Young Greek philosophers

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.
Image by Matt Neale from UK – Greek philosophersUploaded by NotFromUtrecht, CC BY 2.0,

The School of European Education, Heraklion: A plea

Disclaimer: I am writing this post as a private citizen and parent. The views expressed here are not intended to represent those of the management of the School of European Education, the school’s Parents and Guardians Association, or any other body connected with the school. –MK

Heraklion’s School of European Education (SEE) is located in the old town, a stone’s throw from the seafront and close by the Koule fortress. It is a Type II European School, which follows the educational curriculum of Schola Europaea but is funded by the Greek government.

The school was founded in 2005 to cater to the educational needs of the children of employees of ENISA (the EU agency for network and information security) and other international organizations and diplomatic services based in Heraklion. The school also provides English language education to children whose parents are nationals of other EU member states and Greek language education to Greek children. The school is non-denominational and has a full range of classes from nursery to high school. Students study a broad-based European curriculum which incorporates second-language learning from first grade and third language from High School. Students take the European Baccalaureate at age of 18. The school’s staff, who come from a wide variety of nationalities and backgrounds, are highly qualified, experienced, and dedicated. They are passionate about teaching and determined to promote the ideals of European education, especially in these difficult times.

The ethos of the school is expressed by the words of Jean Monnet in 1953:

Educated side by side, untroubled from infancy by divisive prejudices, acquainted with all that is great and good in the different cultures, it will be borne in upon them as they mature that they belong together. Without ceasing to look to their own lands with love and pride, they will become in mind Europeans, schooled and ready to complete and consolidate the work of their fathers before them, to bring into being a united and thriving Europe.

(Quoted from the Schola Europaea website)

For the last two years, I have had the honour to be a teacher in the school, teaching the fifth grade of the English primary school. It has been a wonderful experience. My students came from across Europe (from the UK, Finland, Italy, Cyprus, Moldavia, Greece…), but they had a shared love of learning and an openness to other cultures, and all saw Greece as a second home. Together, we talked about our different customs and cultures, studied the French Revolution and the British Empire, read English literature from Shakespeare to Harper Lee, discussed ethical issues, bred silkworms, kept pet guinea pigs and hamsters, dissected an animal eye, started a class blog, made theatrical masks and costumes, created charcoal artwork on the school walls, visited local museums, and acted out dramatic scenes from plays and novels — all the while following a rich and well-balanced curriculum and learning about the ideals that inspired the founding of the European Union. Some of my former pupils have stayed at the school, others have moved on to other countries, but all, I believe, have been enriched and inspired by their experience at the school and have formed a deep love of Crete and Greece.

I have not only been a teacher at the SEE, but a parent too. My elder son has attended the school for four years, my younger son has just completed nursery there, and my daughter is due to start pre-nursery there this autumn. The boys have flourished in the school and formed friendships that extend across the continent. I honestly can’t think of a better school for them.

But the SEE isn’t important just for me and its teachers, parents, and students. I believe it is important for Heraklion, for Crete, for Greece — even for Europe. Its ideals represent the best of the European spirit – the spirit of a mutually supporting community, which respects the differences between nations but shares a common commitment to democracy, equality, and respect for human rights. It is a school where Scandanavian children sing Theodorakis, Greek children act Danish stories and learn French folk songs, and where all learn to respect each other and value the differences between them. The SEE cultivates precisely the outward-looking, optimistic, democratic outlook that Greece must adopt if it is to flourish within the EU and the wider world.

Economically, too, the school is important. Heraklion is home to many research institutions, including the University of Crete, FORTH, and HCMR, which attract visiting researchers from around the world, and the city has vibrant and outward-looking business and artistic communities, with worldwide connections. By providing high-quality English-language education at primary and secondary levels, the SEE helps to attract academics and other professionals to take up posts in Crete, strengthening and enriching the academic and cultural life of the island and of Greece as a whole. Without the school, it would be much harder to get leading professionals from outside Greece to move here with their families.

Yet as I write (27 September 2013) the school is not functioning. Two weeks after the official start of term, the PGA reports that only one teacher has been appointed for the Greek-language primary school, none for the English-language primary school, and six for the whole of the secondary school. A remaining twenty-five teaching appointments have not been made, even though the positions were advertised and application procedures completed weeks ago. Hardly any classes are running, my teaching colleagues and I are in limbo, uncertain whether we will be employed, and I and the other parents are deeply concerned for my children’s education. Protests have been made to the Ministry by ENISA and others, but so far without effect. Some parents have withdrawn their children from the school, and everyone is worried and uncertain.

Of course, these are difficult times for everyone in Greece, and we are not the only ones who are suffering. And of course I have a strong personal interest in the school. But the SEE is something special, something that should be celebrated, cherished, and supported — for everyone’s sake. If Greece is to be an outward-looking country, which attracts and welcomes people from around the world and celebrates its own history and culture without ignoring or diminishing those of other peoples, if it is to be a strong and vigorous part of Europe, if it is to produce a new generation of citizens with open minds and broad education, then it needs this school — and more like it. If the SEE closes, we won’t get it back, and we’ll all be much the poorer.

To give you a flavour of what is so special about the SEE, I have included below a video I made for Europe Day earlier this year, in which teachers, parents, and students talk (in Greek, English, French, and Italian) about what the school means to them.

If, like me, you believe the SEE is a precious asset, please do whatever you can to support it — for example, by spreading the word on social networks, contacting local or national politicians, or leaving a message of support in the comments below.

Thank you.

Update 28/09/13

The SEE Parents and Guardians Association has today circulated a message saying that the Minister has just signed off most of the teaching appointments and that classes should start early next week. This is, of course, excellent news, and gives me hope that the school will function normally this year. But I remain anxious about its long-term future, especially as many ENISA personnel have now moved to Athens. I myself remain fully committed to the school, and I renew my plea for those who believe in the school and its values to spread the word about this precious part of the Greek and European educational system.

Update 4/10/13

It is a week since I wrote my original post, and I am pleased to say that progress has been made. All SEE pupils are now able to attend school, in both English and Greek sections, though some teaching appointments are still pending and many classes are merged. However, we hope that the school will soon be functioning more or less normally. (I myself am teaching the English 3rd grade.)

I was also very pleased to read the following comment by Regional Education Director Apostolos Klinakis, which he made to the newspaper Nea Kriti:

I acknowledge and empathize with the parents’ anguish and truly find it unthinkable and shameful for Heraklion that a school of such calibre as the European School is not functioning in our city. (Source. Original in Greek; my translation)

I think this is something we can all agree on!

We shouldn’t be complacent, however. As Alison notes in her comment below, there was a feeling of euphoria when the English section opened on Wednesday, and we must build on this strength of feeling to help secure the long-term future of the school.

I will not add any more updates to this post, but I plan to make further posts about the SEE in the future. (Please see my request for contributions in the comments below.)

Some links