BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
We make much of our efforts to “preserve” our culture. Preserve is probably a bad word for what we do, since it implies immutability, stasis, and that means death for culture. I’m reminded of my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Walker, who would say “the only thing in static equilibrium is a dead body.”
Nevertheless, some constants do exist and must be taught, communicated, across generations, else there’s no cultural continuity to base future developments on. One of those is language. It may not be absolutely necessary, but it sure goes a long way in maintaining cohesion and communication among members of a nation. That’s my focus today, though what I discuss could just as easily apply to other aspects of culture, too.
I am working on a certificate in Sustainability Studies through UCLA Extension. In the course I am currently taking, we read a book titled “The Solution Revolution” (Eggers and Macmillan) which, among other things, discussed models of providing education that can reach many people at far less cost. I have some reservations about what this book advocates, but those are not relevant here. The specific example was what some big-name universities are doing. The on-line offerings they are developing allow vastly larger numbers of people to avail themselves of the material at no, or little, cost. Thus, a student living in poverty on the opposite side of the globe can now take courses offered by MIT.
Why can’t we use some variation of this model to make universal Armenian language instruction available, in both of our major dialects, and in the correct, non-Soviet, orthography? While just last night a friend mentioned that many parents at our community’s Armenian schools are concerned about the Armenian language instruction “dragging down” their children’s GPAs, the success of an Armenian charter school in North Hollywood indicates that the opposite concern exists for parents too. The difference in the two cases is simply money. Our community’s schools are private and charge for tuition, while the charter school, being a quasi-public institution, does not. Whether charter schools are the way to go is debatable, since that experiment in education has its own shortcomings. But the financial factor is telling, especially when coupled with the frequent complaints I hear about the “high” tuition costs at our community’s schools (they are not “high” in comparison to other private schools).
With what I am proposing, the financial consideration essentially disappears. A nominal sum could be charged since there will always be some costs to maintaining and developing a web-based Armenian education system. This could also be applied to our history, current events, cause, etc., not just language. Of course the question of motivation to actually go through the online instruction is a separate (though related) matter, and presents challenges of its own. But, the motivation issue won’t even be relevant until the option to study Armenian online exits.
So it’s time for those of us who have achieved some success with web based platforms of different sorts and different sizes to come together with educators to set up an online Armenian instruction system, starting with language and expanding to other aspects of our culture, heritage, and politics. That could be Alexis Ohanian (one of reddit’s founders), Haig Kayserian (who is an internet business expert, entrepreneur, and, most importantly, an angel investor), Tony Adam (who currently does consulting with those setting up web based programs), Vahe Shahinian (founder/owner of itsmyseat.com), or any others. Perhaps this is something the Prelacy’s Board of Regents on the West Coast and/or ANEC on the East Coast should take up as an important, future oriented, part of their activities.
An unrelated plug is for Hamazkayin’s sponsored Levon Shant’s “Ancient Gods” rendered into a solo performance by Aram Kouyoumjian which starts this Friday, March 7. (for full disclosure—I did fundraising for this event).