded. In Germany, for instance, only an event in the city of Essen is mentioned. Under “USA” no events are listed, just prayers issued by a board of the United Methodist Church and by the Presbytery of Atlanta. In “Russia and Ukraine” only a Methodist church participated. It can hardly be described as a mass movement. Rather, it is a sectarian cult with its own comic rituals.

One of those rituals is a “game of chance” called “Occupation: a game of life.” It is modeled upon “snakes and ladders” and is supposed to depict Palestinian misery. You can see here Bishop William Kenny and Rev. Paul Dean hopping around in this fashion under the gaze of Palestinian Lutheran Bishop Younan in London. The inventors of this game call themselves “Embrace the Middle East,” so they ought to invent versions for Syrian and Egyptian Christians under the rubric of “a game of death.” (“Monopoly,” after all, is available in all sorts of national versions.) Only then the hopping clerics would have to simulate horrible deaths on certain squares. On others, they would have to empty their pockets to pay the jizya tax extorted from Copts by Muslim gangsters.

The WCC’s own contribution was to be a mass pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but it seems not to have materialized. PIEF’s list does not mention it. There were rumors about a couple of dozen such “pilgrims” receiving intensive instruction in a Bethlehem convent, a kind of EAPPI crash course. If it happened, it was minimal in comparison with the thousands of Christian Zionists who, that same week, were at the Feast of Tabernacles Conference organized by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. The Israeli press noticed only the latter, marching through the streets and waving their national flags amid a traditional parade of Israeli organizations.

During those very days, September 22-28, the world media had no time for the WCC; all eyes were fixed on the attack upon a shopping mall in Kenya by Somali Muslim terrorists. Everyone heard and read the horrifying reports of how the terrorists first dismissed any who could prove themselves to be Muslims, then inflicted grotesque tortures on others before murdering them. Fear of Islamic extremism, not worrying about Palestine, has the stronger grip on most in the West.

Even the Palestinian press seems to have ignored the WCC’s scheme. Inspection of the pages of Al-Quds for that week did not turn up any reference, though various other delegations were duly recorded. Maybe some event among those listed by PIEF under “Palestine” was mentioned somewhere, but the reference must have been very brief.

Finally, let us look at PIEF’s recommendation for church services on Sunday, September 22. It was entitled “To pray you need a military permit” and consisted of a twofold ritual. First of all: “Block your own church entrance with barbed wire or a barrier, explaining that members of the congregation do not have the proper permit to enter church.” This is certainly more convenient than sending in gunmen to shoot indiscriminately, throw bombs, tear down and destroy pictures, smash crosses, and set the place on fire. That is, if they wanted to simulate the experience of Christians in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan or Nigeria.

The second part of the ritual was to read aloud a statement issued by the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem last Easter, after a fracas at a police barrier in the Old City of Jerusalem. The statement complained about “great sorrow and pain for some of our faithful because they were ill-treated by some Israeli policemen.”

Well, you can see for yourselves a video of the incident. Although the Jerusalem Post obligingly entitled the story “Video shows Jerusalem Police assault elderly priest,” the video tells a different story. The priest concerned obviously tried to force his way through a police barrier and had to be restrained. Anyone less august might have been arrested for defying police instructions and using force against police officers.

One who has observed many Easters in Jerusalem can easily explain what the police procedure is. The problem is that streets around the Holy Sepulchre are very narrow, making it almost impossible for large numbers of people to move simultaneously in both directions. So the police cordon off the whole area with barriers and establish distinct entry points and exit points, such that the flow of the faithful is always in one direction.

The priest concerned, identified as the head of the Coptic Church in Ramallah, only needed to go to one of the designated entry points. But he thought that he and his friends should be an exception; when he tried to force his way through somewhere else, the police stopped him. The Copts were furious and the Heads of Churches, irrespective of the rights of the matter, issued a statement of solidarity in order to save the face of the Coptic Church.

So we see that it is a plain lie to present such a ritual under the title “To pray you need a military permit.” An appropriate title would be “To enter the church, please use the north door.” At the other doors of the church, instead of barbed wire, one should hang up such a notice. But who could get excited about that?

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Malcolm F. Lowe is a Welsh academic in the fields of Greek philosophy, the New Testament, and Christian-Jewish dialogue.

This article was originally published by the Gatestone Institute.

Village Lane Recommends: Fun-To-Make Treats

by Village Lane Staff

Ebleskiver pancakes. Photo credit: Williams-Sonoma

Ebleskiver pancakes. Photo credit: Williams-Sonoma

Village Lane Staff received the gift of an Ebelskiver pan and Danish Pancake Mix two years ago, and often recommend these sweet or savory treats.  

This gift is particularly welcome for families with children who are learning to cook and who will love the ease of turning out something so delicious for weekend mornings.   Parents will  appreciate the easy clean-up of the specially designed Ebelskiver pan.  

To save on calories and fat, we spray the pan with Pam cooking spray instead of using butter to coat the pan.

The pan, wooden turners and mix wrapped up together with a great big bow makes a lovely and thoughtful Made in U.S. A. housewarming gift for friends. 

– Village Lane Staff

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GjYE6QMngo

From the Williams-Sonoma website:

Williams-Sonoma Ebelskiver Pancake Mix

Beloved in their native Denmark, ebelskivers are puffy, spherical filled pancakes that are made sweet or savory for breakfast, dessert or hors d’oeuvres. Use our mix to make authentic ebelskivers at home; just add milk, butter and egg yolks, and fold in whipped egg whites to give the batter its signature lightness. Both flavored with Our Classic mix is sweetened with sugar and a hint of pure Madagascar Bourbon vanilla; Chocolate is flavored with premium cocoa and vanilla. Bake them in our ebelskiver pan (sold separately), and fill them with your favorite ingredients – meat, cheese, fruit, chocolate or applesauce, the traditional Danish filling. Made in USA.

Nordic Ware Ebelskiver Filled-Pancake Pan

A beloved treat in their native Denmark, ebelskivers are light, puffy pancakes that can be filled with fruit, chocolate, jam or cheese and served for breakfast or as an hors d’oeuvre, dessert or light supper. The pancakes are easy to prepare at home using our popular pan made by Minnesota-based Nordic Ware.  Made of cast aluminum for superior heat retention and distribution. Durable PFOA-free nonstick interior surface for low-fat cooking, stick-free release of ball-shaped pancakes and easy cleanup.  Riveted cast-stainless-steel handle stays cool.  Makes seven 2 1/4″ diam. pancakes.  Made in USA.

Photo Credit: Williams-Sonoma

Thomas Birch, American painter

by Village Lane

Thomas Birch, Country Road

Thomas Birch, Country Road

Thomas Birch (1779 –1851), was an English-born American artist.  He  came to America in 1794 and helped his father, William Birch, also an artist, prepare a 29-plate collection of engravings, Birch’s Views of Philadelphia.  President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson subscribed to the series.

Birch was known for his maritime paintings, winter scenes, portraits, naval battles, engravings of city locales, and an unfinished engraving of the U.S. Capitol. His work can be viewed at museums including the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts PAFA, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the U.S. Naval Academy, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Can Technology Prevent An American Blackout?

by R. James Woolsey and Dr. Peter Vincent Pry

Four days before Halloween, on Sunday morning, October 27, 2013, terrorists in Mexico’s Michoacan state blacked out the electric grid, leaving some 420,000 powerless and thirteen dead. That same Sunday night, National Geographic aired the docudrama American Blackout.  This fictionalized account of a cyber attack on the electric grid depicts some of the horrific consequences of a nationwide blackout lasting 10 days:

People get trapped in elevators and become virtual prisoners in their high-rise apartment buildings.  Gasoline is rationed to the military and hospitals, so the average American has no transportation–except for his legs.  Food and water become so scarce that there is a life and death struggle over a can of peaches.  Before day 10 of the blackout, society starts breaking down into anarchy as gangs and vigilante groups run wild.

One of the heroes of the docudrama, a survivalist who is prepared for anything and does everything right, except for one seemingly small and humane mistake, is about to have his throat cut, when electric power, and civilization, suddenly returns on day 10.

National Geographic is to be applauded for American Blackout which is essentially a training film to educate the American people about the very real threat posed to their lives by a cyber attack on the electric grid.  If there is any fault or unrealism in the docudrama, it is that the blackout lasts only 10 days, and recovery is achieved so quickly.

In real life, terrorists or rogue states would probably not limit their attack on the nation’s electric grid to computer viruses or hacking, as implied in the docudrama.  They would also use other more destructive means–that could cause a protracted national blackout lasting months or years.

Moreover, Mother Nature can inflict a potentially protracted national blackout.  Regardless of how one weighs the threat to the national grid from terrorists or rogue states–the Sun will, sooner or later, hurl toward the Earth a geomagnetic super-storm, with catastrophic consequences for the national electric grid.  

The Sun–The Inevitable Cyber Threat

Solar flares, technically called coronal mass ejections, regularly collide with the Earth’s magnetosphere and generate geomagnetic storms that can damage electric grids by means of a natural electromagnetic pulse (EMP).  Geomagnetic storms happen every year and normally affect nations at high northern latitudes, such as Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.

In 1989 a geomagnetic storm, called the Hydro-Quebec Storm, blacked out eastern Canada for a day, causing billions of dollars in economic losses.

The Congressional EMP Commission and National Academy of Sciences warns that, every century or so, the Sun hits the Earth with a coronal mass ejection of such power that it generates a geomagnetic super-storm, like the 1859 Carrington Event.  In 1859, the Carrington Event damaged the primitive electronics of the time worldwide.  Fires broke out in telegraph stations.  Telegraph cables burst into flames causing forest fires.  So powerful was the EMP that it penetrated miles down through the depths of the Atlantic Ocean and burned out the just laid telegraph cable linking North America to Europe.

Electricity was still a novelty in 1859, and in those horse and buggy days not vital to survival of civilization.  However, if a Carrington Event recurred today, it would crash electric grids and critical infrastructures worldwide, and put at risk the lives of billions.

Indeed, if the 1921 Railroad Storm recurred today–a geomagnetic storm estimated to be only one-tenth as powerful as the Carrington Event–the National Academy of Sciences calculates that it could cause an American Blackout lasting, not 10 days, but 4-10 years.

The National Intelligence Council, that represents the collective views of the U.S. intelligence community, in 2012 published an unclassified report Global Trends 2030 that warned, by or before 2030, a geomagnetic super-storm, like recurrence of the 1859 Carrington Event, was one of eight “Black Swans” that could change the course of world civilization.

It is a scientific consensus that recurrence of a Carrington-class geomagnetic super-storm is inevitable. 

Nuclear EMP–The Ultimate Cyber Threat

Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) is a dimension of the cyber threat that is not usually considered a cyber threat in Western doctrine, but is in the playbooks for an Information Warfare Operation of Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.  These potential adversaries in their military doctrines include as part of cyber warfare a wide spectrum of operations beyond computer viruses, including sabotage and kinetic attacks, up to and including nuclear EMP attack.

It is vitally important that we understand that a nuclear EMP attack is part of cyber and information warfare operations as conceived by our potential adversaries.  Our cyber doctrine must be designed to deter and defeat the cyber doctrines of our potential adversaries by anticipating how they plan to attack us–but our doctrine currently does not.

Our cyber and information warfare doctrines are dangerously blind to the likelihood that a potential adversary making an all-out information warfare campaign designed to cripple the U.S. electric grid and other critical infrastructures would include an EMP attack.

The assessment that nuclear EMP attack is included in the cyber and  information warfare doctrine of potential adversaries, and the effects of an EMP attack described here, are based on the work of the Congressional EMP Commission that analyzed this threat for nearly a decade (2001-2008).  The Congressional Strategic Posture Commission and several other major U.S. Government studies independently arrived at similar conclusions, and represent collectively a scientific and strategic consensus that nuclear EMP attack upon the United States is an existential threat.

Nuclear EMP Attack

A nuclear weapon detonated at high-altitude, above 30 kilometers, will generate an electromagnetic pulse that can be likened to a super-energetic radio wave, more powerful than lightning, that can destroy and disrupt electronics across a broad geographic area, from the line of sight from the high-altitude detonation to the horizon.

For example, a nuclear weapon detonated at an altitude of 30 kilometers would project an EMP field with a radius on the ground of about 600 kilometers, that could cover all the New England States, New York and Pennsylvania, damaging electronics across this entire region, including electronics on  aircraft flying across the region at the time of the EMP attack.  The EMP attack would blackout at least the regional electric grid, and probably the entire Eastern Grid that generates 70 percent of U.S. electricity, for a protracted period of weeks, months, possibly years.

The blackout and EMP damage beyond the electric grid in other systems would collapse all the other critical infrastructures–communications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water–that sustain modern civilization and the lives of millions.

Such an EMP attack, a nuclear detonation over the U.S. East Coast at an altitude of 30 kilometers, could be achieved by lofting the warhead with a meteorological balloon.

A more ambitious EMP attack could use a freighter to launch a medium-range missile from the Gulf of Mexico, to detonate a nuclear warhead over the geographic center of the United States at an altitude of 400-500 kilometers.  The EMP field would extend to a radius of  at least 2,200 kilometers on the ground, covering all of the contiguous 48 United States, causing a nationwide blackout and collapse of the critical infrastructures everywhere.

All of this would result from the high-altitude detonation of a single nuclear missile.

The Congressional EMP Commission warned that Iran appears to have practiced exactly this scenario.  Iran has demonstrated the capability to launch a ballistic missile from a vessel at sea.  Iran has also several times practiced and demonstrated the capability to detonate  a warhead on its medium-range Shahab III ballistic missile at the high-altitudes necessary for an EMP attack on the entire United States.  The Shahab III is a mobile missile, a characteristic that makes it more suitable for launching from the hold of a freighter.

Launching an EMP attack from a ship off the U.S. coast could enable the aggressor to remain anonymous and unidentified, and so  escape U.S. retaliation.

EMP In Cyber Warfare

The Congressional EMP Commission warned that Iran in military doctrinal writings explicitly describes making a nuclear EMP attack to eliminate the United States as an actor on the world stage as part of an Information Warfare Operation.  For example, various Iranian doctrinal writings on information and cyber warfare make the following assertions:

  • “Nuclear weapons…can be used to determine the outcome of a war…without inflicting serious human damage [by neutralizing] strategic and information networks.”
  • “Terrorist information warfare [includes]…using the technology of directed energy weapons (DEW) or electromagnetic pulse (EMP).”
  • “…today when you disable a country’s military high command through disruption of communications you will, in effect, disrupt all the affairs of that country….If the world’s industrial countries fail to devise effective ways to defend themselves against dangerous electronic assaults, then they will disintegrate within a few years.”

 

China’s premier military textbook on information warfare, written by China’s foremost expert on cyber and information warfare doctrine, makes unmistakably clear that China’s version of an all-out Information Warfare Operation includes both computer viruses and nuclear EMP attack.  According to People’s Liberation Army textbook World War, the Third World War–Total Information Warfare, written by Shen Weiguang, “Therefore, China should focus on measures to counter computer viruses, nuclear electromagnetic pulse…and quickly achieve breakthroughs in those technologies…”:

With their massive destructiveness, long-range nuclear weapons have combined with highly sophisticated information technology and information warfare under nuclear deterrence….Information war and traditional war have one thing in common, namely that the country which possesses the critical weapons such as atomic bombs will have “first strike” and “second strike retaliation” capabilities ….As soon as its computer networks come under attack and are destroyed, the country will slip into a state of paralysis and the lives of its people will ground to a halt. Therefore, China should focus on measures to counter computer viruses, nuclear electromagnetic pulse…and quickly achieve breakthroughs in those technologies in order to equip China without delay with equivalent deterrence that will enable it to stand up to the military powers in the information age and neutralize and check the deterrence of Western powers, including the United States.

Surprise EMP Attack

North Korea appears to be attempting to implement the information warfare doctrine described above by developing a long range missile capable of making a catastrophic nuclear EMP attack on the United States.  In December 2012, North Korea demonstrated the capability to launch a satellite on a polar orbit circling the Earth at an altitude of 500 kilometers.

An altitude of 500 kilometers would be ideal for making an EMP attack that places the field over the entire contiguous 48 United States, using an inaccurate satellite warhead for delivery, likely to miss its horizontal aimpoint over the geographic center of the U.S. by tens of kilometers.

North Korea appears to have borrowed from the Russians their idea for using a so-called Space Launch Vehicle to make a stealthy nuclear attack on the United States.  During the Cold War, Moscow developed a secret weapon called a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) that looked like a Space Launch Vehicle, but was designed to launch a nuclear warhead southward, away from the United States initially, but deliver the warhead like a satellite on a south polar orbit, so the nuclear attack comes at the U.S. from the south.

The United States has no Ballistic Missile Early Warning (BMEW) radars or missile interceptors facing south.  We might not even see the attack coming.

Miroslav Gyurosi in The Soviet Fractional Orbital Bombardment System describes Moscow’s development of the FOBS:

The Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) as it was known in the West, was a Soviet innovation intended to exploit the limitations of U.S. BMEW radar coverage. The idea behind FOBS was that a large thermonuclear warhead would be inserted into a steeply inclined low altitude polar orbit, such that it would approach CONUS from any direction, but primarily from the southern hemisphere, and following a programmed braking maneuver, re-enter from a direction which was not covered by BMEW radars.  

“The first warning the U.S. would have of such a strike in progress would be the EMP…,” writes Gyurosi.

The trajectory of North Korea’s satellite launch of December 12, 2012 looked very much like a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System for EMP attack.  The missile launched southward, away from the United States, sent the satellite over the south polar region, approaching the U.S. from the south, at the optimum altitude for EMP attack–although the test trajectory deliberately avoided flying over the United States initially.

In subsequent orbits the North Korean satellite did overfly the central U.S. at the optimum location for an EMP attack.

Super-EMP Attack

North Korea appears to have borrowed from Russia more than the FOBS.  In 2004, a delegation of Russian generals met with the Congressional EMP Commission to warn that design information for a Super-EMP nuclear warhead had leaked from Russia to North Korea, and that North Korea might be able to develop such a weapon “in a few years.”

A few years later, in 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, of a device having a very low yield, about 3 kilotons.  All three North Korean nuclear tests have had similarly low yields.  A Super-EMP warhead would have a low-yield, like the North Korean device, because it is not designed to create a big explosion, but to produce gamma rays, that generate the EMP effect.

According to several press reports, South Korean military intelligence concluded independently of the EMP Commission that Russian scientists are in North Korea helping develop a Super-EMP nuclear warhead.  In 2012, a military commentator for the People’s Republic of China stated that North Korea has Super-EMP nuclear warheads.

One design of a Super-EMP warhead would be a modified neutron bomb, more accurately an Enhanced Radiation Warhead (ERW) because it produces not only large amounts of neutrons but large amounts of gamma rays, that cause the EMP effect.  One U.S. ERW warhead (the W-82) weighed less than 50 kilograms.  North Korea’s so-called Space Launch Vehicle, which orbited a satellite weighing 100 kilograms, could deliver such a warhead against the U.S. mainland–or against any nation on Earth.

Iran has not yet tested a nuclear weapon, but may already have a FOBS delivery capability, as it has successfully launched several satellites on polar orbits, assisted by North Korean missile technology and North Korean technicians.  Iranian scientists were present at all three North Korean nuclear tests, according to press reports. 

Defending America and the World

What is to be done about the Cyber and EMP threats?

There is no excuse for the United States to be vulnerable to EMP or to the worst case cyber scenarios as depicted in American Blackout.  The U.S. Department of Defense has understood for 50 years how to protect military systems from EMP.  Private vendors specializing in EMP protection are standing by with faraday cages, surge arrestors, blocking devices and other technology, ready to protect the national electric grid.

Technically, it is important to understand that surge arrestors and other hardware designed to protect against EMP can also protect against the worst-case cyber scenarios that, for example, envision computer viruses collapsing the national power grid.  For example, surge arrestors that protect Extra High Voltage transformers from EMP can also protect transformers from  damaging electrical surges caused by a computer virus that manipulates the grid Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition Systems (SCADAS).

Unfortunately, the electric power industry so far shows no inclination to invest in the technologies necessary to protect the national electric grid.  The congressional EMP Commission estimates that robust protection of the national electric grid could be achieved for a one-time investment of $2 billion–which is what the U.S. gives every year in foreign aid to Pakistan.  The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) estimates that EMP protection of the national grid would increase the electric bill of the average rate payer by 20 cents annually.

Administratively, a coherent and effective answer will not likely arise from uncoordinated decisions made independently by the thousands of individual electric utilities and  industries at risk.  Because cyber preparedness should encompass EMP preparedness–and since EMP is an existential threat–it is imperative that Government play a supervisory and coordinating role to achieve protection against these threats swiftly:

–The President should sign the Executive Order provided to the White House by the Congressional EMP Commission directing that the national electric grid shall be protected against EMP;

–The Congress should pass the SHIELD Act, which has been stalled before the House Energy and Commerce Committee for three years.  SHIELD empowers the U.S. FERC with legal and financial authorities to protect the national grid from EMP;

–States should not wait for Washington, but should immediately launch their own legislative initiatives, as done already by the State of Maine, to protect that portion of the electric grid within their states.  States can “island” their grids, which will in no way impede their ability to receive or export electric power from or to other states, and thereby protect their people from an EMP catastrophe.

–Industry should start manufacturing Extra-High Voltage (EHV) transformers, SCADAS, and other critical technologies hardened against EMP.  Defense Department experience with hardening military systems has shown that, when systems are built with EMP protection as part of the original design, it only adds 1-3 percent to manufacturing cost.  As old EHV transformers are retired and other systems are replaced with new systems designed EMP hard, not only the United States, but the entire Free World would eventually become protected from an EMP catastrophe.

The Unfree World, Russia and China, have already hardened their grids against EMP.

###

 

DR. PETER VINCENT PRY served on the Congressional EMP Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA, and is author of the books Apocalypse Unknown and Electric Armageddon both available from CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com. He is Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and Director of the U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum, both Congressional Advisory Boards, and served on the Congressional EMP Commission, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA.

AMBASSADOR JAMES WOOLSEY is former Director of Central Intelligence and Co-Chair of the EMP Coalition. He has served in the U.S. Government on five different occasions, where he held Presidential appointments in two Republican and two Democratic administrations, most recently (1993-95) as Director of Central Intelligence. From July 2002 to March 2008 Mr. Woolsey was a Vice President and officer of Booz Allen Hamilton, and then a Venture Partner with VantagePoint Venture Partners of San Bruno, California until January 2011. He was also previously a partner at the law firm of Shea & Gardner in Washington, DC, now Goodwin Procter, where he practiced for 22 years in the fields of civil litigation, arbitration, and mediation. During his 12 years of government service, in addition to heading the CIA and the Intelligence Community, Mr. Woolsey was: Ambassador to the Negotiation on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), Vienna, 1989–1991; Under Secretary of the Navy, 1977–1979; and General Counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, 1970–1973. He was also appointed by the President to serve on a part-time basis in Geneva, Switzerland, 1983–1986, as Delegate at Large to the U.S.–Soviet Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) and Nuclear and Space Arms Talks (NST). As an officer in the U.S. Army, he was an adviser on the U.S. Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I), Helsinki and Vienna, 1969–1970.

[This article was originally printed in Family Security Matters]

Photo Credit: Shutterstock, Lisa S.

This Winter, Discover Your Local Science Museum

by Village Lane Staff

Now that winter is here, your young techies or scientists — or curious kids of any age — will benefit from an outing to one of America’s premier children’s science museums.

Interactive exhibits, hands-on experiments, activities that engage both the mind and body, kid-oriented explanations of scientific concepts, and multi-media presentations that rev up the young imagination will delight and educate the children…and you!

Some our nation’s most popular children’s science museums are over a century old, while others, such as the new National Children’s Museum at National Harbor, MD, are newer, state-of-the-art establishments.  Consider visiting the classic, awe-inspiring institutions as New York’s American Museum of Natural History, Chicago’s Field Museum, and, of course, the National Air & Space Museum  in Washington, DC, which is part of the Smithsonian complex.

Smaller science museums in your area may offer a calmer — and thus more hands-on and accessible — learning experience. For example, the DaVinci Science Center in Allentown, PA,  has friendly, on-site volunteers who actively help youngsters learn about and understand the museum’s fascinating interactive exhibits.

The Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland, Nebraska near Omaha is one of the nation’s premier aviation museums, and has recently opened a youth-friendly air and space library.  Planetariums across the country often feature special events related to planets, stars and space exploration, and university-affiliated museums, such as the Texas Natural Science Center, which is affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin, offer the benefits of being on or near the stimulating environment of the college campus.  Cleveland, Ohio’s Great Lakes Science Center offers not only the NASA Glenn Visitor Center, but also the six-story Cleveland Clinic Omnimax Theater, featuring “the most sophisticated and powerful motion-picture projection system in the world” showing science and space-related features.

Most of the museums are priced reasonably for the family budget, and an outing to a fun, interactive science or space museum certainly is preferable to having one’s children sitting zombie-like in front of video games or tv. Some of the museums offer an occasional free day or evening, with the generous participation of corporate sponsors — check the museums’ websites.

Many science museums also offer outdoor exhibits: try the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC; the Discovery Outdoor Science Park in Rockville, IL, or the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, VT. 

There are too many great science museums to mention here, so do search online for children’s museums and science centers in your area: visit the Association of Children’s Museums, which lists over 200 museums, or consider these outstanding choices:

  • Children’s Museum (Indianapolis)
  • Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago)
  • California Academy of Sciences (San Francisco)
  • Bradbury Science Museum (Los Alamos, N.M.)
  • The Museum of Discovery (Little Rock, Ark)
  • California Science Center (Los Angeles)
  • Exploratorium (San Francisco)
  • Museum of Science (Boston)
  • Pacific Science Center (Seattle)
  • COSI Center of Science & Industry (Columbus, Ohio)
  • Franklin Institute (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Liberty Science Center (Newark, NJ)
  • St. Louis Science Center (St. Louis)
  • Fernbank Science Center (Atlanta)

 

# # #

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Wendell Minor’s America

by Village Lane

Artist Wendell Minor

Artist Wendell Minor

Rockwell Museum Exhibition Looked at 25 Years of Work by Nation’s Premier Historical Picture Book Illustrator

Information from Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA:  

Award-winning illustrator Wendell Minor drew his way through childhood in Aurora, Illinois, inspired by the richly illustrated magazines that were so much a part of American life during the mid-twentieth century. Today he is considered one of our nation’s premier historical illustrators, traveling throughout the United States to research, draw and paint on location, and immerse himself in the subject at hand. Last fall Norman Rockwell Museum celebrated the artist’s four-decade career, highlighting his many cover illustrations and 25th anniversary illustrating children’s books, each inspired by his love of history, art, science, and the natural world—”Wendell Minor’s America.”

Wendell Minor, "Abraham Lincoln Comes Home," 2008.

Wendell Minor, “Abraham Lincoln Comes Home,” 2008. Cover illustration for “Abraham Lincoln Comes Home” by Robert Burleigh, Henry Holt and Co. Watercolor, gouache and pencil on paper. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. ©Wendell Minor. All rights reserved.

“Wendell Minor’s America” traced the personal and artistic journey of the acclaimed book illustrator and admirer of Norman Rockwell, through original artwork, artifacts, and references from Minor’s expansive visual chronicles, as well as commentary about his collaborations with our nation’s most prominent authors, scientists, and historians; highlights include original work from such books as “Reaching for the Moon” and “Look to the Stars” by Buzz Aldrin; “Sitting Bull Remembers” by Ann Turner; “Abraham Lincoln Comes Home” by Robert Burleigh; “Arctic Son” by Jean Craighead George; “Shane” by Jack Schaefer; and “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates. The exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue featuring essays by many of the noted authors and editors with whom Minor has partnered.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough, who has collaborated with the artist on such books as “1776,” “John Adams,” and “Truman,” who spoke at the exhibition, recently remarked that “Minor is always showing what he loves—the great outdoors, crystal night skies, the moon in all its phases, the plain vernacular architecture of American small towns and remote farm houses… showing what you love to your audience is the heart of effective teaching.  Besides being a supremely gifted artist and natural storyteller, Wendell Minor is a very great teacher—which is another reason why his work is of such value.”

“I always looked forward to a Norman Rockwell cover,” says Wendell Minor. “Somehow I felt he brought people and places to life. I distinctly remember his ‘Saturday Evening Post’ cover, ‘Breaking Home Ties’—in 1954 I looked at that painting and said, ‘I’m going to go away someday, to school and learn how to draw. I think every Rockwell painting that I saw gave me that sense of wanting to find that America.”

Presented through Norman Rockwell Museum’s Distinguished Illustrator Series, “Wendell Minor’s America” took museum visitors on a journey through history, from sea to shining sea, reflecting on the artist’s love of our country’s varied landscape and a deep respect for the environment.

About Wendell Minor

Since his childhood in Aurora, Illinois, Wendell Minor (b. 1944) has had a romance with America. And as he explores more regions more closely, his love of the country grows with a vision that celebrates the beautiful, the lyrical. After completing his studies at the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, Minor began creating original designs for Hallmark Cards, as well as book publishers in New York City. His cover illustrations have enhanced more than 2,000 works.

The artist draws upon his lifelong affinity for environmental issues to create illustrations for children’s books, which he finds especially satisfying. They allow him to combine his love of the outdoors with his independent pursuits— including painting the landscape from life, in the tradition of classic American painters such as Homer, Hopper, and Wyeth. His wish is to inspire children to go out into the fields and woods and mountains to see wildlife in its natural habitat, and to give the children a positive perspective about the beauty that abounds in the world.

To research his children’s books, Minor has traveled from the tropical Everglades to the Arctic Circle to the Midwest to the Grand Canyon. He loves bringing the scenes of nature to children and is particularly close to the children’s books he has illustrated. Minor has said, “A picture invites the viewer into it and offers a sense of mystery. It lets the viewer become part of the process.”

His award-winning books have frequently been named on the annual lists for Notable Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies, Outstanding Science Trade Books, and IRA Teachers’ Choices. His books have also received the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio and Parents’ Choice Awards and been featured on PBS’s The Reading Rainbow.

Wendell Minor has had numerous solo exhibitions, and his work can be found in the permanent collections of Norman Rockwell Museum, the Illinois State Museum, Muskegon Museum of Art, Mattatuck Museum (of Connecticut), the Mazza Museum at Findlay University, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Museum of American Illustration, NASA, Arizona Historical Society, U.S. Coast Guard and the Library of Congress.

He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, he serves on the Advisory Council for the Connecticut Center for the Book, and is a member of The Children’s Book Council (CBC), a non-profit trade organization dedicated to encouraging literacy and the use and enjoyment of children’s books. Referring to himself as a “recovering dyslexic,” he speaks in classrooms across the country, sharing with students of all ages the difficulties he experienced with reading as a child, and for those who have similar difficulties, how they too can overcome them.

Minor lives and works with his wife, Florence, and their two cats, in rural Connecticut.

Put America Back to Work: Buy American!

by Village Lane Staff

Rosie-the-Riveter

One of our New Year’s resolutions here at Village Lane was to buy less, and when we do buy, to buy American!  

Where to find Made in the USA products?  Here is a list of websites that can help.

Do let us know if you have  other suggestions for Made in USA products or resources. 

American Apparel

American Made Matters 

AmericanMadeProducts.com

AmericansWorking.com

Burt’s Bees

Buy Direct USA

BuyAmerican.com

By America, For America

Etsy.com

Haute Americana

Kiehl’s

Made Collection 

Made Here in America 

Made in the USA Challenge 

Made in USA Forever

MadeByYankees.net

MadeHereInAmerica.com

MadeinAmericaStuff.com

MadeInTheUSA.com

MadeInUSA.org

MadeInUSAForever.com

MadeUSAFdn.org

Maker’s Mark

Petriot

Save the Garment Center 

Sourcemap

Splendid

StillMadeInUSA.com

Tabasco

The Continuous Lean: The American List 

The Made in America Movement 

ToysMadeInAmerica.com

USA Love List 

USA Only

[Note: The above list is neither a promotion of nor endorsement of the items produced by or claims made by the websites or listed companies.]

 

Education Policy: When It Comes to Common Core, Read the Fine Print

by Dr. Peg Luksik

shutterstock_81053836

It’s advice that most of us have learned to follow the hard way.  It’s easy to get caught up in a well-crafted sales pitch, and just overlook the parts that are “too good to be true.”

But when we are dealing with the futures of our children, we need to stop and actually read the fine print under Common Core’s aggressive marketing campaign.

Let’s start with a fundamental contradiction in the marketing message.

The proponents of Common Core sell their program by telling us…

…about the children of our military who often must transfer from one school to another.  These children, we are told, need every school to be the same so they won’t ever move to a new school that is behind their old one.  At the same time, the proponents tell us that no school is limited to the standards as they are written, and they fully expect that some schools will go beyond the mandated performance levels.

But doesn’t that mean that some schools will be ahead of others?  And doesn’t that negate the “all the schools need to be the same so children can seamlessly transfer” marketing claim?

It can’t be both ways.  Either all the schools will be the same or they won’t.  If they are, no school will be going beyond the written standards.  If they are not, then for the children of our military, the current situation will remain the same.

It’s a great marketing ploy, as long as no one notices that the claim is that Common Core will result in schools that are simultaneously the same and different from each other.

Now let’s look at the language of the Common Core sales pitch itself.

Common Core’s salesmen have stated that 40% of our children require remediation when they get to college so we need to have a system of standards that mandate what all children will know and be able to do upon graduation. The standards must be accompanied by high stakes tests so we can hold students, teachers, and schools accountable for how well they meet the standards.  This, they tell us, will solve the problem.

But didn’t we already have mandatory achievement standards with high stakes tests to measure performance?

Most states have had standards-based education for nearly 20 years, and the sales pitch that was used to introduce it then is exactly the same as the sales pitch that we are hearing today.  If it was such an abysmal failure that 40% of the students exposed to it require remedial courses before they can begin actual college work, why are we continuing the approach at all?

Why are we getting a new version of an old, failed, product?

And what would a Consumer Reports analysis reveal?  What is the actual performance level behind the sales pitch language of “rigorous” standards?

In the Pennsylvania regulations recently passed by the State Board of Education, for example, students will need to pass Algebra I in order to graduate from high school.  Nothing higher than Algebra I is required.  And they do not need to pass the mandatory state Algebra I exam until they are in the 11th grade.

In a recent debate, the proponents of Common Core told the audience that the students would learn less, but still be able to take advanced courses in math like AP Algebra II.

In pre-Common Core high schools, students take Algebra II in either 10th or 11th grade so they can take Calculus before graduation.  Algebra II is not considered college level math – students who need to take it in college do so in a remedial setting.  The AP level math is Calculus.  But in a recent interview, the Vice-President of the College Board stated that Calculus is not part of the Common Core sequence.  He said that in Common Core, educators are asked to slow the math progression down.

Well, if we slow the math progression down, then Algebra II would, in fact, move to the AP level.  We didn’t move student achievement up, we moved the level for success down.

Does anyone believe that the students in Singapore or Germany or Japan are having the math progression in their schools slowed down?

Now let’s analyze the tests themselves.  According to the Common Core sales team, the tests are critical for holding students, teachers, and schools accountable.  We will know how well the program is working through the tests.

The promotional language says that the tests are valid and reliable.  But the same state Departments of Education that are mandating and implementing Common Core are creating and scoring the tests, and then reporting on the performance of their own system.  Such a structure is like allowing a drug company to evaluate its own medicine, declare it a success, and then put it on the market.  It’s called an internal audit – and it is never considered either valid or reliable.

In fact, the state Departments of Education have been doing this kind of high-stakes testing since the inception of the standards-based system.   And in that time, we have seen states change their passing scoring criteria retroactively.  We have seen states lower the level of achievement necessary to receive a passing score.  Some states use computers to change the questions to match the student’s achievement level – moving the test to the student instead of measuring the student against the test.  And some states set the passing level as low as 33%.  In every case, parents only received notice that their students had passed – not the actual level of achievement necessary for passing.

And then, when those same students got to college, where they received their first non-internal audit of achievement, 40% of them required remediation.

Sometimes, reading the fine print is the most important thing that a potential consumer can do.  And in the case of Common Core, failure to read, and act upon, that fine print will result in an academic disaster for an entire generation of America’s children.

_____ 

Dr. Peg Luksik has taught both both special education and regular education students from pre-school to college for over 30 years.  She has written and evaluated curriculum, and worked as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Education, reviewing education reform initiatives.

Photo Credit:  Trudy Simmons/Shutterstock.com