OPINION

When the best lack conviction

Education reform is undoubtedly one of the most significant policy areas that any government must tackle, because what happens there is certain to have a direct influence on the future of the nation. And it is not just the current government that will be judged by the results of any attempted reform, but society itself. In this area, we can also judge the level of seriousness and responsibility of the opposition parties, professors, students, journalists and all others who help to shape events. And above all, we will see whether society will put up with the present quagmire or whether it truly wants change. For this reason, the recent fuss that has been kicked up over the proposed changes to the education system illuminates many of the endemic weaknesses that have shaped Greek society, along with all of its positive points. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing in this context is the relative silence of Greece’s intellectual community, barring a few exceptions, over the proposals made by the Education Ministry and the group of «wise men» who helped formulate them. Silence has also greeted the behavior of the protesting professors and students, whose sit-ins have forced the closure of most university institutions throughout the country. This silence contributed greatly to the failure of the dialogue which the government called for when it set up the National Education Council and invited all parties, even the most unlikely and obscure representative groups, to take part. With the opposition walking out almost summarily and with the students absent, the dialogue quickly turned into a series of monologues being shouted across an abyss. A public dialogue, in which many professors and other intellectuals would have taken a stand on what was going on, would have helped shape a broader area of common ground. This «bridge,» however, was never built. Today we may criticize the government for not having done enough to convince the students that the proposed changes would be for their own good and for the country’s future. It’s not that the government did not try, and the prime minister was right on the mark when he demanded last Thursday that the opposition reply to the question: «Does the tertiary education system need changes or not?» The silence that greeted the «dialogue» from the start shows how complicated the answer to such a simple question can be. Many bear responsibility for this. Of course, for months we have been reading and hearing the opinions of our best and brightest regarding the pros and cons of non-state-run universities, on the need to evaluate professors and universities, the need for university autonomy, and so on. But although useful, these arguments were not much more than personal opinions on theoretical aspects of university education. What was lacking was a debate on the reality of the situation. What did the professors who did not agree with the way in which their union has handled the issue have to say? What did they have to propose to counter the government’s proposals, rather than simply abide by their union’s total rejection of them? What did they have to say about the sit-ins and other extreme forms of protest that have resulted in hooliganism and prevented university senates from even deciding when the delayed examinations will be held? There have been precious few voices raised in criticism of the way universities have been derailed. And those who did speak out met the opprobrium of opposition parties and the anger of the student activists. Because few criticized the sit-ins, the critics were easily isolated. This is the result of a very long-term tolerance of anti-democratic behavior masked as «democratic» and «progressive.» (Apparently, as long as you say that you are on the side of the good, then you can do whatever you like at the expense of everyone else.) The result was isolation of the government, which did not know how to sell the proposed changes. Those who fought the changes were able to barricade themselves behind the tolerance of everyone else and had no need to even consider diluting their rejectionism. And for too long, total rejectionism has been an integral part of all public «debate,» on any issue. This silence of those who should have the courage of their convictions is related to the dangerous inertia which allows the country to drift along, out of control. This is evident today in the education system; but this silence, this fear of disturbing the status quo, condemns us to live forever with the mistakes of the past while waiting passively for whatever the future springs upon us, unable to take responsibility for our own fate.