High school reform and fascism

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By LUIS FERNANDO VITAGLIANO*

The MEC is insensitive to any change in the Temer government's High School Reform of neoliberal bias

It took forty-six days of government for Lula's current Minister of Education, the former governor of Ceará, Camilo Santana, to open his agenda to talk to the board of the CNTE (National Confederation of Education Workers), the main entity that represents Brazilian basic education educators. Only on February 15, Minister Abril spoke with education workers and heard their demands.

Among them, criticism of the reform of secondary education initiated in the government of Michel Temer. Even with this gesture, after a few elbows to attend to the unions, the MEC seems little sensitive to any change in direction in relation to the High School Reform implemented by the Temer government and which was validated by the PT members in the transition team even before the beginning of the government.

Clear signs in the 2022 transition team already showed that the education of Lula's broad front government would enter into the neoliberals' quota. The policy for basic education ended up in Sobral, land of IDEB productivity (Basic Education Development Index) and the model for neoliberal Brazilian education based on productivity indicators. The consultancies and NGOs linked to the finance tycoons took the transition team by storm and put their own. From then on, the access of the most qualified workers and education formulators in the country to the Lula government's MEC is different from the priority given to neoliberalism. In other words: the time of workers is guided by neoliberals since basic education.

At first, given the choices made by Lula III (2023-2026), it seems to grant neoliberalism the share of participation in his government, education as a social service. The result is that education in Brazil – a traditional space for building citizenship with important names such as Mário Pedrosa, Anísio Teixeira, Paulo Freire and Darcy Ribeiro and so many others that today has full conditions of privileged formulation – has given to World Bank consultants the priority in formulating educational policy.

The World Bank was the intellectual author and the institution that financed the reform of Brazilian secondary education in 2017. In it, two points stand out: first, the minimum student stay in schools went from 4 to 5 hours a day – with an indication for the full-time teaching; and the second and, main change, the presentation of “training itineraries” with “active methodologies” for “transversal themes”, three neologisms for idiots to like, all with the same content of “flexibilization”; expensive term proclaimed by neoliberalism in its economic facet.

Let's not go into the merits of class time, the increase in hours. Time in school does not necessarily mean better education. But, in Brazil, on the other hand, the ills are so glaring that, by changing the time at school, we have positive consequences as results that are not directly related to education: they are social measures that improve the diet of young people, allow students to withdraw street violence and have monitored activities that may include social services that accompany health and culture.

The second highlight of the reform is a sore point that is directly related to the impact of the neoliberal policy on Secondary Education. Because, even with more time in schools, the reform takes time away from the main subjects of citizenship education. That is, it is a reform to stay longer in school with less commitment to education.

neoliberal education

But to understand the argument of this analysis, it is worth asking: what does a neoliberal education mean? It means that training takes on a utilitarian bias focused on technical and instrumental training. That is, the concern is almost exclusively with learning that has a role in productivity. Read, write, do basic arithmetic. Respond automatically with learning that is functional. Concentrating education on these aspects means that productivity for work is understood as education and there is no significant place for reflection and criticism.

In neoliberal education, performance evaluation indices guide decisions and determine the allocation of resources. This policy is followed up with a series of quantitative performance evaluations. The SAEB (Basic Education Assessment System) indices privilege the qualitative, it becomes only a guide for the distribution of resources in the economic sense of the term.

Those who deliver an index in Portuguese and better mathematics are rewarded with bonuses and resources; those who do not deliver good indicators fail to win – it seems an impartial and fair criterion, but in practice it widens inequalities and forces schools to focus on content teaching, which value quantitative performance tests, disconnected from local problems and issues and focuses on the subjects of Portuguese and Mathematics. In the neoliberal reform of the World Bank for Brazilian education, uncritical instrumental knowledge is privileged and it is clearly stated that its focus is mathematics and Portuguese.

emancipatory education

But what would an alternative education be then? Citizenship-oriented, progressive and critical? Firstly, the valuation of analytical and critical knowledge that guide the instrumental content. Areas of knowledge such as history, geography, biology, chemistry and physics can value local knowledge and linked to explanations of the students' reality to stimulate autonomy and the formation of the circumscribed subject in a concrete reality. It would be one thing to demand that a student answer the question: “who discovered Brazil?”; uncritically: Pedro Alvares Cabral. Another thing is to introduce the student to the indigenous nations and the diversity that existed in the territory before the arrival of the colonizers and the effects that the European arrival caused; then question them and provoke them to reflect on whether this was an invasion or a discovery?

Banking education makes students a repository of ready-made answers, emancipatory education makes them citizens who question their general situation and contextualizes them as historical subjects.

Reading, writing and calculating and not synonymous with good education. Although it is a minimum condition for educational formation, it is not a full condition for citizenship formation. Calculating the indicator of 10% compound interest on R$ 1.000,00 in 24 months is a fundamental technical knowledge necessary for high school. Considering that a financial institution charges 9.99% interest per month for a bank loan is absurd without any plausible ethical and social justification and the legalization of expropriation of usury that should fit in the analysis of any high school student – ​​which can raise the capacity of appropriate indignation to denounce (or the) national monetary authority.

But, no educator who defends the Temer reform of Secondary Education will recognize the proposal formulated by the World Bank for Brazilian secondary education goes against the grain of emancipatory education. Just read the beautiful interviews by Maria Helena Guimarães de Castro – former executive secretary of the MEC under Paulo Renato de Souza in FHC’s times and who returned to the MEC with Michel Temer and proposed this reform.

Defenders of neoliberalism justify that the analytical and critical content can be discussed in “training itineraries”. What they don't tell us is that the so-called "training itineraries" are a strategy to use ineffective education methods that package critical issues in "technical" training (for capital), resulting in the dilution of the disciplines of history, geography, sociology, philosophy, as well as physics, chemistry and biology to concentrate classroom time on mathematics and classical Portuguese and work on general technical issues aimed at market needs.

This allows for greater flexibility and manipulation of contents in the areas that interest less critical deepening and more displaced subjects. In practice, we have a reduction of content that allows reflective, analytical and critical training, under the false name of active methodologies.

Education with “training itineraries” through active methodologies makes the system precarious and subverts the students' analytical capacity. This tuning clashes with educators' discourse of the mainstream political, but explains the reality that will become the reform in the concrete case. To support my argument, I propose to test what I'm saying with an experiment: why not make a practical attempt at training and reverse the pattern? We are going to put Portuguese and Mathematics in the form of active methodologies, through training itineraries; And do we make disciplines such as history and geography a design with well-structured didactic-pedagogical material with enough class time, stimulated teachers and do we see the result of this effort with evidence that test the significant value of the subject's formation?

As schools are designed today for the reform of secondary education, the training itineraries, in practice, make Brazilian Secondary Education a great technical education. Because it allows (or is in fact what is wanted) curricula to be designed to fit technical education and opens up space for focusing on vocational secondary education. That's why the neoliberals soon rushed to occupy the space of the Lula government's education transition team.

The various NGOs and benevolent foundations of the bourgeoisie will now finance education startups. All supposedly concerned with the worker's social ascension. They will create and finance technical schools aimed at new training itineraries to format workers according to their interests and in an absolutely uncritical way. Perfect workers: capable of carrying out work functions, docile, grateful to get them out of their misery and without the cognitive capacity for critical reflections that place them as subjects of their own history.

However, it is necessary to debate the “New Secondary School” without hypocrisy. Because the proposal seems to sell a great social advance when you only want a class advance. Regardless of the agreement or disagreement we have regarding the role that the school should play, it is important to make clear the bias of the reform. The reform goes towards banking education, where the student is a repository of content and specific predetermined functions in society; the student is trained to be a worker, whether an industrial worker on the factory floor or a contemporary worker producing data from computers.

A lot of people think that this is more important than forming citizenship and that it takes a lot of people out of poverty by giving people with no prospects a job and/or a social role. It is a world view that has concrete elements in the Brazilian reality to advocate in this sense; given the misery of the Brazilian educational condition. This view is also based on the assumption that inequalities exist and that it is not the primary role of education to try to change them, but to offer training that allows people to work. Let it be clear as water: these are the educational foundations of neoliberalism and, if it says anything more, it is a rhetorical prop.

Therefore, it is not possible to say that the reform in secondary education, as it is being implemented, prepares the worker and works with students as subjects of knowledge, giving them tools for criticism – because that is to say something that it is not capable of delivering. The training itineraries are just a subterfuge to embellish the focus of the reform and allow the BNCC (Base Nacional Comum Curricular) to remove the commitment to the didactic improvement of the teaching material, take away the concentration of critical contents, in addition to removing fundamental questions from the curricular parameters to focus on instrumental teaching, placing the responsibility on educational institutions, which are increasingly municipal or philanthropic.

It is possible to understand that neoliberalism is interested in the results of capital accumulation. It is a bourgeois vindication of today's society. Unsurprisingly, it is a capital movement like so many others. Without reading, counting, typing and using a computational peripheral, worker productivity is low – this means that reforming education for better results is important for capital in a service society based on data accumulation and digital production.

Given the facts presented, it is not crazy to say that the portion of neoliberals that defend instrumental teaching is a progressive portion for Brazilian bourgeois standards and has been negotiating with this government. Obviously, they do not agree with emancipatory education due to class interests or social myopia. Even so, it is necessary to tell them that, given the current configuration of the political forces, they are hatching the serpent's egg and delivering the workers to fascism.

Proposing an uncritical school linked to technical and professional education, without critical, historical and social content receiving special attention, will become an invitation to the fascist chant that circulates on social networks. A poorly trained student in history does not have the real dimension of what genocide is or what concentration camps were, he is an easy target for those who say that the holocaust did not exist, because they will not even know what the holocaust was. A poorly trained student in biology has no idea of ​​the importance of a vaccine. That is, a citizen who does not receive a social and critical formation is subject to all kinds of deception that common sense spreads on social networks with the aim of co-opting people without critical sense. If you train a worker without a critical sense for the world of work, you will also train a citizen without a critical sense for fascism. Without a good school, we cannot hope for a democratic society, however neoliberals may want to solve their class problems.

Therefore, it doesn't matter if you think that education should form mere workers or full citizens. There is also no point in campaigning for common sense on social networks. All this is innocuous in the face of the risks of the moment. In the current political context, it is not possible to assume that education is banking, it is urgent that we resort to an engaged school to face anti-democratic challenges.

This means that, as a broad front, even the neoliberals of this government must recognize that education must move in the opposite direction of the current reform and allow the creation of parameters for the formation of the subject, with a critical education that seeks the emancipation of the student to give elements of reality analysis with autonomy so that they can look at social networks and not be seduced by the fakenews and its pitfalls. With the current threats, an uncritical training makes the future worker an easy target of fascism because, in practical life, the exploitation of their work will occur, as well as the injustices and easy seductions of understanding the world that extremism shows in social networks. If the student did not learn any social mechanisms to deal with this at school, he is inevitably an easy target to adhere to the first speech on the networks and surrender to fascism.

*Luis Fernando Vitagliano political scientist and university professor.

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