Education in dispute

Image: Adrien Olichon


Without breaking the bonds of neoliberal policies, it will not be possible to build emancipatory alternatives in the field of education

As I write this text, two highly relevant political events dominate the national debate in the field of education. Firstly, the strike by federal education employees, who have been out of action for more than fifty days. Secondly, the approval of PLC 9/2024 in the Legislative Assembly of São Paulo, on May 21st, which creates the civic-military School Program proposed by the government of São Paulo. These two emblematic events reflect and symbolize the current situation of the national political dispute.

On the one hand, we have the federal government, elected by a broad coalition of forces in defense of democracy, with the objective of defeating the proto-fascist government of Jair Bolsonaro. On the other hand, a governor from the richest state in the country, elected in the wake of Bolsonarism in the 2022 elections. It is noteworthy that, recently, the mainstream press tries to frame the governor of São Paulo as a “moderate Bolsonaro supporter”, a concept that , in itself, raises controversies about its viability and coherence.

Within the federal government, there is growing resentment on the part of education officials over the way negotiations are conducted with the wall movement. It is worth noting that in President Lula's campaign platform, there was a commitment to “rescue and strengthen the principles of the democratic education project, which was dismantled and debased” in recent governments. This reconstruction would take place through the “public appreciation and recognition of its professionals”. However, the government has presented proposals that fall far short of the categories' expectations.

In addition to issues of civil service, the administration of Minister Camilo Santana (PT) has been marked by the continuity of a series of legal and regulatory frameworks inherited from the administrations of Michel Temer and Bolsonaro. The most emblematic case is the hesitation in revoking the nefarious “New Secondary Education” – contradicting the majority of teachers and experts in the country. Another notable feature of the ministry is the considerable presence of business foundations such as “Todos pela Educação” and the Lemann Foundation, which exercise direct or indirect control over part of the ministerial budget.

Within the scope of the São Paulo government, the management of the current Secretary of Education, Renato Feder, has accumulated controversies in the implementation of his agenda for education that involves the replacement of textbooks with digital material, the use of applications for control and similar school management to business management with suffocating deadlines and goals for the teaching staff. Nevertheless, the government of São Paulo achieved a victory by approving the project to implement civic-military schools in the state. The Alesp session that approved the project was marked by great confusion and the brutality of the military police against the students who demonstrated.

Civic-military schools emerged in the wake of the rise of the extreme right in the country, especially since 2018. It is a model that did not show positive results in the locations where it was implemented, and is based on the principle of a “cultural war” against a alleged ideological indoctrination in schools. Another pillar of this model is the belief that the deterioration of educational indicators would be linked to the lack of discipline and violence in schools, problems that would be combatted by hiring retired security agents to work in schools.

Like almost all fake news is based on half-truths, the proposal for civic-military schools is based on an attempt to replicate Military Colleges. Military Colleges, in fact, present good indicators of academic performance, but for other reasons: a rigorous selection process for admission, substantial investments in physical and human infrastructure, in addition to well-qualified and paid teachers. In contrast, civic-military schools are not about expanding investments in infrastructure and valuing employees.

What lessons can be drawn from these two political facts? Firstly, it is clear that the broad-front government model based on class conciliation has shown signs of exhaustion. In an attempt to accommodate the interests of private capital (educational foundations and large private education corporations) and the working class, the government hesitates in presenting a project to reform national public education. There is not even a proposal for reformism, just the continuity of the policies of the last liberal governments. The hallmark of the current government is its self-limitation resulting from Fiscal Austerity policies, in contrast to the expansion of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs).

In opposition, the far right has a clear project. It has a direction, even if it is “to put an end to all this”. The extreme right has achieved both objective and subjective victories among the popular classes. After decades of PSDB and PT governments, the force challenging established power and institutions is the extreme right. Well, the progressive camp understands the ineffectiveness of civic-military schools; however, what does the government offer in its place?

What to put in place of civic-military schools, since the worker's child's school has remained the same over the last few decades. So far, the federal government's initiatives are palliative income transfer programs, without the implementation of a large national project that allows states and municipalities to build new schools, qualify and enhance teaching staff. It is necessary to break the bonds of neoliberal policies to build alternatives for the working class. Otherwise, we will continue to witness the victories of the far right.

*Bruno Resck, geographer, is a professor at the Federal Institute of Minas Gerais (IFMG) – Advanced Campus Ponte Nova.

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