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«The following text was originally published in Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative education (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of ...»

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The following text was originally published in

Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative education

(Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. XXIII, no. 3/4, p. 559-574.

©UNESCO: International Bureau of Education, 2000

This document may be reproduced free of charge as long as acknowledgement is made of the source.



Marie Eliou

Dimitri Glinos was a key figure in the history of Greek education. A philosopher, educator and politician, he made several attempts to institute reform in a system of education that was sorely in need of it. The history of education in Greece in this century—and the present problems of the Greek education system—cannot be discussed without reference to the work of Glinos; but in order to understand his influence it is also necessary to try to understand the struggle for educational reform in Greece.

The implications of reform


At the time of Glinos’ birth, the Greek education system, the institutional basis of which had been laid in 1833-37, was highly centralized, formal and overwhelmingly given over to classical studies, to the detriment of science, mathematics and vocational training. From the viewpoint of the history of ideas, this system reflects the move away from the current of thinking that emerged from the Enlightenment, and whose proponents, even before the Greek State had been founded, had created exemplary educational institutions. Those institutions had long suffered the victorious onslaught of conservative forces, the Orthodox Church in particular.

The language of instruction was the official language, katharevusa (‘pure’ or ‘noble’), a laborious construct, a sort of pedantic halfway-house between classical Greek and NeoHellenic Greek, the ‘demotic’ (colloquial) language. The choice of the language of instruction should be seen in the context of a long-standing debate (the celebrated ‘language question’) that was closely tied in with the direction in which various social and political forces aimed to steer the development of the country; this problem of Neo-Hellenism, with all its political, social, ideological and educational implications, was to find a solution only with the promulgation of the 1975 Constitution.

Education and the very definition of the national language have always been involved in a tug of war between the social and political forces in Greece; attempts at educational reform and counter-reform campaigns have regularly marked this eventful history.

The attempts to reform a system whose major flaws had already been amply demonstrated began in the 1870s. Three times between 1877 and 1889, ministers of education prepared reform projects that were subsequently shelved, thus establishing a pattern that has been repeated up to the present day. The demands for the modernization of the education system made in 1897-1900, 1909-11, 1913 and 1917-20 all came to nought. The 1929 reform, among other things, successfully modified the curricula that had been in use since 1836, and introduced the ‘six plus six’ (primary + secondary) structure, but very little remained of that reform after the dictatorship was set up in 1936.

The educational reform bill drafted by the Provisional Committee of National Liberation and submitted in 1944, during the German occupation, to the National Council, meeting in a zone which had been freed by the Resistance, had not the remotest chance of being implemented during the post-liberation and civil war periods.

The 1952 Constitution, in the same terms as the 1911 Constitution, re-established katharevusa as the national language and language of instruction and again banned any action prejudicial thereto.

In the major political struggles leading to the victory of the Democratic Centre in 1963, constant reference was made to the problem of education. Following mass demonstrations, education was placed at the top of the list of anticipated reforms. The Democratic Centre government swiftly drew up an educational reform, reintroducing elements from earlier projects, which was passed by Parliament in 1964, in spite of violent reactions from the opposition. One of its most important features was the introduction of the demotic language into the classroom.

The campaign to destabilize the democratic regime did not spare the education system, which was already feeling its effects by 1965. The reform had thus been scuppered well before the 1967 coup; it only remained for the colonels to dismantle the rest, in particular by restoring katharevusa in schools.

With the return of democracy, educational reform once again became a priority, and it was the political party that had been so adamantly opposed to it in its 1964 form that was responsible for including parts of it in the 1976 Act (law 309/1976). Other, partial reforms, including reforms of higher education, were to follow, but the Greek education system today remains anachronistic and continues to suffer from problems that have been obvious since the beginning of the century. True reform remains a thing of the future.


In the early days of this century, three young men who had all been influenced by the ideas circulating in the German universities at the time, found themselves, on their return to Greece, engaged in a battle for educational reform. These three personalities, who have left their mark on Greek thinking, were the educationist, A. Delmouzos, the linguist, Manolis Triantaphyllidis and Dimitri Glinos, the scholar and reformer. Delmouzos (1880-1956) created the Volos pilot school (1908-11), where he put into practice the most advanced educational theories, particularly those of Kerschensteiner. The school was closed as the result of a campaign orchestrated by anti-reform forces, and its founder was brought to trial for ‘immorality’, ‘atheism’ and ‘socialist propaganda’. Triantaphyllidis (1883-1959) studied the development of the Neo-Hellenic language and codified its grammar.

Glinos, Delmouzos and Triantaphyllidis, who collaborated with one another and became friends, worked hand in hand for many years to promote educational reform, particularly through the influential Association for Education which, as early as 1911, had brought together all of Greece’s reform-minded educationists. Later referred to as ‘the triumvirate of reform’, they were to have a profound effect on the history of Greek education, but, having drawn different lessons from the failure of their efforts, they went their separate ways from the late 1920s onwards. Triantaphyllidis made a brilliant career as an academic and linguistic researcher, who promoted and defended the demotic language. Delmouzos, after a few years of university teaching, was forced to give up his position and devoted the rest of his life to chronicling and analyzing his achievements in the field of education.

Glinos carried his determination to live his life in accordance with his intellectual

beliefs through to its logical conclusion. From his prison cell, he wrote to one of his followers:

‘From an early age, I wanted to build a palace/to match my dreams; a very real palace.’ I wrote these lines when I was 18. I toiled and struggled to blaze a trail, a path which led to truth and enlightenment. At 18, I had become fluent in the demotic tongue; and by 25 I had opened my eyes to the social question, but it took twenty years of struggle before I could ‘tell’, reveal the truth within me regarding this question, and enter into ‘the light of reality’ (15 February 1937).6 During the period after the three friends separated and even later, after their deaths, educational reform never ceased to be a rallying call for social consciousness. On a less ambitious scale, some of the trio’s most brilliant fellow-workers attempted to continue their efforts, but the times were not propitious for radical reform. Banished from the public school system, dispossessed of their testing ground for educational innovation, they, in turn, were subjected to official harassment, imprisonment and detention.

After Glinos, Evanghelos Papanoutsos (1900-82), another teacher, tenaciously defended the cause of global reform of education for many years. A liberal far removed from the radical positions of Glinos, he was relieved on five separate occasions of his duties as Secretary-General of the Ministry of Education, managing to carry out this function for only a very short period each time between 1944 and 1965, and was the last of these frustrated champions of educational reform.

Glinos’ life8THE FORMATIVE YEARS (1882-1911)

The eldest of twelve children of a family of modest means, Dimitri Glinos was born in Smyrna (Asia Minor), where he completed his studies up to secondary level. He graduated from the Faculty of Arts of the University of Athens, and taught in Greek schools in the Ottoman Empire (Lemnos, Asia Minor).

Having espoused the ideas of the movement for the use of the demotic language, he exercised his functions as teacher and headmaster with a keen awareness of the shortcomings of the Greek system of education. In his writings between 1904 and 1908, he had already formulated a radical reform project, systematically challenging the various aspects of the system. Both in his studies and in his action—for he made a point of disseminating the results of his research and reflections to other teachers and to the general public—the teaching of the Neo-Hellenic language enjoyed a prominent place. In one of his texts, addressed to the Teachers’ Association of Athens, after having noted ‘the reasons why Greek schoolchildren do not learn the Neo-Hellenic language properly’, at both primary and secondary levels, he proposed measures for reforming curricula and teaching methods and materials in order to remedy the situation, and concluded: ‘We must all work for the success of these reforms, confident that all prejudice can be overcome by those who are devoted to their duty, morally free and sincerely desirous of progress.

Married in 1908, Glinos was able, with the support of his father-in-law, to continue his studies in philosophy, education and experimental psychology from 1908 to 1911 at the Universities of Jena and Leipzig. His archives contain notes from the lectures he attended, including those given by W. Rein and W. Wundt, and a detailed—and admiring—description of the educational research carried out in the Landerziehungsheime of Hermann Lietz. The relaxed rapport between teachers and students, the non-authoritarian teaching methods, the promotion of initiative in the learners, the introduction of manual work in schools, all those were innovations that opened up exciting prospects to him. He planned to write a thesis on ‘Plato and the new social pedagogy’, but his move to Leipzig and contact with Wundt resulted in his working in the latter’s laboratory on a thesis in experimental psychology. It was at this time that he became familiar with the socialist ideas that he was gradually to adopt as his own, but concern with the need for educational reform remained uppermost in his mind. Writing

from Leipzig to one of his colleagues, he said:

It is clear that if schools are won over by social or intellectual reform, everything has been won. Schools are always a mirror image of the society in which they exist. They are not the first but the last bastion to be taken by the reform, but they are, and should be, the first that can come under attack. Schools are instruments of the dominant ideology... The language is certainly not just a means and a method but a constituent part of the ideology. Changing the language therefore means changing an essential part of Neo-Hellenic ideals. But that is not all: if the educational reform succeeds only in this respect and leaves intact the rest of the Greek ideology—Greeks’ relationship to their past, mistaken ideas of life and Hellenocentrism, and the stagnation, the logic of stagnation, which is predominant in Greece today—if the reform leaves all of this intact, it will be imperfect and false, and will therefore not be the one we need.11


On his return to Greece, Glinos first taught in secondary schools in Athens and was soon thereafter appointed director of the advanced training institute for secondary school-teachers.

Deeply concerned by the social and political developments in the country, he joined forces with the intellectuals backing Eleftherios Venizelos, who had become Prime Minister. In 1912, he submitted a report on the problems of the education system to the Ministry of Education, and was asked to draft the white paper and the educational reform project that was presented by the government in 1913.

This is an impressive set of texts, comprising on the one hand the white paper, containing an historical survey, a critical examination of the existing system of education and a presentation of proposed changes; and on the other hand, seven bills, each prefaced by a detailed introductory report, covering primary and secondary education, primary and secondary teacher training, the creation of a technical teacher training college, primary and secondary school administration, and school buildings.

This was the one and only time in Greek history that such a comprehensive school reform project was put before Parliament, which, after dragging out the debate for several months, shelved it without reaching any conclusions. The violent reactions of the conservative elements of Greek society overwhelmed the bill as a whole, but a few innovative measures were nevertheless adopted and, most important, the project served as a catalyst for intellectual and political debate at the time.

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