hellenic times - January 24-February 6, 2003

Interview with Archbishop Spyridon

The Case for Greek Education in America

Archbishop Spyridon

Your Eminence, on Saturday February 1st in New York, the newly established Archbishop Spyridon Foundation for Hellenic Education and Culture will celebrate its inauguration. How was the new Foundation established?

It all began in Montreal, Quebec. The idea surfaced when some Greek American friends, headed by John Catsimatidis, former Vice Chairman of the Archdiocesan Council, met in Canada for the official launching of Justine Frangouli-Argyris' book, "The Lonely Path Of Integrity." We all experienced firsthand the efforts made by the local Hellenic Community in Montreal to preserve its Hellenic roots, especially in the field of education. My friends were immediately sensitized to the need to contribute to such efforts. Thus, they decided to create a foundation dedicated to the promotion of Hellenic Culture and Education in the diaspora. I myself found the idea excellent. I was deeply honored that the new foundation wished to bear my name and happily concurred with its lofty purpose. A Board of Directors was immediately set up. It is made up of prominent members of the Greek American community, such as John Catsimatidis (New York), Leo and Evanthea Condakes (Massachusetts), Michael Cantonis (Florida), Justine Frangouli (Montreal), Professor John Rassias (Vermont), Dr. William Tenet (New York), Dimitrios Kaloidis (New York), Harry Pappas (California), Georgia Kaloidis (New York) and Straton Stevens (Montreal). All of these prominent people will assist the Foundation in fulfilling its goals, which are the goals of every Hellene in the diaspora who still reflects on his past and future. The new foundation will have much to do in order to bear fruit. But we are all confident that our efforts will be richly blessed, for the cause is noble and sacred.

How would you then formulate the goals of the new Foundation? How do they differ from those of other similar establishments that already exist and aim at promoting Hellenic culture in America?

The basic goal of the Foundation is to promote Hellenic Culture, to be more precise to promote Hellenic Culture through the advancement of Elliniki Pedia (i.e., Greek Education). The Foundation will seek to achieve this by promoting Hellenic Culture through publications, presentations, conferences and various programs; by promoting seminars and presentations for teachers, researchers and students on topics related to Hellenic Culture (these seminars will seek to sensitize participants to the need to ensure the survival of Hellenism in the diaspora); by contributing financially to Hellenic Studies chairs worldwide; by developing programs that will contribute to the preservation of the Greek language in the diasopra; by generating resources to assist Greek Schools, teachers and researchers worldwide in their objectives; by ensuring a more thorough conceptual understanding of the state of Hellenic education in the diaspora through academic research, seminars and presentations (such as the well known Rassias Report); by developing more effectual and user-friendly ways for parents and children to become aware of their need to preserve the Hellenic cultural heritage.

Establishments similar to our new Foundation usually tend to deal with Hellenic Culture in a generic manner. The new Foundation aspires to promote our cultural heritage predominantly through the channels of Greek Education. I think, this is what lends our Foundation a specific character and mission, making it different from all others.

As Archbishop of America in the years 1996-99, you dedicated much of your time and efforts to promoting the issue of Greek Education. It was under your leadership that the Rassias Commission produced its Report on Greek Education in the United States. What exactly was the Rassias Commission, and what does it Report deal with?

Το answer your question, I must go a little back in time. It was in 1997, after experiencing firsthand the state in which Greek Education lay, I asked to see Professor John Rassias, a well known academic at Dartmouth College, specialized in Hellenic Studies. We met at the Archdiocese, and after having a long discussion on issues related to Greek Education in America, we discovered that we agreed absolutely on all issues. I immediately appointed a large Commission headed by Professor Rassias to undertake a serious and in-depth study on Greek Education in America. The Commission was made up of prominent academics, not only from the Greek community but also from other ethnic groups. The Commission held public meetings with teachers, parents and students throughout the country. It soon came up with an official report, today known as the Rassias Report. In this report, the Commission pointed out that, in spite of all worthy efforts made in the past, there was no uniform Greek Education system implemented throughout the Day and Afternoon schools in America. At the same time, it underscored that there was an enormous lack of trained teachers and appropriate teaching material. Beyond these very disturbing deficiencies, the Commission presented a long list of recommendations with regard to all specific aspects of the issue of Greek Education. It concluded its report by stressing that, "unless significant remedial action be taken immediately, Hellenism's survival in the American diaspora will be at risk." The Commission's most dire prediction, based on the evidence it had accumulated, was that "Greek identity may well be lost in less than a generation."

With your long experience in this matter, how do you assess the present state of Greek Education in the US?

Το be honest, the situation is rather ominous. The alarm bell has repeatedly rung for the ongoing indifference to matters of Greek Education in the United States. It seems to me that the case for Greek Education has yet to be made to the vast majority of Greek Americans. It will take a major effort to make Greek Americans aware of the need to preserve their Hellenic identity, the indispensable manifestation of which, as we should all well know of course, is the Greek language. The language of any culture is the supreme bearer of its tradition. At this point one thing appears certain: If this situation doesn't change drastically in the next few years, there will soon be little, if any, reason to speak of Greek Education within the Greek American community. We will be speaking only of Greek chairs and Hellenists at certain universities.

Greek diplomatic and educational authorities often speak of the importance they attribute to Greek education in America. Could you say that Greece's contribution to Greek Education in the US can be regarded as satisfactory?

This is a difficult question. One thing is certain, should Greece's contribution not be considered satisfactory as of yet, it is certainly deemed necessary at this point. What is needed is a closer and full cooperation between Greek and Greek American educational authoritites. Such cooperation would certainly be to the advantage of the Greek American community, particularly at this moment in time when Greek American educational authorities are in dire need of helpful alliances as they respond to their high calling to preserve the Greek language. Given that the latter authorities have proven unable to train a sufficient number of Greek teachers, it would certainly be expedient to accept the Greek Government's contribution.

How do you view today's Greek American community with regard to Hellenism? How important is Hellenism to the Greek American community today?

The fact is that large groups of Greek Americans have been brought up and taught to respect Hellenism and feel proud of their Hellenic origins. On the other hand, very many Greek Americans have been raised in such a manner as to consider Hellenism as excess luggage, not really needed in order to succeed in the American society. As I said before, the case for Greek Education has yet to be made to the vast majority of Greek Americans. And in order for this to be done, the Greek American community must be, and remain, united. Without unity, the efforts of those responsible to preserve the flame of Hellenism in America will suffer and diminish, as well.

[ hellenic times - Vol. XXX, No. 2 - January 24-February 6, 2003 - pp. 1,3,12 ]