Mohammad Mashayekhi, an education reformer in Iran, dies at 99

March 6, 2013

Mohammad Mashayekhi, an Iranian educator and university president who was active in efforts to democratize his country’s school system in the years before the Islamic revolution, died Feb. 14 at his home in the District. He was 99.

The cause was pneumonia, said his daughter Afsaneh Mashayekhi Beschloss, a former treasurer and chief investment officer of the World Bank who is married to presidential historian Michael Beschloss.

Dr. Mashayekhi began his professional life in the 1940s as a high school science teacher in Tehran and immersed himself in educational reforms pulsing forth from Europe and the United States after World War II. He traveled to Geneva to meet Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist whose theories on child psychology had a major impact on the study of how young students learn.

In Iran, Dr. Mashayekhi joined a vibrant group of liberal intellectuals in the ministry of education and in academia who sought to expand the education system beyond rote learning techniques. They also sought to expose students not only to professional training, but also to the humanities, politics, economics and other fields.

From 1973 to 1979, Dr. Mashayekhi was president of the national teacher training university known as Daneshsaraye’Aali. He presided over the building of a new campus, recruited reform-minded faculty and promoted women as his deputies. He fostered professorial and graduate student exchanges with colleges in the United States and Europe.


Mohammad Mashayekhi (Photo by Leslie Cashen)

Iran’s educational system outside Tehran was notoriously uneven at best, and Dr. Mashayekhi tried to raise standards for rural education. Among other initiatives, he expanded branches of his university to areas that historically had enjoyed little access to quality education.

He also tried to improve the preparation of teachers going to those outposts of the country.

“This was not easy, as there were efforts by the shah’s politicians to use young, uneducated people who were doing their military service to go to teach in rural areas with no training,” his daughter said.

Dr. Mashayekhi’s family said he voiced the support he could for students protesting the shah’s much-despised secret police, the Savak. After the Islamic revolution that deposed the shah in 1979 and brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power, several years passed before Dr. Mashayekhi was permitted to leave the country. He settled in the Washington area in 1985.

Mohammad Mashayekhi was born Nov. 7, 1913, in Khonsar, Iran, to a family of educators, landowners and clergymen. His mother died while giving birth to his infant sister, and his father died several years later. He played a role in raising his two younger siblings.

He graduated in 1939 from Daneshsaraye’Aali and joined the Iranian army the next year. The country was officially neutral during World War II, but the shah tacitly supported the Axis powers. Dr. Mashayekhi was captured by Russians when the Allies invaded in 1941 to secure Iran’s oil fields, and he spent several months in a prison under Soviet authority.

He then returned to teaching and, in 1954, received a doctorate in law from the Sorbonne in Paris. He wrote several books on Iranian education during his career. In retirement, he wrote a memoir and a history of 20th-century Iranian education. He also pursued an interest in mountain hiking in the United States and Switzerland.

Survivors include his wife of 72 years, Ashraf Habibi of Washington; three daughters, Afsaneh Mashayekhi Beschloss and Maryam Mashayekhi, both of Washington, and Mina Mashayekhi of Geneva; a brother; a sister; and three grandchildren.

Adam Bernstein has spent his career putting the "post" in Washington Post, first as an obituary writer and then as editor. The American Society of Newspaper Editors recognized Bernstein’s ability to exhume “the small details and anecdotes that get at the essence of the person” and to write stories that are “complex yet stylish.”
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