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Peter Diamandis is chairman of the X Prize Foundation, an organization dedicated to opening the space frontier to average people. Diamandis, however, is far from average. He was born in New York City, the son of Greek immigrants from Mytilene. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, he is the impresario behind the creation of the $10 million prize to encourage the development of private spaceflight.
The X Prize was won in 2004 by the creators of Space Ship One, the first non-governmental piloted and produced spacecraft. Now Diamandis has won a prize of his own, the Heinlein Prize, worth $500,000. It was established by the estate of science fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, to reward individuals who make practical contributions to the commercialization of space. Diamandis has also created the first US based weightless flight airline, the world’s most successful space tourism company, and the International Space University.
So what’s he planning to do with the money? “It’s what I’ve been doing with the money.” he said, “focusing on creating what I consider to be the critical parts of a commercial space industry.” Another Greek success story in the United States, one of many throughout the Diaspora. A friend of mine used to say: “The chief Greek export is talent.” How true. After all, Greek immigrants are the risk takers of the Patrida. They have a fire in the belly which cannot be satisfied in the land of their birth, no matter how much they love it or how nostalgic they are for it. Greece is no longer a desperately poor country; exporting its excess population and living on the receipts sent home. It has taken its place in the European Union and developed its economy and infrastructure. Immigration has slowed, but hasn’t stopped. With so much human talent that Greeks have demonstrated throughout their history, why isn’t Greece poised to take advantage of it? Could Peter Diamandis have replicated his meteoric success if his parents had stayed in Greece?
For the answer, one only has to look at the sorry state of tertiary education in Greece. It is a system that is run by the state, a recipe for disaster in the best of times. Its employees are trade unionists who are more interested in job security than educating young Greeks to compete in the 21st century. Greek youth are prisoners in a system designed to cull the test takers from the rest of the herd of secondary school students and thereby bestow on the select few, slots in areas of study that many do not aspire to or are ill suited for.
Many capable and talented Greek young people, unable to gain entry to state universities, are left to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, efforts to introduce non-profit institutions of higher learning to meet the rising demand for more university slots and foster competition, are being opposed by professors and students alike. No one wants to rock the boat. The system has been reduced to the lowest common denominator, and neither student nor teacher receive praise or negative feedback for work they do. Mediocrity is enshrined and perpetuated, producing large numbers of good little government employees who fit right in to the existing culture of non-work in the Greek public sector. Everyone is happy. As a result, Greek education emphasizes rote learning, avoiding the development of critical thinking skills in the tradition of Greek Paidea. The bottom line is that unless Greek educators make radical changes, Greek youth will not be able to make the kind of contributions to civilization that Greeks have made in the past and sadly, Greece wll continue to bleed its best and brightest.