A school in Massachusetts (Lawrence High School based in the homonymous city) earned some Herostratian infamy after its decision to remove Homer’s works from its curriculum on the pretext that they are “racist” and “sexist.” The decision gained even greater publicity after the Wall Street Journal reported how the school censored Homer’s rhapsodies, along with other classical and more contemporary authors like Shakespeare, Hawthorne, and Fitzgerald.
The school’s decision is regrettable because it politicizes education and sacrifices students on the altar of political correctness and other ideologically oppressive movements. Anyone who is interested can look up the school’s ratings for 2020 (https://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/massachusetts/districts/lawrence/lawrence-high-school-200405), where they will see that it ranks 302nd out of the 345 state high schools, and 12,575th out of 17,792 national ones.
It should also be noted that the entire Lawrence school district has been in state receivership since 2012 due to poor performance. It remains to be seen if classical texts were the cause of the school’s dismal performance and if their removal will lead to some sort of academic “renaissance” (sic)… Still, if you’re comparing, Boston Latin, a secondary school that devotes seven years to the classics, is ranked consistently among the best schools in the state and is nationally acclaimed.
But the real story here – at least for the Greek-American Community – is not that a bunch of teachers in a troubled school district are searching for a lifeline by attacking Homer. It’s that Hellenism – especially in the United States – is winking at them approvingly or at least burying its head in the sand.
Greek-Americans are frequently hailed for their overall financial standing and the supposed influence that the Community wields in American society. Younger generations have stood out for their academic achievements and worthily represent Hellenism at prominent posts in every field and industry. Greek-Americans routinely are listed near the top of the list of all ethnic minorities in education and per capita income.
However, things begin to get problematic in terms of collective action. As of 2000, the Community has seen a steady stream of school closures, without any new school openings or a noteworthy rise in enrollment in existing schools (quite the opposite in fact). While it is understandable that some schools close due to changing demographics in their location, this fails to explain why new Greek schools are not opening in neighborhoods where younger generations are relocating.
The Archdiocese of America bears the brunt of the responsibility, along with local parishes, which are on the front lines of the struggle for Hellenic paideia in the United States, but they should not be singled out. National associations, federations, and local ethno-geographic societies are not contributing to the degree needed, while professional organizations are looking the other way. Even those who oppose the existing parish-centered administrative model for local schools have failed to propose adequate alternatives and lead a much-needed public dialogue for the restructuring of Greek Education in the United States.
Even the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which has distinguished itself for its sensitivity to matters of education and the tangible support it provides schools, has until now been unable to seize the opportunity and become the catalyst that will spark badly needed reform.
The interest it showed a few years ago was limited to only one institution, which really didn’t require any immediate ‘first aid’, compared to other schools, which are barely keeping their head above water or have stopped operating altogether. These present a perfect opportunity to become magnet schools and implement new pilot programs.
Besides, along with upgrading school boards with a broader human dynamic, Hellenic Paideia in America needs – to a far greater degree – innovative approaches to the instruction of the Greek language and culture, inasmuch as classical education is not being emphasized to the necessary degree and our schools are not successfully branding themselves.
The systematic instruction of modern and classical Greek (including the language of the Gospel) is not being pursued. In reality, the boldness to do so – which would attract parents and students far beyond the confines of the Greek Community – seems to be lacking. There are many non-ethnic Greeks who openly express their admiration for Greek speakers’ ability to read sacred and classical texts in their original form.
The same holds true of the connection between these texts – including their English translations – with the timeless Hellenic ideals. Do Pericles’ funeral oration, the Iliad, Greek mythology, St. John Chrysostom’s orations, etc. truly constitute a significant portion of our local Greek schools’ curriculum or have American classical academies long since outdone the former in utilizing these texts?
Presently, it is primarily schools outside of the Greek-American Community that are actively defending Homer and the other classics from the whimsy of every autocratic ideologue advocating censorship and cultural destruction with the zeal and fanaticism that a Taliban would envy. Instead of defending the virtues of classical paideia by citing the achievement of Boston Latin or other schools of its kind across the country, we should have tangible examples of Greek-American schools that serve as a paradigm to the benefits of a classical education.
The absence of a gold-standard example is evidence of our communal failure in this area. Nonetheless, this can be remedied – assuming there is a desire and proper planning.
Meanwhile, we hot-blooded Hellenes, who are quick to react to attacks against our heritage when they come from abroad, would do well constructively criticize the institutions responsible for Greek Education and apply pressure for the adoption of the necessary measures.
Let’s take a lesson from the Three Hierarchs. These luminaries laid the groundwork for saving the treasures of classical learning, even though many aspects ran contrary to their faith. They nonetheless taught and actively exercised discretion. Consider how much more ‘progressive and just they were compared to today’s “prelates of political correctness,” who are advocating the destruction of culture to advance personal ideology.
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