New approach to ancient culture

The average Greek knows very little, or nothing at all, about the ancient Greek world. What was an important chapter in the world’s cultural history is treated as a compulsory addition to school course schedules. This narrow perception, confined to the limits of «classroom – textbook – examinations,» is what a team of experts from Thessaloniki University is trying to do away with. They are not claiming to be the purveyors of a universal truth, nor the harbingers of yet another mini-reform of the education system, but are simply trying to make students active participants in the learning process rather than passive receptors of yet another compulsory subject. Above all, the group is trying to take a different approach to what is, on the one hand, a mistaken attempt to put the ancient Greek world on a mythical pedestal and, on the other, to deride it as a museum piece with nothing to offer daily life or a modern world view. The team is creating an approach to the ancient world by means of accessible books that have the advantage of giving pupils real contact with a world that still lives and breathes but has not yet been revealed to them. Three-year pilot program Five new books are expected to be introduced into junior high schools within the framework of the program «Ancient Knowledge and Ancient Language in High School» which is aimed at students in both junior and senior high. A three-year pilot study is being carried out by the Education Ministry and the Educational Research Center, with funds from the Third Community Support Framework and a subsidy from the National Bank of Greece. «The new books will above all be used in an advisory capacity. They will be given to teachers and students to be used as a complement to the school syllabus,» Professor Dimitris Maronitis told Kathimerini. «The teacher will refer to them during the course of a conventional lesson and teachers and students will gradually discover how different they are from the existing textbooks, which we hope that we will eventually be able to replace. That is why we say that the program is, in principle, a trial run,» he added. At the same time, an attempt is being made to break up the «textbook-classroom» syndrome. The five books will be able to be used across all three junior high school grades, simply for reference; children will not be tested on them. «In this way, we hope to get students away from the coaching schools, which our group sees as a vice gripping the school system,» said Maronitis, although he says they do not want to engage in any «frontal assaults» which would lead nowhere. Therefore, the team is planning a conference to be held in the fall with the participation of the high school teachers’ federation (OLME) and the Panhellenic Union of Language Teachers. At the conference, samples of two or three chapters from each book will be presented for detailed examination by the teachers themselves. The team of experts, all teachers themselves, see teachers in junior and senior high schools as allies in the experiment. High school teacher Lambros Polkas, a member of the team, said that there will be no need to train teachers in the use of the books. The need for a program like this was dictated by the major crisis in the study of humanities and the humanist movement, according to Maronitis. «One reason for this crisis today is the fact that these studies have been blown out of proportion into mythical status and because of the hypocritical use of humanistic principles to justify questionable political, cultural and military decisions,» said Maronitis. In schools, the fact that fewer of these lessons are being taught means that an improvement in the quality of the instruction is mandatory. «It is uncertain whether the subject matter being taught is the most appropriate and whether it is reasonably distributed between junior and senior high school,» said Maronitis. «The knowledge of the ancient world and language offered in high schools today has been standardized and the teaching is geared around the examinations,» he explained. New teaching method «This program aims to separate the instruction from the examinations and to elicit a new method of teaching ancient Greek language and literature, to make these subjects more attractive to both teachers and students,» he added. Maronitis noted that it was a mistake to lay too much importance on the ancient Greek language as the only way to understand the ancient world, a world which should not be restricted to the classroom but serve as a wider informative culture. «School has turned the teaching of ancient Greek literature into a lesson of morality and chastisement, further distorted by a coercive method of examination. However, the purpose of literature, in school or outside, is not to be subject to examination but to provide mental stimulation and enjoyment, and to be only indirectly didactic.»