Collegiate Middle School teacher Kate Cunningham’s 5th Grade girls advisory took a proverbial trip around the world today when a special guest shared her experiences with education, literature and equal rights.
The students, who are studying the five largest world religions and the ancient river cultures, were treated to a visit with Middle Schooler Leila Gazoni’s grandmother, Dr. Farzaneh Milani.
Dr. Milani, who was born in Iran and immigrated to the United States in 1967, is a professor at the University of Virginia, where she teaches courses on Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, and Women, Gender and Sexuality. She also is the author of many books and more than 100 nationally published articles.
Dr. Milani, who has three grandchildren at Collegiate, gave Mrs. Cunningham’s students a glimpse into her world growing up in Iran, how she developed a love for education which brought her to the United States, and ultimately how she learned to always follow her heart.
“I have been a student or a teacher all my life,” said Dr. Milani. “The classroom is a sacred place. When you learn something new, it’s like you’ve traveled to a new place. They are all wonderful journeys and journeys are wonderful things.”
Most certainly, Ms. Cunningham’s class traveled with Dr. Milani on a journey. On this day, the journey began with a history lesson about the Cyrus Cylinder, which came from Persia (now modern-day Iran) and is one of the oldest human rights document in the world. Dr. Milani described how the U.S. Constitution is a direct descendent of the Cyrus Cylinder.
Dr. Milani grew up in a household with more than one language. As a result, her early speech was difficult to understand. She’d talk but no one could understand what she was saying. Her mother lamented that her only daughter couldn’t speak. According to Iranian lore, a quail egg would unlock the tongue. Dr. Milani has fond memories of her grandfather, dressed in his traditional garb, bringing her quail eggs that were tucked into his turban. It wasn’t long before the young Farzaneh was talking prolifically. Her mother believed that her father must have given the girl too many quail eggs because she wouldn’t stop talking!
Dr. Milani fell in love with words, she told the students. “They were beautiful, like a window to a different world.”
When she left Iran to pursue higher education, she says she was confused by how Iranian women were negatively portrayed in books and media. She decided to make it her life’s work to change that, and to be a voice for women’s rights and for human rights, even though it has prevented her from returning to Iran.
Dr. Milani offered many words of wisdom to the attentive 5th Graders, who asked thoughtful questions.
“Education is your passport to a fantastic world,” she said. “Read as much as you can. Write poetry and short stories. You will see a beautiful new vista open before your eyes.”
– Aynsley Miller Fisher