Essay on the pedagogy of indifference

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By ROGÉRIO GIORGION*

Schools practice the logic of transforming children into products that need to achieve results, so that their managers are recognized as excellent professionals

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”
Gustav Mahler

We live in a society where indifference is a hallmark of so-called winners. Mother of hatred and narcissism, and daughter of pride, indifference blocks the spirit and discernment, leading people to only see what they lose, and they never want to lose anything. This logic is increasingly normalized in our society. Based on this, I present a first reflection on the role of the school in the construction, maintenance and expansion of this logic. This essay aims to compare what schools do today with education with what the food industry did – and still does – with our relationship with food.

Techniques for refining and preserving food have existed since ancient times. Processes such as grinding, sieving, drying, freezing, salting and smoking increased the use of food by slowing down decomposition and facilitating digestion. This allowed the transport and storage of food for longer periods, enabling our ancestors to survive during periods of drought or other climatic adversities.

However, with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution and the need to increase agricultural production and productivity to support a growing urban population, a food industry developed that profoundly changed the way we relate to food.

An example of this is sugar. Molasses or rapadura contain a wide range of nutrients (iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, potassium, manganese, selenium, etc.) necessary to counterbalance the harmful effects of the food itself, in addition to contributing to better health in general. Super refinement has transformed sugar into a product that is quickly and easily absorbed, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, with studies even associating a decrease in cognitive capacity with sugar consumption in childhood. 

Another example is rice, which loses around 75% of its nutrients during the refining and polishing processes, or wheat flour, whose situation is even more worrying. Wheat bran, generally used for animal feed and bioenergy, has many more nutrients than refined type I flour, consumed by humans.

Finally, we have the invention of ultra-processed foods, which contain almost no nutrients, but have a variety of chemical additives that “enhance” the flavor and aroma, becoming a food “option” for millions of people around the world.

Man's relationship with food now has as an intermediary an industry that, in search of ever greater profits, has no commitment to the population's food quality (despite its advertisements), going so far as to transform some foods into drugs.

The consequences of these processes for humans are well known: mass illness. However, for some who see their bank accounts grow, the massive illness is not a problem, but an opportunity. This allows the production of medicines for daily use, dietary supplements, dietary and gluten-free foods, etc. From the point of view of GDP growth, illness was, and is, in fact, a good deal. Ironically, an industry of organic and whole foods, little refined, has also emerged, allowing some entrepreneurs to charge much higher prices for these foods because they are healthier.

We observed a similar phenomenon occurring in the context of Basic Education.

I'm a parent and I know that deciding which school to send our children to is always a big challenge. Concerns regarding the sustainability of this future adult, in all dimensions, cause fear and anguish. Typically, we choose a school that delivers results that we imagine our child will achieve; This means that the child's school process begins full of goals to meet, as well as the criteria for a grain of rice or a bag of flour to reach the standards desired by the producers.

Deep down, parents know that not all children will achieve the goals and objectives of the school, but, who knows, if their child does everything he has to do, whatever the school demands, he won't become that little speck of rice so white and polished?

From an early age, the school operates a major intervention on the child's body. The first refining, the first sieving. Historically, the school had and has this demand, to a certain extent correct. The problem is that, currently, children spend an absurd amount of time at school, much more than they did a few years ago, which could be good if the focus of the school was truly on the child. But we know it isn't. Schools need to deliver results (which means the child needs to deliver results). The child is on demand all the time. And then the first “rejects” of the screening begin to emerge, the first children who do not submit to this logic.

Initially, they are classified as inclusion children and recommendations emerge for families to seek to identify with medical professionals what standards of inclusion the child has. Families, committed to offering the best for their children and believing in the school's recommendation, begin the pilgrimage to different types of doctors and therapists, in search of reports that will inevitably agree with the school based on some diagnosis biased by the need for child productivity. Note that most disorder reports are based on several questions about the children's behavior, behavior that we know is linked to the demands that the school itself generates, but which are not considered in this diagnosis. In other words, if the majority of these children were not in this artificial demand created by the school, they would probably not receive this diagnosis.

After the diagnoses, one or more professionals are called in to help the child participate again in the collective refinement and polishing processes conducted by the school. For capitalist logic, this process creates opportunities for earning, new professions. “Effective” methods, medications, therapies and follow-ups are created so that children can return to the refinement process more efficiently. They all need to be equal in their response to the industrialization machine.

I remember my trip to Peru and my surprise at discovering that there was an absurd variety of carrots, corn and potatoes, with different colors and textures, something that, if we think about it, makes much more sense, but that, when we are used to optimized and ranked products, on the market, we are not concerned. Now they are doing exactly that to children, destroying the diversity of ways and logic of being in the world. There is only one room, preferably the most adapted one, the one that generates more productivity and excellence: we want our children to be the English potato, the one we know everyone will want to buy.

Children, in this sense, are required to become more productive and efficient. Some manage to adapt to this expectation and respond to school logic to fit through the hole in the sieve, returning to dreaming of becoming a premium child, with a seal of quality, while others become accustomed to the names given to them. The inclusion label generates several other sub-labels, names, CIDs, therapies, follow-ups. The child classified as inclusion will have to work more hours than others to, perhaps, reach the level that the school sells to parents. Multidisciplinary teams are organized with more and more adults, surrounding that little life, with clear demands from the school, the doctor and the family, who want that child to become like the little grains that they accept and organize themselves within the productive logic. In an attempt to live up to the expectations of the adult world, she thinks that if she doesn't do so, she won't be loved by her parents, teachers and friends.

Parents, in turn, need to work more and more, take time away from everyday life and real care, to get more money to give the “best” to their child. When he was little, he remembers that a healthy child was praised for appearing to be fed with Ninho milk, considered better than breast milk, as it was refined and enriched. We saw, out of love, many parents give nest milk instead of breast milk, just as today we see parents engage in suffocating their children, in search of the quality standard that the school offers.

When children advance through the early refining and sifting processes, the school needs to ensure that they perform adequately to deliver on promised results. Teachers are driven to create “effective” methods that ensure that most children can answer a few questions correctly to prove that they understand, regardless of whether they actually understand or not, which is in fact not the institution's problem. The school needs to show the results it sells and “prove” that it has the best methodology and the best group of teachers – understanding the best as the group that makes the most of the students.

Some children begin to feel lost again. They cannot find meaning in what they are doing and do not perform as expected. This represents another opportunity for capital: new professions, more money in circulation.

Other children are “rescued” and, after extra Mathematics or Portuguese sessions, consultations with psychologists, psychiatrists and speech therapists, they manage to “recover”. Of course, we cannot forget medication and intensive training, which require these children to dedicate even more time to school demands, convince themselves that there is something wrong with them and do what they are told to do. So, even if they don't understand what the exercises require, if they manage to do them, they are celebrated, they learn to survive in this plant/school and they move forward. Many get in the way, it is part of the refining process. A survey was recently published in Folha de São Paulo telling us that around 50% of Brazilian students do not finish elementary school at the correct age. Therefore, we have our school industry doing what it knows how to do, sifting and refining children.

Just like sugar that goes through several refining processes until it reaches the maximum standard, we see the school in its endless evaluations, measuring and re-measuring to detect any irregularity, any difference, and polishing it more and more. Everyone has to give the same result.

As they approach the final grades, after several stages of sifting and crushing, we observe groups of children and adolescents in fear, frightened. The majority follow or have already followed some drug treatment, and it is not uncommon to see an increase in drug use among teenagers. I am not referring to experimenting with substances in an attempt to understand their functioning and effects, but to the frequent use of alcohol, energy drinks, coffee (there are schools that even offer coffee freely to their college entrance students), electronic cigarettes, sugar, among others. This narcotization works like an anesthetic, helping them withstand the pain caused by the intensive refining processes carried out in schools.

Our young people feel diminished and scared. They don't know what they need to do to be loved, they just know that they need to stand out, be the best. After all, as many say: -It's the only thing they do in life.

As they approach the end of the school cycle, classifications begin. Some children are classified as type II, others as type I, and there are those few who achieve the export seal, being accepted into any college, and performing in any entrance exam. They have mastered the art of polishing themselves raw. Even if they don't want the most competitive courses, they will take them, they cannot discard the talent and the years of investment in refining and processing.

Although this phenomenon seems to be more common in private schools than in public schools, I have my doubts.

When I observe the massive expansion of education systems and see some education departments trying to abolish books, others censoring books, and several trying to implement a system that limits the teacher to replicating ready-made slides and activities, I realize that the institutions we still call schools are modernizing and accelerating their transformations in industries, proletarianizing teachers and transforming children into products on an assembly line.

Critical thinking, creativity, innovation, a light relationship with knowledge and curiosity are aspects discarded to generate insensitive young adults, emotionally fragile, always in search of approval and recognition. These young people constantly seek to understand the meaning of it all, some cannot deal with it and resort to suicide. Schools are shocked for a while and, after some reflection, hire more experts to help principals, coordinators, teachers and students get through it all. Thus, more monitoring, more professions, more money circulates. Even in extreme cases, tragedy becomes good business for the school industry.

These multifaceted processes, which I call the pedagogy of indifference or the pedagogy of pride, have a great influence on the construction of the society in which we are living. We teach children to ignore the opinions of others unless they are authorities with “correct” answers. We encourage everyone to be their best, no matter the path they take, nor what it means to be the best.

Empathy, compassion, fraternity and bonding, which allowed us to see the world through the eyes of others, were discarded in this incredible refinement machine. As a consequence, we have a society in which I learn to repeat what someone I trust says. So Flat Earth, chloroquine and other nonsense start to have space in this society where we learn to repeat what people we trust say. We learn this way in schools. We repeat this in society. In other words, if we live in the society that these schools helped to build and we can have a chance to change it, changing this school logic.

Before concluding, I would like to shed light on another aspect that this process generates. We know that stress can be extremely positive for humans. Facing a stressful situation, in coping conditions, and which in the end allows the body to return to homeostasis, is something very positive. The body, in a stressful situation, activates several processes: When the limbic system and the cerebral amygdala come into play, the body starts to produce cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. The liver releases greater amount of sugar into the blood to nourish the brain with quick energy, the lung intensifies breathing, decreases blood in the extremities of the body. Dry mouth and pupil enlargement make us more focused and attentive. Our body helps us react. We learned a lot from this process. We surpassed ourselves. We reinvent ourselves. We learn to give new answers. But to be good, this process needs to be short and the body needs to put the parasympathetic system into play, generating, after the stress, a feeling of deep relaxation, which calms us down and switches us off.

On the other hand, experiencing chronic stress, where you are under stress all the time, on demand all the time, without even knowing exactly what you have to do, causes a lot of short and long-term harm. The body loses its ability to defend itself. Human beings who experience this chronic stress inevitably become anxious, depressed, irritable and moody. He becomes more and more reclusive, angry. Sleep begins to be compromised, in many people we notice an increase in weight, which is normal due to the compensation of eating a lot, and body aches appear. The digestive system begins to go into crisis, reflux and heartburn become part of the day for the stressed person. We begin to lose memory and abstraction capacity. In other words, we become fatigued.

School currently imposes this second type of stress on our children, with suffocating and unfeasible demands. Suicide among young people is the second cause of death in this age group. Burnout syndrome becomes common among teenagers.

Finally, I want to make it clear that my criticisms are directed at a process, a system, and not at any individual professional or profession. What catches my attention is. Managers who use children as products to achieve results targets, earn their bonuses and be able to boast about how brilliant they are, that their schools are the best and that they perform the most. This is all organized in aseptic, perfect and fragrant spreadsheets, which hide the muffled tears of the school corridors.

*Rogério Giorgion He holds a master's degree in Mathematics Education from the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP).

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