Thursday, March 4, 2010


(Μάθε παιδί μου γράμματα), /`maθə pə`dι mu j`ramata/

Directed by Thodoros Maranghos, writing credits Thodoros Maranghos. Year 1981. (Runtime 96 minutes). The film received two awards at the Thessaloniki Film Festival in 1981, for best actor (Vassilis Diamantopoulos), the high school principal, and best actress (Anna Matzourani) the high school teacher.

Only six years after the dictatorship, this movie criticizes, with a clever and satiric way, the political situation of the last 50 years in Greece. For (probably) the first time a director had the courage to say that the communists were not the “the bad guys” and the betrayers in World War II, but they were people who suffered the worse from the conservative Greek governments. The allocate crisis of the Greek educational system is attributed, according to the diffuse ideology of the time, in the unwillingness of the serving foreign interests oligarchy to really educate the people.

Maranghos made a wonderful introduction on education and culture in Greece. He finds unacceptable education to be under the “umbrella” of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, because Christianity and the Ancient Greek Spirit do not go along.

The most revolutionary part of the film is the social commentary. Subjects that where considered taboo for the Greek cinema of the time (sexuality, political sectarianism, unemployment, the rule of the church, miss education, poverty and the negligence toward rural communities) are touched and challenged in a film that only looks like a coming-of-age story. Probably one of the most amazing scenes showing this is the scene where the students, in the classroom, read their compositions about everyday life in town, and while they read, the camera takes a tour in town showing us what happens in their typical day, and what problems they face. That and the final scene, inside the courtroom …

The director in his acute political satire of the situation in which is found education in Greece, has a truckload of things to say, so there's no time to be subtle. His case is presented with (sometimes brutal) directness and always unbelievable, especially for that time, sarcasm. The change in the Greek language, the changes in ethos, the church, the communists, the attempts to rewrite history, everything is here.

The old fashioned high school principal, while he shows the new teacher (they recently got married) around in a remote small town, realizes with sorrow that the provincial school where he works, is in danger to close because of lack of students. He eagerly awaits his son’s return, “the one with the curly hair”, after years of postgraduate studies abroad. The arrival of his bald head son, who remains unemployed, is only the beginning.

The whole story is seen from the point of view of Socratis (the principal’s younger son), an underprivileged teenager who is about to finish high school. He is in love with a very poor girl. The problem is that his father is the very conservative schoolmaster, while she is the granddaughter of a communist who was executed by the Germans. And during that historical period, even in the years of the reestablishment of Greek democracy, the core of Greek society (even more in towns like the one where the story is set) remained mainly really conservative. Furthermore, the arrival of his brother, after a lot of years of studying abroad, and his failure to find a suitable job, challenge his faith in the conservative social system that ruled Greece at the time.

In the film get an education, child the equation 6+6+6+6 led to a doctoral diploma that are used to support an old typewriter. Six years at the public school, six years at the high school, six years at the university, and six years spent for a doctoral, led to the unemployment or the part time seasonal jobs.

An extremely funny movie, unfortunately most of the movie's strong political message and boldness in dealing with the ultra-sensitive "communist issue" is lost unless you have a pretty good knowledge of modern Hellenic history.

The old fashioned high school principal and teacher of Greek, Periklis, (whose first wife died years ago), marries Elpida, a high school teacher. She soon becomes the favorite teacher of the high school students. One of them is Socratis, her husband’s youngest son. Socratis is the exact opposite of what his father (who recites Ancient Greek poets and talks handling the puristic Greek) dreamt for him. He named him after Socrates, hoping that by teaching him “our National Language” one day he will become an orator and public speaker. But Socratis stutters, he prefers to listen to Boney M. songs, and hides soft porn magazines under his Ancient Greek books. He is in love with Chrysanthi (meaning golden flower) Kanavos, the granddaughter of a communist who was executed by the Germans during World War II.

Periklis receives a letter from his older son, Dimosthenis (Kostas Tsakonas), the one who fulfilled his dreams. Dimosthenis is coming back home after having finished his doctoral studies. He is successful abroad, the Economist mentioned him as one of the brightest new European scientists, what father would not be proud of him? Periklis, his new wife, his younger son, the priest of the town, and the mayor go to Athens to welcome him and Periklis can not wait to see his “curly haired” son. He almost faints when he sees an almost middle age bald-headed! Not to mention that Dimosthenis is very “liberal”, having left wing ideas, and knows that his doctoral will be of no face-value in the Greek market because he does not have the right “connections”. In fact, everybody, (ministers, high rank secretaries and so on) congratulate him, give promises and pat on the back, and that is all. One of the funny (and sad at the same time) moments of the movie is to what happens to his credentials, a thick pack in an envelop. It goes from office to office, from desk to desk, each one holding it puts a seal or a stamp, nobody opens it, and finishes in the hands of a secretary who uses it to support his old typewriter. Dimosthenis will end up unemployed, living in the town and playing backgammon with his younger brother and other people at the coffee-house.

Elpida, the Greek teacher, Socratis’s wife, is facing other problems. He own students! On Chrysanthi’s birthday party they gather around her asking “tough” questions, that can not be asked during school hours. What happens after they finish school? Is it right to have entry exams for higher education and selected by their grades in what university department they would enroll? Why school does not prepare them for the after school life? Whose interests serve education, universities, and technical education?

Elpida, feels already uncomfortable, and she will be more when Chrysanthi starts asking questions. Her grandfather was a weaver (a big part of the community are weavers) and his dream was to start a weavers association, and for that he was hated by some people whose interests were against a weavers association. One of them accused him to be a communist to the German authorities, and he was executed along with other people who were found inside the school and belonged to the ‘Resistance’. Still more than thirty years later his name is not mentioned as one of the war victims, because he was a communist. (But was he really, or he was just a man following his vision? It is not clear in the film and it does not matter). His son (Chrysanthi’s father) was persecuted as a communist too (although he was only a child). He was asked to sign a statement that he was not a communist, and when he did not he was expelled from all the high schools in Greece. His adventures made him ask his daughter not to talk openly and keep her thoughts for herself. But Chrysanthi “took after her grandfather” as the local police and authorities say, and for that “she is dangerous”. Her questions to Elpida, her teacher, are even more tough. Why history taught at school is full of inaccurate events and lies? For example the Patriarch of Constantinople anathematized the 1821 Revolution of the Greeks against the Turks, and the history books say that the Patriarch was one of the leaders. The monks betrayed and gave to the Turk authorities many injured rebels, and so on. Who fought against the Germans during World War II, who resisted and who collaborated? Why many of the today Ministers are children and relatives of the collaborators? The truth is covered, or even worse altered, why do you grown ups let it happen? Why don’t we call the names of the true heroes in the National Celebrations?

What is a teacher’s philosophy and how should s/he respond when s/he is asked to give her/his opinion? Should a teacher hide the truth when there is pressure from the authorities? What should a teacher do when s/he realizes s/he is used by the system to work against the students’ good? Elpida responds hesitating “the teacher should know, … have an opinion and philosophy, … take part in conversations, … know how to talk, what to say, say the truth, and help.”

When the day of the National Celebration comes the authorities will uncover in the school yard a monument and a marble plaque with the names of the people who were killed in the school. Everybody attends, the people of the town, the town authorities (police force included), the church authorities, the students and the teachers, and when the names of the dead are called and the plaque is revealed the name Christos Kanavos is not mentioned. Chrysanthi asks her father to call his father’s name and when he does so, some people clap and respond positive, Chrysanthi tries to lay a laurel wreath, the police intervenes and … chaos follows! Socratis grabs the wreath and goes in the school. From the balcony screams the name of Christos Kanavos. He realizes that does not stutter any more “you will hear my voice now” he shouts and repeats the name. The policemen try to catch him and destroy the wreath but he saves it running on the mountains, calling the name of Christos Kanavos, and the echo makes it heard everywhere. He lays the wreath by the ‘hidden school’. [Note: During the Turk occupation enlighten monks gathered children in their monasteries (which were on the top of the mountains, so they could see the enemy troops coming) and taught them to read and write. Those monasteries-‘schools’, were called hidden schools, and played an important role in educating and keeping language and religion alive.]

The students rebel and climb on the mountains too, and meet Socratis who is already joined by his older brother Dimosthenis. He encourages them to do what they think it is the right thing to do, because: “We gave our education as ‘dowry’ to an old and ugly (but rich) groom named European Community, because we wanted him to ‘protect’ us from being old, lonely, and attacked by ‘enemies’ coming from East.” The students write a letter “to whom it might concern” (meaning the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs), and send it to the local newspaper to publish, but the editor calls Periklis who does not give his approval.

The police arrest Socratis, Dimisthenis, Chrysanthi, her father, and who ‘created problems’ and charge them with resistance to authority. The next day they call Periklis offering him to let his sons free, and him to be the witness for the prosecution against Chrysanthi and her father in the trial. ‘Offer’ that he has to accept, because he has to save his sons from the “communist net” which is trying to spread and destroy the National and Religious Greek Ideals he advocates. On the other hand Chrysanti asks Elpida to be her witness for the defence, but Elpida is still reluctant. Some days before the trial the superintendent’s office orders Periklis to ask the teacher of the Greek courses to give an essay to the students: “The patriotism of the Greeks”. It is the exact essay years ago Chrysanthi’s father was asked to write ! Elpida is the teacher of the Greek courses and when she realizes what she is asked to do, she remembers Chrysanthi asking her : “What should a teacher do when s/he realizes s/he is used by the system to work against the students’ good?” and denies to give the essay to her students, and leaves the classroom. It is Periklis who will write the topic on the blackboard adding that whoever makes political hints will be expelled from all Greek schools. Chrysanthi leaves the classroom, and using a piece of chalk writes her grandfather’s name on the plaque.

Periklis and Elpida ask the help of the priest when they realize that they are both witnesses of the two opposite sides. The priest, who was present and knows what really happened, suggests that one of the two should not take part in this sad story, and this person should be Elpida, because as God said “the woman should fear the man”, the woman is inferior, and should share her husband’s ideas.

On the day of the trial, the family is divided. Elpida and the two sons are on the Kanavos family side, Elpida is Chrysanthi’s witness for the defence, and Periklis is the witness for the prosecution. When Periklis stands and is asked to say what happened, he fights between the truth and his fears. Socratis, recalls his father’s advise “say the truth, be a decent human being, this is what makes a man respect himself”, and when he sees his own father mumbling and stuttering he jumps up and screams “The truth, say the truth if you respect yourself”.

Image : The good teacher, student, and school

Get an education, child presents a certain perspective on the good teacher, the good student, the good principal, and the good school.

Elpida (her name means hope), is the ‘cool’ teacher, or at least she is willing to be close to her students although she did not bring any innovations or tried new things. She does not fight conformity, she does not try new things, she does not encourage her students to express themselves, fight conformity, and seek the Truth. She follows the established curriculum, but on the other hand she seems to be a caring teacher. She is a quite person, but she is not a ‘flat character’, and when she has to choose a side as an educator, she rebels. She realizes that she is used by the superintendent’s office, and her husband who is also the principal in order to destroy Chrysanthi’s future, and she does not want to take part in it. On the other hand she does nothing to change this crime against her student. Refusing to ask her students to write the essay and leaving the classroom is only personal resistance (or even worse cowardice), because she did not stop Periklis from doing it. Her decision to be witness for the defense and against he husband who is the witness for the prosecution is not enough. Elpida is not the ‘good’, but she is better than Periklis.

Periklis, the old fashioned high school principal, represents traditionalism, rule-following (here enforced by a system of demerits, grades, threats, and the power to expel students from all the Greek high schools), conformity, and disciplinarity. He is the authority, but in reality he is a lower rank authority. He subordinates to the clergy, the local authorities, and the police.

Chrysanthi is the thinker, the philosopher, the rebel, the danger, and she ‘must be stopped for the good of the Nation’, she can ‘infect’ and ‘mislead’ her peers, and the society. [Note: The communists who suffered social inequity, threats, and unbearable pressure and at the end signed the statement of being good Greek patriots and not communists were called ‘healed’, like they were subjects to a mental or soul illness before signing.] In the film he represents the good student, she is risk-taker, independent, open to new ideas, to self-expression, and to the pursuit of freedom and life. She is a ‘leader’, and Socratis finds his inspiration and his ‘muse’ in her.

Socratis, the immature high school teenager, makes us hope that the youth is going to be better than their parents, and they will change the world. Of course Socratis starts his rebellion for Chrysanthi’s love, but when he ‘crosses the border’ and he is free to express himself (the stuttering boy becomes the ‘voice’ who speaks or better shouts the truth), he is the fighter, and the leader for social changes.

Dimosthenis is an important character whose adventures challenge the faith of his younger brother in the conservative social system that ruled Greece at the time.

The authorities, clergy, and police, are omnipresent. In his essay about their town Socratis wrote : “our little town is on the mountains because our grand-grand-fathers loved God and wanted to be as close as possible to Him. They built churches to praise Him, and there are more churches than homes. To show his appreciation, He ‘transformed’ most of us in priests, bishops, archbishops, the forty per cent of the clergymen in Greece come from our town.” In the film, the collaborator who gave Chrysanthi’s grandfather to the German authorities became a monk after they left the country. The priest of the town calls Chrysanthi’s father to school (and not the church, underlining this way the church ruling over education), to warn him that his daughter is talking about the communists saying that they were patriots. He acts as a marriage counselor too, advising Elpida to submit to her husband’s decision. The police is playing the role of the ‘protector’ and ‘law’ at the same time “buying” witnesses if necessary. The officers are uneducated. The officer calls Periclis to come to the police station (τμήμα, /`tmιma/), pronouncing it (τιμήμα /tι`mιma/), which if it is stressed on the third syllable means price (τίμημα, /`tιmιma/). The film maker is playing with the situation as Periclis has to pay a price to the uneducated police-law enforcement-law. At the police headquarters there are patriotic signs everywhere, pictures of ‘victims slaughtered by the communists’, open bean cans exposed in glass boxes with signs ‘weapon used to slash throats invented by anarcho-communist-troops’ and so on. His best friend, the police commanding officer, offers Periklis the freedom of his sons if he comes to the trial as witness for the prosecution while they play chess, to underline that there is a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’.

Race / Ethnicity / Class / Gender / Language

Race and Ethnicity in Get an education, child is translated in ‘Greeks - Patriots’, versus ‘communists – trouble makers and enemies of the nation and religion’. The latter are outcasts, dangerous, belonging to the lower socio-economic class, having no rights, punished even if they are not criminals by the Law. At the time, if you were accused to be one of them, you lost your identity, you and your family members were ‘labeled’ as “carrying the miasma of anarchism-communism”, ‘infected’ or ‘misled’, who did not belong in the “Greek-Orthodox Christian” virtuous, decent, high-principled, upright society.

The language used was indicative of their right or left wing beliefs. Periclis, is handling the puristic Greek, the priest and the police commander the official Greek, the uneducated officers (usually farmers and villagers who had some six years schooling, but voters of the right wing and having the right ‘connections’), are trying to use the official language, but they make mistakes and use the wrong words. Socratis, Dimosthenis, Elpida, Chrysanthi, and her father (who did not have more than seven years of schooling because he was persecuted and not allowed to follow any Greek school due to his ‘communist life’, has educated himself by reading any kind of books, newspapers, and so on), speak ‘modern Greek’, the new official language, which is not the ‘stiff language the grammarians and linguists created for us to learn’.

The women at the time suffered inequity. Elpida is a high school teacher, she is educated, she has studied philosophy and pedagogy, but she does not rebel. Her position in the society is inferior, and she is expected to submit to her husband. She does not have the right (in public at least) to disagree, or challenge his (or her father’s) decisions. She is expected to accept ‘hierarchy’ in both family and society.

Chrysanthi on the other hand is the new generation woman. She demands equity, and respect. She fights for her rights, changes in society, and the Truth.


Surveillance, spectacle, and image

The film shows the students in the school environment and in a birthday party. It shows the way the authoritarian principal interacts with the teacher (his own wife), and the hierarchy in education: Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Superintendent’s Office in collaboration with the Orthodox Church, high school principal, teachers. Last but not least the relation between the principal and the clergy towards the parents. In terms of surveillance and spectacle, the intentions of education are disciplinary and work to reinforce particular forms of behavior and governmentality.

The students are free thinkers, but they do not have the ‘good’ teacher who would help them in their revolution. Their families are their friends, and who they talk with about their problems, but when they trust their new teacher, she does not have any daring answers to give, or inspire them.

For the principal, the school is seen as a first rate institution, which educates and inspires the young Greeks to become Greek patriots and good Christians.

Everyday life and technology, globalization, and standardization

The school purpose, the efforts of the principal and the authorities are to keep and reproduce society as it exists.

The film demonstrates the differential between strategies and tactics. Strategies being the tools of the relatively powerful (the authorities, starting from the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, and continuing with the superintendent’s office, the high school principal, the clergy, and the police), who decide for the future of the students and their chances to get a school diploma if they follow the norm and do not challenge the ‘status quo’. Tools of the relatively powerless (the students), when Chrysanthi decides to lay the wreath, her classmates rebel when she is stopped, Socratis becomes aware of the importance of the moment and the events, and when they write the protest letter and send it to the local newspaper. They realized that the ‘real’ meaning of schooling, should involve not only individual transformation, but social, political, and economic revolution.

The everyday of formal schooling is disconnected from the interests and desires of the out of school lives of the students. The whole school setting seems to discourage them to explore the out of school world, class, gender, and socioeconomic issues, and suppress any initiatives in changes in society.

Standardization is ruling in formal schooling. The good school grades are the half part of the entrance ‘ticket’ to universities. To get good school grades you should be obedient, not challenging the authorities, go to church on Sundays and attend the church service, take part in National Celebrations, (be an ‘Orthodox Greek Patriot’ and prove it when the authorities ask you to), and be a good student.

The visual-critical frameworks

Interpreting Get an education, child critically means considering how the viewer and the viewed are connected. What is the film trying to say to and / or about us? Why? Who financed the film, whose positions were represented and whose were excluded, and why?

As praxis, visual studies speak to the possibility of incorporating popular pedagogical images into the curriculum and as tools of classroom instruction. (Vinson K. and Ross W., 2003, p. 170). Students could watch the film in class and discuss it. More specifically to this film, however, such a discussion, from the perspective of visual culture, might revolve around questions such as: If one were to make a movie of our classroom, what it would look like? Would it be similar to Get an education, child? Why and / or why not? Who would you want to produce the movie? Who would you want to see it? Would, or could, it really represent what our classroom is like? Why do some people like particular films and others dislike them? Why do we blindly say that we like that film especially if we don’t agree with what is happening in the film? Is it because it is considered a “classic”, or because of the messages it passes?

Cultural studies and the study of popular culture suggest several themes for critical understanding and critical classroom action. Its concerns, principally, are those of inclusion, hierarchy, everyday life, dominance, voice, and transformation / reproduction. (Vinson K. and Ross W., 2003, p. 171).In approaching Get an education, child both interpretively and more directly pedagogically, tough questions must be addressed. Why is the principal male and the teacher female? Of all of the film’s characters, whose opinions seem to be most important? Why? Is this film “realistic”? How are the rest of the schools of the time (public urban high schools and / or private high schools)? Can we (students and / or teachers) relate to the school of the film? Is Elpida a good teacher? Why and / or why not? Would she be effective and successful here and now? Why and / or why not? Does she bring a new and innovating methods of teaching? Should she leave the classroom? Why and / or why not?

Media studies insists first that we be clear that no representation can truly depict any instance of reality accurately The media always mediate between the image and the viewer. (Vinson K. and Ross W., 2003, p. 171). Critically understanding Get an education, child and incorporating it into the classroom requires asking questions such as who produced the movie and why? What relations exist between the film and our society? Between the film and Greek society in late 1970s – early 1980s? Who most likely watched Get an education, child when it was first released, and what do you think different viewers thought of it? Why?

Lastly, film studies encourages viewing a film relative both to its aesthetic dimensions and to its socio-ideological contexts. (Vinson K. and Ross W., 2003, p. 171). We must ask, therefore, questions about the film’s accuracy and quality and about its messages and their meanings. Such questions might include: Did the story make sense? Was it authentic or credible? Was the acting good? Would you like to have attended such a school? Do schools and societies depicted in the film still exist today? What would you think of such a school if one like the one depicted in Get an education, child existed here today?

In the end, we must as viewers and as educators ask why we feel the way we do about particular pedagogical representations. If we initially liked Get an education, child, do we still? And, how might we (re)consider what it means?

Theories of image

Bakhtin’s chronotope asks viewers to consider the relationships between space and time implicit in any given image, as well as how, and to what extend, space and time merge and exist as an explicit character. (Vinson K. and Ross W., 2003, p. 172). How do the time and place within Get an education, child is set influence our understanding of the film? How do we and our students perceive the Greek society of late ’70s – early ’80s and this location interact with how they are presented in the film?

Barthes’s rhetoric of the image suggests seeing a film in terms of its linguistic or textual and its symbolic or iconic messages. On the linguistic / textual level, Barthes asks that viewers attend to things like what is shown versus what is not shown (for example the out of school relationships of the students), and how the audio text and the visual text work together. On the symbolic / iconic level, the viewers should compare and contrast what is directly stated (the intended and explicit plot), with the film’s indirect or even hidden ideology. What is said versus what is meant or implied? Are there any unintended meanings?

The notion of simulacrum implies that Get an education, child while aiming to reflect a particular time, place and set of events and circumstances, instead reflects a mere legend of some time, space, and set of events and circumstances. The film, might reflect a reflection, and / or image an image. Our tendency to idolize it such that we believe its re-creation is possible, even though it itself never existed.

For McLuhan, what is important about a film is not what it says directly, its particular contents, its plot and themes, but instead the medium and technology of film itself and what it enables. The film acts as an extension of our senses, and obliterates time and space. Ger an education, child enables us to be somewhere else, in a different space and time, and to peer into it so that we might somehow “know” it. The film allows us to associate with a previous generation, and influences how we interact with one another today. It changes the level of human inter involvement so that we all might have a common, though ideologically constructed, frame of experiential reference.


Get an education, child demonstrates examples of anti-democracy, disciplinarity, inauthenticity, oppression, sexism, and classism. Decisions are top-down and authoritarian, and the different collaborating ‘authorities’ have the power of giving or not opportunities to the students. The students are threatened, into following the norm, into conforming and behaving “properly”. They are not encouraged to chose what to be and become, but what the society expects them to. Relations are hierarchical, there is no indication of any classroom democracy, anti-oppression, or the collective good.


Resistance is presented mainly in the second part of the film, when the students realize that the society they live in is oppressive and authoritarian and school does not prepare them to face the out of school life. They rebel, follow Socratis and Dimosthenis on the mountains, write protest letters, go to the court to assist Chrysanthi and her father.

Resistance is punished, and the film points out the relationship between resistance and punishment at the school environment with the clear message that this happens in the out of school world as well and it is better if they get used to it.

In the film authority is openly challenged, there are statements made against sexism, classism, and inequity. Resistance, as the film presents it does not make difference, but the film maker wants to believe that it will in the long run, when the students will become citizens and attempt to promote democracy, the collective good, seek the Truth, and changes in society.

Get and education, child is definitely a film which teachers and students should watch together and talk about. The teachers should be prepared to give daring answers to ‘tough’ questions, learn from the characters of the film (teachers) and the mistakes they made, self-critique (their philosophy and practice), and better themselves. The film is not only for students to watch … it is also an excellent ‘self-testing’ for educators.

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