The Responsibility of the Educator

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By Céli Regina Jardim Pinto*

Any attitude towards education cannot avoid understanding the moment of serious threat to the basic civilizing principles that we are experiencing

Education in Brazil is currently experiencing the most severe and serious crisis in its history and for a simple and even simplistic reason: the government's hatred of education, which is expressed in different ways: in the absurdly disrespectful manner of the Minister of Education when addressing Brazilians in general, to students and teachers; in the radical budget cuts for education, for science and technology; in the absolute absence of any policy for education after a year of government, with the exception of the frightening civic-military schools.

This contempt is also expressed in the choices of culture secretaries, once a Nazi, now a decadent far-right actress; in the ways that the Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights deals with issues concerning her portfolio, in the absurd projects of government deputies in the Federal Chamber. Added to this, the contempt for textbooks, which the President of the Republic proudly displays at the gate of his official residence or in the attitude of state governments, which have designated themselves as censors of the literature made available in public schools and other administrative bodies. . The governor of the state of Rondônia wanted to censor the classics of literature in schools, among Brazilians "Posthumous Memories of Brás Cubras", by Machado de Assis, "Os Sertões" by Euclides da Cunha, as well as works by Caio Fernando Abreu, Heitor Cony and Rubens Fonseca. Among foreigners he banned the classics Kafka and Edgar Allan Poe. In São Paulo, government agencies are preventing inmates from reading Padura, Garcia Marques and Camus.

I could go on for pages to discuss this obtuse way of relating to education in the Bolsonaro government. And I would not be wrong if I concluded that we are facing a catastrophe of major proportions. The purpose of this short article is to try to understand the reason for this frontal attack on education and, later, to think about our responsibilities in facing it: I will divide the exposition into two parts: in the first one I will establish some premises of what I understand as the principles of the pact that governs globalized financial capitalism, which politically is making it clear that the democratic regime, even with its limitations, no longer serves its interests. In the second part, I will make a reflection, which starts from the old, and never answered question, “what to do”? I will work with the concept of responsibility and in this way I intend to contribute, from a theoretical perspective, to thinking about the issue of education in the current crisis of Brazilian democracy.


Following the thought of the American scientist Wendy Brown (2015), I start from a general premise that in the current moment of financial capitalism, neoliberalism goes beyond an economic program, since it is not only about deregulating the economy, selling public assets, opening the doors to international capital, without any protection. It is much more than this, it is putting the state at the service exclusively of the interests of capital, which implies taking no responsibility for any policy that promotes the good life of all the citizens of a country. It is in Brown's words “to regulate society by the market”. And in this scenario a policy of education for all has no place.

The ongoing project in the so-called West and its fringes is a project of death and not of life. It is a project where the lives of each one of us, and especially the poorest, most vulnerable, have no value. In today's Brazil, the government is of little interest if poor people die in queues without medical care, or if schools and universities are for the few. It matters little that the country is one of the most violent in the world, with violent deaths comparable only to countries in civil war. After all, those who are in the SUS queues, those who do not enter the university and those who die victims of violence are always the same; they are the poor, they are the blacks, they are the women, they are the underprivileged of all sorts. They are disposable.

Achille Mbembe, the brilliant Cameroonian anthropologist, at the end of his essay on necropolitics, draws a very clear picture of this scenario:

“the notion of necropolitics and necropower accounts for the various ways in which, in our contemporary world, firearms are deployed with the aim of causing maximum destruction of people and creating “worlds of death”, unique and new forms of existence society, in which vast populations are subjected to living conditions that give them the status of “living dead”. (Mbembe, 2018, p.71)

In the process of (de)democratization, everyone loses, but populations considered despicable lose more. Judith Butler is very emphatic in this regard, when she refers to lives that are not considered lives, the so-called loser populations:

“…lossable, or sacrificial populations, are so called precisely because they were framed as having already been lost or sacrificial; they are considered as threats to human life as we know it, and not as living populations in need of protection against illegitimate state violence, famine and epidemics. Consequently, when these lives are lost, they are not the object of lamentation, since, in the distorted logic that rationalizes their death, the loss of these populations is considered necessary to protect the lives of the “living” (Butler, 2015, p.53)

This jettisoning is necessary in the process of (de)democratization in the current moment of neoliberal globalized capitalism and constitutes a continuous disrespect, which disqualifies politics as a space for discussion, problem solving and destroys the demanding popular political subject. 

Democracies, however precarious they may be, open up possibilities, greater or lesser, for accepting demands, for fighting for rights. When these precarious democracies meet the specific needs of capitalism, lives remain, which need to be simply discarded. There is, also in these moments, a greater visibility of those who were never considered lives, who are blamed for the rates of violence simply because they are poor, or because they are immigrants, or because they are refugees, or because they belong to specific regions on the planet. Everyone is treated as non-human. In short, some of these people were never seen as lives, they were always on the sidelines, especially in countries marked by profound social inequality, as is the case of Brazil.

Democracies, more or less robust after the war, added to the ebullition of social movements in the last decades of the last century, which spread throughout the world, reaching regions with authoritarian, autocratic and even theocratic regimes, formed a culture broth for the emergence of diverse social subjects, who expressed themselves through their class affiliation, through their identities organized in feminist movements, in black movements, in LGTBI movements. These different operators, even acting within the scope of capitalism, expanded rights and threatened the political arrangements, the economic and social privileges of the bourgeoisie and the upper middle class, essentially guaranteed in liberal democracies.

 But right now there is a frightening backlash. At the end of the second decade of the 21st century, we are experiencing a deepening of exclusion policies. Never has the West, after World War II, been so close to authorized (de)democratization. Never in Brazil, since the redemocratization process, which defeated the dictatorial civil-military regime, has it been so close to the overthrow of civil, political and social rights, conquered in the political struggle and guaranteed by the democratic state. The neoliberal order does not admit rights, not even the most commonplace, almost common sense ones. To be realized, this order needs a constant policy of exclusion, elimination of undesirables, a necropolitics.

The Brazilian Constitution of 1988 came in the name of consecrating Brazil's return to the democratic regime. It is the most democratic Constitution and the one that most included in the history of the country. The worker is no longer just the worker and becomes the urban, rural, domestic worker or the involuntarily unemployed. Each with their own rights; the citizen has clear rights even when serving a sentence, and even then there is gender differentiation — the female prisoner has rights as a mother and as a member of a family; regardless of their status, citizens vote and have universal rights to health and education; this citizen is man, woman, indigenous, child, teenager, adopted child, elderly, needy, disabled, disabled, mother, father.

This is, therefore, the first Constitution that names and therefore recognizes marginalization. It is the Constitution that critically views the inclusions and exclusions that have occurred throughout the country's history. Unlike all the previous ones, it starts not with the organization of the State, but with the fundamental principles and the rights and guarantees. In Art. 3, where the fundamental objectives of the Federative Republic are established, item III reads: “eradicate poverty and marginalization and reduce social and regional inequalities”; and in item IV: “to promote the good of all, without prejudice of origin, race, sex, color, age and any other forms of discrimination”. Reading this article in the light of the notion of inclusion, one sees the recognition of poverty and, moreover, the idea of ​​inclusion through transformation, something new in Brazilian constitutions.

From 1988 to 2016, Brazil experienced a virtuous circle of democracy, even with the mishaps of the first directly elected president, Collor de Mello. From the first election of Fernando Henrique Cardoso to the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, the country experienced the strongest democratic experience in its history. Not only for the guarantees of fundamental freedoms, but for the continued execution of public policies in the areas of health, housing, education, science, eradication of absolute poverty, differentiated rights for historically excluded populations. During this period, the institutions also functioned without undue interference. From the first Lula administration, the Federal Police and the Public Prosecutor's Office began to act with complete independence.  

Supported by the Constitution, the governments of the Workers' Party, at the federal, state and municipal levels, provided important experiences of participatory democracy through councils, conferences on central themes of citizenship, through participatory budgeting. Otherwise, income redistribution policies were implemented, albeit timidly, which took the country off the hunger map and raised the minimum wage and the general income of workers. In civil society, feminist movements questioned the patriarchal arrangement, bourgeois morality, and women's poverty and were active in the pressure for the construction of public policies, mainly referring to the issue of combating violence against women and their health. reproductive. Racism showed signs of cooling down with the victories of the black movements that turned it into a crime and provoked compensatory laws such as racial quotas in universities, among others. The environmentalist movement built during this period an important ecological conscience in the population.

But the virtuous circle has run its course. Brazil is currently facing the toughest face of (de)democratization, which adapts the country to the needs of global neoliberalism, in the most perverse way possible. If the virtuous circle tried the “everyone wins” policy, at the moment there is no shame in making it clear who should win, who are chosen for life, for a dignified life, who will be saved from necropolitics, which in Brazil is definitely not a metaphor.

But necropolitics does not stop here. When a government does not have public policies, when a government disrupts the country's education, cuts policies that guaranteed doctors to poor populations, tries to lie about the number of unemployed, and approves a social security reform that will make the poorest work until death, it is destroying Democracy is deciding who will live and who will die. It is deepening the chasm between the privileged elite and the disenfranchised majority. It is trying to erase the citizenship gains of the last 25 years and putting the country back on the oligarchic track, opened by colonial slavery, reproduced secularly by the dominant classes.

 Brazil is adapting to the needs of a capitalism that can no longer survive with democracy, needs to kill, needs to marginalize, take away rights, always lie. There is no project for the future, because for anti-democratic neoliberalism, the future has already arrived.

Faced with this situation, the question that arises is what to do? And this question becomes even more relevant when we are facing the dismantling of education in the country.


The American political scientist and feminist Iris Young left a posthumous work of great value for us to think about the primacy of responsibility. The book not translated into Portuguese is entitled Responsibility for Justice (2011) Nele Young vehemently distances himself from the concept of guilt, as it is easy and comfortable to put oneself in the position of guilty that paralyzes reactions. She claims that only some of us are really guilty, but we are all responsible and that makes all the difference. Young identifies three types of individuals' relationship to responsibility. The first of these is the responsibility of those who omit. A large part of the German population knew what was going on during Nazism, the majority, possibly, did not participate in any official act, nor belonged to the party, but lived as if what was happening had nothing to do with them. Latin American dictatorships also offer good examples of this type of relationship between individuals and governments that tortured and killed, not to mention a significant part of Bolsonaro's voters.

The second type of responsibility refers to individuals who do not completely omit themselves and try to prevent evil from reaching some, those closest to them, acquaintances, or even unknown people. Many people in Latin America, during military dictatorships, gave shelter to politically persecuted people, even without agreeing with their ideas or knowing them. This type of responsibility, identified by Young, is very close to the liberal principle of solidarity and presupposes moral issues that provoke charitable actions, volunteer work or other more noble ones, such as protecting people threatened with death because of their ideas.

The third type refers to those who take collective responsibility, that is, assume political responsibility. Young exemplifies political responsibility with the well-known collective action of the Danes in World War II to find all Jews in the country and bring them to safety by taking them to Sweden. At this moment in Brazil, perhaps as much as during the civil-military dictatorship, government excesses and threats to democracy call all democrats to collective responsibility.


To conclude, I would like to raise some questions so that we can discuss our responsibilities towards education, the responsibility of facing in Brazil policies of extermination of education and culture and with them the impossibility of a fair living, a livable life for the next generations, mainly for children and young people from the popular classes.

Despite its problems, the public and free university has been a central space for teaching, research and extension. It has been the great trainer of teachers with a critical spirit, who spread throughout the country's public schools and who, despite the humiliating working conditions, have guaranteed education for those who are not at the privileged tip of the social pyramid, for those who are not the chosen to have a livable life. This appears as a big and frightening problem for the managers of Brazilian neoliberalism. The School without Party projects that spread through the federal, state and municipal legislatures show how frightening the practice of these teachers is. And they are simply teaching.

Controlling education, whether primary, secondary or higher, is fundamental to the necro project of (de)democratization in the country. Because the struggle for education is very threatening: the struggle wants it public, when neoliberal unreason wants it private; wants it free when neoliberal unreason wants it paid; wants it inclusive when neoliberal unreason wants it exclusively for the elites. Finally, schools and universities are places open to the challenges of young people's healthy disobedience, open to artistic, scientific, philosophical and political debates, while neoliberal unreason strives to impose religious fundamentalisms, superstitions and anti-scientificism as a way of keeping away the knowledge people.

Therefore, it is against this scenario that we have to take a stand, it is against the threat of destruction of education that we have to assume responsibility. Responsibility that cannot just be an effect of individual choice, but a collective, political imperative.

Any attitude towards education cannot avoid understanding the moment of serious threat to the basic civilizing principles that we are experiencing. It cannot avoid facing the ongoing (de)democratization process head-on. It cannot fail to face attacks on poor Brazilians, on human and social rights that are under threat. The responsibility of everyone involved in the public debate, working or not with education, is huge, because it is the responsibility of fighting for the very survival of democracy and, consequently, of education and culture in the country. And this fight is political, it is built in public debate, in social movements, in political parties in search of a new democratic project for the country. Responsibility at this moment in Brazil involves, first of all. remove from the firing line those who, in this necrogovernment, are the undesirables, the disposables, those who do not deserve to live a livable life, those who do not deserve education, because they do not matter.

*Celi Pinto is professor, emeritus, of History at UFRGS

Article originally published on the website Fundamental rights.


BROWN, Wendy. Undoing Democracy. New York: Zone Books, 2015.

BUTLER, Judith, War Frames, Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization. 2015.

MBEMBE, Achilles. Necropolitical. São Paulo: N-1 Editions, 2018.

YOUNG, Iris, “Responsibility for justice” New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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