Leader's Address to Teachers in Shiraz

The following is the full text of the speech delivered on May 1, 2008 by Ayatollah Khamenei the Leader of the Islamic Revolution to a group of teachers in Shiraz, Fars province.

In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

Teacher's Day and Teacher's Week have always been very significant for me and ones in which there are many responsibilities to be fulfilled.

This year I happened to be here in Shiraz with you honorable teachers to hold my annual meeting with teachers among you dear brothers and sisters. This is a happy coincidence, and to be honest, I should say that your province and city has acted as an instructing model on many occasions. There are few prominent scholars who have not at one point or another, availed themselves of the knowledge of the scholars and teachers of Shiraz on Islamic jurisprudence, philosophy, literature, poetry, art, and other fields and sciences.

Teacher's Day belongs to you, and in a sense, it belongs to the whole Iranian nation. That is because teachers have an individual identity as well as a collective teaching identity. The latter belongs to all those who can learn from the teachers. The value of teachers is due to their collective identity, and I must confess that we have not worked enough in this regard. We have practically given in to the cultural atmosphere that considers teachers to be of no value except in material terms - that is, teaching ability that could be utilized to make money. This is the dominant culture in materialistic civilizations. The capacity for earning money is the criterion to judge the value of anything. In this cultural milieu, teachers are treated with respect to the extent that they can directly or indirectly serve as a means to make money. We - namely, the whole teaching portion of our nation - have given in to this misguided culture.

That is while, in Islamic thought, education goes far beyond such issues. Education is concerned with giving birth to a human being. Islam looks at the issue from this perspective. This is like trying to dig out water from a land that looks arid. Education is like planting a seed in fertile soil and irrigating it so that a fresh sapling comes out of the soil. That is the real issue, and it may or may not make money for you. Islam looks at teachers and the issue of education from this point of view. I do not intend to downplay the past and present material demands of our teachers. There are undoubtedly a number of demands and expectations, most of which are reasonable. And there are some officials who are responsible for these affairs. We must tell them to consider these issues.

The honorable Minister of Education, whose speech you just listened to, is as I realized a very committed, persistent and devoted person. I hope he will manage to fulfill his duties properly in regard to the teachers. But the scope of my words goes even beyond this. I am not addressing you teachers only. I am addressing the whole Iranian nation - those who enter the educational arena led by you teachers.

The issue is to understand the value of a job, an act, and a character which in my opinion is not duly appreciated in our time. Of course this was not the case in the past. Before some aspects of the Western culture had influenced our country, going back to almost 1,200 years after Islam, there were more or less opportunities for education in our country based on the requirements of the time. Those days, teachers were highly respected. The method of education at the time, which was based on Islamic principles, was in a way that required students to act very politely towards their teachers.

We also behaved in the same way. Our students also had the same attitude towards us when we used to teach. Students thought very highly of their teachers. Of course, there are traces of such traditions in the Islamic seminaries, and this is because Islamic seminaries have been under less influence from the Western culture. Therefore, some aspects of that tradition are still followed in Islamic seminaries, and teachers are valued highly by their students. Students stand in awe of their teachers which is of course not because of their fear. Students sometimes challenge ideas in class. In Islamic seminaries, students challenge ideas in class more than they do at universities. They do not even have to ask for the teacher's permission to do so. They even ask questions or challenge ideas when the teacher is busy talking. When this is the case, teachers listen very patiently, yet they might get cross with them at times.

This means that students sometimes adopt a bold attitude towards their teachers when it comes to scientific issues, but the same learner is very modest and humble towards his teacher outside the scope of those cases. They never address or behave towards their teachers in an informal manner. For almost 1,200 to 1,300 years, this was the dominant culture in our country. Later on, Western culture penetrated our country. Just look how many times teachers have been beaten, offended, or humiliated by their students in class, or just take a look at the number of teachers who have been killed by their students because of a low mark. Such cases have of course been very rare in our country due to our great historical background. These cases are much more severe in other places where western cultures are dominant.

I want the value judgments about teachers to be based on Islamic principles. Our society needs to respect teachers. If a student's parents respect his or her teachers in the true sense of the word, the students will also have the same feeling towards the teacher both in and outside the classroom. We are in need of this. That is superior for you to all other material privileges. Our magnanimous Imam was a sage in the Quranic sense of the word. A sage is a person who has the insight to see something that is hidden to the eyes of the others. The words of a sage may seem simple, but the more you think about them, the more layers of meaning you discover. The Imam was like that. Just take a look at the Holy Quran and try to understand the depth of the parts in which the word "wisdom" has been used: "This is of the wisdom which thy Lord has revealed to thee" [The holy Quran 17:39]. A superficial look may give you the impression that they are ordinary pieces of advice. That is what we normally keep telling each other. However, when you delve into them, you see that their depth increases as you go on. Take 'respect for one's parents' as one of the instances of this wisdom. It is not possible to find materialistic justification for this respect in terms of the benefits that it brings about. The more one reflects upon this issue, the more one realizes that the depth of the issue. That is what wisdom means. Being a sage himself, Imam Khomeini said: "Teaching is a prophetic vocation." This is a great remark.

Apart from Quranic verses - and the Quranic verse: "Who recites to them His messages and purifies them, and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom" which has been repeated several times in the Holy Quran- there is a tradition from the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) that ascribes the act of educating to the Prophet (s.w.a.). The tradition is: "Allah did not assign me to be strict with others and with myself. Rather, He assigned me to be a facilitating teacher." [Speaking in Arabic]. The Prophet (s.w.a.) says that he makes life easier and facilitates things for his students with his instruction. The facilitation referred to in this tradition is different from leniency, and it must not be confused with laxity. By "...strict with others and with myself" he meant that he would involve neither himself nor the people in the confusing complexities of life. Rather, he meant he was to lead people onto the right and straight path. That is what facilitation means. Sometimes you cannot find the right path when you want to achieve a particular goal, like climbing breathlessly up and down rough hills without being certain whether you will achieve your goal or not. That is what is meant by "...strict with others and with myself". But there are other times when you are accompanied by an experienced guide who advises you to take a particular path which he assures will be shorter and smoother and which is sure to lead you to your final destination. "... a teacher who facilitates things" refers to this point. This indicates the high status of teachers, which is the main point I wanted to raise.

I would like to tell both the people and teachers that they must appreciate the position of being teachers. Of course, I would like to address this point more to the people than teachers. That is because teachers are normally aware of their value. Wise teachers who have a great deal of knowledge and transfer it to other people are totally aware of what they are doing. This is all analogous to a lock that could be opened with a key. Teachers give the key to their students and tell them how to use it. That is what instruction is. This is similar to a mathematical problem that could be solved in no other way. The teacher provides the solution. That is what teachers do in all situations. Therefore, teachers - serving at various levels - know well what they are doing. All the same, I want to address these remarks mainly to the people. I want instruction and education in our society to enjoy the same status that Islam has intended for them. I am not sure of the validity of the tradition "if someone teaches me something, he has made me his servant". However, the whole concept is right. That is because after learning something from somebody, you enter a new phase for which you need to be grateful to the person who provided you with the guidance, and you need to consider yourself to be his or her servant. That is the main point.

There is another point that has to do with values. I should tell you - and I mean to address this to teachers - that from an Islamic point of view students too ought to be treated with respect just as teachers are. Students have to be respected. They must not be insulted. This has a very deep educational aspect to it. There is a tradition in this regard that says "be humble to those whom you teach and learn from." [Speaking in Arabic]. "And do not oppress scholars." [Speaking in Arabic]. Oppressors are of two kinds: political and intellectual. You must not be an intellectual oppressor. You must not be like the pharaoh who oppressed scholars. About 40 or 45 years ago, I myself knew one such teacher whose behavior, teaching, and speaking were like those of a pharaoh, nothing like the way a father treats his child. A teacher may sometimes be rough, but this is different from humiliation. Being rough is not the same as being insulting. Students have to be respected. Definitely each of you has had many experiences of treating your students with respect which has proved to be effective and has smoothed the way for his or her education. Using abusive language, insulting, and beating are not appropriate ways. "Beating is education" is among the maxims that have been common for many years but has been shown to be ineffective. And that is what I believe in. students have to be strictly controlled and shaped, but this has to be done gently. That is what the art of teaching is. That is about all I wanted to say about the valuable aspects regarding teachers.

Education is a great issue. Over the past years in my meetings with teachers and sometimes with members of the High Council of Cultural Revolution as well as ministers of education, I have raised some points which are not simply my personal opinions. Without any exceptions, the points I have raised are all based on expert views. Those who are involved in education have endorsed these views. I have demanded them to do what I talked about. Fortunately, I noticed that the minister pointed out in his report that some of these views are already being practiced or that there has been some progress in this regard, while they have made some preliminary measures regarding others. That is fine but not enough. We need a far-reaching change in the educational system.

Last year in a similar meeting with teachers in Tehran, I put forth the idea of a comprehensive reform in the education system. What does this comprehensive reform mean? I have said on numerous occasions that I do not feel shy when I want to learn from Western or non-Western people or foreigners. I do not try to avoid learning from them. We do not shy away from learning an administrative, educational, scientific, or innovative method from other countries. We do not feel shy. We will pursue this goal and never back away. We will even learn at their knees. However, in addition to this act of learning, there are two other points that have to taken into consideration. Unfortunately, these two points were disregarded during the era of the imposed cultural revolution - that is to say, the Pahlavi era which was a period for cultural transformation in our country. They closed their eyes and opened their arms. They simply accepted whatever they were given. One of the points is that we must evaluate whatever is offered to us and see if they are good for us or not. If they are a hundred percent good for us we must totally accept them. And if they are a hundred percent useless and detrimental, we must totally reject them. If the offers are somewhere between these two extreme points, we must accept the ones that are useful for us and reject the rest of them. That is all for the first point.

I gave you an example and said that there is a difference between the person who sees something - such as fruit, food, or medicine - recognizes it, voluntarily puts it in his mouth, and swallows it and the person whose hands and feet are held tightly and who is injected with nourishment. These two are different. It is the former case that is the right one. The latter is wrong. They must not inject us [with whatever they want]. We must make our own choices. This is one point that was disregarded. We must not accept whatever we are offered like inert and unconscious people who simply receive nourishment through their mouths or through injection. During the era of cultural transformation, we just waited for others to put things in our mouths.

The second point is that the false dichotomy of student-teacher must not be maintained forever. Yes, we are prepared to learn - something that we do not know - from those who know. But it is not right to remain an apprentice for ever. We must become masters. They did not pay enough attention to these two points.

Education is one of the things that we learnt. They had a good education system, and we learnt from them. We learnt that primary schools are better than our traditional schools. Classification of schools into primary and secondary was something good. It was useful, and we did not reject it. But we did not ask "how much of it?", "what type of it?", and "what approach?". We did not pay attention to these points and adopted whatever they offered. First, they said there had to be six grades at each level, and we learnt from them and adopted their system. Then they changed their system and said that there had to be three grades, five grades, and so on. We learned from them and adopted their new system. That would simply not do. They had their own books with different lessons and prescribed the same things to us, which we adopted. The structure of our education system is a total emulation, both in terms of form and in terms of content. That is not the right way. We must see what we need and determine the shortcomings of the present method. The present method has some shortcomings, one of which is its reliance on memorization rather than on creative thought processes. Our education system is based on rote learning. Young students have to constantly involve themselves in memorization.

Let me tell you in parentheses that memorization is not something bad. There is nothing bad about children getting involved in memorizing and extensive reading. That is something good. That is because the information gained from memorization is stable. Of course, students may not understand some of what they read. I used to go to a primary school whose curriculum was different from the ordinary curriculum enforced by the educational system. In that school, they used to teach us Saadi's Golestan ("The Rose Garden"). I still remember some of the poems. I did not understand the poems when I read them back then. Later on, I gradually learnt the meaning of the verses. That is something positive. There are some things that you may not understand, but memorization helps build a point of reference for mental processes. Memorization is something positive, but rote learning is not. And it is not right to base our endeavors on memorization. Rather, we must base them on thinking, even if it involves memorization. That is a great shortcoming, and it must be remedied.

If we do not remedy these shortcomings, who will? The era of cultural transformation - which the late Ale Ahmad called westoxication - and the era of being awestruck by the dazzling features of the Western civilization are over now. Today, the glowing, heavily made-up face of their civilization has revealed its true colors to us and to many people throughout the world. Its ugliness and hollowness have been revealed now. Today, we know many things which we were not familiar with 50 years ago. The Iranian nation is familiar with many of these facts today.

Today, we must set this system right. Who should do this? The education system is the main body in charge of this issue. Of course, I must tell you that although there is a headquarters in the education system, and it is necessary for the education system to seriously pursue this issue, those who are in charge of the education system must remember that the guiding principle is to let experts use their expertise. You must by no means deprive yourselves of the expert views of the pundits at the High Council of Cultural Revolution. You must consult them and present the Iranian nation and the future generations with a well-thought-out outcome, one that will remain as an everlasting righteous deed. That is one more point which I think is very important.

Teacher education is another issue that is of paramount importance. I believe that academic potentialities have to be utilized in this regard. Of course, the education system fortunately enjoys good potentialities in teacher education and teacher training today, and we must make the best of these potentialities. You must not shut the door on other sources. You must make the best of all potentialities.

Some people may not have an academic degree, but they may be experts in a particular field or area of activity. There were a number of such people in Mashhad who were men of letters without having had any academic education - some of them did not even have non-academic education - but they were experts. Other such cases are probably to be found in other fields as well, and we must not deprive ourselves of their knowledge and skill.

To put it another way, I would like to tell you that the education system is responsible for training well-educated and efficient individuals at all levels. It is a mistake to think that school education is simply a prerequisite for academic studies. That is not the case. There are some people who have pinned all their hopes and aspirations on entering university. You have heard about such cases: the case of a youth who has not managed to pass the entrance examination and has hurt himself, has been depressed, or has been stigmatized by his parents. That is not the way it should be. It is true that university is a route to scientific growth and a route to making progress in research. That is necessary for the progress of the country. You are well aware that I am a proponent of broadening knowledge and that I insist on it. But this does not mean that we do not need good salespersons, drivers, businessmen, and technicians. Not all men and women that fulfill different functions in the country are required to go to university. However, everybody is in need of literacy and the education offered at primary and secondary levels. Therefore, this education is not just a preliminary course for the sake of entering university. Academic education is very good indeed, and it is needed, but the scope of school education is far wider. You must try to train some people in schools who have the necessary level of knowledge required by all those who function in different positions. Some people enjoy the gift and enthusiasm to enter university, but some others do not have either the talent or the enthusiasm, and therefore they do not manage to go to university.

Of course, this has nothing to do with administering justice. We must try to create equal conditions for all. That is to say, if someone has the necessary enthusiasm and talent but lacks financial means, we must help him go to university. That is what justice means. That is to say, we must provide the opportunity for everybody. Once I met a young man who had not continued his education. As is my habit, I asked him why he had dropped out and started working. He had a good job. He did not give a clear answer, but when I insisted he said: "That runs in my blood." The job was part of his being. If somebody has a natural tendency towards a particular job like salesmanship, we must simply let him do whatever he has a gift for. There is no need to force him to go to university. There was no need then to insist that the young man should go to university. That is the right attitude towards this issue.

The issue of educational activities is the next point that I would like to talk about. Establishing a separate office for moral education was one of the best innovations after the Revolution, an idea that was put forth by the late Shahid Bahonar (may Allah bestow His mercy on him and place him in paradise). They closed it down under some pretexts. Of course, I do not want to make this issue look suspicious, but it was indicative of lack of perspicacity. They closed down this special center for education under the pretext that its function is to be fulfilled collectively by all teachers and that it was not to be carried out by a separate educational body. I also believe that it must be fulfilled collectively. I also believe that as teachers of physics, mathematics, geometry, literature, civics, or any other subject, you can function as an instructor of religion and morality and help build up the morality of your students. Sometimes a mathematics teacher says something when solving a mathematical problem that makes a lasting effect on the hearts of her students. All teachers must consider this as their responsibility. I would like to tell all of you who are present in this meeting and all teachers - regardless of what they teach - that you must not turn a blind eye to this issue because moral education is part of your responsibility. And it would be much better if you could make use of your spiritual influence as a teacher and create a beam of light in the hearts of your students. As a teacher of mathematics or literature in the first or second grade in primary school, sometimes you may say a word about spirituality, about treading the path of Allah, or about affection towards Him that may properly shape the personality of your young or adolescent student, something that may be more effective than 100 hours of different forms of moral lecturing. That is a separate issue and is certainly a duty.

But it does not deny the fact that we need to have a separate department in the education system that is assigned to deal with all concerns related to moral education. That is because I am certain that education will not go a long way without a moral component. Being devoid of its moral component, education is sure to lead to the same disastrous consequences that Western societies are now suffering from after the passage of over 100-150 years. These are issues the effects of which are not to be revealed in a matter of 10 or 20 years. You just wake up and are shocked into the reality that a generation has been helplessly ruined - a whole generation: that is totally disappointing. I have a great deal of information and moving figures in this regard, but there is not enough time to mention them now. Of course, I have talked about these figures [regarding moral issues in the West] on other occasions - full, honest confessions indeed. It must not be assumed that this is just a claim, being made from a long distance away. That is not the case. That is what they themselves say. That is the warning that they themselves give. This disaster has already happened in the West. It is like a flood that sweeps all houses away. That is what happens if knowledge is not accompanied by moral education. When science progresses in a society but there is no moral education, generations of humanity are ruined. And this is an additional problem apart from atomic bombs, political dishonesty, different types of lies, and profit-seeking trusts and cartels, which are a separate issue and are a natural byproduct of the generation issue. Therefore, moral education is of paramount importance, and it must be an organized endeavor in the form of an office with appropriate, efficient organization. We must not just go through the motions of moral education.

Literacy is another issue, and we must somehow deal with it in our country. First, it is sometimes observed that in some parts of the country school-age children cannot go to school, and this is an extremely dangerous and inauspicious phenomenon. Primary school education must be made obligatory for everybody. As a minimum requirement, the certificate of elementary education must be considered something as necessary as a national ID card or driver's license, something that everybody must have. This is a very important point that is often neglected, preparing the grounds at times in some parts of the country for some individuals to take advantage of it.

It is really necessary for the education system and the literacy movement to decide on a certain minimum level of education. For instance, they should decide what obligatory education must be provided for those who are under 50, 55, or 60 years of age. They must determine an educational threshold level - 5 years, for example - for all people across the country. Those who are older than that must be dealt with more leniently, but they must not be left to their own devices. All men and women who are under 50 or 55 must absolutely be literate so that we do not have illiterate people - in the strict sense of the word - in the country.

That is almost all I intended to tell you. And I believe that our country's present generation, some of whom were present during the Revolution and the Sacred Defense era, enjoy inexhaustible capacities. Some of them were to some extent in contact with the prevalent mood of the Revolution and the Sacred Defense era, and we are not far away from that era. This generation can do many things. We can still benefit from the support of our Imam. His wise divine outlook on the social and national affairs is still alive among us. Therefore, the Imam is in a sense alive. We must safeguard our allegiance to the Imam and the Revolution. Those who broke their allegiance to the Imam, the Revolution, and the Islamic Republic are certainly doing harm to themselves. "Those who shift their allegiance do harm to themselves, and those who keep their allegiance to Allah will receive a great reward from Him." We must safeguard this allegiance, and relying on this allegiance of the present generation - our country is fortunately full of young and dynamic people - we can accomplish great deeds. Nuclear energy is a case in point, and you can see that the Iranian nation has attracted international attention in this regard. In spite of the fact that propagandists and politicians are shouting insults at us, I can assure you that nations admire you. Even those politicians admire Iran deep in their hearts. Whenever I see the course of negotiations - whether in IAEA or other political gatherings - I can see that they are astonished at and praise the Iranian nation for its perseverance, enthusiasm for knowledge, and insistence on preserving this scientific and national honor. All the reports that I have received point to the same fact. That is only one instance.

Twenty years ago, not even one out of a thousand people would have believed it if we had said that one day the Iranian youth would be able to manufacture centrifuges, would manage to enrich uranium, and would generate electricity out of uranium without having received any instruction from outside and by just relying on their general instruction and their innovative thought processes and endeavors. Well-educated specialists would have been the first to reject the claim. They would have said "it is impossible", "is it really possible to do such a thing?", "what a naïve idea!" The Iranian nation proved that it can do it. It is the same in all other fields, but nuclear energy has appeared as a manifestation. It has attracted global admiration. This nation has the talent and enthusiasm to do the same thing in all other fields. Our nation also has the courage to step in and do the same thing in other fields. That is something obvious, a self-evident reality. You have many other undeniable rights as well.

That is what I meant by innovation. Our youth, our nation, and our intellectuals, especially you teachers, must innovatively tread the path of innovation determined to foster innovation. God will assist you in this regard.

Dear God, bestow Your grace and assistance on this nation. O God, make our behavior, intentions, and actions favorable to the Imam of the Age (may our souls be sacrificed for his sake). O God, increase the dynamism of the Iranian nation on a daily basis.

Greetings be upon you and Allah's mercy and blessings