The data gathered for this analysis demonstrates that Iranian textbooks view the world with a religious and ideological approach. Perceiving the world, history, and human beings from the perspective of religious doctrine will lead to reductionism, bias, and exclusion. This discourse accepts certain people as insiders, “tolerates” other groups, and rejects others. Thus, in its essence, this reductionist outlook produces a behavioral and interpretive mechanism based on discrimination. In the discourse of the Iranian curriculum’s religious ideology, the “self” and the “other” have a structural presence: they overshadow all subjects.
The quantitative and qualitative analyses of the attitude of the curriculum towards men and women and religious and ethnic minorities show that, the appearance of discriminatory attitudes is not accidental or sporadic but continuous, consistent, and systematic. In the discourse of the textbooks, being born a woman means having a different status than men and being subservient. A form of gender ideology strives to make the differences between men and women in all the principal arenas of social and individual life appear “legitimate” and “natural.” Women do not have a way of entering the world order that is built on male authority. The same holds true for religious and ethnic minorities, who—compared to the Shi’ite majority—do not have a real or symbolic image and presence. However, the Shi’ites’ systematic quest for superiority does not allow for the possibility of the followers of various religions to have equal rights, especially since those who are placed outside of the official norms, in practice, either become second-class citizens or are ignored.
This trend of the Shi’ites’ quest for superiority is a main feature of the Iranian curriculum. This structural approach causes even the discourse on the equality of followers of all religions and ethnic groups to remain only a claim and to be negated in practice. When referring to ethnic minorities, textbooks officially recognize the existence of some religious minorities, such as Sunnis, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Christians. Instead of studying the regular religious studies textbook, Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian students study from textbooks specifically prepared for them. However, this does not mean an open approach to various religious, cultural, ethnic identities and social groups. The main problem with this perception of the world is that many of the differences become forms of identities with which individuals are born. It is as though, being a man, woman, Kurd, Sunni, Shi’ite, Baha’i, or Jew labels them from birth.
The second characteristic of the curriculum is that its discriminating viewpoint is recognized religiously and politically. The textbooks legitimize and justify this discriminatory viewpoint of gender, identity, and religion, thus forcing the reader to experience a form of institutionalized discrimination.
In the textbooks, an ideal individual is a devout and pious Shi’ite who believes in Islamic government and obeys Islamic laws. This “ideal” individual is ubiquitous and appears in the form of idealized personalities (such as religious or political personalities, martyrs, clerics, etc.). Although the “ideal” woman is not traditional or confined to her home, as her ancestors were, she accepts her differences and inferiority to men and eagerly submits to it. Individuals who fall outside of these stereotypical topics are “other,” exactly in the same way that Jean-Paul Sartre said—on the lack of tolerance for outsiders—“Hell is others.”
Thus, individuals are not equal and, in the hierarchy of values, are defined and judged based on gender, ethnic background, religion, and piety. The discourse of the textbooks has not been written with the concept of equality of all human beings, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the textbooks’ reasoning, human beings cannot be equal with one another on this earth, in the same way that, on the day of reckoning, they will be subject to divine judgment for their identity and actions. The trend, based on the clear and official negation of the equality of human beings, created different positions for the various people in society. Some individuals are born first-class citizens, due to their identity, gender, and way of thinking, while others become second- and third-class citizens. Those who are excluded from the inside are victims of this discriminatory system.
A discourse of discrimination also brings about a discriminatory culture. This culture has its own signs, codes, language, and values, and, by repeating them, the textbooks make discrimination and differentiation among people appear “natural” and legitimate. Thus, terms such as nadjes (impure), kafar (heathen), Baha’i, Western, monafegh (hypocrite), deviant, deceived, or enemy draw the boundaries of identity, and victims of such a discriminatory system, who are on the other side of the barbed wires of the prison of ideology, become second-class citizens.
An important question that arises from this study is the hierarchy among the various forms of discrimination. For example, is gender discrimination the most prevalent form of discrimination in the Iranian curriculum? Answering this question is problematic because the forms, meaning, and degrees of discrimination are not the same. Gender discrimination is undoubtedly the most important based on quantity. However, the discrimination that exists about kafaran (heathens) or Baha’is is more intense. As a result, the classification of forms of discrimination cannot express all the multilateral realities of this topic, especially from the qualitative angle and from the angle of its effect on people. Nevertheless, the important point to focus on is the concurrent presence of these forms of discrimination towards various social groups. When certain individuals suffer two or three forms of discrimination at once, they will face a multi-faceted discrimination. A Sunni Kurd experiences two forms of discrimination at once, as a religious and ethnic minority. A Sunni Kurdish woman or a Baha’i Kurdish woman must tolerate three forms of discrimination all at once—gender, ethnic and religious.
The textbooks’ discourse is a rhetoric based on violence. Explicit violence occurs when speaking of martyrdom with reverence or when destroying and eliminating opponents in domestic jihad. The hatred towards Israel, the U.S., and the West breeds intolerance and discrimination. The content analysis of the textbooks reveals the existence of other forms of violence in the religious and ideological discourse. For the most part, these forms of violence are due to a discriminatory viewpoint and culture. Institutionalized violence occurs when someone is deprived of having rights equal to those of others because she is a woman, a Baha’i, a kafar (heathen), or Sunni, and as such, is criticized, judged, and admonished directly. Symbolic violence takes place when certain individuals are denigrated or ignored and are victimized by what is left unsaid by the textbooks.
The “original sin” of the textbooks—in the production and reproduction of a discriminatory viewpoint and the explicit negation of equality of human beings—is related to the ideological-political discourse. This viewpoint becomes the prisoner of this closed, frozen, and unilateral outlook of the world. Thus, the philosophical structure of the textbooks is in clear contradiction to critical thinking and criticizing the world, which is the most important achievement of modernity. This identity-based attitude towards the subject of religion leads to classifications and reduces the possibility of peaceful and humane coexistence. The fundamental problem is that their point of departure is pure religious “Truth” and interpreting the world based on eternal beliefs that do not change with time or space. The position and the rights of men and women in society change in accordance with time and space and cannot remain in permanent forms. It is in this way that perceiving women from the perspective of religious texts and pure Islamic values unavoidably leads to a discriminatory culture and a demodernized viewpoint. At the same time, viewing the world from the value system of a specific religion is discriminatory in and of itself. The growth of this discriminatory culture takes place based on the differences in individual identity. A mechanism for the reproduction of discrimination exists within the core of this ideologized religious discourse.
It is in this way that a discourse that considers itself moral, spiritual, and at the service of all humanity, is turned, paradoxically, into a discriminatory rhetoric that separates and divides human beings from one another. The problem of the Iranian educational system is the same as that of all religious schools that view the world egocentrically: the system imposes the textbooks on students and they do not have the freedom or right to criticize.
In spite of the religious essence of the textbooks, in comparison with those of the pre-1979 era, the Iranian curriculum is not a return to ancient religious schools. The mixing of religious and secular knowledge and the contradictions created by this unusual combination give the Iranian educational system its special characteristic. In the curriculum, there is coexistence combined with constant tension and struggle between tradition and modernity. The textbooks do not negate modernization in the technological sense. Compared to the History, Farsi, and Social Studies textbooks, there are few signs of religion in the scientific textbooks (e.g., mathematics, sciences, and Technical and Practical Training). The spirit of modernity and modern thought are either completely overshadowed or negated. The most fundamental characteristic of modernity is the freedom to criticize and analyze historical paradigms and religious view of the world and officially recognizing the inherent autonomy, rights, and equality of human beings. In many contexts, if they are not confronting modern culture and thinking, the textbooks have a serious distance from them.
Overall, concerning their attitudes towards discrimination, the science, mathematics, and foreign language textbooks are significantly different from other textbooks. The science textbooks have images of women participating in scientific activities like men. At the other extreme are the Religious Studies, Koran, and Social Studies textbooks, which actively participate in the explanation, interpretation, and legitimization of discrimination. The History and Farsi textbooks lie somewhere in between these two poles.
Nevertheless, there have been positive changes in the textbooks in recent years. A comparison of the results of this study with the research from previous years—especially in the revolutionary years of the 1980s—demonstrates that the intensity of ideological and religious discourse has been reduced and that the textbooks exhibit a more open view of Iran and the world. Of course, these changes are not fundamental, and, as this study shows, the former principal trends and tendencies continue to comprise the dominant viewpoint, and they have not been able to change the discriminatory culture in a tangible and crucial way.
The questions that arise after reading this report or similar analyses are: How do students learn? What understanding do they have from these subjects? What are their attitudes towards these subjects? And, is the Iranian educational system succeeding in its efforts to impose specific behavioral models and specific forms of religious worldview? Does the discriminatory culture that exists in the textbooks transform behavioral models for students? What connection do Iranian students have with other cultural and learning opportunities and to what degree are they able to have access to independent sources or the Internet? Responding to these important sociological questions is beyond the scope of this study.
Sociological research proves that in the learning process, students are not passive subjects. Research conducted on Iranian students confirms this theory. The resistance of students, teachers, and the families faced with a curriculum based on a political-religious doctrine brings a permanent tension between the official educational system and society. Learning in schools cannot simply be a process of the passive transference of knowledge to the students. The students’ experiences, mentality, representations, and their other learning environments all work side-by-side with the communication in the educational and social environments in understanding and learning from the academic subjects. From this angle, the processes of learning, as a part of socialization of an active subject, are multi-dimensional, and ideological endeavors for a machine-like education of human beings based on the behavioral models and pre-fabricated stereotypes, especially in the era of globalization, usually are not very successful. The students are the subjects in the processes of learning in school and they learn the academic subjects in the light of their other knowledge and experiences. However, in spite of the many studies, the effects of this form of education on the youth and their attitudes can assist in gaining a better understanding of the Iranian society today and its fundamental contradictions.