Freedom and license

Friday’s front-page story in Kathimerini on the new regulations due to be introduced into schools as of the beginning of the new academic year in September have sparked off a fierce controversy. Some defended the measures, dramatically pointing out the administrative disarray in state schools. Others, however, expressed fears over a return to the age of school superintendents in a move which will resurrect outdated, authoritarian patterns of control over shoolchildren. Exaggeration is always a bad counselor, especially in sensitive pedagogical issues which require a sober and moderate approach. True, state schools are bedeviled by many problems (technical infrastructure, quality of teaching, connection with the labor market) which are not confined to issues of administration and pupils’ everyday behavior. It’s also true that unsuccessful attempts by previous governments to establish a scale for grading students’ disciplinary offenses triggered fierce reactions which should be kept in mind when planning new measures. The Education Ministry’s proposals aim to tackle genuine problems. To a large extent, they set out in black and white terms things which would normally be considered self-evident. Frankly, in accordance with what anti-authoritarian logic could objections be raised to the ban on smoking or the use of mobile phones in classrooms? On what grounds could one condemn the recommendation by the Education Ministry to pupils (as well as schoolteachers, but only as a last resort) against the more extreme outfits of some pupils who fail to distinguish between freedom of expression and license when they behave or dress as they like? No one, of course, would ever support reintroducing caning in a 21st century school. But at a time when young people are deluged, on a 24-hour basis, with lifestyle suggestions and reality-show models of behavior, school should be an institution where the citizens of tomorrow have a chance to learn that there are more important and exciting things in life than those which can be purchased in shopping malls, where they can learn that their worth depends on what they do and what they make of themselves and not on how they look. «What matters ain’t easy; it’s hard going,» as a modern Greek song goes.