Opinion by Michael Royster
São Paulo, SP – It is almost ritualistic for pollsters and pundits to analyze presidential performance and public opinion during a president’s first 100 days in office; the Curmudgeon has been unable to resist the temptation.
For starters, a seemingly rhetorical question: “If you were President, would you delegate the choice of Education Minister to someone who maintains the earth is flat and who treats astrology as science?”
The Curmudgeon, not to mention everyone in Brazil, knows very well the question is not rhetorical. President Bolsonaro has clearly delegated to Olavo de Carvalho, his “philosophical” guru, the right to choose who will head the Education Ministry, arguably the most important cabinet position in today’s Brazil.
The guru’s first choice was a Colombian/Brazilian academic, noted for his defense of the 1964 – 1989 military dictatorship. The Minister’s most notable action was to decree that all school teachers should film their pupils facing the flag and singing the national anthem, as well as reciting Bolsonaro’s primary campaign slogan.
That was too much even for Brazil’s military, and paved the way for his firing in early April, theoretically because of administrative ineptitude. The guru then whispered not-very-sweet nothings in Bolsonaro’s ear, so he appointed a suitable successor: an economist with no educational experience, but another of the guru’s true believers.
Bolsonaro is convinced that his challenge in education is to end “the ideological indoctrination of our children, the distortion of human rights, and the deconstruction of the family”. His goal is the Escola sem Partido (politically neutral school) where teachers should eliminate from basic education anything supported by “socialist” political parties, in particular teachings about human rights, gender, or sexuality. Ignorance is bliss?
Bolsonaro is also determined to revise the way the history books treat the 1964 “revolution,” as he styles it, to reflect his view that it was not only requested by Brazil’s people and democratic in essence, but was also eminently successful in eliminating corruption and the threat of a Cuban-style communist takeover.
All this is in keeping with the guru’s “global Marxist conspiracy” theory, which holds that control over Brazil’s educational system, from pre-school through post-graduate studies, has been surrendered to dedicated Marxists, who diligently indoctrinate Brazilian youth with their insidious and seditious ideas.
On the positive side, Bolsonaro’s campaign platform rightly pledged to concentrate government support on primary and secondary education, rather than on university-level institutions, heavily subsidized by the federal government. Towards this end, he would institute long-needed tuition fees at state and federal universities for those who can afford them.
It is no secret that Brazil’s basic educational system is badly in need of improvement. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranks 70 countries around the world; Brazil is near the bottom and falling. If Bolsonaro’s project were limited to greater emphasis on the traditional three R’s (“readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic”) plus more STEM courses, it would arguably be well-received.
Unfortunately, Bolsonaro’s approach is motivated more by demagogy than by pedagogy. The result has been constant upheavals within the Ministry, as those who do not adhere to the guru’s ideologies are replaced or resign. The resulting chaos disheartens teachers and students alike. It’s depressing.
RATING: (4 out of 10, tending upward if the new Minister can administer chaos)