Thursday, April 23, 2015

One Person At A Time

When I walked out on my first morning in Athens last week, I was drawn to very loud, angry hip hop music a few blocks from my hotel. I found myself in front of a building that I was later to learn was the University of Athens. There were several black banners hung on the building bearing the anarchist "A," one of which was in English saying "Solidarity With Political Prisoners" and "On Hunger Strike." I took a few pictures, like any good tourist.

A trickle of people were coming and going between the columns that flanked the door. Generally speaking, I think of myself as a guy who is opposed to political prisoners and I favor the idealism of anarchy. I decided to find out what those guys were up to. I mounted the stairs, saying, "Hi," to the first people I came to, a young man and woman who greeted me, then said, "Come." I followed them inside where they handed me a flyer containing their demands in English. They apologized for their English, something I found oddly touching given that Greek is the national language, then left me to peruse the document, which contained a list of laws and other things with which they disagreed with the government, and included demands for the closing of certain prisons and the release of certain prisoners. I thanked them and walked back out into the sunlight. 

It was only then that I noticed the large contingent of police dressed in riot gear. They had likely been there when I went in, but in my travel weary state I guess I hadn't noticed them. My heart racing, I decided it was in my best interest to get out of the way.

Of course, it's hard to get out of the way of political protest in Athens. Two years ago, there were giant street protests numbering between 10,000-20,000 every day I was there. Mine workers tied up traffic for a day while I was there this time, protesting for their livelihoods. Every conversation, even about early childhood education, at least touches upon the state of politics and the economy. These are interesting times, indeed.

It is within this environment that the incredible, play-based Dorothy Snot Preschool, founded by my friends John Yiannoudis and Daniela Kralli, has thrived, at least in part, riding this wave of disenchantment with the status quo. For Greece, I'm told, this school is a radical concept, with its underpinning idea that children are fully formed humans, capable of directing their own learning. Of course, it's a radical notion for many Americans as well.

The only constant is change, as they say, but I've never spent time anywhere where the change is more in your face than right now in Greece. What is Greece changing into? That's impossible to know, which is what makes it both frightening and exciting. The new government is an ideologically radical one, but from what I've gathered it is steeped in a radicalism from the middle of the last century. Still, the people elected it as an act of protest against the status quo, banking on the notion that change, any change, will be an improvement. This is not guaranteed, of course.

I heard both the doubt and the hope in the discussions I had with teachers and parents during my week with the Dorothy Snot community. As a visitor, I found myself feeling both guilty and envious. For every person who expressed despair that things could never change, there was someone else confident that something more beautiful could arise from the turmoil.

On my final day in Athens, I took part in a public discussion on the future of education in Greece, hosted by Dorothy Snot. This was a sunny, Saturday morning. More than 200 people jammed themselves into our venue. John told me that hundreds more had been turned away. Our theme was "De-educate Re-educate." Judging by the questions and comments from the audience, the de-education part is already well underway: these people, at least, are ready for change, ready to undertake the challenge of reshaping the Greek educational system into the best in the world. The elephant in the room, of course, is "Now what?"

Most of us, I think, imagine that we need a strong, benevolent leader to step forward with a detailed, multi-step plan, but democracy has never worked that way. No, democracy more often works like it's happening in Greece right now. More often than not, it looks like directionless turmoil, not so different than what's occurring now in American education with hundreds of thousands of students engaged in the civil disobedience of opting out of high stakes standardized testing. The strong, benevolent leader is a myth. He is anti-democratic.

History happens one person at a time, each of us making up our own minds and speaking our truth with friends, families and neighbors. History is the story of parades made up of every day citizens who find themselves marching together. This is what we did together in Athens. Our parade is small now, but growing. It's a neighborhood parade, it's a city parade, it's a national parade, it's a global parade. Soon our "leaders" will find it's in their best interests to rush to the front and pretend they are leading. That's how democracy works.

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share


Unknown said...

I hope that there will be a real parade here in Greece soon with all of us who support the basic and most important element of early childhood education: PLAY! People in Greece, let's all raise our voice and resist on the traditional way of teaching. Let's get together for a better future and raise our voice for the children's rights.

Lydia said...

Oh, yes!!! Critical mass parade is soon going to start! And when it does... Oh, imagine just that! :-)

Love to read everything you write!

Lydia :-)