Clerics’ Ambition to Take Control of Schools

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The publication of a cooperation agreement between the “General Directorate of Education and Training of Tehran City” and the management of the “Scientific Seminary of Brothers in Tehran Province,” based on converting some government schools into “schools affiliated with the scientific seminary,” has brought both supporters and opponents in recent days.

Saeed Aganji

On the one hand, this agreement has caused the expression of satisfaction by religious institutions in society, especially the scientific seminary, and on the other hand, it has led to opposition and expression of concern by a large number of teachers.

According to this agreement, government schools under the plan will be converted into schools affiliated with the scientific seminary, and the seminary management, by establishing a permanent cleric, will take responsibility for the educational management of the affiliated schools. Also, the number of schools that will be added to this plan each year is based on the capacities that will be announced by the scientific seminary. In fact, this plan is being examined and implemented within the “framework of religious decrees and regulations of the Islamic Republic in line with the implementation of the fundamental transformation document of education and training, focusing on and spreading the thought of obedience to the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, observing dignity, institutionalizing, and regulating all activities.”

Considering the prevailing discourse in the Islamic Republic (traditionalist ideological discourse) and the clergy’s efforts to dominate their hegemony, these decisions can be examined in three areas, and generally, they should be considered under the umbrella of traditionalism and modernity opposition. These three areas are historical fields, social fields, and psychological fields.

Historical Fields

The discourse that the scientific seminary symbolizes is essentially formed based on preserving its social relations and religious worldview. The intellectual and ideological style of this class has generally suffered economic, social, and political damages due to modernization and century-old reforms. If the modernization process continues, it will undoubtedly inflict further damage on them, and as a result, they are striving to prevent this, considering that they have a significant part of the governance in hand.

Psychological Fields

The psychological grounds for traditionalism and opposition to modernity must be sought in the feelings of insecurity, homelessness, and lack of solidarity and social cohesion among the masses in Iran today. The clergy, as a prominent symbol of traditionalism in Iran, has always been psychologically pressured. This pressure can be examined in many cases, and one of the most significant can be referred to below.

Groups supporting the clergy, and even parts of the clergy themselves, are displaced due to modernization, and their traditional ties lose color in this confrontation. With the weakening of these ties, a state of “anomie” prevails, and as a result, insecurity takes hold of the ruling clergy. The clergy, to compensate for this sense of insecurity about the future, which may result from losing their superior social, political, and even economic position, may react in a way that perhaps by taking such actions, like entering the educational system, they can strive to preserve their thoughts and prevent their decline.

In this writing, an attempt is made to briefly examine this plan and agreement and point to the reasons for its supporters and opponents, so that perhaps by identifying the concerns of each of them, a damage assessment of the presentation or implementation of the plan can be made.

Amin Plan

Perhaps with a bit of tolerance, it can be said that the clergy’s cooperation with the education institution dates back to the years before the revolution, and their collaboration in authoring textbooks. After the revolution, the relationship between these two institutions deepened based on the system’s structure. In 2006, during the tenure of Minister Mahmoud Farshidi, this connection and consequently cooperation bore fruit. During this period, the Amin Schools plan was proposed under the cooperation headquarters of the seminary and university. This plan almost entered the implementation phase from 2009, and since then, discussions on this subject have taken shape in society. No statistics have been announced by the mentioned institutions regarding the number of these schools that have become affiliated with the seminary.

Despite all these interpretations, it must be said that this plan, or rather the permanent establishment of clerics in schools, which has been raised these days, is a discussion that has been of interest for several years and is only a subject that has gained momentum during this time.

Reasons for Supporters

Perhaps the reasons for the agreement of the supporters of this plan and agreement can be found in a fourfold goal, although debatable and criticizable, that education officials have raised.
These four goals are:

  1. Strengthening the religious and belief structure of students;
  2. Optimal use of educational capacities in various nurturing and educational dimensions;
  3. Creating healthy competition with non-governmental schools;
  4. Reducing government interference.

However, it should be noted that there are other motivations behind this plan that are less discussed, which may be gleaned from an interview with Mohammad Hassan Nabavi, Deputy of Propaganda and Applied Education of the Scientific Seminary. “The average talent entering the seminary is low; if we launch attractive schools where talented individuals are present, we will encourage them to attend the seminary. With the proper implementation of this plan, many of the existing losses in the current method of acceptance, attraction, or rejection of individuals will be resolved. We have now started the work in high school and guidance school, but we believe that the essential comprehensive educational work is to enter the battle from the first day of education; that is, we also believe in launching these educational centers at pre-school levels…”

Reasons for Opponents

Opponents of the mentioned plan present many reasons for their opposition, and the most important ones can probably be understood in the following:

  1. In the charter of cooperation between the seminary and education, emphasis has been placed on the independence of these two institutions and their cooperation within the framework of laws and regulations. However, the recent agreement tarnishes the independence of education and is likely in conflict with the laws and regulations of the Ministry of Education. Moreover, the direct entry of seminaries into executive work is also contrary to the principle of seminary independence. In this regard, some believe that this agreement is illegal, as education regulations do not allow education authorities to hand over government schools to non-governmental institutions, including the seminary. Also overlooked in this is the choice and desire of parents and students.
  2. The government’s mistrust of teachers and the interference of clerics’ authorities with the duties of coaches, counselors, and school management are other matters of concern to opponents. In their view, the seminary’s entry into the executive affairs of schools is a sign of the ruling apparatus’s mistrust of the agents of this institution and will consequently lead to a kind of dual management.
  3. Entrusting educational and counseling affairs of schools to clerics sent from the seminary will only be without hassle and interference if the educational deputy of education is dissolved. With the start of the school cleric, a kind of dual management takes shape. A lack of coordination is created between the school cleric with special powers, receiving orders from the scientific seminary, and the principal, who is subject to the administrative system of the Ministry of Education, which affects the students.
  4. Another criticism of opponents of this plan is the cost of using the facilities and budget of the ministry for clerics stationed in schools. While this ministry itself faces many financial problems, there is no longer a need to bear additional costs.
  5. The direct presence of seminary representatives in schools is positive in that they face reality up close, and their expectations from the country’s education and training system are moderated. However, the constant presence of a cleric in the school with special powers in the educational, managerial, and educational field of the school will undoubtedly disrupt the school organization and reduce its efficiency.
  6. Lack of hope for creating healthy competition between non-profit schools is another matter under discussion. One of the goals of the plan, as mentioned, is to reduce government interference, and this is only possible with private sector participation. The parents’ main goal in choosing non-profit schools is to avoid the nurturing and disciplinary policies of government schools, high student density, limited laboratory facilities, and consequently, teachers’ limitations in working with students. … In many non-profit schools, prayer rooms have been converted into libraries, laboratories, film screening halls, or student artistic activities because the principals of these schools have well understood that such activities have a greater impact on attracting parents. Meanwhile, parents who want a stricter education system can enroll in other non-profit schools such as Motalefeh, Kamal, Roshd, etc.
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