Iran’s English-teaching ban


Iran’s supreme leader has just banned the teaching of English in primary schools because he sees such learning as a “cultural invasion”. If this is indeed his thinking, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would clearly also like to ban English lessons throughout the entire Iranian education system.

There is of course nothing surprising about this decision in the distorted reality field that is Iran. It is probably no coincidence that the announcement comes in the wake of widespread popular protests at the wretched corruption and parlous economic failures of the regime. The intrusion of the real world into the bigoted and incoherent rule of the ayatollahs and their grasping praetorian protectors, the Revolutionary Guards, is an unacceptable invasion by the truth.

Since English is the world’s most widely-spoken language, it is frequently the messenger which carries the unwelcome facts of payola, failure and misgovernment in Tehran. Thus Iran’s supreme leader, instead of listening to the message, has come up with the supreme foolishness of shooting the messenger.

Moreover, this is an extraordinary display of intellectual weakness. Only the ignorant could fear for the future of the country’s culture. Persia’s history and the influence of its poets and thinkers constitute a remarkable and undeniable heritage. The idea that this cultural inheritance could in any way be invaded by the use of the English language is patently absurd. Only those fearful of the feebleness of their own views could imagine that learning a foreign language could constitute any sort of threat.

Other countries have been sensitive about their language. French was once the worldwide language of diplomacy and considered chic and upper class. As English assumed its dominance, the French sought to at least protect French itself. The Academie Francaise has long fought to purge English borrowings such as “le weekend” but with the prevalence of the international argot of social media, the battle is currently being lost. However, despite their pride in their language and culture, the French have never sought to ban English. The English-speaking citizens of countries throughout Europe are, like the French, confident and proud of their own cultures. The knowledge of other languages, not simply English, is seen as enriching and empowering their people. Mastering foreign languages is not regarded as a threat.

It is also a fact that the sooner a young mind comes into contact with another language, the deeper will be the grasp it acquires. Leaving it until secondary school for Iranians to start learning English will place them at a considerable disadvantage. Middle class families, who already pay for extra tuition for their children because of the shortcomings of the regime’s education system, will doubtless ensure that kids of primary school age will receive private tutoring. But for those who cannot afford such an outlay, the lack of an early basic English education will further disadvantage their kids.

The Iranian ministry of education has said that any English teaching at primary school level will be a “violation”. In a sense the official, who was mouthing the narrow-minded thinking of the Supreme Leader, is partly correct. There is indeed a violation here. It is the violation of common sense. It is the violation of Iranian pride and confidence in their culture. And most of all, it is a violation of the already-dim future prospects of Iran’s children.