When I’m reading, I almost always (maybe despite the best efforts of Mrs. Houston, the wonderful 7th grade teacher that introduced me to Dickens and Twain) look back and see the foreshadowing moments only from a chapter or two down the line. This happened again as I read the news about the teacher protests in Rio and São Paulo. I began to remember all those placards that kept appearing, all over Brazil in the height of the first phase (it’s not over, not by a damn sight) of the protests, asking for schools and education that could meet FIFA standard.
And I’m so glad I have seen them. What it means is that people all over the world have seen them too. And we’re all then able to connect the dots that represent the daily obvious to those living the reality of state actions and inactions as the case may be, many of which have been ramped up in the the lead up to the World Cup. For example, in Rio favela residents from various communities marched together to show solidarity with the teachers and to draw together the plight of school closures and forced relocations with the everyday deficiencies their children face in public education. One teacher, Vinícius Neves, from Complexo da Maré explained to the blog Rio on Watch. “The teachers’ strike, just like the removals and the deterioration of the quality of life in the favelas, are all related to this model of the city that emphasizes the market instead of the people that live in the city.”
Observatório de Favelas, in their publication “O Que É A Favela Então?” (What Is a Favela, Then?) provides “educational indicators…below average” as one of the defining attributes of favela life. In a blog post earlier this year, Observatórios’ Artur Voltolini reminds us that Brazil’s 1988 constitution includes education as a fundamental right for all Brazilians. However, he goes on to report continuous abuses of the state interfering in the education of favela residents apart from the daily scarcity of infrastructure and resources that drew favela crowds to draw connections between state neglect and abuse in education and basic civic life. The connections that led them to join their numbers to the teachers’ protests.
In joining together, the teachers unfortunately, and with the world watching, got a taste of state force so common to favela residents. Pragmatismo Politico’s Waldemar Figueredo reported, “I saw one older gentleman, educator cry like a child. Emotional after having been run out by the police. He said through his sobs, “I’m not a Bandido.'” As I read that, I thought of the people, as he describes them, “Who do much more than form opinions. They form citizens. They are the promotors of sociability and fomenters of community life.” Our teachers. People like, my Mrs Houston, who taught me critical thinking and even attended my wedding 15 years later. People like Regina Celia Rodrigues, who’s frustration we can feel: “We consider education to be fundamental, it is the foundation of society, so we are all here fighting for this foundation. If you have a quality educational system, you will have educated, enlightened people. People who can question. This is our objective here: it is not just our salaries, it is quality education.”
The link between quality education and quality cities can no longer be ignored. Behind the forced removals and the mistreatment of teachers, we’ll inevitably find the same root causes. Behind the forces chasing young kids out of the classroom and into illicit trades, we’ll invariably find that same vicious neglect. This ability to question mentioned by Ms Rodrigues. This is the key. And most marginalized corners of the country that brought us the revolutionary educator Paulo Freire and “Pedogogy of the Oppressed” are making that plain for the world. That ability to question is and will continue to pay itself off in social dividends. As Figueredo astutely observed at the teachers’ protest, “I saw uniformed students alternating between moments of perplexity and hatred. Today there was no class! But it’s not like that, really. Today’s class would have been one the master teacher Paulo Freire would have loved to attend.” As the fate of education in Brazil shifts, so will the fate of Freire’s “Oppressed.”