Saturday, May 11, 2013
An unexpected confluence of two snippets of ostensibly disparate news has recently formed within the tortured workings of my mind. The first is Federal Minister for School Education Peter Garrett's assertion that: "The fight for the survival for the Modern Greek language is far from over and the Greek community must not rest on its laurels now that Modern Greek has been included in the National Curriculum." According to Minister Garrett, who acknowledged the hard work of the Greek community in ensuring Modern Greek was included in the National Curriculum he also mentioned that by enrolling children in Modern Greek, the language will retain its status in the curriculum by maintaining a strong demand, and will ultimately mean the survival of the Modern Greek language in Australia.
This last statement of the minister did not disturb me unduly until I happened to chance upon a text blandly announcing that the hours of Greek language broadcasting on SBS radio have been reduced owing to changed "demographics." Apart from a meeting convened by concerned members of the Greek community last year in order to attempt to retard the diminution in broadcasting hours, not even a whimper was heard in protest. This is due to the fact that the talented and highly professional staff at the SBS Greek program are compelled to produce high quality programmes to an ever decreasing and indifferent audience, largely unsupported by our large and supposedly resourceful community.
It is trite to mention that the equation of loss of broadcasting hours with community indifference signals a loss of plurality of voices and opinions that will in the long run only harm the vibrancy of the Greek community. How long will it be until the inspired and fascinating plethora of Greek voices and diverse viewpoints emanating from the airwaves of 3ZZZ or 3CR are stilled due to changed "demographics?" How shall we then sate our desire for debate and information?
The answer obviously is that because we will no longer require Greek language broadcasting, the principle of its loss may hurt our pride, but otherwise, it shall not in any way otherwise affect us as we attempt to negotiate the vicissitudes of our daily lives and seek fulfilment in Anglophone forms of mass media communication with which we feel more comfortable. Nor will we be able to protest such a loss, even if we were so minded. After all, how is it that we would, after neglecting and abandoning Greek language programs, raise a fuss κατόπιν εορτής, when these are pruned back to service the requirements of other minorities who genuinely need the airspace?
It is to this happenstance that Peter Garrett's insightful caution gently points. It is one thing to have Modern Greek included in the National Curriculum. It is quite another to keep it there. According to the Minister, the only way that this will occur, is through continued demand. To this effect he links the existence of Modern Greek within the National Curriculum with 'the survival of the Modern Greek language in Australia.'
This is a sobering thought. Sooner or later, community indifference and the plurality of other options will place our languages existence within the National Curriculum in jeopardy. One only has to remember the extensive community campaigns staged a few decades ago in order to ensure the teaching of the Modern Greek language in tertiary institutions, only to see the same institutions one by one, remove the language from their programs, owing to a lack of enrolment and interest. As a community, we are inordinately effective at achieving milestones. Unfortunately, we are so bent upon attaining and savouring the moment of achievement, that we give little thought as to how to maintain it when we get there.
While the laudable efforts of all of those community members and members of parliament to have Modern Greek included in the National Curriculum should not be disparaged, it is in my mind, the height of folly for our community to hasten to place all of its educational eggs in the Governmental basket for various pertinent considerations.
It should be our community and not the government that decides the content of Modern Greek courses. The aforementioned two entities have different aims. The government aims to encourage language acquisition to the extent that this is possible within a monolingual zeitgeist. For our community on the other hand, language acquisition is just one of the constituent components of the broader task to ensure the survival of its ethnic identity. That identity is complex, comprising not just of a language, but also 4,000 years of a cultural and religious tradition that underlies it. Furthermore, while the rudiments of a language can be learned in a class context, the only way one can become functional in it and understand all of its connotations is to live the culture that gives rise to our language. With respect, that can only take place within the Greek community and its existing structures, be they secular or religious. It is not in the interests of the benevolent Australian government, nor is it within their educational ambit to actively facilitate such an endeavour.
To this effect, what becomes painfully obvious when considering the sometimes bewildering plethora of Greek schools that exist, at least in Victoria, is that we have, up until the present, missed out on an important opportunity to come together as a coherent entity in order to develop our own co-ordinated united approach to teaching the Greek language and construct our own curriculum, tailored to our own special needs and serving our goals as a community. Of course in order to arrive at such a unified across the board approach to teaching our children, we would of course have to agree what exactly it is that we want our children to learn and herein lies the problem. Do we merely want them to be able to lisp «Χρόνια πολλά παππού,» do we want them to be functional, fully integrated members of a community in which their place is assured and not merely afforded grudgingly and in which they can engage effectively with all other members on an equal and cross generational basis? Do we believe that we have the means to bring this about or is the measure of the level of our achievement merely enumerating how many schools we have without being able to or having any interest in controlling or assessing the quality of the teaching in each one?
Once the Greek language education of our children becomes the concern and responsibility of the entire community and is not relegated solely to concerns of profit or of broader based, government policy, our community is then in a unique position to tweak or alter the curriculum in order to address the requirements or sensitivity of the times in a more timely fashion than any education department could ever do and with more emphasis on utility rather than political considerations. Surely it is of vital importance that we retain control of our own educational and language needs rather than solely charge an entity, however benign, with a task that is for it, not an imperative.
Once the euphoria of achieving the inclusion of Modern Greek in the National Curriculum wears off, it will perhaps be of benefit to consider what would happen if, in the belief that our educational needs were now taken care of, we allowed other Greek language education providers to atrophy. Eventually, the time would come when there would not be sufficient students electing to study Modern Greek at school in order to justify the existence of the language on the curriculum. The language is thus tacitly dropped, owning to lack of demand as the minister prefigures, and there is absolutely nothing that can be done to deter such an unhappy occurrence.
Unless that is, we hedge our bets both ways. By all means let us encourage students to elect to study Modern Greek in the public system but simultaneously, let us coordinate a united community policy to language acquisition that services our own needs and in no way compromises the strength to be found in a plurality and diversity of approaches to such a complex issue of dire importance to our continued existence. After all, we are talking about grooming and conditioning the next prospective audience of what remains of the SBS Modern Greek programme here..
First published in NKEE on Saturday 11 May 2013.