Capital sins

Image: Feson Xie


The secondary education reform makes education one of the most sensitive sectors in this return of President Lula and in this broad configuration of his government

Law no. 13.415, of February 16, 2017, which “institutes the Policy to Encourage the Implementation of Full-Time High Schools”, commonly known as High School Reform or simply New High School, stems from multiple cardinal sins and, who knows , an incorrigible original deceit. Anchored in the ambience of “times change, wills change” that the 2016 impeachment instilled, it was advanced by President Michel Temer and his minister Mendonça Filho with the aim of attacking the current model of the traditional thirteen compulsory subjects and to forge an alternative structure designed in training with 60% of the workload dedicated to disciplines of a certain National Common Curricular Base (BNCC) and 40%, to the notorious training itineraries.

Little or almost nothing came forward to improve, value and recognize the teaching career. Nothing or very little was indicated in the sense of expanding investments in school education. Much has been explored about the possible benefits of relentless professionalization before la lettre. And even more progress has been made on creating an awareness of self-responsibility for each citizen in formation to meet their destiny.

No country truly serious and committed to Education promoted – or maintained for a long time – similar machinations. No high-performing school system – in Finland, South Korea or Singapore – has ever considered something like this. Not even countries with terrible school systems in almost all of the African continent – ​​where, in addition to the overwhelming illiteracy of those who attend and finish schools, classrooms with more than one hundred students are frequent – ​​have prospected measures of such despair. But it was with these tricks that that new Brazilian government sold the dream of a new Republic, a new Brazil and a new Education.

There is no doubt that, despite the unquestionable successive advances since the 1996 Darcy Ribeiro Law of National Education Guidelines and Bases, Brazilian Education in general and High School in particular were experiencing acute entropies around the 2016-2017 biennium. But the Camonian poetic license of the Michel Temer presidency mobilized to appease them killed most of the consensuses for Education produced since the beginning of redemocratization – especially the set of pacts indicated in Resolution n. 2 of 2012 of the National Council of Education – and indicated a model of school education that, given the country's regional and local diversities, tends to violate the school routine, blaming beforehand the student for future failures and further demoralize the collective of teachers and employees at all levels of education – notably the public – in the country.

If these sacrileges were not enough, everything that followed made the defense, revision, or redemption of that law largely impossible.

For good and its opposite, the legislator, the National Congress and the MEC determined, in the act of its sanction, a five-year window for the transition from the “old” to the “new” High School. During this period, it would be up to the MEC to coordinate and the state networks to implement this new approach to teaching.

But the ugly weather that had been brewing since the adoption of Provisional Measure (MP) n. 746 of 2016 – which precedes Law n. 13.415 of 2017 – became a perfect storm in that first half of 2017 and continues to thunder, hail and dribble water until the present day.

If the presidency of Michel Temer gained some prestige and some deliberative force, it lost them all in the infamous “joesley day”, of May 17, 2017, from when all the efforts of the accidental tenant of the Planalto Palace were mobilized to prevent its unappealable ejection. With the infamous incidents of April 7, 2018, when forces that were not at all occult concluded their ultimate objective of imprisoning President Lula da Silva, all probable cross-cutting intentions to continue talking about a subject other than the political destiny of the country were eliminated.

For the convenience of the days, in the presidential elections of 2018, in the absence of President Lula da Silva, the candidate of the party removed from power in 2016 was a former Minister of Education who based a large part of his campaign precisely on Education issues.

But, with the result of the polls that October, time actually set itself up and indicated perennial indeterminacies in the face of Education and school realities.

The most eloquent example of this turbulent sky was evident when the Olavista mentality, driven by the need to assert a “cultural war” against the “barn of leftists and communists” that Brazilian educational institutions “represented”, became hegemonic in the Bolsonarism field that came to power between October 2018 and January 2019. As a result, all those appointed to the leadership of the MEC throughout the presidency of Jair Messias Bolsonaro were completely indifferent to the serpent's egg gestated by President Michel Temer and Minister Mendonça Filho.

In this sense, there were few and rare moves by the presidency of Jair Messias Bolsonaro to implement the law. His fixation was on dismantling imaginary windmills by exhuming ghosts buried in the previous century.

President Lula da Silva's return to power in 2022-2023 coincided with the end of the transition period established by law. However, the accentuated dismay of the majority of those directly involved – directors, coordinators, teachers, employees, parents, students and communities in general – throughout Brazil led the current MEC tenant, Minister Camilo Santana, to suspend the implementation of the reform and promote new public consultations to try to recalibrate this last firecracker of the Ponte Para o Futuro platform that animated all the original movements and all the cardinal sins of Michel Temer's presidency.

The result of this suspension and this attempt at “reform of the reform” – read sewing “a new patch on old clothes” – was consummated on the 7th of August. As a product, MEC presented an alternative proposal for Secondary Education; trimming edges and muffling controversies, but keeping the spirit of law n. 13 of 415.

Maneuvering in this way, the government's message was clear: let the antagonists fight. In response, the antagonists promised to keep fighting.

The essence of this struggle seems to be to convince larger portions of the Brazilian population of the incredibly debatable and probably fallacious dimension of MP n. 746 of 2016, whose emphasis was on designing (i) making High School more attractive to young people, allowing them to choose different training itineraries; (ii) expand the offer of full-time education; (iii) increase the vocational aspect of Secondary Education.

That is, the idea that a “more attractive” Secondary School would eradicate dropouts. “Full-time” would increase the quality and consistency of graduates' education. And “training itineraries” would accelerate professionalization.

Each of these assumptions has received national and international questioning for more than a quarter of a century. There is no consensus about them. Differently from what the defenders of that MP and enthusiasts of the law that followed it were advancing.

This lack of consensus, especially due to the lack of tangibility of the data under analysis, has led wise and unwary people to an atmosphere of doubt since the adoption of this MP in 2016. But with the sanction of the 2017 law, the opportune, sincere, legitimate and necessary "it will be?" was largely strangled.

Even so, collectives contrary to the law have multiplied since the first hour.

One of them, perhaps the most active and representative in the country, is anchored in the Federation of Education Workers of Mato Grosso do Sul (FETEMS) and has as its platform the Mato Grosso do Sul Committee for the Revocation of New Secondary Education.

This Committee, branched out in all instances from basic to higher education in the state, nurtures solidarity walkways with virtually all movements condemning this undertaking by former admirers of FIESP and regulars of Avenida Faria Lima in São Paulo. Professor Onivan de Lima Correa, FETEMS union leader and main representative of the Committee, emphasizes the need for widespread understanding of the imperatives for the repeal of the reform projected in this law.

In his assessment, it remains necessary to recognize that the debate on this reform was produced in an extemporaneous way and the law that governs it was sanctioned in drowning. If that were not enough, the way in which the debate and the law were conducted ignored the outcry materialized by the thousands of schools occupied in 2015-2016, underestimated the strength of social movements contrary to any reform produced under the after impeachment and humiliated historical trends in defense of education and human sciences in the country.

In addition, continues the professor, it should be noted that the main measures of this reform are, clearly and known, unrealizable within public educational institutions – responsible for hosting more than 85% of aspirants to Secondary Education in the Country (see graph) – and, with that, they throw water in the mills of fragmentation, precariousness and emptying of Education in general and of Secondary Education in particular.

It is not, therefore, the case of “reforming the reform”, as the MEC intends. The imperative, from the perspective of the Committee, remains that of revoking everything. In this sense, new public consultations – more precise, comprehensive and inclusive than those promoted by the MEC – are being programmed. A new school realities assessment form will be presented very soon. And new popular demonstrations will be conducted further.

Frankly, no one can predict the outcome of this mess. Education is one of the most sensitive sectors in this return of President Lula da Silva and in this broad configuration of his government. More than that, it is not at all trivial to repeal a law. In this case, everything seems even more delicate.

President Lula da Silva has been walled off by pressure for the maintenance and repeal of this law since his election campaign. At the time of transition, working groups clearly indicated the need for revocation and entities such as the National Council of Secretaries of Education signaled imperatives for its maintenance.

If it were simple, there is no doubt that the president would already have made a stand. As it is not, he continues to hesitate and send the government to the top of the wall.

Honestly, the internal secrets of this insistent hesitation by President Lula da Silva are unknown. If, on the one hand, he seems to want to insert “new wine in an old wineskin”, on the other hand, everything indicates that he also continues to meditate on the possibility of forgiving capital sins, which, being venial, remain subject to redemption. But it seems that the outcome of the problem will result from less than virtuous and far from Catholic expedients, namely: calculations for October 2024 and October 2026.

*Daniel Afonso da Silva Professor of History at the Federal University of Grande Dourados. author of Far beyond Blue Eyes and other writings on contemporary international relations (APGIQ).

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