“Why Do We Need to Know About This?”: U.S. Imperialism, Persepolis, and Knowledge Production on Iran in the Classroom

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Contributing to a growing body of research on acknowledging U.S. imperialism within teacher education, this article explores how knowledge production on Iran—and U.S.-Iran relations more broadly—in secondary education represents a site of what Britzman has called difficult knowledge. Here, the difficulty of classroom engagements with the theme of U.S. imperialism is highlighted in several epistemic stumbling blocks, notably notions of White epistemic authority, neoliberal multiculturalism, and imperial feeling. Drawing upon data collected during a 9-month ethnographic study, the analysis presents classroom scenes from a high school world literature unit on Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, selected by the teacher to explore themes of colonialism, imperialism, and revolution. Despite these intentions, classroom engagements with the text often reproduced Orientalist understandings. These findings inform the concluding argument that mobilizes contrapuntal reading as a generative technique for teacher education research and practice to identify and confront the epistemic bases that normalize systems of oppression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)397-409
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Teacher Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author wishes to thank Alex Willets-Klapperich, Tiago Bittencourt, Maria Hantzopoulos, Brooke Harris Garad, and Diana Rodríguez Gómez for their generative feedback to earlier versions of this manuscript. The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.


  • contrapuntality
  • critical theory/critical pedagogy
  • empire and imperialism
  • ethnography
  • social justice


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