Help needed, immediately

A phrase of graffiti hangs like a thread on the smashed wall: «Love is dead.» A poetic reflection on a terrifying reality. The statement, as expressed on the Pangrati school wall, tells us a lot in a most disconcerting and concise manner. The question, however, is who is listening to these «vandals.» For about one month now, the trashing of a school on Spyrou Mercouri Street in Pangrati during a student lock-in drew a lot of attention from the media. Under this mess of torn papers, files and books, broken desks, gutted computers and smashed-up walls, we find buried not just the corpse of the Greek educational system but that of the family too. Now that the issue has faded from the limelight – 17 people, Greeks and foreigners and almost all the students have been charged – it is time to assess the underlying causes and the magnitude of a problem that seems to affect many different aspects of our society. A graduate of that same school, I keep a close eye on developments there. Talking to some of the teachers at the school today I found myself face to face with a shocking fact: «We are not suitably trained to deal with the family problems of delinquent children,» they told me. «We need help.» Every teacher, be it in elementary or high school, not only has to deal with putting together the puzzle of the shattered educational system, they must also deal with every child that comes to school carrying the baggage of a troubled home. A recent survey by the University of Ioannina revealed that 20 percent of Greece’s students suffer some symptoms of depression. Children are the «dark side» of their parents, specialists tell us in a nutshell. Delinquency is an appeal for attention. Teachers react according to their training, values and instincts. If they cannot handle their students, they too can become aggressive, verbally or physically. Some admit to using derogatory terms when addressing foreign students. And what is not said is often implied. One can only imagine what goes on in public schools where the majority of students are non-Greek. The situation is unbearable and you can see this in the faces of the children in the schoolyard. The more sensitive teachers are finding the situation almost impossible to deal with: «What bothered me the most was the hatred conveyed by the act of destroying the school,» said one of the Pangrati school’s teachers. «There is no school,» was the reply of one senior. The Pangrati school is licking its wounds and trying to get back on its feet. The situation remains especially tenuous, memories are fresh and the television cameras not too far away. Normality cannot return without some assistance. The students need it and the teachers are demanding it. They need specialized help and the Education Ministry has a responsibility to give it to them, even if belatedly.