Voices of Iranian Educators:
Insights on Challenges and Demands
Rasoul Bodaghi is a teacher and a member of the Union of Iranian Educators. Bodaghi has dedicated his life to improving modern education and ensuring that all Iranian children receive a quality, free, and equal education. He was sentenced to prison on charges of “propaganda activity against the government” and “collusion and assembly with the intention of disrupting national security”. In a recent note written from Evin prison, Rasoul Bodaghi spoke about the demands of teachers over the years and explained the reasons for the government’s repressive actions towards them, as well as the self-serving deceptions of the two ruling factions in the government (fundamentalists and reformists).
This article from Bodaghi has been published by the Coordinating Council of Trade Union Organizations of Iranian Educators. They invited all union activists read this note.
The teacher movement in Iran is a movement of Iranian teachers and educators who have been protesting for better working conditions, higher wages, and more autonomy in the education system. The movement has been ongoing for several years, with protests and strikes taking place in various cities throughout the country. The teachers are demanding better pay, more resources for schools, and an end to the politicization of the education system. The government has responded to the protests with repression, including arrests and imprisonment of protest leaders. Despite the government’s efforts to silence the movement, it continues to be active and has gained support from other groups in Iranian society.
Photo: Iranian teachers protest last spring against the educational situation in the country. It is written on the banners: “Teachers should not be in prison”. “Free and quality education”.
Trade unions of Iranian educators, which first began in 2000 with the formation of the Qazvin Union of Educators, and then in other provinces such as Tehran, Fars, Khorasan, Yazd, Isfahan, Kurdistan, Hamadan, Lorestan, Ardabil, Azerbaijan, and more, have become a powerful force. This occurred as leading teachers across the country recognized the significant issue that the authoritarian government had no plans to develop the country through the improvement of education, and that education was being used primarily as a tool for the government to display political power within the country. In the eyes of both domestic and foreign media, it is also viewed as a device for instilling the ideology of religious authority in the minds of the country’s youth and nurturing generation after generation of youth with the aim of cultivating an imitative and obedient mass.
The leading teachers also realized that the two ruling factions, both of which had their roots in the land of Shiism, were a government whose fruit is slavery on the one hand and the lordship of a small minority on the other. The leading teachers joined hands all over the country and found themselves in the dark night of dogmatism, autocracy, and repression, which the government had no tolerant on struggles of the political (groups/parties) leaders and their supporters, and even took away their right to live and survive. The leading teachers were low-income intellectuals and noble-minded individuals who realized that the force of violent, destructive and subversive struggle does not bring any positive outcomes, and therefore, the leading teachers consciously realized that for people’s awareness and knowledge, the mass of teachers and students should speak the same language as the rulers, but with the higher goal of life and struggle, and actually enter into the struggle.
Leading teachers in the decades of suffocation, on the ideological Yalda night (Yalda is the name of the first night of winter in Iranian culture, the longest night of the year), discovered that the national security system, with the help of the world’s advanced technology and the security system, with the idea of “every family a spy” or “every family a dead person,” has penetrated into the hearts of every family, making it difficult to do any hidden political activities, even if they were peaceful and reformist.
The leading teachers had realized that the government first took control of all the economic reserves and resources of the country, and then, in order to subjugate the people and establish severe political and social tyranny, it turned the people into dependent and impoverished subjects, ruling over them in the name of ideology and religion forever.
The teachers had realized that the government’s only language is one of blood, prison, execution, character destruction, the destruction of citizens’ dignity and honor, cutting of incomes, attacking lives, and (in a general sense) spreading misery.
The teachers had realized that the rulers, due to their specific ideological education, believe that the only solution to the society’s problems is through shedding the blood of others.
The leading teachers had come to understand that the goal of the government factions is not to expand the foundations and principles of religion, nor to advance human ideals, nor to advance national ideals, nor to cultivate religious and free people. Rather, they aim to create humiliated, unconfident, and small citizens. In the opinion of the rulers, humiliated, small, needy, and hungry people are good citizens for the government and pious and special servants for God, who will receive the reward for their failures in heaven.
The teachers realized that the rulers do not have a proper understanding of the education system; they want it to be a mere institution for teaching reading and writing, so that individuals can recite verses of the Qur’an without understanding their meaning and be able to read treatises explaining the issues of Mujtahidin (Islamic scholars). They want individuals to act blindly and be ready to sacrifice their lives for the rulers’ orders when necessary.
During these years, the teachers had learned that the leaders of the fundamentalist and reformist factions have no other goal than to achieve personal benefits through gaining political power. In this direction, they are willing to sacrifice religious ideals, national ideals, friendship, blood and kinship, ethics and honor, family, conscience and what are called human values for their personal goals and interests.
The teachers had realized that the heads of the government and their mindless followers are willing to set the country and the nation on fire in order to keep themselves warm on a cold winter night until morning.
They had realized that no art, expertise, humanity or piety has any value for rulers other than blindly following the orders of the heads of government.
The leading teachers had realized that the government’s security forces are heavily infiltrated by informers and they can never speak freely, even in their privacy. They knew that the regime listens to even their confidential conversations with family members, without any moral, legal or Shariah considerations. For this reason, they never started secretive and underground campaigns and did not engage in such activities.
The leading teachers realized that nothing will be accomplished by chanting slogans and theorizing. They knew that “words have been said, it’s time to take action”. The leading teachers understood that “great slogans are nothing more than great deceptions.”
Therefore, they did not focus on small things, but joined the separate efforts together, until they were actually present in the streets. They returned the streets to the people, believing that it is possible to come to the streets and protest for justice in the dark nights, taking back the streets from the tyrannical government and challenging the regime’s hegemony. They taught the society that not underground activities, not fight violently, not hide, not big slogans, not deceive the masses, not seek personal or group power, would not rely on complex and borrowed theories from the intellectuals and philosophers of the East and the West, neither exaggeration, nor media giants, nor heavenly and metaphysical promises, nor fake heroics and consumerist history and ect, none of them are a liberating prescription for a tyrannical and deceived society.
Rather, relying on one’s small assets, local solutions that are the result of the wisdom and experience of the oppressed, and what is the most basic human rights, will be able to open a door of liberation for educators, students and the oppressed in the society.
The leading teachers knew that the only way to get rid of oppression is through small, gradual experiences, led by the oppressed themselves; Therefore, the slogan for getting rid of oppression, through small, long-term, peaceful, transparent, experimental, local and independent theories can be found in the hidden layers of the educators’ struggles.
The complex tactics of the security forces were fully prepared to deal with any protests. They were ready to defame and suppress any group under pretexts of terrorist operations, bombings, sabotage operations, anti-security, espionage, drugs, etc, and destroy them in the eyes of public opinion. Except for in a clear, legal, and demanding manner, they raised a cry for justice for the rights of guilds and groups that truly arose from the heart of the society and did not seek power.
In this regard, the teachers cleverly adopted three principles of independence in their campaigns:
– Financial independence
– Theoretical independence
– Media independence
They learned from experience that the only way to be free is through honesty and integrity. They learned from experience that individual happiness is not based on a strong foundation, but happiness is like the sun, which no one can ever bring to their home and benefit from it. However, the sun will give warmth to everyone at some point, when it is not in personal or special group ownership.
The teachers, these popular and humanitarian elites, started practicing democracy within their small circles. They learned from experience that the reason for the solidity of the pillars and building of society is the mortar called written contracts, statutes, and bylaws, which are concluded between people through long-term discussions and negotiations, that are friendly and peaceful, and use past experiences.
The leading teachers learned that the main pillars of society’s democratic building, from small to large, should be preserved. They learned that anyone who separates from these built pillars will fall into the hands of those who want power. Therefore, despite colorful thoughts and ideas, they stood together and divided their energy so as not to collapse under the strong blows of the dictators’ hammer. They recognized that small victories can be turned into a highway through which the happiness of society will pass. Relying on the forgotten or destroyed principles of 19 to 42, especially the principles of 26, 27, and 30 of the Constitution, can be a suitable passage at the beginning of the road to guide students, teachers, and all members of society towards solidarity and empathy.
Article 19 of the Constitution: People of Iran have equal rights regardless of their ethnicity or tribe, and color, race, language, etc. will not establish privileges.
Article 26 of the Constitution: Parties, communities, political and trade associations and Islamic associations or recognized religious minorities are free, provided that they do not violate the principles of independence, freedom, national unity, Islamic standards and the basis of the Islamic Republic. No one can be prohibited from participating in them or forced to participate in one of them.
Article 27 of the Constitution: Forming gatherings and marches is free without carrying weapons, provided that it does not disturb the fundamentals of Islam.
Article 30 of the Constitution: The government is obligated to provide free education facilities for all citizens up to the end of secondary education and to expand the facilities for higher education for free to the limit of the country’s self-sufficiency.
The leading teachers stood under the pouring rain, like a marathon runner, they sharing their energy along the way, they sought a distance from the rapids so as not to pass out in the middle of the road. They realized that social activism and the fight against tyranny is not a 100-meter race where the runner expends all their energy at once, but it is like a marathon and may take decades. Therefore, it requires planning, thinking together, respecting collective wisdom, sharing energy, and knowing the path that promises victory. Although this way imposed heavy costs on them, but the expenses were never without a plan, and they were never wasted, but it was a way that showed victory towards the goal. In a cold and deadly winter, the cost was a footprint on a snow-covered road for caravans to pass.
The life of teachers is synonymous with the practice of democracy. The classroom serves as a microcosm of a democratic society. Monthly meetings among teachers in schools, the preparation of meeting minutes and signatures of decision-makers, the analysis of the school’s situation, the strengthening of positive aspects and identification of weaknesses, the implementation of approved programs, adherence to administrative hierarchies in the pursuit of mutual cultural respect, and the duty of fostering the mental and intellectual growth of students are all integral to the teacher’s role as a guide to their students. Communication with students’ families and addressing other moral and social issues also contribute to the development of a teacher as a people-oriented, kind, conscientious, responsible, and knowledgeable individual.
Communicating with students from diverse backgrounds, including those from different social classes, cultures, attitudes, and income levels, requires special sensitivity and consideration from teachers. This ongoing interaction and the need for care and supervision in these cases help to develop teachers as individuals with unique sensitivity and consideration towards others.
Teachers are not separate from society; they are always among the people, the intellectuals who are in daily contact with various strata of society. They educate individuals from all walks of life, and have a deep understanding of the thoughts and feelings of their students. In fact, they are a fundamental part of society that wields influence in every part of the country.
But what do teachers want? The wishes of teachers are the rights of society as a whole. When teachers demand their rights, it is because neglecting the rights of this group means neglecting the improvement of the quality and quantity of education, which is the right of students, students who comes from every family.
To understand the position of a teacher, one must understand the students. Students are independent, thoughtful, future-oriented, and capable individuals who study alongside their teacher at the beginning of their social lives, with thousands of hopes for achieving happiness. A student is like a climber who needs a guide. The climber’s ultimate goal is to reach the summit of the mountain. A peak that encompasses their entire life’s journey. Students are like a climber who needs a guide. A climber whose happiness is reaching the top of the mountain. A peak that includes their whole life to reach it. A mountaineer who seeks happiness step by step not only at the top of the mountain, but on the way to the top, the teacher will only be his guide, not their master, this is the student who walks with their feet. Students must conquer the peak, and the teacher can only provide them with the experience of their journey as a guide.
Can a guide who is physically impaired lead a student to the summit? Can a guide who lacks sufficient knowledge of the peak effectively guide the climber to the summit? Can a guide who is not equipped with the necessary tools effectively guide the climbers?
What do teachers want?
– Salaries above the poverty line are necessary to enable teachers to fulfill their legal, social, and moral obligations and to ensure that the rights of students are upheld.
– Sufficient and high-quality education for teachers is essential in order for them to become reliable and up-to-date references for students in areas such as science, specialization, technology, worldview, environment, social, political, logical, and even emotional understanding.
– Textbooks should provide instruction on the principles of education and human dignity, enabling students to learn how to live in human societies, regardless of their ethnic, religious, political, sectarian, nationalistic, racist attitudes, individualism, and group ego. Classes of 12 to 16 students, schools equipped with laboratories, sufficient budget for scientific excursions, sufficient budget for research and scientific and educational research of teachers and students.
– Club and standard sports environment: such as a swimming pool, grass field, and sports halls with standard heating and cooling systems, ample lighting, and specialized sports equipment and teachers. Adequate space during break time for students to relax mentally and emotionally, and for children and teenagers to recharge after 90 minutes in the classroom, as well as a sufficient healthcare service.
– Sufficient facilities for teaching art: arts such as music, filmmaking, theater, painting, calligraphy, handicrafts and other cultural and artistic fields.
– A library equipped with a reading and librarian environment and benefiting from a quiet environment for scientific and artistic research and research of students and teachers 12 hours a day.
– Nutrition and clothing: The school and future education is obliged to provide a breakfast meal and a lunch meal with the quality that provides the physical needs of children and teenagers in 24 hours in terms of vitamins and proteins.
– Effective communication between teachers and university professors is crucial for evaluating the quality of textbooks and how they align with university courses. Two important considerations in this process include: “A teacher’s thought is the cultivation of thought” and the separation of politics and religion from education, as these topics can promote violence and division among people and foster separation, division, and war.
The government’s responsibility is not to ensure salvation for its citizens, but to provide equal access to health, education, and job opportunities for all members of society. Free healthcare and education are the responsibility of the government. Additionally, the government has the duty to create employment opportunities and to ensure full insurance and security for its citizens. If these responsibilities are not met, the government can be considered illegitimate and tyrannical, regardless of any religious or ideological beliefs.
If the most talented individuals become disheartened by a complacent and carefree existence, they will lack motivation to use their talents to help drive societal progress. In short, a society that prioritizes education over the development of weapons and tools of war will be a happy and thriving one.
This type of education is a efficient and secure path to achieving fair distribution of income and welfare in society; as it is rare for families to not have a stake in education. In other words, by focusing on education, health, and employment justice, future society and governance can be directed towards a more equitable distribution of wealth and income.
Hoping that day
January 14, 2023 – Evin Prison