NEW YORK – The holidays have passed and the New Year has come upon us and as always we read press statements with wishes for the New Year. The religious holiday of the Three Hierarchs also arrived. In America on that day, people usually remember Greek culture and education, because the three Great Teachers gave everything for the literary world and education. Very few celebrations took place this year on their anniversary and absolutely nothing was mentioned about the problems of everyday education and teaching of the Greek language, or about those poor teachers, who will eventually believe in what is written in the Bible: “the rich shall be the reward up in Heaven.”
Extremely unusual and quite surprising this year, was the fact that only a few hours after the customary speech about the Three Hierarchs took place at the gathering of the powerful Federation of Hellenic Societies in Greater New York, in another hall nearby were heard certain words about the “eloquent rivers of wisdom” not at all praising since some were implying that the Three Hierarchs were anti-Greeks. It is quite true that we always search into the past to take strength and courage, as if we have nothing of our own, nothing contemporary. The words that Frank Smothers wrote in his book “Report of the Greeks” in 1948 keeps coming to mind. He wrote in a free translation that “Greeks are attached to their glorious past and feel proud of it, while they do nothing about the present and are indifferent about the future. The only thing they do is to regurgitate the glory of their ancestors like the ruminating that regurgitate their food.” We are descendents of our glorious ancestors.
At this point I would like to mention three points related to the celebration of the Greek letters and the Three Hierarchs:
The presence/involvement of those in charge and responsible for our Greek schools of all kinds (morning, afternoon, Saturday schools, etc.) is insufficient with parts ignorance, irresponsibility and indifference. I do not know, therefore I cannot justify what is going on. What is for sure, is that the course of education has become stationary and has come to a dead end, where only unpleasant surprises ambush it. If those who are directly involved do not take action, the consequences for the future of Greek language, religion and civilization will be fatal. It is of great necessity to staff the appropriate department of the Holy Archdiocese with people capable in administrating and organizing, since this department carries the responsibility, organization, administration, supervision and support of Greek education. This is not the responsibility of just one or two people. What it takes is teamwork by people specialized in pedagogical science and knowledgeable of the American educational system and not just figureheads of the Archdiocese.
The second issue involves the teachers who were also left to their fate. The indifference of those in charge turns away new blood daily from Greek classes. We have turned into a “teacher’s nursing home.” But what’s going to happen when those teachers won’t be able to work anymore? The teachers coming to the U.S. from Greece, no matter how capable they might be, are not enough to cover our needs, plus they are here only for a limited time. Therefore, an immediate solution is required when it comes to teachers, so that all types of schools can be staffed. At this point the Holy Archdiocese is asked to create the appropriate circumstances in order to attract young, qualified and talented teachers. We are running out of time and in order to avoid more schools closing down in New York, this issue should be addressed timely by the Holy Archdiocese and a new start should be made. A couple of years ago a cooperation with the University of Cyprus began, aimed at teachers’ education, who successively would become the educators of the other teachers upon their return. We need to mention of course that Cyprus has a bilingual educational system, well developed and recognized.
Personally I studied it, I adopted it and I have applied it in the past. Therefore, I based the writing of the books “I learn Greek,” which have been taught in our schools for 18 years on the most important points of the aforementioned educational system. There had been much talk and a lot of advertising concerning the usefulness of those educational seminars before the teachers would leave for the island of Venus, but upon their return no seminar took place to educate the rest and no notes or guidelines were provided to the teachers who did not attend the seminars.
The third point I would like to stress has to do with the books. Three years ago we heard that the books that existed already, which were published by the Greek Ministry of Education as well as those of the University of Crete were considered, after scientific research, unsuitable for teaching. Therefore, they would have to be withdrawn and replaced by new ones.
In any case, language books don’t get destroyed; instead they get republished after the required corrections have been made.
As I do not consider myself to be an expert, although I have been a member of the writing team of both series of books, I would like to appeal to a distinguished teacher, poet, writer, school counselor and former member of the Pedagogical Institute, Kosta Kalapanidas, who mentions in his article about “the teaching of the Greek language to Greek American students” in the “Vima” newspaper, “Mr Babiniotis proceeded in a depreciating presentation of the teaching of Greek language in America (‘Vima’, 7/10/07), showing his disdain of the current system for teachers, books, teaching methods and even pedagogical and value orientation. His purpose is not insinuated, but clearly and directly stated. He is going to proceed not just to reform, but to the creation of new teachers, books, teaching methods and even pedagogic principles. This initiative “brought me to New York,” he says.
All of the above will come to realization thanks to our university linguist, Mr. Babiniotis, although he does not possess the psycho-pedagogical knowledge of elementary school students. He has already started giving lectures and seminars, and as he said, “The effort will go on in combination with the writing of appropriate books aimed to the preparation of efficient teachers.”
Mr. Babiniotis, though inspired by the enthusiastic and ambitious new national effort, forgot to mention, as he should have, which these “inappropriate” books are, who wrote them, and what was the writing process the writers used. In addition, he also did not mention the results of their 17-year application. One wonders where does he base his personal, depreciating estimation on these matters? Allow me this attempt in order to enlighten the thousands of readers of the “Vima” newspaper:
“In America there is a complete series of books for the teaching and learning of Greek language intended for elementary school students.
“The writing of the books started in 1989 and was completed in 1993, after substantial dialogue with the teachers and other institutions of education of the Greek homogeneity.
The six member committee consisted of the Director of Education of the Archdiocese, Professor Emmanuel Hatziemmanuel, the school principal Dr. G. Melikokis and the philologist-writer Mr. E. Lanaris, school counselor in Canada. The Professor of English literature and school counselor Mr. M. Vasilakis from Greece also participated in the writing of the books, the school counselor and member of the writing team of the series of books ‘My Language,’ Mr. K. Kalapanidas and Mrs. Zoi Kavalaki, an educated teacher in English language. This writing team was formed with the consent of the Office of Education of the Archdiocese and of the Greek Ministry of Education and worked under their guidance and surveillance of the Pedagogical Institute.
“These books were tested, and for the past 15 years, were being reprinted by the Greek National Publishing Organization of School books. The books are being used all over America, wherever there are Greeks, under the constant guidance of a Greek school counselor. Teachers in America have attended several seminars and exemplary teaching courses.
“These books were published and taught while Mr. Babiniotis was president of the Pedagogical Institute, whose basic responsibility was the evaluation, the quality control, the improvement and the writing of the school books. He did not object to the books then, when he should have, due to his position, although he does today, due to certain reasons ‘that ‘brought him to New York’ as a special producer of books and teachers.
Naturally, the Greek language books in America are quite old and should be replaced. This of course is not a task that can be completed by one single person. This is an issue to be handled by the Pedagogical Institute and its specially qualified staff, which, for that purpose, follows a certain procedure: a) evaluates the books taking into account the educational, pedagogical and ideological effects they had on teachers, students and society, b) defines the outlines of the new books and forms committees or proclaims writing competition. This is the procedure that should be followed for the aforementioned books as well. Unless the Archbishop of America Demetrios intentionally bypasses the Ministry of Education and the Pedagogical Institute and takes full responsibility for the education of the young Greek Americans and assigns everything (how could he possibly catch up with so many chairmanships?) to the distinguished linguist-lexicographer, Mr. Babiniotis. In that case what would be the point of invoking the Greek government to support his new ‘national’ effort? Is this all about the euro-dollar’s equality of value?
Unfortunately, this is the present situation in schools and education in general. I was away from schools for many years and although I was trying to keep track of the course of education, only out of concern, I could never imagine that we could come so close to destruction. Now that I am facing the reality of our colonial schools, I understand and realize the huge efforts made by the Greek communities, the school board committees and the parish councils to find sponsors in order to keep the schools open and continue the Greek tradition and inheritance.
All the above should be taken into account by those who are in charge of these matters. We are running out of time. We are getting lost. Help us!
Dr. George Melikokis is the principal of the Jamaica Day School of St. Demetrios.