As a teacher of VCE Greek, I find very satisfying to be in a position that enables me to work with young Greek Australians daily. Exploring topics such as the Asia Minor catastrophe, the 1821 struggle for independence, or even themes such as the environment and happiness, and preparing my students for their final exams is truly fulfilling and rewarding. More importantly, assisting the next generation of Greek Australians, which includes my own children, to stay connected with Greece gives me a sense of purpose.
My name is Constantine Roubos and I have been teaching Greek for over fifteen years. To my relatives’ and friends’ dismay, I actually gave up a profession in dentistry to follow my true passion in teaching. They, obviously, would have preferred cheap dental treatment than a free Greek School education. Currently, I am the Principal and Year 11 and 12 teacher of the Pythagoras Greek School which is an after-hours language school founded in Melbourne by my father 44 years ago.
In Victoria, students may take Greek as a VCE subject in their final secondary years of schooling. There were only 250 or so such students in Victoria last year. Considering Melbourne has the largest Greek Australian population in our nation, this number is exceptionally low.
Some of you may reminisce and dwell on past, pleasant memories of your time at Greek school (maybe your memories are pleasant because you never actually attended Greek school!). As for others, well if you’re like me, then I guess flashbacks of teachers hitting your palm with the strap or screaming, “You’re going to get a back handed slap to the face,” or, of course, striking your knuckles with the ruler, may come to mind. Times, I promise you, have changed. Greek school teachers, I assure you, have evolved.
I want to share with you some of the fantastic learning that occurs in a typical VCE class at Pythagoras Greek School. I would like to illustrate to all readers that Greek schools can play an important role in children’s education. I hope that readers not only attain some new insights, but more importantly, encourage siblings, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, god-children, cousins (you get the picture) to attend Greek school. Even non-Greeks would benefit from attending. The English language contains 25 000 Greek words. There is no better way of improving one’s English vocabulary than by learning Greek.
Anyway, let me now take you into the classroom…”What makes you happy?: I raise this question with my students at the start of every year. The responses are quite interesting and varied. The most common replies from students include: family, friends and money.
We then begin our journey into the past and discover that the ancient Greek philosophers searched and contemplated the answer to this adorable, yet frightening question. One philosopher, in fact, not only offered a recipe for happiness, he guaranteed his students complete happiness if they followed a few simple steps. He is my favourite philosopher. His name was Epicurus.
Epicurus, meaning “upon youth”, was born in Samos 341 BC and died in Athens 270 AD at 72 years of age. He was the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism. Only a few fragments and letters remain of Epicurus’ 300 written works. To summarize his philosophy in a single sentence, Epicurus believed that:
Pleasure is the beginning and the goal of a happy life.
What are the first images that spring to mind when you think of pleasure? You might think of a Porsche, an opulent mansion, or limitless money. Imagine you had all three. Would you be happy? Maybe you would. However, it is possible to imagine that a fast car without a friend to show-it-off to would not make you happy; an opulent mansion without the time to enjoy it would not make you happy; and limitless money accompanied by high levels of stress and anxiety and no time to relax or contemplate the good life would also not make you happy.
Not every type of pleasure will lead to happiness (or be sufficient for happiness) in the same way that not every type of medicine will lead to good health. If we assume that Epicurus is right, and that pleasure is indeed the goal of the happy life, then it would seem important to develop a clear understanding of the types of pleasure that will actually lead to happiness.
For Epicurus, the first step towards pleasure was attaining ataraxia; the absence of fear and anxiety. Epicurus also outlined the three simple ingredients that would guarantee happiness: Friendship, Self-sufficiency and Thought. It turns out that these three essential factors are goals that we can all afford to pursue.
Hedonism (a life devoted to pleasure), unfortunately, is what many of us think of when we hear Epicurus’ name. There is a tendency to reject pleasure as a moral good. We usually think of charity, compassion, humility, honour, justice, and other virtues as morally good, while pleasure is, at worst, evil and at best, morally neutral. For Epicurus the pursuit of pleasure assured an upright life.
Epicurus says we should not try to increase our pleasure beyond the point of maximum intensity. Think of it in terms of eating. If you’re hungry, there’s pain. If you eat to fill the hunger, you feel good, and are behaving in accordance with Epicureanism. In contrast, if you gorge yourself, you experience pain, again. For Epicurus, extravagance leads to pain, not pleasure. Therefore we should avoid extravagance.
“The magnitude of pleasure reaches its limit in the removal of all pain. When such pleasure is present, so long as it is uninterrupted, there is no pain either of body or of mind or of both together.”
Epicurus’ world-view is an optimistic one that stresses that philosophy can liberate one from our fears, and can teach us how to find happiness in almost any situation. His practical insight into human psychology gives Epicureanism great contemporary significance as well as a venerable role in the intellectual development of Western Civilization.
And this is how the Year 11 and 12 VCE students happily start their year at Pythagoras Greek School. That’s right! They do enjoy Greek School very much. They especially love learning about our glorious history.
The irony is, about halfway through the year, they start becoming very sad. I presume it is the stress of their impending final exams. But no, I am completely off the mark. All students that do Greek at Year 12 express how much it upsets them to be in their last year of Greek School. They literally do not want it to end. ‘I’m going to miss this sir!’ they exclaim.
And this is what makes my job so rewarding. This is what makes me happy.
Constantine Roubos, Principal, Pythagoras Greek School, for more info email