Monique Seefried, president of the IB Council of Foundation Speech made at IB Africa/Europe/Middle East regional conference, October 2006 Introduction
Αγαπητοί συνάδελφοι, αγαπητά μέλη της κοινότητας του Διεθνούς Baccalaureat, αγαπητοί φίλοι, είναι μεγαλη μου τιμή να προσφωνώ μπροστά σας στην Αθήνα, μια πόλη στην οποία όλοι μας οφείλουμε πολλά
Five years of studying ancient Greek have given me a great love and a fascination for the Greek language, but regretfully no ability to speak Modern Greek. I am therefore reverting to English, one of the official languages of the IBO, and for the time being, the common language used in international exchanges. One hundred years ago, in the world of diplomacy, it would have been French, several hundred years ago, it would have been Latin all over the Western world, and 2000 years ago, it was Greek all around the Mediterranean. First and foremost, I want to give homage to our host, the city of Athens. This city saw the birth of democracy and was the home of Plato and Aristotle, the two most important thinkers to have influenced the three monotheist religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam and who, with their respective foundation of the Academy and the Lyceum, lay down the foundation of knowledge and education for the progress of human civilization. It is in ancient Athens, 25 centuries ago, that political freedom gave birth to democracy, and freedom of speech gave birth to philosophy and the ancient humanism in which modern day secular humanism finds its roots. It is indeed to the Greek world, and to the city of Athens in particular, that we owe some of the most important features of the world we live in today. This is why, in homage to this city, and also because it is a very timely theme and for the IBO in particular, for this conference about community that I have chosen to speak to you today about “Scholastic communities and democracy: the role of ethics in international education”.
I intend to speak about the birth of schools, democracy, politics and ethics in ancient Greece, how the concept of education has evolved over the past 200 years before encouraging you to continue discussions about the need for the IBO, as a community affecting learning communities around the world, to train young generations in ethical thinking in order to protect the inhabitants and the environment of our planet. Although you see that we have a power point above our heads, this is not a power point presentation. In many ways I am not trying to make a point, or to develop a powerful point, even if I have personal views on the subject of what the teaching of ethical thinking means for an organization like the IBO. Instead I hope to trigger conversations and even debates about what this means for the organization so that we all participate in the shaping of a democratic consensus about the values which are important to us. We have agreed on the mission statement, we have also embraced the learner profile and schools are free to choose to belong or not to belong to the IB community, and a debate on ethics has to be ongoing if we want it to play a real role in the fabric of our world community. So the power point will either be used to guide you in where you are in my presentation, or to display quotes. I could have, and I thought about, using wonderful slides of the magnificent monuments surrounding us, but I prefer to let you explore them on your own, if you have the time, and for now, to let ourselves just be guided with words. Words on whose interpretation we have such a difficult time agreeing, especially for a multilingual audience for whom the same words often have very different meanings and conjure different images. It was this thought that led me to choose my title for today as I wanted to add from the start a note of ambiguity to my presentation.
I did choose the word scholastic in the title to begin the interrogation. What about scholastic communities? what are they? In my choice of the word scholastic, I am not using the noun referring to the teaching of philosophy in the Middle Ages but the adjective about what pertains to schools. For some it may sound pedantic, one meaning of the term in English, but definitely not in French or Italian, for others it may mean nothing (the word scholastic doesn’t exist in the American Dictionary of the English Language nor in the Webster New World Dictionary), but for me, having grown up in Rome, it reminds me of a beautiful image of St Scholastica given to me to commemorate the communion of a school friend, as well as of the many portraits or statues that one finds in churches of the sister of St Benedict, Scholastica (480-543), whose name meant: “she who has leisure to devote to study”. More than anything she always reminds me that study was related to leisure, something I was hard pressed to believe as a child, a very ambigious concept at the time. School was work for me, hard work, not fun, but, I have to add, due to my family circumstances, I always considered a privilege.
But let Scholastica, a Greek name, lead us on the path of what our schools communities owe to the community we are in: Athens. I. The Greek Legacy Let’s go back 2500 years ago, in 5 th century Athens, and to some of the key concepts that emanated there and which have had such an influence on the world we live in today. 1. Schools The Greek word skholê, meaning “free time, leisure” is the time that a person who was not constrained to work could dedicate to studious leisure. Through the Latin word schola, it became the ancestor for the word school in many languages: Schule, école, escuela, scuola…Other names refer to institutions of learning in ancient Greece, names of places where education took place, like the Gymnasium, which was not only a place of athletic activities but also of intellectual pursuits, the Lyceum or the Academy, all places of learning whose names have come down to us. The Academy in Athens was created by Plato to promote the teachings of his master Socrates and educate future leaders, which needed to go beyond the teaching of literature, music and the martial arts given to the common citizen. An early instruction (until age 18) was to be followed by instruction in pure mathematics (including arithmetic, plane geometry, solid geometry, astronomy and harmonics) to learn to think in abstract terms and finally dialectic to examine the aspects of reality in search for truth and learn to argue logically. This was the crowning of the education of a ruling citizen, and would lead him to achieve real knowledge and ultimately goodness. The education for future rulers required that they be bright and moral, as well as honest, courageous and willing to work. This training was to last until they reached 35, at which time they would have become philosophers. Then, they could enter secondary roles in military and political life for at least 15 years before being able to rule the state and know what is best for the community.
This was obviously the vision Socrates had for an ideal education, and the one his disciple Plato further developed in the Platonic Academy of Athens, where intellectual life continued to strive until its closure, in 529 CE. Ironically, it is that same year, in 529 CE, that St Benedict, brother of St Scholastica, founded the first Benedictine abbey in Monte Cassino. From then on, intellectual life in the West migrated to the monasteries, where Scholasticism, which was very much influenced by the writings of Plato and Aristotle, saved from destruction, like many other Greek writings, by the Islamic and Jewish scholars, blossomed and culminated in the work of Thomas Aquinas. When the Platonic Academy in Athens was destroyed by Emperor Justinian, the city had long lost the form of government she gave its name to: democracy 2. Democracy The conjunction of two Greek words, demos (people) and kratos (rule) defines the political system that started in the city-state of Athens and is presently the most current form of government in nation-states, even if it bears in some cases little resemblance with what we assume to be democracy: liberal democracy. The United States is considered the first liberal democracy, which evolved from representative democracy whose roots can be found in the Roman Republic but other forms of representative democracy over the centuries existed in various parts of the world, including India and the Americas.
In ancient Athens, democracy was a direct democracy, a type of democracy where every citizen votes on all major policy decision. It flourished in the 5 th century BCE, under Pericles, underwent many vicissitudes and ended with the conquest of Athens by Alexander the Great. Athenian democracy was only for the citizens; slaves, women and resident aliens (the metics from the Greek metoikos) were not granted citizenship. Probably no more than 1/10 of the population of Athens was participating in political life, but those who participated, participated fully. The Cynic philosophers disputed the restrictions on citizenship and the fact that it was a privilege. The most famous of them, Diogenes, a contemporary of Plato, refused those conventions and when asked where he came from replied: “I am a citizen of the world”, kosmopolitēs, coining for us the word cosmopolitan. A citizen of the world (which for the ancient Greeks was cosmos, the universe), a word that applies to so many of the members of our IB community, a cosmopolitan community dedicated to education. But contrary to the Cynics, we don’t reject the “polis” we live in, we embrace it while also embracing the “cosmopolis” we are an integral part of. But back to Aristotle, who believed education was to be controlled by the state and have as a main objective the training of the citizen, who had to be educated in all manners of politics, and who is, with Plato, one of the fathers of Politics.
The word politics is derived from the Greek noun polis for “city-state”, and the adjective politikos, “pertaining to the city”. While politics is generally related to government, today any polity like a corporation, a church or a school, where there is a dominance hierarchy structure, is governed by politics. The two most influential treatises on politics in antiquity are the work of Plato, the “Republic” and of Aristotle, “Politics”. In the Republic, Plato analyses how a good city should be ruled and describes various forms of government. Aristotle’s word for politics was politikê, short for politike episteme, political science, a science belonging to practical science, the science of good action as it is concerned with the happiness of the citizens. For Aristotle, practical science (used to make useful or beautiful objects) is one of the three branches of science, the other two being contemplative science (physics and metaphysics) and practical science. Plato envisioned a city where the well being of the citizens was based on a homogeneous constituency, while Aristotle on the other hand recognized the value of diversity and believed that unity could be achieved through differences, a concept essential to our contemporary times. For him, a unity based on differences was much stronger than a unity based on homogeneity and therefore he advocated the view that the strength of democracy was going to come from uniting differences. The pre-requisite to this theory was to have equality among the citizens holding different views and to allow them to express them freely through rules established for a civic discourse. The history of political philosophy from Plato until the present day makes clear that modern political philosophy is still faced with the basic problems that have been defined by the Greeks. To this day, Aristotle’s “Politics” remains very influential in its thought provoking approach to the ever present concerns about political philosophy, and their strong emphasis on the role of ethics in politics and on the importance of a morally educated citizenry.
(TO BE CONTINUED)