In Athens, with Two Teachers on the Day of a General Strike

May 20, 2010

In advance of our May term group leaving for Athens, there were many questions about whether Athens would be safe, in light of the civil unrest that this country’s debt crisis has occasioned.  We were assured — and with reason, I now see — that we could be quite safe here. The only evidence of disruption we’ve seen are pock-marks (presumably from stones) on the guard houses at the Parliament Building.

But our plans for today were disrupted by a general strike that  particularly affected public employees.

We gave up plans to visit the new Acropolis Museum (it was closed by the strike), and went instead this morning to the ancient Agora (which was inexplicably open).  In the afternoon we went by bus to Sounion, to see its marvelous Temple of Poseidon, perched on a promontory overlooking the sea, even though we knew the site would be closed.  We had to observe it from behind a fence, and then go swimming in the Aegean Sea.

Steve Heiny and Susan Wise, our two faculty leaders, had to obtain special papers (licenses) in order to lecture to us: such lecturers are unionized in Greece.  I’m glad Steve and Susan didn’t choose to participate in today’s general strike.

Yesterday at the Acropolis, Steve (by education a philologist) lectured about the aesthetic differences between the Parthenon and the Erechtheion, which was built just a decade later.  He called attention to a number of differences and invited students as they walked around the site to think about what accounted for these differences.  Could the Parthenon be a work of a triumphant Empire, and the Erechtheion the work of a war-weary, less confidant Athens?

This morning, in the Agora, Susan (by education an archeologist) drew the students’ attention to the many historical layers on display in the precinct.  And she recounted, salting the presentation with several colorful stories, the coming of Athenian democracy so that she could point out the various buildings in the Agora that supported the functioning of civic and political processes.

This afternoon on the way to Sounion, we stopped at a little-visited theater and adjacent ancient silver mine at Thorikos.  Susan and Steve acknowledged to the students they had never visited the site.  They called attention to many of its features, but largely to draw them into figuring out the site.  Why was there a theater here?  Why so close to a silver mine?  They had dropped us into an archeological puzzle that had the students reading the rocks, asking questions, and arguing with one another  I admired two superb teachers at work.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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