"Dear MEPs, Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
My name is Georgios Linardatos and I am the General Director of the AVGOULEA-LINARDATOU private school in Athens. Our school is recognized as a Microsoft Showcase School, is a member of the Hellenic Private Schools Association, which in turn is a member of ECNAIS.
According to at least one definition Radicalization is a process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations that reject or undermine contemporary ideas and expressions of freedom of choice.
Let it be noted here that the European Independent schools being champions of freedom of choice, could not possibly avert their eyes from the danger of radicalization facing European youths today.
Research has also shown that an individual is more prone to adopt extreme ideals and to undertake dangerous and harmful actions, if it belongs to a group of people that is imbued by the same extreme ideas, rather than when it is harmoniously integrated into a group of people with diverse ideas.
Thus the dynamics of diversity and the power of coexistence with the one that differs, are highlighted as bastions against the dangers of radicalization and our school invests much effort and resources to plan and implement educational activities designed to reinforce these bastions for our students.
Our first line of activities is designed to let students discover diversity in their class, in their families, in our country, in Europe and the entire world. Our students participate in activities such as "My classmates and I" in which they explore each other, their personalities and talents, "Describe and draw your family" through which they focus on the different ways they spend family time, "Mystery skype" a wonderful activity set up by Microsoft, through which one of our classes is connected with another across the Globe, without the students of both classes knowing the geographic location of the other class. The students must ask each other various questions and through these they have to guess each other's locations and nationalities. Another very interesting activity is "Model United Nations", where by teams of students from different schools meet in an amphitheater as a model general assembly of the UN. Each team represents a different country and must support its interests. To do so effectively the team must research the country, its beliefs, its problems, its potential, its ambitions, its interests. By participating in these activities students slowly discover that there is no such thing as a uniform world. Diversity is all around us. It engulfs every aspect of our world and of our lives.
Our second line of activities helps students realize that diversity enriches our lives and our world. It offers us choices. It brings colors into our lives, which otherwise would be drab and grey. Such activities include "The games they play" in which students are shown the vast variety of games children play in different countries, "Live the tradition - dress up and dance" in which they discover and enjoy the multitude of different Greek traditional dances and dresses emanating from every corner of Greece, "Aren't they lovely?" in which they observe and enjoy the wonderful art variety of different cultures, "You think you know your sports?" in which they discover odd and peculiar sports practiced around the world and "Eavesdropping to Ethnic music" in which they learn to play and enjoy listening to music from different parts of the world. In concluding this line of activities students create their own website http://diversity.avgouleaschool.gr/ where they upload their work and interactions with other schools.
Our third line of activities aims to assist students in developing empathy, by putting themselves in the other person's shoes, so to speak. These activities include "My feelings vs yours" where by students learn to express their feelings to each other, "Once upon a time I felt angry" which helps them identify the sources of their anger and deal with them within themselves and "Open up your heart - Write me a letter" which works as confession time between themselves. Through these activities students understand how those that differ feel, what their needs are and thus are able to explain their actions. Moreover they learn to empathize, to accept those that differ and to coexist with them.
Our fourth line of activities employs cooperation vs conflict games, such as "Win-Win - Is it possible?" and "Arm-wrestling wins a prize". These games are designed to help students realize that cooperation almost always offers better and longer lasting results than conflict and antagonism. In arm-wrestling for example students are offered by two teachers a prize each time they beat their opponent. Half an hour later, with all of them exhausted, there are plenty of prizes left and the two teachers announce that they too wish to compete as opponents for the remaining prizes. The kids gather around them and the teachers begin to arm wrestle, having however agreed between themselves to let alternatively each one of them win without a struggle from the other. In no time at all the teachers win all the remaining prizes. This example never fails to impress the students.
Our final line of activities includes "Debate in class" for primary as well as high school, interschool debating battles and the All Greece rhetorical games. The common element in all those activities is that students form two teams and under specific and strict rules have to debate a given statement. Indicative examples of such statements are:
- The use of any form of violence is unacceptable
- Television is responsible for the violence in society
- Terrorist proclamations should not receive publicity by the press and the media
- A common history book must be taught in all European schools
- Open borders lead to societies open to the future
- Military intervention to enforce peace is acceptable
- Developed countries should not aid poor countries that do not respect human rights
- The peaceful use of nuclear energy must continue
- Freedom of expression must be limitless
…and so on.
One team must argue for the statement and the other against it. The very interesting part of this process is that the teams do not get to choose which side they will support. Instead they are assigned to argue for or against the statement.
This process offers an excellent opportunity for students to learn to discuss complex and often heated issues in a calm, civilized manner. To explore views, practices, beliefs, ideologies and philosophies that differ from their own. It allows them to study the arguments offered in support of these and to develop their ability to analyze and reason. Finally to compare different views to their own and most of all to learn to question the presumed infallibility of their own beliefs and views and to shed their own biases.
By those activities students are led to achieve self-knowledge, to explain the world around them, to cooperate and communicate, to have respect for the views of others, to practice tolerance and to understand the value of dialogue in a democratic society.
Students are driven to conclusions, they formulate alternative propositions for the reconstruction of contemporary reality and with the power of youth seek ways to change the world and realize their dreams, using as tools their empathy, knowledge and their power to reason.
Moreover, interschool debates, especially between schools from different countries, facilitate cultural exchanges and understanding between individuals of different nationalities, they promote cooperation and create hope for peaceful coexistence.
By participating in all the aforementioned activities and many more, our students gradually realize that diversity, when viewed with empathy and reason, does not create a multiplicity of problems, as perhaps initially perceived, on the contrary it offers a bouquet of different solutions to our problems.
I hope that in the short interval of my ten minutes I managed to give you a glimpse of what private schools in Greece do to prevent youth radicalization through education.
Thank you for your attention."