Discrimination and Intolerance in Iran’s Textbooks

Discrimination and Intolerance in Iran s Textbooks
Paivandi, S. New York: Freedom House, 2008. Pp. v + 80.

Reviewed by Kow Yip Cheng & Amir B. Beigi
University of Malaya, Malaysia

In 2008, Freedom House, a non-governmental organization conducting research about political freedom and human rights, released a study of 95 compulsory school textbooks including TEFL materials published between 2006-2007 under the supervision of the Iranian Ministry of Education at elementary, junior high, and high school levels. The book, Discrimination and Intolerance in Iran s Textbooks, embodies the research findings and viewpoints of the author.
Navigating the book poses no problem as Paivandi provides an executive summary before the beginning of the first chapter which makes the book very user-friendly. The first chapter provides the background for the study, which is to examine the discrimination present in textbooks used within the different levels of education in Iran. This chapter also gives a vivid picture of the principal characteristics of Iranian textbooks and examines the pillars of Iran s education system. Chapter 2 examines gender biases in textbook images and content. Paivandi shows how gender inequality can be linked to factors such as the labor market, family, education, culture, the human body, and individuality. Additionally, in chapter 3, Paivandi shares his findings on the biases against religious minorities reflected in the examined textbooks, including Sunnis, Zoroastrians, Christians, Jews, and other hidden religious minorities.

Chapters 4 and 5 strive to detect the root of discrimination and biases described in the previous chapters. In chapter 4, the political stand of the Iranian government toward international issues is examined and chapter 5 highlights the manifestations of intolerance in Shi a egocentrism. In the latter chapter Paivandi discusses the root cause of discrimination in Iranian educational materials. According to Paivandi, the intolerance and egocentricities of Shi a Islam, together with the governing political system of Iran, should be held accountable for the present situation of Iranian textbooks.

If there is to be a criticism of Discrimination and Intolerance in Iran s textbooks, it is the fact thatthe author s debate mainly focuses on the sexism and discrimination that exists in Iranian textbooks vis-a-vis religion and the Islamic political system governing Iran. The shortcoming of such an approach is that sexism and discrimination is seen as an issue that is peculiar to the Islamic religion rather than a global issue (AbuKhalil, 2000). Thus, Paivandi could have included instances of sexism and discrimination in other countries to give the readers a more nuanced and balanced understanding of discrimination and sexism in Iran. Ultimately though, Paivandi accomplishes what he set out to do which is to illustrate discrimination and intolerance in Iran as evidenced in its mandated textbooks, a step forward in understanding the mismatch in the ideology and religious viewpoints of the Iranian government when they are examined with human rights and respect for women and minorities in mind.
Because of the depth of both the qualitative and quantitative data obtained and illustrated in Discrimination and Intolerance in Iran s Textbooks, the text is indeed a reliable reference for a wide readership, especially those interested in examining the interface and interaction between gender, race, ethnicity and politics within the realm of curriculum development. It is also of practical value to teachers, educators, and researchers in that it offers a hands-on model they can adopt to trace the existence of discrimination and biases in the textbooks used in their own country s curricula.

AbuKhalil, A. (2000). Women in the Middle East. Foreign Policy in Focus, 30(5). Retrieved March, 23, 2009, from http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/1514.