In the early 2000s, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation ran an ad campaign for its proposal to develop the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. It houses the National Library of Greece, the National Opera House, and one of Athens’ largest parks, featuring a magnificent panoramic view of Athens, Piraeus, and the Saronic Gulf. For those who have never visited, it is a must-see on your next trip to Athens.
At the time of the ad campaign, there was speculation that this grand project that reshaped the city was in danger of being nixed due to petty politics. Seeing the project mired in red tape (perhaps even obstructed by self-serving politicians preferring to divvy up this prime real estate to special interests…for the right price), SNF decided to go public to ensure that the onus would fall on the responsible parties in the event that the proposal fell through.
In TNH’s recent interview with SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos, the reader gets an eerily similar impression regarding the situation with Greek Education in the United States. This public benefit service – vitally important to the Greek-American Community – of teaching the Greek language and spreading Hellenic Paideia through quality schools appears to be obstructed by various forces, who are failing to seize precious opportunities and make desperately needed forward progress. Let’s not forget that the operational model for Greek-American parochial schools remains stubbornly stagnant since the mid-20th century.
Responsibility for funding and operating Greek schools (ergo, administrative and curriculum decisions) rests solely with individual parish communities. No one bothers to question whether decision-makers have the necessary educational background or knowledge, because the supervising authorities – in our case, the Archdiocese of America – opts to keep kicking the can down the road.
The operation of a school – let alone an entire school system – requires serious financial resources and investment, long-term planning, wider partnerships, willingness to collaborate, and above all, a commitment that Archdiocesan senior administration has traditionally appeared unwilling to assume.
Simply put, it’s easier to make local parishes handle the hot potato in terms of funding a project of this magnitude, and inherently have them assume all the responsibility in the event of failure.
Until now, only one Archbishop seemed to actively make Greek Education a true priority – Spyridon – and the Ecumenical Patriarchate summarily dismissed him for reasons that likely had nothing to do with this matter, but which have everything to do with financial pressure applied by ‘the establishment’ in Greek America; on whose agenda Greek Paideia is likely very low. Perhaps this explains the paucity of innovative initiatives all these decades, and the unwillingness to seek out solutions for glaring problems.
Up until now, it was convenient for the Archdiocese to hide behind parish communities. It was convenient for large Greek-American organizations to claim they were not responsible. It was convenient for various busybodies and self-styled defenders of Hellenic Paideia to avoid clashing with the powers that be, perhaps out of fear of being excluded from photo-ops and awards ceremonies…or other events that stoke the ego.
But what is convenient is not always what is right. On the contrary, it may even prove destructive!
The pitiful salaries of teachers, who are forced to work two and three jobs (often unrelated to education) just to make ends meet are addressed only with empty words, more patronizing than they are helpful. However, words don’t pay the rent, nor can they entice educated and properly trained professionals to continue the work of veteran teachers.
And if a few trifling words are thrown here and there to console broke teachers, there’s not one word to be said about the self-evident need for partnerships and collaboration need between parish communities, as well as with wider non-ecclesiastical organizations.
Perhaps those in charge don’t know how or don’t want to pool resources and share decision making… Nonetheless, the insistence on refusing to develop a profoundly necessary game plan that serves the needs of the wider area (i.e., how many schools are needed in each area, how much tuition can people afford, what possibilities are there for more effective and efficient earmarking of funds, or reorganization, with one venue serving as an elementary school, another as a middle school, and a third as a high school, etc.) is not only self-destructive; it’s just plain stupid.
There is also the issue of schools that have ceased operating. Their facilities are presently being used by parish communities in a manner that likely goes against the express intentions of the donors who built them, in exchange for lucrative leases, with profits upwards of $500,000 per building.
Where exactly do these monies go? Since these facilities had been intended to serve Greek education, shouldn’t the revenue they generate be applied toward this noble cause in the event that the facilities are not restored to their initially intended purpose?
When a situation gets so muddled, it’s sometimes better to start fresh, without the dysfunctionality and baggage of the past. Therefore, the many existing facilities that once housed Greek parochial schools present a golden opportunity for SNF to lead Greek Education in America into a new era.
By spearheading the establishment of fresh new experimental Greek schools in the existing facilities, it can implement best practices and innovative methods that people running things until now have been unwilling or unable to implement in our existing parochial schools. These pioneering new schools could then influence the remaining schools to adopt necessary reforms for survival in the 21st century.
SNF has proven that it knows how to overcome pushback from the establishment and proceed with public benefit projects that can change the face of an entire city, when it wants to.
The time is ripe for it to undertake such a momentous effort in the area of Greek Paideia in America. The sacrifices of the older generations warrant it, and the needs of the generations to come demand it.
Evaluating the current state of Greek education in America, the slogan “do it like the SNFCC” seems all the more fitting.
Follow me on Twitter @CTripoulas.