Note on education in the Bolsonaro government



Reflection on the situation of “permanent unstable equilibrium” in the education chain of command in Brazil

A thousand days after Jair M. Bolsonaro took office as President of the Republic, the effects of government action on education still remain relatively open. This is still surprising, since shortly after the election result, and during the first months of 2019, the expectation prevailed that education would be one of the most affected areas.

The unexpected strength of the resistance – signaled in specific mobilizations and gigantic demonstrations – partly explains the situation of near immobility. But there is also a consensus among observers of the scene that at the other end of this “tug of war”, in the powerful Ministry of Education, an environment of chronic instability and a bit of administrative paralysis prevails. Bearing in mind the weight that (anti)educational proposals occupied in the electoral campaign discourse and continue to be present in the daily diet of the Bolsonarist movement, this is certainly something that demands explanation.

condominium in power

Jair Bolsonaro replicated in Brazil the organization model of the neo-fascist right in the northern hemisphere. For this he had the explicit support of think tanks from the USA as the network Atlas Network and the Ludwig von Mises Institute [9],[I] from organizations such as American Conservative Union (ACU),[ii] theorists such as Matt Schlapp and Steve Bannon. The latter, operator of the company Cambridge Analytica, famous for the suspicions of data manipulation in the election of Donald Trump and in the plebiscite that decided for Brexit.

The electoral coalition that elected Jair M. Bolsonaro was made up of the most powerful segments of Brazilian politics and economy. An alliance based, above all, on two points of a common program: (a) to exclude or render inoperative the action of the working class, its parties and unions; (b) implant a new shock, on record hard, of neoliberalism. The agreement on these two points generated an unprecedented convergence between the political oligarchy and the different fractions of the capitalist class, the agrarian, industrial and financial; groups associated with the external sector and those focused on the domestic market; large, medium and small businesses.

This association, built during Dilma Rousseff's terms, crystallized with the coup that overthrew the president. Michel Temer's government strictly followed the program announced months before the PT's deposition in a document called "A Bridge to the Future". Installed in the Planalto Palace, Temer commanded the approval by Congress of a “labor reform” conceived as an instrument for the revocation of rights inscribed in the 1988 Constitution. a compact front against the Workers' Party candidate.

The cohabitation with Centrão politicians, strengthened throughout this year, expanded the president's arc of support. The Bolsonaro government is supported, ultimately, by unconditional supporters of authoritarianism and by groups indifferent to the exercise of this form of power. It can be identified at its base, in another register, both sectors guided by the conscious pursuit of economic interests and individuals motivated by psychic or imaginary compensations. Bolsonarism is predominant in basically four social or cultural groups: the agents of repression, the religious fundamentalists, the business community and the traditional middle class.

Members of coercive forces (from generals to private security guards), executors of the monopoly on state and parastatal violence, reinforced their support for Bolsonaro when he chose the weapon as a symbol of his electoral campaign, signaling a “license to kill” . The discourse, even if visibly hypocritical, of moral conservatism attracted fundamentalists of all religions. The business community saw in its government the realization of the ultraliberal agenda of dismantling labor and social rights.

The identification with Bolsonaro of a mass of individuals (“authoritarian personalities” present in all social segments, although majority only in the middle class) involves the mobilization of affections such as fear, hatred and social resentment.[iii] As a leader of a neo-fascist movement, he stimulates unconscious mechanisms using a repertoire of mimetic procedures originating from a tradition initiated with Mussolini and Hitler and acclimatized on the continent in the post-war period by a series of North American fascist agitators.[iv] This arsenal has recently been updated by imitating the attitude of the pastor in the television pulpit and the behavior of the presenter of auditorium programs. While Bolsonaro demonstrates in lives daily or weekly mastery of radio and television techniques, its collaborators, making use of the scientifically programmed use of algorithms, disseminate tons of fake news.

Bolsonarism flourished in the soil fertilized by the so-called post-modernist cultural movement and by the reconfiguration of subjectivity and individual identity promoted by neoliberal sociability. Theorists of “postmodernism” disseminated the idea that any form of knowledge, including scientific discourse, constitutes only a “narrative” subject to dispute. Thus, shuffling the spheres dissociated throughout modernity, they turned everything into a struggle for power, and therefore into politics (although they announce themselves as an anti-politics). The determining forms of identity configuration in this period of neoliberal hegemony hypertrophied individual action in a Hobbesian world of “each man for himself” (and god against), destroying the last remnants of community social ties.

unstable balance

As of January 2019, this coalition has occupied the country's central command posts. In the exercise of power, antagonisms arising from heterogeneous interests soon surfaced in such a way that the very composition of the government can be described as a situation of “permanent unstable equilibrium”. The latent contradictions between the participants of the “coup condominium” generated a dispute, fierce and still not decided, between the different circles around the determination of the guidelines and the management of the government.

Perhaps the most flagrant case of the difficulties in unifying the divergent political and ideological tendencies present in the Bolsonarist amalgam is the chair dancing at the Ministry of Education (MEC). Ricardo Vélez Rodriguez remained in office for just over three months. His successor Abraham Bragança de Vasconcellos Weintraub lasted just over a year. Carlos Alberto Decotelli da Silva, the short one, was appointed, but he never took office. The last one – Pastor Milton Ribeiro – took office in July 2020. The signs of instability go beyond this rotation of ministers, as an identical movement took place in the main bodies of the organizational structure of the MEC: in the National Fund for the Development of Education (FNDE ), the National Council of Education (CNE), the National Institute of Educational Studies and Research (INEP), the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES) and the Brazilian Company of Hospital Services (EBSERH).

At MEC, the clash, not always visible in other government instances, takes place in the open. Military personnel, Bolsonarism cadres (the so-called “olavistas”) and technocrats from the financial market are fighting without quarter. The administrative paralysis and lack of coordination – welcomed by the enlightened sectors of the opposition – stems from the dispute (in addition to the super coveted positions of the booty) for the direction of the educational policy.

During the electoral campaign, these three sectors felt represented by the slogan “School without a party”. This slogan then acquired little-defined contours, bringing together different shades of anti-PTism and a certain dose of distrust in relation to “all that [that is] there” – a euphemism to designate the repudiation of public policies for the redistribution of rights and the promotion of democratic values.

Strictly speaking, or rather, as an institutional organization, “Escola sem Partido” is a movement created in 2004 by Miguel Nagib, a lawyer and attorney for the state of São Paulo in Brasília.[v] Anchored at the Millenium Institute to which Nagib joined, it only gained visibility when it was taken over by the Bolsonaro family and publicized on social media by supporters of neoconservatism. Nagib drafted the bill “Programa Escola sem Partido”, presented successively to the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro by then-deputy Flávio Bolsonaro (PSC-RJ), to the Chamber of Councilors of Rio de Janeiro by Carlos Bolsonaro (PSC-RJ ), to the Chamber of Deputies by Izalci Lucas (PSDB-DF) and to the Senate by Magno Malta (PR-ES). Among the main promoters of this movement were the journalist Olavo de Carvalho and the then Federal District attorney Beatriz Kicis Torrents de Sordi, sister-in-law of Miguel Nagib.

The initial set of ideas associated a renewed anti-communism – dormant since the end of the Cold War – with the fight against the so-called “gender ideology”, an imaginary construction generated within Catholic ultraconservatism and soon incorporated by the most diverse evangelical strands.[vi] It is, as noted by Luis Felipe Miguel,[vii] of an attempt to transpose and update the McCarthyism, a term that designates the campaign to persecute “alleged” communist agents, led in the 1950s by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the US Congress.[viii]

In this direction, the Escola Sem Partido movement combined actions in the institutional sphere – promoted by parliamentarians, members of the Public Ministry and judges of first instance – with activism in social networks. Their “criminalization” strategy targets both the teaching material they consider “leftist” or “morally” inappropriate and the teachers who teach that content. In addition to the search for the approval of a legislation that reduces professorship freedom, prohibits the discussion of gender in schools and grants parents veto power over the content taught in the classroom, there are repeated attempts to harass and intimidate professors who are averse to this political, religious and moral agenda.

The Federal Supreme Court declared the unconstitutionality of these proposals, by unanimous decision, on April 24, 2020, consolidating the veto, enunciated in previous injunctions, to this type of restrictive legislation. O cyberbullying against the teachers did not cease, however. The aim is thus to transform the school system into an environment hostile to freedom of expression and critical thinking.

Since Jair M. Bolsonaro took office, the vanguard of this obscurantist and anti-intellectualist crusade began to occupy key posts in the Ministry of Education. Since then, administrative measures have been tried to reduce academic freedom, limit the autonomy of Universities in the management and determination of lines of research and even change the social statute of science.

This general line, however, went through several vicissitudes, in a fluctuation resulting from the game of contradictory forces between the adherents of the neoconservative ideology, the adherents of the militarist ideology and the neoliberals.

Ricardo Vélez Rodriguez, the first MEC holder, was chosen to represent both the ultraconservatives – his career as a university professor developed in this framework – and the military: he was a professor at the Army Command School. He did not last long in office because, apart from his administrative inappetence (perhaps acquired from living with Army generals), he suffered obstinate and persistent opposition from the neoliberal circle enshrined in the Ministry of Finance and endowed with ramifications in most government bodies, in parliament , in the Judiciary, in the corporate media and in command of the Armed Forces.

Vélez Rodriguez's passage through the MEC was marked by an administrative mess: postponement of the evaluation of Basic Education, crisis at INEP, delay in the procedures necessary for carrying out the ENEM. But also for controversial statements, in line with the directives of the Escola Sem Partido. In one, nodding to religious conservatism, he described the school as an inadequate and unfavorable space for family values. In another, trying to captivate the military, he encouraged the students to denounce.

Although their specific positions equally fit into the broad umbrella of the Escola Sem Partido movement, the military and neoconservative supporters maintain a sharp divergence over the role of administrative management. For neoconservative activists, power must remain concentrated in the Bolsonarist movement, in principle external and alien to the state apparatus and it is up to the family to decide the course of the school. For the military, as a state corporation, the ultimate source of power resides in the state itself and it is up to it to indicate the direction to be followed at school and in the family.

The next minister, Abraham Weintraub, an economist trained at USP, acquired experience as a manager in the financial market and in the Votorantim group. A first-time adherent to Bolsonarism, he combined in the exercise of office, in large doses, an aggressive rhetoric that mimics the president's speech with practical measures of neoliberal content.

Neoliberalism exacerbates the tendency innate to capitalism that makes inequality, competition and profit the governing principles of education. Knowledge – considered as a private good – thus acquires the form of a commodity. To this end, neoliberal governments adopt an aggressive policy of transferring a considerable portion of public funds allocated to free education to companies. When and where direct privatization is not possible, the immediate transmutation of social rights into private services, it seeks to determine the structure and management of the school. In this direction, conceived as a business, the school – from elementary school to the University – ceases to be a social institution to become an organization managed according to the rules of the market.[ix]

One of the central guidelines of neoliberal educational policy is the emphasis on “entrepreneurial education”. It is a teaching model that, in addition to privileging the formation of “competences” in tune with the needs of the labor market, aims to prepare students for the new sociability in which competition guides conduct and modes of subjectivation follow the logic business. Learning, conceived as a mere acquisition of technical knowledge, is subsumed under neoliberal rationality.

Since 1990, programs for restructuring the Brazilian educational system have followed, to a greater or lesser extent, the premises of neoliberalism. Initially, the main supporters of this movement were multilateral organizations such as UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund). ) and, above all, the World Bank (WB) – the main agency for formulating, financing and monitoring the implementation of neoliberal educational policy.

As of the year 2000, foundations governed by private law and institutes of think tanks became relevant actors in this scenario. The pioneers, Fundação Roberto Marinho, Instituto Ayrton Senna, Fundação Lemann, paved the way for the action of a series of organizations specialized in educational policies, generally controlled by large corporations such as Telefônica, Coca-Cola, MacDonald, Gerdau, Votorantim, Natura , Gol, RBS, Itaú, Bradesco etc.

As a minister, Abraham Weintraub became known for his verbal attacks on educators, for reducing the number of postgraduate scholarships and for cuts in the universities' budgets. His main legacy, however, was the “Future-se” program that looms like a threat on the horizon of Federal Universities. The cornerstone of Future-se is the hiring of Social Organizations (OS) to support and carry out activities related to “governance, management and entrepreneurship”; “research and innovation” and “internationalization”. It is, without a doubt, the most daring attempt to reorient the Brazilian university structure towards the dictates of neoliberal educational policy.

The current minister, the evangelical pastor Milton Ribeiro, was chosen in the midst of negotiations between the President of the Republic and the political parties gathered in the group known as “Centrão”. In this bargain, the position of president of the FDNE – the body in which MEC funds are concentrated – had a greater weight than that of minister. A nondescript juggler, Milton Ribeiro maintains his position by adopting specific measures to suit each of the groups in dispute, in a calculated rotation that varies according to the correlation of forces.

Everything indicates, however, that there is no possible convergence between (a) neoliberals who seek to re-commodify education, relying on the control of the imaginary by the market; (b) soldiers who were nostalgic for moral and civic education (and political censorship) during the authoritarian regime; and (c) neoconservatives who consider the state education system an essential “ideological apparatus” in their declared war on the cultural values ​​of modernity, pejoratively grouped under the slogan “cultural Marxism”.

Thus, it is most likely that the dispute between the three circles around the determination of guidelines and the management of educational policy will be decided (or not) outside the scope of the Ministry of Education, in the broader stage of the struggle between the different government support forces.

In this scenario, the actions of the opposition cannot be ignored either – whether in parliament, in civil society institutions, in social networks or even in street demonstrations. The directions of education, the government and the country depend, above all, on the movement of society.

*Ricardo Musse He is a professor at the Department of Sociology at USP. He edited, among other books, Contemporary China: six interpretations (Authentic).


[I] Kátia Gerab Baggio reports with precision and accuracy the links betweenthe atlas network with the organizers of the protests against Dilma Roussef's government in the article, posted on the website The Earth is Redonda, “Atlas Network and ultraneoliberalism”. Available in:]

[ii] Eduardo Bolsonaro organized in Brazil, in October 2019, the annual meeting for Latin America of the ACU, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), financed by the Índigo Foundation (Institute of Innovation and Governance), linked to the PSL. For an account of the event cf. FERREIRA, Otávio Dias de Souza. “The far-right International”. In: The Earth is Round. Available in:

[iii] See ADORNO, Theodor W. Authoritarian personality studies. São Paulo: Unesp, 2019; FREUD, Sigmund. Group psychology and analysis of the ego. In: The malaise in culture and other essays. Belo Horizonte: Authentic, 2020.

[iv] ADORNO, Theodor. “Freudian theory and the pattern of fascist propaganda”. In: Essays on Social Psychology and Psychoanalysis. São Paulo, Unesp, 2015.

[v] The “Associação Escola Sem Partido” had Miguel Nagib as president and Braulio Porto de Matos, professor at the Institute of Education at the University of Brasília, as vice-president. Nagib resigned from Escola Sem Partido on August 22, 2020 (Cf.

[vi] Cf. JUNQUEIRA, Rogério Diniz (2018). “The invention of 'gender ideology': the emergence of a political-discursive scenario and the elaboration of a reactionary rhetoric: In: Political Psychology Magazine, 2018, vol. 18o. 43, p. 449-502.

[vii] Cf. MIGUEL, Luis Felipe. “From “Marxist indoctrination” to “gender ideology” – Escola Sem Partido and gag laws in the Brazilian parliament”. In: Law and Praxis Magazine, flight. 7, no. 3. Rio de Janeiro, UERJ, 2016. DOI: 10.12957/dep.2016.25163.

[viii] Joseph McCarthy chaired both the "Committee on Un-American Activities" in the House and the "Committee on Government Operations and Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations" in the Senate.

[ix] CHAUI, Marilena. In defense of public, free and democratic education. Belo Horizonte, Authentic, 2018.

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