The Iranian Studies, affiliated to Harvard University and The Institute of Iranian Studies, in Goettingen, has recently published a review by Houman Harouni on the collection of 10-volumes of books ,"The History of Children's Literature in Iran".
In this article Harouni has pointed to the problems of the educational system in Iran and the related history which is reflected in "The History of Children's Literature in Iran" written by M.H. Mohammadi and Zohreh Ghaeni. Harouni appreciates the role of such academic works and through them he sees solutions for improving the system in future.
Harouni believes this collection is the first academic work written in Iran that analyzes the history of children's literature extensivley. He hopes the last three volumes would get the permit for publication from the Iranian Cultural Ministry after nearly 3 years.
The following is the complete text of the review:
The History of Children's Literature in Iran, Mohammad Hadi Mohammadi and Zohreh Ghaeni,
- The education system in Iran suffers from over-centralization. It is a system relying heavily on dry standardized testing, outdated textbooks, and poorly paid teachers, all arranged in a vertically integrated structure wherein virtually all roads lead to the Ministry of Education in Tehran. It was a major project of Reza Shah's regime (1925-41) to try and establish absolute control of the government over schooling. The Islamic Republic has continued to exercise the same strong control over the education system. Education, however, particularly in a developing country such as Iran, is a matter that concerns everyone involved in the cultural life of the society. To be shut out from the learning processes of children is to be excluded from taking part in the shaping of the all-important future-the future that promises to bring either great progress or a reproduction and worsening of the ills already suffered by a Third World country. It is then not
- far-fetched to assume that children's literature in Iran, a less officially controlled segment of education, must have a dynamic history chronicling a dialogue and a struggle between the various forces shaping the destiny of the country.
- Until recently, however, very little work had been done in the way of documenting and analyzing the patterns in Iran's children's literature. The only publications were limited to academic articles and a handful of studies prepared for teacher training universities (Tarbiat Mo'allem). Educational history in general has been a neglected field in Iranian research-the few published efforts having been hastily prepared attempts at providing some background to the discourse. A by-product of this neglect has been a common and fallacious belief that history of education in Iran is a brief one, with its major influences arriving periodically from beyond the borders. In fact, when the writers of the ten-volume History of Children's Literature in Iran (HCLI) began their research in 1997, they imagined that their work would be concluded to their satisfaction in the space of one or two years, requiring no more than two volumes (vol. 1, p. iii). The result of their
- meticulous research, however, is a monumental study that fills a large part of the gap in the discipline.
- The series begins rather courageously in the scarcely documented pre-Islamic era, and the last volumes study the period leading up to the 1979 Revolution. The writers have adopted an expanded definition of children's literature. The documents gathered and studied are not limited to works composed exclusively for children, such as stories, songs, folklore, and collected mythologies, but include literature written about children as well. Also included are the relevant aspects of works written for adults but historically read by younger audiences. Dramatic literature, photographs and illustrations, radio programs, translations, and even games and puzzles have been considered. The writers of HCLI investigate textbooks and instructional manuals, and they explore the history of periodicals dealing in any way with children's issues and education. The writers also examine chronicles, autobiographies, and internal papers describing educational
- institutions-documents whose study will surely prove significant to future research.
- The seven volumes published so far divide the history of children's literature into four major eras: the first volume considers the pre-Islamic period, the second volume is a study of the Islamic era until the early Qajar dynasty, volumes three and four are detailed accounts of the period characterized by the Constitutional Revolution, and volumes five through seven concentrate on the modern era ending in the early 1960s. The yet-to-be-published volumes eight to ten deal with the two decades leading up to the 1979 Revolution. Discussion of each period begins with a brief description of that era's major historical events and developments. Next, the cultural concerns and movements of the period are briefly discussed. Yet another separate section discusses the factors affecting the daily lives of children and their education. Here the writers have paid detailed attention to issues concerning public health, class structure, modes of production, and
- ideological movements. Extraneous as these background studies may initially appear to academic readers, they help ground the analysis in the larger context of Iranian history and clarify the factors that have shaped the authors' perspective on each era. It is essential, for example, to be aware of the rates and causes of infant mortality in old Tehran (vol. 3, pp. 18-20) in order to understand the history of childcare and school environments.
- The main content of the book is a comprehensive analysis of developments in children's literature. The analysis is well referenced, drawing on both primary sources and available critical literature. The writers discuss a wealth of academic articles, dissertations, and books as examples of the critical tradition in education. Despite the scholarly tone of the analysis, however, the format of the books deviates from the dry boundaries customary for academic writing. All sections include selections of texts from the works discussed in the analysis. The reader will find, for example, long excerpts from Obeyd Zakani's Fable of Cat and Mouse, Qajar era magazines, or the poems of Nasim Shomal (1872-1934). These selections are set apart from the main text in color-coded boxes. In the case of the more hard-to-find literature, such as out-of-print or unpublished pieces, the writers have made sure to include extensive selections. For those unfamiliar with the lives
- of the historical characters mentioned in the series, the authors have provided extensive biographies, bibliographies, and biographical interviews. These additions not only unburden the main analysis from providing all necessary background information, but they also give the reader a chance to experience and explore the literature independently. This is a welcome option, considering the large number of sources already lost or fading, banned, or locked up in private collections.
- Academic readers should not be discouraged by the colorful format of the books. The analysis remains strong throughout the series and increases in depth as it covers the later, better documented periods. The principal authors, Mohammad Hadi Mohammadi and Zohreh Ghaeni, are both scholars of considerable reputation in the field of children's literature. Their analysis does not shy away from theorization, and the authors keep an ear out for new trends that arise and may help explain further developments. Significantly, the authors consistently refuse to define and justify the boundaries of the research to fit their theories. Instead, they try to mention and study as many examples of children's literature as possible, no matter how exceptional or outlying the examples may be.
- The Institution for Research on the History of Children's Literature in Iran (IRHCLI), a Tehran-based NGO, is responsible for conducting the ongoing research project that has resulted in the volumes discussed in this review. The institution is a recent offshoot of the Children's Book Council of Iran (CBCI), the oldest active independent educational foundation in the country. According to the authors' acknowledgements, the project enjoyed the guidance of many experienced writers and educators working with the Council, among them Touran Mirhadi, the godmother of progressive education in Iran; Mehdi Azaryazdi, a famous children's author and collector of children's literature; and Noushafarin Ansari, an eminent librarian and the Secretary General of the CBCI. Besides Mohammadi and Ghaeni, the books credit a host of writers and researchers as direct contributors to the series. While some are recognized names in education, the majority clearly are new
- researchers in training, entrusted with the collection and organization of data. The fact that some of these contributors work from provincial centers or within minority communities has helped the series avoid the Tehran-centric tendency plaguing much of the historical research published in Iran. In short, the series brilliantly features the significant potential of new NGOs for expanding the educational and intellectual discourse in the country. Unfortunately, the project also faces the same obstacles that have become common to NGO activities. The last three volumes of the series, volumes eight to ten, have been banned from publication by Iran's Ministry of Culture. As is customary, the Ministry has not offered an explanation for enacting the ban. The three books cover the period leading to the 1979 Revolution, and it is possible that the censors are not in agreement with this particular portrayal of recent, pre-Revolutionary history.
- What emerges from reading The History of Children's Literature in Iran is a history of widespread, though scattered, efforts at creating suitable educational solutions for a country that has persistently remained in dire need of drastic educational reform. It is a history involving, particularly in the last two centuries, virtually every Iranian luminary concerned with progress or modernization. Their writings, as represented in the series, reveal a deep collective understanding of local problems. The remedies and solutions proposed by these men and women are also intensely Iranian-efforts in dialogue with, and not merely shaped by, foreign influences. For those attempting to improve the Iranian education system today, the books achieve the much-needed task of establishing a lineage, linking modern educators with predecessors whose efforts in hindsight appear as heroic endeavors. Hasan Roshdieh (1851-1944), the founder of modern schools in Iran,
- repeatedly saw his school buildings destroyed and his person harmed by mobs aggravated into action by guardians of the old, maktab-khane classrooms (vol. 3, p. 192). Mohammad Bahman-Beigi (1921-) established a vast network of educational institutions for the neglected nomadic tribes; his outdoor classrooms, which employed locally-trained teachers and offered equal opportunities for young women, outperformed metropolitan schools. Still, the volumes are only a survey of children's literature in Iran. Each separate topic within the series can provide for volumes of research. None the less, The History of Children's Literature in Iran is a valuable guide, providing direction for future work. It encourages the examination of past experiences and the meticulous recording of present ones, and it is a major step in releasing Iranian education from its historical isolation.
The History of Children's Literature in Iran, Mohammad Hadi Mohammadi and Zohreh Ghaeni .Harouni, Houman: Iranian Studies, Volume 43, Issue 2 April 2010 , pages 295 - 304 Affiliations: a Harvard University, Institute of Iranian Studies, Goettingen