Brutalism goes to school: on the return to face-to-face classes

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By CAROLINA CATINI*

The struggle for education is the same as the ongoing struggle against barbarism. As educators that we are, we know that our concrete work does not concern indexes and statistics, but people.

“If there are deaths of students or school professionals, and if it is something desired by the school community, the group can organize farewell rites, tributes, memorials, forms of expression of feelings about the situation and in relation to the person who died, and even pay attention to the construction of a socio-affective network for the bereaved”

This prescription of behavior and permission to honor the dead is part of the return to school plan of the Espírito Santo State Department of Education. The inhuman frankness of the communiqué is shocking and it is up to us to ask why such brutality is possible. After all, the occurrence of new infections by the new coronavirus is literally part of the “plan”, since by promoting social contact through the return to face-to-face classes, it becomes mandatory to predict the possibility of an increase in the number of deaths.

The first reason goes beyond the walls of school life and educational policy. It is related to the cushioning of the shock with mass death, it proves that barbarism is among us and it makes us brutal. She naturalizes herself by “commonizing the experience of death”, as a young filmmaker from São Paulo says, the “drone boy”, as he became known in the region where he lives, by using his equipment during the pandemic, and capturing the images from above. images of the São Luís cemetery, already so emblematic due to state violence in the extreme south of the city. “Bar Code” is the name he gives to the series of images he made of this mass production of trenches. In this code, each line is a number, because we are not talking about “fathers, mothers, sisters. And then it becomes a barcode, bro. It becomes an industrial thing, a death treadmill, that factory thing that goes by, pastes the code and lots and lots and lots and lots of death come out”.

It is impossible not to think of other industries of mass death or the wars that our extreme moment mentions and replaces on the agenda. Or rather, in wars that are no longer classified as such because they have become permanent and no longer generate commotion. “A country can only become so apathetic”, says Silvio Luiz de Almeida, “when it is a country that has become accustomed to death, especially of workers and black people”. For him, more than 50 deaths is commonplace in a country where XNUMX people are murdered each year, where people die of hunger. In this way, what should take us out of conformism and lead to the denaturalization of all violence, from the most trivial, becomes the opposite: accommodation to the new scale of brutality as a way of life. It is again the “drone boy” who speaks of this immense capacity to naturalize the massacre: “It says a thousand deaths, it shocks. When we say 20 deaths, it shocks. But when we keep talking one thousand at a time, every day for three months, the ear is calloused and then it becomes normal. It seems that this is our new condition of life and so we continue. The hood has always done this: it's lame, it's hungry, things are missing. Only it's not one day, two days. Missing the whole life and trivialized”.

Adaptation due to necessity and exhaustion of male and female workers, who survive despite the pandemic, unemployment, precarious jobs and housing, peripheries without basic sanitation. “Resilience”, would say businessmen, clear winners of fights in education. In a school curriculum privatized by the national business class, resilience is the key word that guides the training paths of the opposite class.

Entrepreneurs are not only present in private education networks, as owners of schools or profit sharing titles for educational companies, which are pushing for a return to face-to-face classes because they no longer make money with confinement.. Business is also privately appropriating state education, interested in moving the economy and making the education of the poor productive. Just access the website of the Espírito Santo State Department of Education and see who the “partners” of the right to education are: Instituto Unibanco, Instituto Natura, Fundação Telefônica, among other groups that are not part of Todos pela Educação. As in so many other states and municipalities, this type of “partnership” has some political action strategies in common, among which a new pedagogy that is centered on the attitudes and behavior of children and young people.

Incidentally, another reason for the naturalization of brutality in educational policy finds its pedagogical reasons for being related to the experiment of introducing the so-called socio-emotional skills and abilities into school content. This is the latest great entrepreneurial pedagogical fad for educating the poor, which fills thousands of current pedagogical materials. In times of despair and lack of perspectives, a vast pseudoscientific literature with self-help language gains a lot of adherence, and invades all educational means.

It seeks to adjust attitudes in the face of situations of instability and horror, increasingly commonplace in our social life, by controlling emotions. One must learn from an early age how to stay on one's individual track, even in situations of family or social catastrophe. Stability should be everyone's attribute, regardless of the context's turbulence, so that the training project becomes the management of a life project, through a sequence of meeting goals, in an individual simulacrum of the entrepreneurial form. It is about the fabrication of the entrepreneurial subject – according to the expression developed by Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval in The New Reason of the World (Boitempo) –, but in a context of crisis and alarming precariousness of working and living conditions. Basically, a training curriculum for subservience to capital, directly defined by those who embody it.

As it appears here, emotional pedagogy would seek to tame the feeling and the chance of a revolt reaction. Considering the way in which we are dealing with killings, it is easy to imagine that, with the help of managing other people's emotions, our brutality can produce the immense feat of naturally introducing death into everyday school life. This is what public policy provides.

Prescribing attitudes towards death and allowing “the expression of feelings towards the person who died” is a management and control device poorly disguised as a humanitarian gesture. But such is the lack of consideration for the pain of the other that it can even seem like a generosity that emanates from the laws of the State, the same as the management of barbarism. Affectivity objectified by law is the deepening of people's objectification, not its opposite

Achille Mbembe is giving the name brutalism to the internalization of war violence, which goes far beyond brutality: the raw material of life is brutalized and a new form of dehumanization is generalized. With the normalization of extreme situations, death ceases to be an exceptional event and the selectivity that defines which class of people will be destined for elimination becomes purely acceptable, without question.

Brutalism is extreme violence and also its non-realization: the heinous crime is hidden in the lack of parameters, in the suffering under suspicion in the face of massive naturalization, in the transformation of life and death stories into statistics, in the rhythm of the succession of events, in the way of circulating news, etc. Therefore, it is necessary to denounce it at all times.

The violent logic of Russian roulette of the return to face-to-face classes is also registered in the accountability education professionals, who must assume all possible damages, including contagion. Mothers, fathers and guardians also assume the risks and they can choose privately whether or not to send their children to school, as a decision that concerns their private life and not the collective life or the working conditions of teachers, which is what school life is all about. It seems that sometimes people forget that education is the fruit of hard work.

Teachers would then be responsible for implementing blended learning: introducing face-to-face meetings juxtaposed with maintaining distance learning, remote or mitigating activities. For entrepreneurs and managers, another goal to be reached through the sacrifice of others. For male and female workers, another effort to be faced after more than five months of exhausting work with remote teaching, with the intense workload of the vast majority, with excessive wear and tear and many conflict situations. Anyway, one more cat bed set up for blame teachers for the failure of education results in 2020.

It is true that working conditions are very different in each teaching network or school, but in general, as in all jobs, conditions have drastically worsened, and the lies of the “teaching appreciation” programs have become radically explicit. There has been a lot of talk about the burden of remote work for teaching work. Demand is intense, and vigilance grows, as well as the anxiety for the permanent evaluation practice to which the work is submitted.

In the public networks, the situations also vary a lot, but occasional teachers of various types have been dismissed or are not being paid – in the case of the São Paulo network, in which precarious contracts comprise about 40% of the teaching staff, they have not been paid since the beginning of pandemic. The invasion of private companies, with their technology, training, projects, programs, etc., advances in an unmeasured way the private appropriation of work and training for teaching practice. In private networks, in addition to exhausting work and far beyond class hours, there are news of mass layoffs, especially in higher education and early childhood education. There are many agreements to lower wages without reducing working hours, and reports of male and female professors at risk of health, who have not stopped working for fear of unemployment, multiply.

It is not the invisibility of teaching work that is at issue, nor the lack of listening on the part of managers: it is a matter of highlighting our disposability, the replaceable character that the work of educating gains, like any other simple work.

This pedagogy of emotions is put in check by giving so much importance to the psychic conditions of students and none to the conditions – objective and subjective – of thousands of professors. One can see the indifference and disqualification of teaching work in the primer of psychosocial orientations of the Projeto Jovem de Futuro of the Instituto Unibanco, indicated by the Secretary of Education of Espírito Santo (in the same return plan in question). How could young people's “emotional skills” be developed, disregarding the fact that education is the work of adults? From the management point of view, this is only possible when profits and indices matter and not the educational process. The obsession with demonstrating educational performance makes even emotion an object of measurement and classification by assessments. Mbembe says that brutalism is also expressed by the impetus not to leave anything on the margins of the calculation, by the search to subject everything that until then remained moving outside the control mechanisms, with some freedom.

It is evident that some freedom can only be manifested by the denial of barbarism in its most elementary forms, by confrontation, by the struggle that takes shape in each school, which is also a trench. She is in the collectives of students, mothers, fathers or guardians, teachers and professors deciding together what to do instead of waiting for orders from bosses or mayors; it is in the new collectives of workers in education being formed in the midst of the greatest degradation of relationships that we have ever experienced; is in the planned strikes in virtual environments.

It is also in this daily life of organization that we constantly remember that the fight for education is the same fight against barbarism that is under way. As educators that we are, we know that our concrete work does not concern indexes and statistics, but people.

And if we don't protect ourselves and if we don't organize ourselves collectively, we will be able to turn one more line of the bar code and earn an emotional homage according to the norms prescribed by the modern state-corporate bureaucracy.

* Carolina Catini is a professor at the Faculty of Education at the State University of Campinas (FE-UNICAMP).

Originally published on blog of boitempo

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