The vote for the New High School

Image: Sumit Mathur
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By MARIA CARAMEZ CARLOTTO*

If nothing changes in the field of education, the result could be a deepening of estrangement between the base of educational movements and the PT

1.

In the wake of the “trouble”, the series of votes by the National Congress that imposed important defeats on the Lula III government last week, a vote went somewhat unnoticed in the general public debate, but generated enormous repercussions in the field of education: the approval of the Regime of Urgency of Bill 5230/2023 that changes the New Secondary Education, under the rapporteur of Mendonça Filho (União Brasil), which is scheduled to be voted on and approved this Tuesday.

It is worth reconstructing this story a little more to understand why the urgency vote generated so much controversy.

2.

The New Secondary Education (NEM) was approved under Michel Temer's (coup) government when Mendonça Filho was Minister of Education. Totally subverting the debate that had been taking place in the National Education Forum and in other democratic bodies about a necessary reform of secondary education, the New Secondary Education was one of the policies of the coup and, as such, considered a disaster by the entire movement of secondary education workers. education.

In short, the New High School drastically reduced the number of hours dedicated to basic curricular components, in addition to reducing only Portuguese and Mathematics to being “mandatory subjects” in the curriculum. The rest – chemistry, physics, biology, sociology, philosophy, etc. – became optional and, to this flexibility, were added training itineraries that, being so flexible, literally became “anything”. It is no coincidence that the New High School did not require teacher training, recognizing “notorious knowledge” as a possibility for hiring teachers, and at the same time opened the way for distance learning in an important part of the curriculum.

Once its implementation began, the impact on the quality and equity of education proved brutal and even more so on the teaching category itself. If teaching becomes literally anything, who needs a trained teacher? What impact does this have on the teaching category? And for teaching itself? And for equal conditions within the system? And for the universities that both train these teachers and receive these literally poorly trained students?

In all scenarios, inequalities within the education system deepen, which, without regulation, begins to contemplate the possibility of an even greater division between rich and poor. In the multiple itineraries, the minimum unity of the education system, which was already unequal, is lost.

It doesn't take much to understand, therefore, that the New Secondary Education is a defeat for the working class and, not by chance, it was sponsored so much by education entrepreneurs (because it enormously lowers the cost of secondary education by reducing the need for qualified personnel). as well as obscurantists of different stripes who can now have their alternative contents formally taught in the education system within totally unregulated training itineraries with teachers with “notorious” knowledge.

As a result of this dangerous alliance, the New Secondary Education became one of the main expressions of the coup's educational policy and the movement in the education sector, with the teaching union movement at the forefront, began to consider the defeat of the New Secondary Education as a priority. So much so that, during the 2022 campaign and, later, in the transition government, they fought for the Lula government to take up the agenda of the immediate repeal of the new secondary education and, despite the transition government's Education GT having disappointed many people due to overrepresentation of the business sector, the fact is that the revocation appears, not without some ambiguity, as a recommendation in the final report of this GT.

However, at the beginning of the Lula III government, in parallel with the growing pressure for the government to immediately revoke the New Secondary Education, the logic that prevailed was to try to build a conciliation solution, with adjustments to the reform that did not completely confront the original proposal.

 The Minister of Education, Camilo Santana, in this scenario, explicitly said that he would not revoke the text. Lula, on the other hand, gave indications that he could revoke it. Between back and forth, pressure increasing, the government suspended the implementation calendar for the New High School and called for a public consultation full of problems, abandoning the idea of ​​revoking the text or, at least, completely reforming it.

The Lula III government, with Camilo Santana at the head of the MEC, chose this path for different reasons. In part, due to a general commitment to conciliation and low-intensity institutional disputes as a way to build governability through agreements with congress, imagining that a return to “normality” (pre-coup?) is possible. But it also partly has to do with the sharing of neoliberal conceptions of education between sectors of the PT, to which Camilo Santana is affiliated, and business movements and international organizations in the area that helped to formulate models like Sobral's.

Faced with this scenario of government retreat in the face of the demand to revoke the New Secondary Education, the social education movement, in general, and the teaching union movement, in particular, did not react with the force it should have. And it did not react, in part, because it did not have the strength to do so (especially in the non-PT sectors) and, in part, because it deliberately chose to wait for the result of the public consultation process and the government's proposal (this in the sectors where the sectors of the PT that believe in this same government strategy).

As a result of this process, of side-by-side negotiations, the government finally consolidated a proposal to reform the New Secondary Education which had, as main changes: (i) the increase from 1800 to 2400 hours of mandatory subjects or 2100 in the case of an associate technical education of 800 hours; (ii) the expansion of the list of mandatory subjects, namely: Portuguese language and its literatures; English language; Spanish language; art, in its multiple languages ​​and expressions; physical education; mathematics; history, geography, sociology and philosophy; and physics, chemistry and biology.

(iii) The reestablishment of mandatory teacher training, transforming the “notorious knowledge” of the old nem (anything goes) into an exception; (iv) the regulation of “training itineraries”, assigning their definition to the MEC and thus reducing the permissiveness of the original New High School; (v) the prohibition of distance learning (EAD) in mandatory curricular components.

Despite working on the reform of the New Secondary Education and not on its repeal, the government's PL advanced in important points, as can be seen. But it is clear that the substantial change to the New Secondary Education, as proposed in PL 5320, would be very difficult to achieve with the mostly conservative national congress. To achieve this, therefore, it would be essential to associate a lot of government willingness with a lot of popular mobilization. But the government, in the beginning, operated to dispense with popular mobilization, sewing from within.

3.

In this sense, even if it was not the intention, by working towards conciliation with the sectors that have always idealized and defended the New Secondary Education, the government weakened the social movement that could give political and social support to its reform proposal and, at the same time, At the same time, it strengthened the defenders of the original project, who now have all the conditions to dictate the rules of the game (almost without opposition).

This was made clear with the choice of Mendonça Filho, the author of the reform that was being reformed, as rapporteur for the government project (PL 5230/2023), which did not receive strong opposition from either the government, the PT or the movements in the field of education. It was predictable that this report would imply worsening of the project in order to bring the MEC's ​​PL closer to the original proposal for the New Secondary Education. And there was no other way. One of the main changes proposed by the rapporteur is the reduction of the mandatory curricular load from 2400 to 2100 hours, greater permissiveness for professionals with “notorious knowledge” and the use of distance learning, with the expected consequences in terms of deregulation and cheaper costs, favoring , again, businesspeople and denialists in the complicated alliance between neoliberalism and conservatism that has ruled the country's politics since the coup.

Even knowing that Mendonça Filho could make the project worse, the government asked for urgency in the matter. With the rapporteur's opinion published on 10/12, however, the government withdrew the urgent request the following day, 11/12. Partly to free up the agenda for more urgent issues, partly because the MEC didn't like the new proposal and wanted to negotiate/review some points in the report.

Thus, what was already a succession of problems since the transitional government, escalated even further because, despite the government having asked to remove the urgency, Lira supported it and took it to a vote on the night of 13/12. Approved by 351 to 102, the emergency regime, in practice, greatly reduced the government's chance, via MEC, to negotiate the project in order to strengthen its position and paved the way for an important defeat (yet another) of the government, of the PT and education movements.

To make this situation worse, during the vote, the government leader in the Chamber, José Guimarães, recommended the approval of the urgent request, going against the urgent withdrawal requested by the government itself, which may or may not have been previously agreed with the government.

The PT, in turn, fluctuated. First he released the bench, then advised against urgency. As a result, 64 deputies voted, the majority against urgency, but a (minority) part of the party followed the government leader in the chamber and voted in favor of urgency, defeating, in practice, the MEC's ​​proposal and, with it, the social movements in the education sector, especially the teaching union movement. They were: Dinalva Faro (PA), José Guimarães (CE), Paulo Guedes (MG), Vicentinho (SP) and Zé Neto (BA).

Given this scenario, and the imminent defeat of the left in what was the main agenda in the field of education in the first year of the Lula government, the debate is enormous. Within the PT and social movements in education, there is a lot of controversy to define who is responsible for what is happening.

4.

Therefore, I want to dedicate the final part of this text to this more in-depth debate, which is fundamental for us to be able to change the correlation of forces and, therefore, get out of this defensive situation, reflecting on different actors in this process and their contradictions.

First of all, it is important to emphasize, including for those who want to turn the page on the coup, that we are fighting against a coup policy and that, therefore, the main responsibility for the tragedy of the New Secondary Education and even its new version if approved the Mendonça PL continues to be from the right and the Brazilian extreme right, which aims to rebuild Brazilian education on new bases.

Furthermore, it is worth remembering that this debate does not happen in a vacuum. At this very moment, the PT is in the midst of an important internal conflict over tactics and strategy inside and outside the Lula government to compete with the neoliberal right and the neo-fascist extreme right over the direction of the country, including, but not limited to, in light of the 2024 and 2026 elections. The latest resolution approved by the PT National Directorate, in fact, explains part of these tensions between (a) a sector that blindly defends the tactic of conciliation with the right as a way to guarantee small victories but which it has mostly suffered defeats; (b) an increasingly larger sector that is beginning to express its disagreement with this path; and (c) a sector, to which I belong, that has always disagreed with this tactic and, from the beginning, believed in the need to intensify the dispute and mobilization.

Therefore – despite the fact that the PT appears as a homogeneous bloc and is often treated as such – it is essential to emphasize that it is not. Even for us PT members – and I sometimes include myself in this – it is common for us to treat the PT by the resultant of its force vectors, as if the photo told the story of what is, in fact, a film.

That said, there is one aspect that, in my opinion, is worth highlighting in this case, which specifically concerns the relationship between the Lula government, the PT and the education union movements. This crisis linked to the New Secondary Education crowns a year of frustrations for the education movement and, within it, the teaching union movement, with the Lula III government and with the sectors of the party that are in government.

The disappointment begins, as I said, in the transition government itself, which practically ignored the social movements in education, while overvaluing the education business lobbies, starting with the greatest of all business movements, “All for Education”. . Then, it extended to setting up the ministry. It followed the lethargy and timidity of policies to strengthen public education at all levels.

It was also expressed in the emergency adjustment that was much lower than expected and in the non-recognition of salary losses over the last six years, not to mention the scandalous zero adjustment for federal civil servants in 2024, which directly affects university professors. And it reached the height of the possibility of reviewing the constitutional minimums for education.

This situation represents an accumulation of defeats for the education sectors that will become much worse if the New Secondary Education reform is approved under the terms proposed by the rapporteur. This forces us, as PT members, but also as activists of these movements, to deeply rethink how it was possible for us to end up in this situation of defeat and what to do to change this.

Because, if nothing changes, the result could be a deepening of estrangement between the base of the educational movements and the PT and this will be especially serious given that education is an absolutely strategic area.

Firstly because teachers are one of the largest organized categories in Brazil. There are millions of workers spread across the entire national territory. There is not a single city in this country that does not have teachers and that they are not organized in the slightest, even if the influence of the right is also present in this segment, albeit with less strength.

For this reason, but also because education is at the beating heart of the contemporary political-ideological dispute, this category was responsible, alongside students and other education workers, for the first major mass uprising against Jair Bolsonaro's government, back in 2019. When everything seemed dominated by the weight of the far-right consensus, the tsunami of education broke out to remind us that this was not the case and that there was dissension and opposition in society. Waintraub, one of Jair Bolsonaro's most important ministers, had his main project, “Future-se”, defeated in the first year of the government, burying with it the most daring plans for education reform through Bolsonarism. The importance of this was monumental at the time.

This demographic, territorial and political weight makes the school system and especially teachers a priority target of the extreme right, which has worked and works to demoralize and weaken the category and dismantle the educational system regulated by the State, whether public or private – the new high school and the homeschooling There are two fundamental expressions of this: state control loses, business groups and political conservatism gain.

5.

In this context, it would be expected that the government and the PT would try to strengthen ties with this category that is absolutely fundamental to the fight against the extreme right, strengthening its agenda, its leadership and, with that, the movement itself. Because it could play an important role in social mobilization, whether in defense of government agendas or in the broader political-ideological clash.

Until now, however, the Lula III government has not contributed to the mobilization of the category, as I indicated. The defeat of the New Secondary Education will be just another expression of this trend. The case is so serious that even the military police officers had their demands met according to the average feeling of the category, which, close to the right, clapped for the approval of the terrible organic police law. While the teachers, who are mostly left-wing, are suffering a major defeat according to their own perception.

This parallel is important because these are the two largest categories in the civil service – teachers and police officers. Not to mention teachers in the private system and private security guards who, together, easily exceed double digits of participation in the workforce, especially in the formal workforce.

And, in a rhetorical exaggeration that does not exaggerate that much, it would not be absurd to say that the police and security forces, who were organically linked to Bolsonarism, have, until now, been treated better than us, teachers, who were on the line of front of the fight against Jair Bolsonaro's government, which signals how much – despite our electoral victory – the correlation of forces in society continues to favor the extreme right, without the government being able to change this.

This disagreement between the Lula government and one of the most important categories of workers, which has a union organization, is a huge problem from a political point of view and will not be faced without a radical change in the political line of the government and the PT itself. Is fast.

This is the bet I make, recognizing that the effects of the New Secondary Education on the category of secondary education teachers in Brazil – which brings together millions of professionals – will be disastrous, as I already mentioned, and that this will tend to strengthen, on the one hand, , the leftism and sectarianism that is already present in sectors of the movement, including in the national leadership of the higher education teachers' movement, ANDES, and on the other, the penetration of the right and the extreme right at the base of the category.

The only one that can affect this situation decisively and quickly is the PT, as the largest left-wing party-movement in the country. But to do this, we must first intensify the fight against the government's strategy of treating everything as a low-intensity political dispute.

*Maria Caramez Carlotto is a professor of the International Relations course at the Federal University of ABC, author, among other books, of Paths of change in Brazilian science (Publisher 34). [https://amzn.to/3u2HI8X]


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