Education and citizenship



Considerations about reception and respect in affirmative actions


We must always renew our commitment to a democratic society. With the most merciless storm over, and a dialogue with the federal government now possible, it is important to reflect and continue to defend the most essential and permanent university values. After all, another world is possible, but none will be worthwhile in our country without a public and inclusive university, capable of carrying out, from north to south, quality teaching, research and extension.

We were together and mixed up in the fight against the various excesses of a tyrant government. We were not complicit in the absurdities that the most complete obscurantism wanted to impose on us. Now, after such a significant victory, we cannot be complicit in any relegation of our dreams. Whatever the government, our measure is the common good – a struggle, therefore, constant and long-lasting, which leads us to resist in the storm and in the calm against any and all limitations of our truly utopian dreams.

Nothing should weaken, for example, our defense of the university as an autonomous space. Rain or shine, it is our duty, for example: (a) To fight the separation between academic excellence and social commitment, since to affirm only the social commitment or only the academic excellence, as separate dimensions, is to diminish the shine of our people , who can and should illuminate the specific space of academic life with their talent, producing science, culture and art; (b) fight the separation between basic science and applied science, which diminishes even in the separation between the interests of science, technology and innovation, on the one hand, and the dilemmas of the humanities; (c) reaffirm, on the other hand, the connection between all levels of education – against, therefore, the (biased and dangerous) opposition between basic education and higher education; (d) affirm the university as part of a national project and, therefore, as a project that places all of us in line with all our institutions having commensurate quality standards.

Yes, in the public university environment and against privatizing interests, it is worth insisting, our fight is without truce. Even in this moment of clearing, of opening, after a dark night, there are many risks. Thus, we need to be prepared for conflict (as we always have been), but also for subtlety, as we can never be otherwise. We escape the rough, the abject. We jump over the fire and, nevertheless, we end up in Brazil, in Brazil itself, so to speak, with its ambiguities and subtleties, with its best hopes and its most ordinary violence.

Left to itself, our country is frightening: exclusionary, authoritarian, illiterate – and this is how it is, let it be clear, throughout Brazil, retrograde both in the South and in the Northeast, although in a different and apparently opposite way. Thinking in the context of institutional politics and culture, the scenario in which we can operate is obviously conservative and can also be retrograde, when we talk about knowledge, equality, combating prejudice. We continue, therefore, to live the paradoxical situation of a rich culture, in different dimensions and everywhere, but located in a primitive, crude public space, so that the experience of public life in our country has concrete ties, both symbolic and practices.

In this way, the opening of a school semester, always full of hope, is more than opportune for us to reflect on the internal ties between education and citizenship. I will do this, then, in two ways. The first, quite brief, deals with general considerations on the relationship between these two dimensions.

Secondly, I will discuss the importance of deepening affirmative actions, which translate them, reflecting on a possible ambiguity that can affect and jeopardize the deeper meaning of our inclusion policies, which cannot depart from the double purpose of enriching the educational process and the deepening of citizenship.


Classical liberal thought tends to see education as a condition for citizenship. It even concedes that this is perhaps the only obligation to be borne by the State, which should pay for basic education, as if the State then signed a commitment with the future citizen. It would give this future citizen the conditions to exercise his right to choose within the limits of a formal and representative democracy.

Let us not deny the importance of this idea. However, it is insufficient and even dangerous in its insufficiency. Through it, abstract citizens are formed to exercise a power of choice, recognizing their unity in the mathematics of voting or in celebrating an academic title. The individual, taken in the abstract and in terms of his future exercise of citizenship, would be committed only to the defense of his already familiar values ​​and individual interests. And education, assuming a common bond between identical people, could assume the mere task of reproducing distortions and sublimating exclusions, and not the task of reinventing the link between the contracting parties of the social pact.

It is important for us to affirm the other side of the equation, that is, to think of citizenship as a condition for education. The citizen, now not seen as an abstract being whose formation would only allow a more enlightened participation in an electoral debate, now has concreteness, color, history, gender, age, class, race. Its public life is not limited to an anodyne electoral participation, but it carries, also in words, also in its formation, the marks of its social installation, so that education, conceived in this way, should no longer cover up differences nor sublimate exclusions.

For this very reason, it is more than opportune to think about the tasks of education and the tasks of citizenship, remembering that the production of a civic unit, if it hides a perverse social diversity, is mere domination; and the production of unity by education, if it erases a rich cultural diversity, is mere catechesis, training.

Thinking, in accordance with a new matrix, the conjunction between education and citizenship, is to reestablish a utopian ground for a nation project, in which the public university, for example, is not restricted to the instrumental function of technical training for the market. On the contrary, by associating the two terms, we are also linking the present to the past, the part to the whole, the occasional interest of power to the highest designs of freedom. Finally, we reassigned to our schools and colleges the special task of constituting a space for initiation into common life, in which the process of training people and the process of producing knowledge are profoundly analogous to the democratic production of sociability.

Let us, therefore, follow in the light of the spirit of a close conjunction between education and citizenship, for the second and much longer moment of our reflection, whose more specific theme is the meaning and importance of affirmative actions in the soil of a society like ours. , markedly exclusionary and authoritarian.


Combining compassionate acceptance and genuine respect entails a huge theoretical and, above all, political challenge.[I] Not by chance, it may even seem contradictory, as if the link between 'concern' and 'respect' concealed an oxymoron and a trap.

We intend to analyze the link between these concepts in a situation that often requests them as complementary, that is, the learning and training processes. The experience we have in mind does not take place outside the framework of academic institutions, but the blessing of apparent rationality within the academy does not suppress a dangerous ambiguity present in such terms.

We intend, therefore, to show such ambiguity in the implementation of affirmative actions in higher education (in particular, in the case of Brazil), when the terms of the equation, then turned into concrete indicators, allow us to raise several questions. For example: How can the learning process not mean a deepening of bondage? Servitude of students to masters, of schools to constituted powers, of the creative spirit to the staleness of repetition?

How to transform into politics what can subvert the secret apparently common to all politics, namely, that of preserving and reproducing previous privileges with maximum subtlety? On the other hand, as the institution can be subversive in relation to itself, knowing how to evoke and create conditions so that each student is in a position to judge positions and behaviors for himself, that is, from his place, bringing to the center the contribution of its own place, which then ceases to have the mark of a natural place?

A feature of the subordination process that hampers the learning process resides in the reduction of learning to an isolated process, the collective being valued only by statistics. Therefore, it is part of a model of combat, of a utopian perspective of learning, to create conditions for each student to be legion, that is, for social movements, the forces of history to transpire in him.

On the other hand, it is part of this same model, somewhat paradoxically, to create conditions for each student to be in line with all language resources and have bridges to cultures that are not directly their own. The construction of justice, we believe, not being seen as external, depends on the collective capacity to harmonize these desirably disharmonious measures, understanding that the apparent placidity of institutional life can hide deep and violent forms of translation of social conflicts.


To analyze the effective tension between “concern” and “respect”, we will take an ideal model, that of the conditions of unimpeded communication. As a descriptive model, it can be as artificial as the counterfactual claim that we are all equal in rights. On the other hand, as a normative model, it is still necessary, just as the reiterated affirmation of our equality is necessary. The tension present between the terms, as well as between the descriptive or normative nature of the model, becomes clearer when we take into account a particular experience, namely, the implementation of affirmative actions in the Brazilian public university.

Our objective is, therefore, to read the implications of this abstract model as a challenging and unstable guide in the implementation of concrete political actions, so that welcoming does not become a form of condescension that maintains subordination, nor does respect become a mere formality, which ends up suppressing the emergence of new values ​​and contents.

Now, what are the essential traits (each necessary and, together, sufficient) of unimpeded communication? In institutions such as academia and especially in teaching, where conflicts can and should be resolved through words, the ideal conditions for argumentation are: (i) equal rights for those who argue; (ii) the potential equality of understanding; (iii) the recognition of potential or effective otherness; and (iv) the common belief in the efficacy of language.

The justification for these traits is relatively simple. We will not detail it here. Suffice it to say that such a justification, in short, reminds us that (1) authoritarianism is averse to debate, (2) individual difficulties must be overcome collectively, (3) merit is constructed as a collective experience and not as a privilege eventually arising from some inequality and, finally, (4) language is necessary for the democratic experience of persuasion and the construction of sociability.

The biggest challenge for the institutions is to make a model so close to utopia a reality. The model, however, can serve as a guide, being applicable to broad policies and everyday life, including in the classroom. The model is based on a process of seeking non-unilateral convincing, that is, everyone must, ultimately, be in a position to convince and be convinced. Here, convincing means following a path that everyone should be able to follow, if faced with the same evidence and resources.

The model of communication becomes a model of encounter. It does not remove the teacher's prerogative, does not transform the teacher into a simple student, but aims to renew the teacher's authority in the exercise of teaching. The teacher thus has no formal authority; and teaching cannot be reduced to catechesis. In a way, the model values ​​the learning experience by valuing the previous experience of the (not passive) agents involved in the process, and reminds us of an image of Martin Buber: “When, following our path, we find a man who, following his path, comes to meet us, we only know our part of the path, and not his, because we experience this only in the encounter”.[ii]

This description of the encounter poses the challenge of fully valuing otherness, which is at the base of the ideal communication model. This model, to use an additional analogy, values ​​the unusual contribution that results from our openness to the other, who cannot be treated as a formless mass, to be molded according to patterns that have little to do with their nature and history.

Allow an analogy. The craft of training people seems to us more similar to the art of carving works in wood. Clay accepts almost everything – starting with humans. Clay (and even marble) allows curves or straight lines, but wood is not so passive, and tends to resist in an always unique way, as words react. The wood does not allow itself to be twisted in any way. The form in her does not spring from a previous silence, and no text is even born from a blank page. Insidious, its material nestles, suggests, anticipates, guards lines of force, the memory of knots, chance, the scars of time.

Wood allows daring or condemns the craftsman to repetition. And only the true artist draws unusual shapes from it and guesses in it the relentless fate of angel or demon, previously hidden and undefined. The artist does succeed in awakening the most secret form and restoring meanings, leading us to see previously dormant drawings with true surprise.

The analogy applies to our model and to every craft of human expression and training – that effort that cannot be reduced to words, even finding a special example in them. In a way, when we reflect on affirmative actions, we are also reflecting on the struggle for expression in clay, wood, sounds, colors, bodies and, especially, in words; finally, on the struggle for the affirmation of language and, more specifically, for the right to speak and on the intimate and truly ambiguous relationships between the conquest of language and its promises of freedom.


Affirmative actions are permanent instruments for building sociability. They go beyond mere individual reparation or the replacement of the value of a group, constituting above all a long-lasting means of possible invention by humanity. Therefore, more than blessing a community with a solution, they confront us with many open measures. Let's look at the case of the public university in Brazilian society.

Brazilian society is structurally unequal and deeply authoritarian. In this context, the public university began at the beginning of the last century as a project of the elites, barely contemplating in less valued courses sections of the population condemned to some kind of subservience. It is not by chance that the number of vacancies was relatively small, with a clear deficit of vacancies in higher education – a deficit, incidentally, that is still significant, even after the great expansion of vacancies and the creation of new universities in the last two decades.

The Federal University of Bahia, for example, did not reach 20 students in the 1990s. Now, the number of undergraduate and graduate students already exceeds 50. However, even after such a leap and with the efforts of the universities so that the exclusion experienced outside the university environment is not experienced in our environment, inequality is preserved in our environment.

Remarkable, however, is the number of vulnerable students. About 70% of UFBA students have a monthly per capita family income of up to one and a half minimum wages. And of these vulnerable students, about 50% of them have a monthly per capita family income of less than half the minimum wage. In this context, without the extreme effort to offer housing, food and access to school supplies, it cannot be asked that students can correspond to the minimum standard of academic quality. In addition, it is necessary to take into account another deficit, namely, the fact that these students (often having their cultural heritage denied) experience a systematic deprivation of access to cultural goods, being removed from the ability to value even their own inheritance and having dominion over other means of expression in language.

Graduations offer a good example of the rite of passage we are experiencing. Students graduate accompanied by their parents, who are often stepping onto university territory for the first time. This ritual is moving, it implies in each case that a personal and social page is being turned. This ritual, however, can also be illusory, very much in line with the subtle procedures of discrimination typical of Brazilian society, which used to be described by the dominant ideology as a kind of racial democracy – when, on the contrary, our society is marked by racism. structural, sometimes quite explicit, sometimes violently subtle.

The majority black population in our prisons and the violence of the statistics are enough to show the explicit face of racial violence. On the other hand, the image of cordial coexistence was given in the absence of a clear separation of spaces destined for whites or blacks, for example. Exclusion existed and continues to exist, without a doubt. Clubs refused membership, jobs required what they called “good looks,” and residential buildings separated “social” elevators from “service” elevators, so that social discrimination was covered by an apparently neutral separation of duties.

Another subtle way of discriminating, making presence invisible, is the requirement for uniforms for maids and nannies in condominiums. Its presence in spaces would be authorized by its denial. Blacks or browns (or flagrantly poor people) would only be in these places for their functions and not as people. The uniform would be a kind of cloak of invisibility. Here we may recall a short story by Father Brown, by the intelligent Conservative GK Chesterton. Father Brown uncovers the mystery of someone who would have turned up dead, when, by his own testimony on the telephone shortly before he was murdered, there was no one with him. He just didn't think of the uniformed postal worker as a somebody.

Given such a context of exclusion, it is necessary to apply the model even more strongly, so that differences in access to language, recognition of otherness, respect for difference and the affirmation of equality can occur even in such extreme and unequal conditions. . Otherwise, not taking into account this picture of discrimination, the access now provided to broad layers can mitigate the pain, but not overcome, even by far, the serious inequality.

Segregation, after all, with its subtleties, can well be translated into professions with different “appeals and relevance”, with different acceptance in the market or in the imagination. People become concerned by the effectiveness of affirmative actions, without being fully respected. In this way, even widely distributed diplomas can become cloaks of invisibility and a good part of social ascension can still be done by the service elevator.


In Brazil, overcoming extreme poverty is an old and always urgent task. However, overcoming misery is not overcoming servitude; does not in itself constitute a measure of the democratic dialogue that we have a duty to desire. Progressive environmental legislation does not in itself guarantee protection of the environment, and diversity protection laws do not spell the end of prejudice; thus, we need to want more, we need to remove its most profound consequences from the ideal model.

In this way, even though it is immediately useful to guide immediate public policies (such as when at UFBA it was necessary to decide in favor of student assistance grants, despite the high debt with the electricity supplier), our model can guide us to decide for more and to have a pragmatically utopian horizon, as if we were saying with Clarice Lispector: “Freedom is little. What I desire still has no name.”[iii]

To be able to articulate words is, then, to open a new field of rights. It is important here to remove any innocence in relation to the term 'freedom', which is very ambiguous. Some may believe that someone who does not encounter external obstacles to their realization is free – a watercourse that does not encounter a barrier, for example. To value freedom, it would then only be necessary to clear what previously faced obstacles to being realized. Now, with that, a certain illusion of the origins is established, as if they were well defined, with no possibility of later redefinition.

In this sense, we can list political and academic demands raised by such an incomplete effort of democratic construction. As a policy, the articulation between the notions of 'welcoming' and 'respect' in the light of an unimpeded communication model leads us to some consequences, among which we can point out that: (i) the bridges between the institution that welcomes and the host communities need to have two directions. This is an institutional as well as an epistemological consequence. On the one hand, the bridges created cannot mean an act of pure catechesis, which would ignore the prior wealth of quilombolas, indigenous peoples, pasture background communities, traditional communities, popular knowledge. On the other hand, the meeting itself must add value, so that it is not possible to give rise to a mere logic of substitution and occupation of space, which would even ignore the previous existence of consistent academic procedures for the production of knowledge. It is therefore necessary to avoid one-sidedness. That is, it is necessary to avoid both some kind of Eurocentric or ethnocentric domination, as well as, by concerning and welcoming new people and new knowledge, establishing a dimension of mutual respect, so that the cultural and epistemological dialogue leads to the increase and grows through the multiplication and do not operate by simple suppression;

(ii) building a space for dialogue is equivalent to sowing freedom. This is a broad philosophical consideration. In an exercise of deliberate construction of sociability, freedom is not a simple affirmation of what existed before the encounter, it is not mere reparation or a way of making unequals equivalent. In the space of the encounter, both those who can do anything lack freedom and those who cannot do anything. Since the individual is an invention of the language that articulates him, his freedom cannot be mere indifference, nor will a simple idiosyncratic statement ever be free. On the contrary, we need to be able to collectively invent our identities and idiosyncrasies.

(iii) Positively affirming such an ideal model, transforming it into public policy, implies rejecting a certain individualistic idea of ​​freedom. This is also a philosophical consideration, but much more specific. In the space of the encounter, freedom cannot be a simple obligation to return to the origin or the affirmation of what was already given, although in chains. Servitude cannot be fate. The free individual must thus overcome inhibitions which are not a mark of nature; he must be capable of therapy for the illusions that condemn him to servitude simply by being in society. If the individual were prior to society, returning to his limitation, returning to himself, it would be like finding again what ordinary life (given as later) would have erased. Now, maintaining such an illusion, the individual would appear transparent to himself, while the other would always be opaque, in addition to being an insurmountable obstacle. The model then has the profound consequence of teaching us that there is no true freedom without the possibility of a common exercise of the imagination.

(iv) The task of implementing communication models is not limited to the classroom. This is, after all, a central political consideration. With such a challenge of reciprocal recognition and reinvention, such implantation of a deeply democratic culture cannot be restricted to codes of scientific or academic conduct. Obviously, in addition to the specific exercise of education, its success depends on society, on contexts that henceforth authorize the full expression of language, removing any manifestations of authoritarianism and obscurantism and, above all, combating structural, social, cultural and economic inequalities, in our country, which do cross relations of gender, class and race.


It is not predictable what can result from the application of radical models of public policy. We must only be able to want to do much more than repeat some prose, than just receive teachings whose elaboration we did not participate, because we need to want to be able to elaborate and include our own narrative.

It is not enough to learn to repeat formulas that have made us know by heart, but it is necessary to be able to express even what can dissolve such formulas. We think, after all, with formulas so that we can go beyond them; we learn a lot by heart to be able to expand the limits of language. So to speak, we want to be able to make our own literature and, by mastering the signs, be able to make poetry together. It's a lot maybe, but it's far from everything. After all, doing politics is the art of never being satisfied with the abyss.

Finally, we conclude. In our speech, we only remember tasks that are those of education as associated with radical projects of citizenship – namely, creating the conditions for organizing experience through language experiences that do not predetermine or consolidate relationships of exclusion or domination. The task of education, which is especially that of the public university, is ultimately to provide each subject with the conditions for the full exercise of their subjectivity, and to guarantee the precedence of the word, the symbol, the significant gesture, over all forms of power, so that that our communication, being unimpeded, expresses a society in which we are economically equal and meet each other in a democratic way, collectively realizing the prediction once enunciated by Herder: “The deeper someone descends in himself, in the construction and origin of his older thoughts, the more he will cover his eyes and feet and say: I am what I have become.”[iv]

*Joao Carlos Salles Professor of Philosophy at UFBA. Author, among other books, of Ernst Cassirer and Nazism (ed. noir).

Inaugural class of the first semester of 2023 at the Federal University of Pampa.[v]


[I] The notions ofcompassionate concern"and "robust respect” are used in a more specific sense by Michele Moody-Adams, in Making Space for Justice, New York: Columbia University Press, 2022, p. 4.

[ii] BUBER, M., Me and you, São Paulo: Centauro, 2001, p. 100.

[iii] LISPECTOR, Clarice, Close to the wild heart, Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 1980, p. 50.

[iv] HERDER, JG, “Of Knowing and Feeling of the Human Soul”, apud HONNETH, A., The Right of Liberty, São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2015, p. 66-67.

[v] I am grateful for the honorable invitation of my friend and rector of UNIPAMPA, Roberlaine Ribeiro Jorge, who has fought with us in the good fight in defense of the best values ​​of the public university.

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