What are Education and the
University Accomplishing?

by Jalal Al-e Ahmad
Translated by John Green
Prepared for the Internet by Iraj Bashiri, 2002

Let's now take a look at society from the viewpoint of education. It's a window from within whose four sides my gaze has always focussed. In terms of education, we strongly resemble wild grass. There's a piece of ground; and a seed from somewhere, brought by the wind or in a bird's beak, falls onto it; and the rain likewise helps the grass to grow. In like fashion, we construct a school anyway we know how--in order to increase the property value of the surrounding area--or to realize the pretensions of some landowner with clout--or in the name of redressing grievances which such-and-such a tyrant wrought through pillage--or through the sincere efforts of the inhabitants of a village--or by means of the endowment of a third of the wealth of some deceased individual--in whatever form and through whatever means, once the school's built, the apparatus and appurtenances of education also suddenly spring into existence there; and however it happens, one of the fragile and inflexible branches of education reaches the school. Regardless, there's no prior planning, in consideration of where what sort of school is needed or what kinds of schools merely provide fun and games. Attention to quantity still prevails over educational wisdom. And the ultimate goal of "Weststruck" education is the preparation and deposition of documents attesting to the employment value of education in the hands of persons who are able only to become the future victuals of the bureaucracy and who need documents for promotion to any position. Coordination in the business of schools just doesn't exist. Schools. We have all sorts of them: religious...secular...foreign, and schools that foster spiritual midgets and students of theology. We have technical schools and trade schools, and a legion of other kinds. But nowhere is it entered and recorded what the net result of all this variety is and why all these schools exist and what each of them fosters and for what occupations the products of these schools are being prepared.

And in the programs of all these schools there's no evidence of reliance upon tradition--no trace of the culture of the past--no relationship whatever between home and school--between society as a whole and the individual...Schools don't know what they want. But in any event, we have approximately twenty thousand new high school graduates, and on and on it'll continue...the future victuals of all the worries and pressures and crises and insurrections. Men without faith--void of fire and enthusiasm--the listless tools of the governments of the moment, and all of them a prey. And it is because of this that the theological schools and Islamic educational centers have suddenly come to life and flourished during the past decade, since in these schools at least no one senses danger to the religious faith of the youth. However, what difference does it make since religion and irreligion and education and its lack are the problems of our cities only or are one of the amusements of city-dwellers? For, of fifty thousand villages in this country, forty-three thousand have no sort of school at all; and would that those villages that have schools didn't, since, in that case, there'd be only one, common calamity (i.e., illiteracy); whereas as it stands now, there are thousands of calamitous situations; and each place has a different one.

For instance, at the university which ought to be the most pulsating and distinguished center of research--those university institutes that have to do with technology and applied science..., at their most advanced levels of training, merely produce good repairmen for Western manufactures. And those parts of the university that don't concern technology and trades, but deal rather with Islamic studies and Iranian culture..., just as the Islamic religious schools that foolishly assumed that they might, with the preservation of religion and its instruction and propagation, smother the threat of irreligion--which is itself merely one of the symptomatic occurrences of Weststruckness--so the university people assumed that they might, through refuge in Arabism and belles lettres prevent this very same danger. This is why the Faculty of Letters and all its scholars expend their combined energies in the exhumation of graves and in the deep study of things past and in research on about such-and-such and so-and-so. In such colleges, on the one hand, a direct reaction to Weststruckness can be clearly seen in this escape into ancient texts and ancient people and the dead glories of literature and mysticism. And on the other hand, there is here observable the greatest and most detestable sign of Weststruckness in the reliance on and invoking of orientalists' words that the professors here are guilty of... An educated and compassionate man of traditional upbringing who is likewise a university professor and whose spheres of interest are literature and law studies, when he witnesses how the invasion of the West and how industry and its techniques plunder and carry everything away, this man--can you believe it--supposes the more Kalileh and Demneh fables the better. This is why the products of all the literature, law, and theology faculties during the past twenty to thirty years have been so ineffective in society and why, in comparison with the returnees from abroad, they seem backward and out of the main-stream. And may God grant long lives to orientalists who compose an encyclopedia or dictionary for every sort of medieval poem in order to keep the products of our colleges busy and entertained... With very few exceptions the products of these colleges in the past twenty or thirty years have been esteemed scholars the lot of whom (unfortunately) are philologists--all of them with a smattering of knowledge about the famous--all of them idiosyncratic note writers for the margins of other people's books--all of them unravelers of lexical or historical obscurities and--all of them putting in order the graves of the known and unknown dead and demonstrating the intricacies of allusion and plagiarism...--all of them writers of articles about poets in the tenth century A.H., whose number doesn't exceed the fingers on two hands. And what's worst of all, most of these persons are teachers of literature, school administrators, and cultural leaders. From this motley group what good or blessing can be expected? Excepting greater submersion into Weststruckness.

A further problem is that of the horde of the European educated or the returnees from America, each and every one of them having returned a candidate for a viziership at the very least, but ending up governmental dead weight. No doubt the very existence of these individuals is a windfall. Yet observe closely and notice what sort of waste and refuse each of these treasures has proved after his return and the opening up of some spot in a ministry and his assumption of some job or other. They find neither the right environment nor have they the requisite ability--they're neither open-handed nor encouraging; and most of them aren't even sympathetic. They are perfect examples of something severed from its roots, this the result of Weststruckness. They are perfect specimens of individuals with their feet in the air. These are the ones who execute the notions and views of foreign advisors and experts. And contrary to the commonly accepted belief, however much the horde of returnees from abroad increases, their power to act diminishes; and the incapacity and disharmony of the organizations that have accepted the influence of the European-trained becomes greater. The reason--on the one hand--there never was a plan in sending these educated youths abroad somewhere to study something. These students, through their own prerogative and initiative, went off, each of them, to some corner of the world and studied something and gained some experience that was totally distinct and different from the experience of others. And now they've returned. And each one of them must be a cog in a wheel, a member of an enterprise, part of a government organization. Then it becomes apparent how incompatible they are and how incapable and stymied in the performance of any operation. On the other hand, each one of these young men is like a beautiful tulip or narcissus or hyacinth whose bulbs we import from Holland and nurture in the greenhouses of Tehran. And after they've bloomed, we buy a flowerpot and bear them as a gift for some friend. And even though our friend puts them in a warm room with sunlight, they don't last more than a week. These choice flowers of our society will likewise wilt from the weather of this region. We've observed them, had experience with them. And should, by chance, they not wither and die, be certain of this fact that they're compelled to go along with the tide. So, contrary to all this propaganda that is expended for the purpose of persuading those college students abroad to return home, I don't feel that the return of these students will offer the prospect of real service to the homeland till the time that an environmental setting is here made ready for their jobs of the future. What is certain is that the people who are going to turn around and advance the life and environment in this intense cold will be those who have both been nurtured in this furnace and adapted to the climate in the cooler. As long as the situation of students going to Europe remains as we see it today, with its present disharmony and the lack of coordination that exists, and as long as the matter of education in Europe is left to individual ingenuity and chance, I don't think there's much hope that the larger the horde of European educated Iranians becomes, the hope of success in the renewal of the structure of our nation will become proportionately greater.

It is because of these particulars that I feel that the time has arrived for us to refrain from sending students to Europe and America. We have seen what results have and have not materialized from all this schooling in Europe and America. The time has arrived when we ought, according to a definite and well laidout plan for a specific period of time, say twenty years, to send students to Japan and India for advanced (i.e., university) studies and to nowhere else. And if I propose these two countries only, it is ultimately because we know how these two countries have adapted to the machine age and how they've adopted technology and how they've coped with the problems we face. In my opinion, only in the event that such a plan is acted upon, will it be possible through the creation of an equilibrium between the Eaststruckncss of future visitors to Asia and the Weststruckness of present-day returnees from Europe that one can be hopeful concerning the subject of education.

See also:
The China Vase
Al-i Ahmad's Life

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