When I was a young child, most of my family fled from Iran because they were members of the Baha’i Faith, a faith whose members suffer persecution, imprisonment, and even death for their beliefs. After the 1979 political revolution in Iran, the state court considered basic Baha’i beliefs such as the equality of women and men as “spreading corruption on earth.” Bahai’s in influential positions such as teachers were fired and even to this day, Baha’is are barred from pursuing higher education.
Witnessing organized oppression emboldened my commitment to democratic education and global citizenship. I was raised to appreciate the “unity in diversity” of humankind and to see humans as stewards of the earth and all its inhabitants. It was not until I pursued higher education that I realized global injustices such as world hunger, intolerance, and environmental degradation are not simply due to scarcity of resources, technology, or know-how, but to a lack of collective will to see the interconnections between all beings. As poetically stated by Charlotte Brontë, “Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.” Thus, I dedicated my life to transformative humane education.
As I studied, taught, researched, and worked with non-profit organizations, universities, and grassroots organizations, I broadened my framework for social change. I perceived the power of transformative education to release latent potentialities of people to analyze their reality through critical thinking, raised critical consciousness, and action for social change. For instance, even though Iranian Baha’is are prohibited from access to higher education in their own country, they have transcended this limitation through transnational collaboration with non-Persian universities eager to provide access to higher education for this marginalized population through online courses.
I see education as a force that enables us to read the “word” (text), problematize the “world” (context), and obtain a new consciousness to change it. In his book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” Freire explained that oppressed populations arrive at a raised consciousness about their role as agents of change by first critically analyzing the causes of oppression, “so that through transforming action they can create a new situation, one which makes possible the pursuit of a fuller humanity.” While there are numerous ways to conceptualize the path to social and environmental justice, I conduct my work with the premise that there is no “us” and no “them.” Whatever our outer labels may be, we are inextricably linked to one another and will see a more just and peaceful society when we learn to function as one ecological family.
Chitra Golestani is on the faculty of IHE and Antioch University, associate director of the Wilmette Institute, and a co-founder of the Paulo Freire Institute (PFI) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She holds a Ph.D. in Social Science and Comparative Education from UCLA and a Master’s in Education from University of California, Santa Barbara. She is engaged in numerous grass-roots programs aimed at raising human capacity for people of all backgrounds to build a more just, peaceful, and sustainable planet.