The carved busts of Socrates, Antisthenes, Chrysippus, and Epicurus.

Young Greek philosophers

The carved busts of Socrates, Antisthenes, Chrysippus, and Epicurus.

Greece is going through difficult times, but I try to remain optimistic. And one thing that makes me optimistic is meeting Greek students.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting a 17-year-old high school student and helping to prepare her for the second phase of Greece’s 5th National Student Philosophy Competition. Only twenty students (out of over 800 who took part in the first phase) will enter this second phase. Next week, they will travel to the University of Patras, where they will experience university study and write two extended philosophical essays — one in Greek, one in another language (English, French, German) — on themes in ethics.

It was a great pleasure to talk to the student. We talked about virtue ethics, deontology, and consequentialism, discussing Aristotle, Kant, and Mill. She was smart and quick-thinking and had clearly studied hard in preparation for the competition. She summarized philosophical views accurately, analysed them clearly, and drew on different theories in developing her own approach. But more than this, she had a wonderful enthusiasm for philosophy — something not always evident in academic philosophers! It was clear that she loved the subject.

I’m sharing this because after my session with this young person I returned home with my batteries recharged, full of admiration and hope for the next generation. I’m certain that there are many more young people like this in Greece (there are another 19 of them at least!) and this gives me great hope.

I wish them all luck in the competition — the best two will then go through to the International Philosophy Olympiad in Ghent. I also wish them best luck for the future — though they probably don’t need it and neither do we with people like them around us.

I also came out with a lot of admiration for the Greek system and the student’s teachers. Obviously, they have been doing great work to fire their students’ interest, and to maximize opportunities for them. Finally, I was very happy to see a Greek University reaching out to schools and promoting philosophy in such an engaging and stimulating way.

I’m so proud and privileged to have met this student.
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Image by Matt Neale from UK – Greek philosophersUploaded by NotFromUtrecht, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12858253

SEEH children doing a Cretan dance

Good news about the SEEH!

SEEH children doing a Cretan dance

Friends of the SEEH have been very worried about the accreditation of the school, which was up for renewal. If the European Schools organization did not renew it, then the school could not continue — at least not as a European School.

So I was delighted to hear today that the school has had its accreditation renewed. We friends of SEEH are very grateful to European Schools organization for its support and its belief in our school.

So one hurdle has been cleared. But more remain. Accreditation is necessary for the school’s survival, but it is by no means sufficient. Accreditation merely gives permission for the school to continue. But without the support of the Greek authorities, local and national, the school will not have the means to keep going. (It is, after all, a Greek state school.)

In the past the Greek government was under a legal obligation to keep the school open; it was a condition of Greece hosting ENISA (the EU cyber security agency). But with ENISA’s recent decision to move away from Heraklion, this obligation will lapse. Now the Greek government will no longer be required to keep the school open; instead they must want to do so. This is why it is so important for all interested parties to realize the importance of the school for Heraklion and Greece, and to make their case to the Greek authorities.

As I have said before, although it is sad that ENISA is leaving, it is may a blessing in disguise for the school. It cannot be desirable that a school’s existence should depend on the presence of a single, relatively small agency. There were never enough ENISA children to fill a school, so many local children had to register in order for the SEEH to be viable – committing themselves to an educational programme quite different from the standard Greek one. Yet these non-ENISA students were in an unenviable position. They were committing their education to an institution that had been created for another group of people and which might disappear if those people suddenly decided to leave. It will be much better to have a school that there is there for all its students equally and that is there simply because they need it.

So, we have good news. The European Schools organization are backing us. And we have a great opportunity to re-establish our school on a new basis, serving the community in Heraklion and no longer dependent on ENISA. We just need to make the case!

The European Schools have done their bit; let’s do ours!

Reasons to love the European School Heraklion #10

#10 Everyone wants one!

European Schools are well established and much valued by people across Europe and the world. Ministries of Education are keen to secure new European Schools for their countries, and city authorities are eager to welcome them. (See, for example, this recent blog post by the Secretary-General of the European School system Kari Kivinen – especially the last paragraph.)

So why is the future of our own European School still uncertain? Are we in Greece less smart than people in the rest of Europe? Is Heraklion going to let go of something that other European cities are fighting to obtain?

We are lucky to have a European School in our city and country. Yet over the years the school has not been well supported at local or national level, and many in the SEEH community feel that they are ignored or even resented by their fellow townspeople.

But things are changing, I believe. I know that many of our current local politicians do believe in the school and recognize its potential. Perhaps we are at last ready to see the SEEH for what it is – not a foreign, supposedly elitist institution, but a neighbourhood state school with a European vision. It is a great asset to our city, something we need and can be very proud of. Are we at last going to pull together to and agree to set the SEEH on a stable foundation, so that it can flourish and provide the many benefits that a European School can bring?

I hope we are. I hope we are going to wake up before it’s too late. If we don’t, we will look back with shame and regret for having thrown away a precious educational gift to our children – a gift that many others would love to have.

SEEH children at an end-of-year celebration

SEEH children at an end-of-year celebration

Reasons to love the European School Heraklion #9

#9 It connects teachers across Europe

Teachers in the European School Heraklion have opportunities to visit colleagues in other European Schools across Europe, to observe, share ideas, and develop common projects. We share know-how, learning strategies, curriculum ideas, and, most importantly, our love for what we do.

As a teacher at the school, I was privileged visit European Schools in Mol, Brussels, and Helsinki, and many European colleagues have visited us in Heraklion, joining our teachers in their classrooms to observe, learn, brainstorm, compare notes, and, of course, meet the students.

Just this week, Philippe, a primary school headteacher from Brittany, is visiting the school on an ERASMUS+ project, shadowing the French teachers. I was lucky enough to work with Philippe five years ago on a Comenius project, and he has been a keen supporter of our school and its ideals.

We support each in times of need too. We were deeply upset by the recent attacks in Paris and Brussels. To us they were not taking place in foreign countries but near the homes, schools, and offices of our dear friends.

In this way European School teachers build up networks of advice and support extending across the continent, and develop a genuinely European teaching outlook. We learn about our cultural differences, of course, and celebrate them, but at the same time we become closer and grow together because in the end we all care about the same things — our students and their future.

I hope such connections will continue and flourish in the future. May we always grow together and support each other, both in happy times and less happy ones!