Synopsis: For generations of Greek Americans, preserving their culture, religion, and language has been a cherished goal. Even so, the Greek language is in decline in America. As the Greek American community has become increasingly dispersed geographically, the preservation of the Greek language in the United States has faced almost insurmountable challenges. This white paper proposes a remedy: Mainstreaming Modern Greek in the United States. Mainstreaming Greek proposes introducing Greek language instruction into the mainstream of American education using online distance learning. The program presents an economically viable, educationally valid and realizable opportunity to renew the Greek-speaking community in the US. The realization of the Mainstreaming Greek proposal begins with a pilot program for public schools in one state and has subsequent phases that expand the program to a national scope on multiple educational levels. With sufficient support from powerful institutions and individuals in the Greek community, the decline of the Greek-speaking community can not only be halted but can be transformed into an expansion, creating a growing and vibrant Greek-speaking community in America.
Introduction This white paper introduces a proposal to "mainstream" Modern Greek instruction into the American education system using accredited online distance learning. The goal of the program is to create a foundation for the cultivation and expansion of the Greek-speaking community in the United States. To understand the opportunity, consider these questions: What would be the repercussions if Modern Greek were offered, alongside Spanish and French, in every American public school as an option for fulfilling foreign language requirements? What if subsequently this educational beachhead were expanded to the university level in almost every American university, and then to a national continuing adult education program? In forming your answers to these questions, consider the impact of the teaching of French in the mainstream: 18% of US high school students who are studying a foreign language study French, even though only 5% of the US population claims French ancestry. It is common practice for schools to organize cultural experience trips to France. This tourism and cultural immersion stems directly from teaching French in US high schools. The mainstream study of French and French literature continues in the US university system, with a similar disproportionate allocation of resources relative to French-American ancestry. There are many continuing educational and cultural programs in every US city for adults to continue their study of French and French culture. Arguably, the momentum stemming from the mainstream introduction of French in the early twentieth century has preserved a language and a culture in the US disproportionate to its ongoing ethnic presence. This idea of preserving “a language and culture” strikes a familiar chord for Greek Americans. Greek Americans can use this same educational effect to preserve and expand the Greekspeaking population of the United States. The impact of doing so can reverse the trend of declining Greek language usage in the US, preserve and expand the percentage of Americans that identify with Greece and Greek ancestry, and expand US tourism in Greece and Cyprus. Is “mainstreaming” Greek an exercise in imaginative and wishful fantasy? The answer is simply: no. Twenty years ago, it would have been a fantasy. The economic and
organizational challenges of having a physical instructional presence in all schools were insurmountable. Fortunately, the world has changed. The development of high-speed internet in the United States and the acceptance of online distance learning have changed the economic and organizational challenges fundamentally and radically for the better. Online distance learning creates virtual classrooms. A virtual classroom can be comprised of an instructor at one location and a group of students, each at a different physical location. For instance, the instructor could be in Denver and could be teaching five students, one each in Denver, Colorado Springs, Phoenix, Cheyenne, and Santa Fe. The glue connecting the participants into a classroom experience is the broadband internet capacity that is ubiquitous in the United States. This ability to leverage competent instruction from a central location and project it to multiple distant locations radically reduces the difficulties of introducing Greek broadly. The development and acceptance of online distance learning in the last ten years has created an environment where the Mainstreaming Greek proposition is entirely realizable. The majority of states in the United States are already offering accredited language instruction, delivered via the internet, into brick-and-mortar schools. It is not being done with Greek yet, but the success of distance learning and its acceptance by the educational community are unquestionable. The Mainstreaming Greek effort is at the formative stages of development. The purpose of this white paper is to engage potential participants, contributors, and allies in the initiative, with a goal of creating a pilot program for the 2009-2010 scholastic year. The remainder of this document addresses briefly the following topics: Fostering a Greek-speaking community Changing Greek community structure and language adoption Employing online distance learning Realizing Mainstreaming Greek Mainstreaming Greek’s success
Fostering a Greek-speaking community The goal of this white paper is to catalyze a process that leads ultimately to the creation and expansion of a vibrant Greek-speaking community in the United States. A “vibrant Greek-speaking community” means that the community would surpass the phrase-book, food-word competence that characterizes most Greek American families now. It means a widespread community really able to use Greek for communication. Achieving this goal is a long process, but it is realizable if this call to action catalyzes the creation of a pragmatic program. In 1999 the Rassias Commission, a blue-ribbon panel established by the former Archbishop of America, Spyridon, stated the urgency for immediate action. The Greek
language is dying in the United States. The natural transmission of language from parent to child has been atrophied by the urgencies of daily family and economic life. The worthiness of Greek Americans preserving their ancestral language has been discussed, critiqued, and promoted for many years; it is not the role of this short white paper to evangelize this goal. We simply accept the goal as valid, and supported by the Greek community. The Greek-American community desires the preservation of its ethnic language. In economic terms, the demand for US Percent High Greek language instruction is Citizens Speaking School clearly present. with Ancestry
The 2000 US census demonstrates that Greek Americans speak their French 16 Million 10% 18.30% ancestral language at home much Italian 5 Million 20% 1.20% more frequently than other Greek 1.1Million 34% <0.01% European ancestry groups; this is illustrated in Figure 1. It is Figure 1: Language Retention and Instruction reasonable to assert that the second and third generations of Greek Americans still retain a desire to learn and speak Greek. Furthermore, these statistics strongly suggest that, if given a choice in satisfying a foreign language requirement, most Greek American high school students would choose Greek. Their generation’s connection to Greek heritage is still strong. Will it be so in the next generation? The answer is probably not, unless action is taken. Do the data demonstrate this risk? Yes. Although the number of Americans that identified themselves as having Greek ancestry increased by 10% from 1990 to 2000, in the same period the percent speaking Greek at home decreased by 10%. The Rassias Commission further recommended that we teach Greek as a foreign language, renew the instructional environment and infrastructure, and encourage families to adopt using Greek at home. A vibrant Greek-speaking community will not be created simply by offering Greek in high schools. Programs will need to be offered on the university level, in continuing adult education, and in support of Greek speaking families at home. Classroom instruction needs to be supplemented with “real world” community and cultural activities. These objectives are achievable, as demonstrated by the example of French instruction in the US. A Greek distance learning infrastructure can be leveraged into all of these sectors of instruction. The virtual ubiquity of broadband internet access throughout the United States guarantees the ability to transmit learning into universities, public schools, homes, cars, and even Starbucks at no additional cost.
As with French, the lynchpin is to “mainstream” an accredited Greek program into the public schools using online learning. Subsequently, the other sectors can be developed using the infrastructure created for the high school program.
Changing Greek community structure and language adoption In the past fifty years, the characteristics of the Greek Community have changed radically. There are no longer Greek neighborhoods for immigrants and first generation Greek Americans. Instead, with minor exceptions, the Greek American population is spread evenly, and thinly, across the fifty states. As of 2000, the United States had over 1.1 million people who identified as GreekAmerican. New York, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Florida have the five largest Greek populations in the country. But all fifty states have a Greek population ranging form 0.1 to 1.2 percent of the state’s total population. Because the population is evenly dispersed, the Greek community is becoming increasingly decentralized. The natural opportunities for using Greek language for shopping, chatting with neighbors, eating at restaurants, etc. simply no longer exist for the vast majority of the Greek American community. Within the current community structure, sustaining and propagating the Greek language requires extraordinary individual sacrifices. Few communities have a large enough Greek population to maintain a Greek day school. An expectation that Greek day schools will foster an increased adoption of the Greek language is unrealistic; the percent of the Greek American population that has access to such schools is minuscule. After-school Greek school is another option. But while it does not completely remove a child from his community, it forces the child to choose between the typical after-school extracurricular activities, and attending yet another parent-mandated, classroom experience. This asks a child to make a heroic choice, to spend more time in school just to preserve the ancestral language. Even though the desire to preserve the Greek language and identity is deep, concerted efforts to make the “heroic choice” to invest in ethnicity face logistical obstacles. The establishment of Greek day schools and after-school Greek educational programs cannot transcend the fact that Greeks are dispersed across the country. The cost and logistical support requirements of parish-based after-school programs are prohibitive both for parents and parishes. Current existing options for preserving the Greek language do not adequately address these issues. A majority of universities do not have Modern Greek programs. Those that do are not directly addressing the issue of cultural maintenance. Additionally, learning Greek at the university level, while bringing a student up to a proficient level of Greek, does little to create a speaking community. The commercial options for the Greek language are limited. Language programs like Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone have no direct teacher contact and little social interaction and do little more than get a student to a level
where he or she can complete simple tasks—e.g., asking for directions or ordering food. These programs do not have the capacity to truly develop a student’s language competence.
Employing Online Distance Learning The dispersion of the Greek-American community creates fundamental problems of both time and space for teaching the Greek language. Distance learning is the answer to those problems. Educational language requirements create an opportunity for teaching the Greek language. But the Greek population is spread out across thousands of public and private schools. This creates a problem for the delivery of Greek language education. Distance learning, the delivery of education via an internet classroom, is a solution. It provides an acceptable alternative to classic brick-and-mortar classrooms. There are already states that accept distance learning classes as a viable alternative. In Colorado, if a school does not offer a particular language of interest to a student—for example, German or Mandarin Chinese—the student may take that class online and receive the same credit as other students taking language classes offered in a conventional classroom. More than twentyfive states at present offer a form of such programs. The acceptance of distance learning by the educational sector has spawned commercial offerings to provide solutions for the online distance learning market. Household names like Adobe have recognized the significance of this market by offering technology tools and infrastructure that facilitate online learning (www.adobe.com/education). Other companies have used such tools to create virtual high schools. Two of the more prevalent are Laurel Springs (www.laurelsprings.com) and Virtual High School (www.govhs.org). Neither of these, nor any of their competitors, offers Greek as an online distance-learning course. Online distance learning is successfully becoming a part of public education in the United States. Teaching Modern Greek on a national level can be part of this success. We propose creating a live virtual classroom using tools such as the Adobe Connect-Pro product line. There will be supplemental texts and materials delivered with online media. Students will be able to interact with teachers and other peers via the online classroom, a necessity for competently learning a language. It will be significantly easier to maintain a top level of instruction, as one teacher will be able to reach students in multiple states without the hassle of daily travel. Before, there might have been difficulty finding a proficient Modern Greek teacher for a school, or even a group of schools; now, one proficient teacher can reach an entire state or even time zone of Greek-American students. The dispersion of the Greek community threatens to destroy its language and ultimately its culture. Technology, in the form of distance learning, provides the opportunity to maintain the language and culture in the face of ethnic dispersion.
But the goal is not merely to offer an alternative language for a high school language requirement. It is to create competence in the Greek language. Such a goal requires more channels of delivery than high school alone. In order effectively to maintain Greek American culture, youth schools, universities, adult continuing education, and families that home school must all have access to online classes. Members of the Greek community of all ages and from all educational situations must all have access to language instruction if the Greek-speaking community is to be successfully cultivated. It would be more effective for a child to learn Greek if his parents were taking courses with him or her, and they could practice together in their home environment. Again, all these sectors can be cultivated using similar distance learning approaches.
Realizing Mainstreaming Greek We have established a goal of having a pilot program operational, with matriculated students, for the 2009-2010 scholastic year. This program: would offer accredited Modern Greek instruction to high school students in a single US state, and would be a success if the students learn Greek to a level of competence comparable to other foreign languages offered by traditional brick-and-mortar instruction. These are ambitious goals and require considerable effort to be achieved effectively. The creation of the pilot program is a project in itself. The work associated with the preparation of the pilot is critical not only to the success of the pilot, but also to leveraging the results into programs in subsequent states. A sketch of the work to launch the pilot in fall 2009 is: Instructional approach: The Rassias Commission emphasized the importance of selecting an effective instructional approach. The Rassias Method, a successful instructional approach, is likely to be adopted by this program. Curriculum: Classroom materials, textbooks, and assessments must be adopted and applied to a distance learning context. Technology and infrastructure: The technology tools and media used to project the virtual classroom into high schools and homes need to be evaluated and selected. Staffing: The Rassias Commission also emphasized the importance of the training of the instructors. Accreditation: Probably the most time-consuming issue will be garnering accreditation from the state agency. Student recruitment and coordination: Once the pilot has a fair certainty of being realized, the organization must reach out to potential students and their families for them to matriculate in the program. Organization and structure: There are a variety of forms of corporate approaches to create the organization that delivers the program. They range from establishing an independent new entity to being part of an existing forprofit or non-profit entity.
Funding: The pilot cannot be realized without some monetary investment to achieve the desired results. The level of investment required is relatively low given the potential return-on-investment.
The most important first step is to “market” the concept to the powerful entities concerned with the Greek community and culture. The pilot effort will be most effectively realized by capturing the imagination and energetic support of the influential individuals and institutions concerned with Greek community, culture, and language. The major entities of influence are: Greek government: The Greek government is the “kratos,” but it also is the major secular supporter of the “ethnos” that surpasses its geographical borders. On a practical economic level, supporting the expansion of Hellenism in the US provides an immediate return-on-investment in tourism. On a more philosophical level, fostering a more active sense of “ethnos” among Greek Americans and Philhellenes is an investment in human talent that will recompense the Greek people continually in the future. Greek Orthodox Church: The Greek Orthodox Church, centered in Constantinople, has a tradition of caring not only for the spiritual well-being of the laity, but also of acting as the protector of the Greek race stemming from its role during the Turkish occupation. The synergism between Orthodoxy and Greek ethnicity is well founded; an investment in Hellenism will deepen American youth’s understanding of the unique value Orthodoxy brings to spiritual life. Greek American organizations: Greek American organizations and prominent Greek Americans have long discussed and promoted the Greek language and culture. American Academia: There are fifty-plus higher education institutions offering instruction in Modern Greek language, culture, or literature. Furthermore, the community teaching ancient Greek is much more broadly distributed. Each of these categories of academia would benefit from the introduction of Modern Greek more broadly into American high schools. Each of these influential entities can help realize this vision by contributing supportive influence either monetarily, intellectually, or organizationally. A maximal effort by the various constituencies to insure the timely implementation of a pilot program and its educational success would insure the rapid adoption of this approach in other states in the US. Success will breed success. The work for each additional step will be considerably less than that for the original pilot program, as each subsequent state can reuse the instructional approach, materials, technology, and infrastructure developed for the pilot. The whole US could conceivably be supported from a single site developed for the pilot.
Mainstreaming Greek’s success If sufficient constituencies interested in the survival of the Greek language in the United States engage in the Mainstreaming Greek project, then clearly it will succeed. The challenges of the pilot project are easily surmountable, with only modest funding and sufficient community support to encourage the process of accreditation. There are no significant technological challenges. The curriculum and teaching methods exist. The acceptance of online distance learning in the educational community is broad. The demand among students, and indeed among the larger Greek-American community, is undeniable. The ramp-up from a pilot program to the national level can leverage the technology, materials, and experience from the pilot. In each subsequent state, the principal challenge would be achieving program accreditation in the state’s jurisdiction. The existence of a successful accredited pilot in one state will be a powerful argument for accreditation in each subsequent state. Rare are the historical occasions when such a relatively small effort could have such a large impact on the continued viability of a minority ethnic group. We believe that the Mainstreaming Greek project is indeed one of those occasions. We, the authors of this white paper, ask that all constituencies lend their support, their maximal support, toward the goal of a realizing a pilot in the fall of 2009. For this program to have the greatest certainty of success, it needs the active support, funding, and influence of the powerful individuals and institutions associated with the Greek community. If the reader cares about the viability of Greek language and culture in the United States, we respectfully ask: If not Mainstreaming Greek, how? If not now, when?