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Cultural diversity as a challenge for the construction and enlagement of the public sphere of rights in brazil

Gesuína de Fátima Leclerc

The Federal Brazilian Government, together with the Ministry of Education, recently created the Secretary of Continuous Education, Alphabetization and Diversity (SECAD), which results from the fusion of the Extraordinary Secretary of Eradication of Analphabetism (SEEA) and of the Secretary of Educational Inclusion (SECRIE). Both of these last two institutions were created, before that fusion, at the outset of the actual federal administration. The SECAD has been designed to articulate the programs of alphabetization and of continuous education (for young and adult people), with the sectors of Native and Environmental Education as well as the sector of Education in rural communities. The idea is to strongly relate demand and program, in each one of these areas. As a matter of fact, the ideal of racial democracy and the hearty explanations of discrimination are ingredients of the perverse social construction of analphabetism of Indians, Black and Dark-skinned persons in Brazil.

My aim in this study is to present a stance which tries to balance biographical-subjective aspects and institutional-normative aspects that become manifest in the present context of the Brazilian society. A flood of previously unconsidered demands has submerged Lula’s Government since cultural and racial diversity became a central theme of the public Brazilian policies. The growing recognition of racism in Brazilian society brings about, as a consequence, a drastic change in the proposals, the offer, the access, the quality and the social control of public policies. Without institutional acknowledgement, the regulative codes of the identity of young and adult analphabet people with low schooling, workers of the informal market, domestic workers, suburbanites, etc., operated only on the basis of prejudice which attributes to them the following tags: “ignorant,” “lazy,” “weak,” “undisciplined,” “unstable,” “irresponsible,” – supposedly, they would be the very agents of their own exclusion. However, real changes require strong social support. From that point of view we use the idea of folk culture to make explicit local practices temporally determined, tacit and diffuse resistance to political and economical domination, and the existence of social differences as well as the division opposing those who have the power and those who don’t.

Our interest for this theme comes from a direct experience as a leader of the Union of Workers in the Public System of Education of Mato Grosso (Sintep-MT) from 1992 to 1997. The Union proposed and defended political/pedagogical projects that emerged democratically from each school unit. The political/pedagogical project is a plan of action for a particular school, the outcome of a collective deliberation which takes into account the needs and specificity of the scholar unit, formulating the general educational objectives of the school, and thereby expressing necessarily a conception of teaching, as well as the social, economical, political and cultural context of the school.

We promote a conception of project-planning diverging completely from the actual planning matrices applied to economical processes, and that requires, consequently, a deep study of these matrices. Our first aim was to professionalize teaching (to promote a better formation for teachers, new rules for career planning and for the time spent in classroom, minimum wage, etc.) and to improve the usual working day (a better didactic organization, better planning, better teaching and evaluating methods, stressing the relations teacher/parents and students/employees). One of the most important points in a political/pedagogical project is the acknowledgement of the socializing and cultural functions of the school, mainly through its curriculum. The problem is precisely that these functions simply reproduced the dominant and inflexible socio-cultural patterns: European, white, patriarchal, the school having been a place for philosophers, religious congregations (specially Jesuits) and bourgeois.

With the expansion of public school as a place for the children of the poor men and women, the school happened to be materially structured according to their condition (most of the time very poorly), but academically according to patterns to which curriculum and learning are historically and authoritatively associated. The relationship between directors, professors, employees, parents, students, adults, children, whites, blacks, Indians, men and women is stratified. These social relations are not merely ideological mechanisms of reproduction. They shelter particular spaces, times and experiences in which and by which we become what we are: Human beings with such and such a character, values, attitudes, favoring autonomy or conformism.

The promulgation of the Law 10.639/03 that obliges the inclusion of the thematic “History and Afro-Brazilian Culture” in the official curriculum of the public system of teaching gave support to our approach of the political/pedagogical project. Nowadays the autonomy of the school is prescribed as a way to face the financial crisis of the State, but we have to identify and describe what the actors, on the floor of the school, could do. These practices constitute the background of our understanding of what should be the guidelines of the definition of public educational policies as a strategy for the building up and enlargement of the public sphere of rights. The aim of such a strategy is to establish mechanisms of permanent social interlocution favoring a public relationship between the State and the private sphere, and offering a channel through which the interests of social groups are made explicit in the forefront of the public scene, in such a way that they can be discussed and negotiated.

There are no such public mechanisms of negotiation, not even for the different levels of Government (of the federal union, of each state and of each city). Consequently, the educational public policies do not last long in Brazil and hardly survive until the election of a new government. That’s why they never improved. For obvious reason, the question of democracy, even within the purely formal limits of liberalism, has been a main concern for the Brazilian society in its recent history. So the time has come to elaborate a concept of public sphere that preserves the traditional public sphere of classical representative democracy, adding to it a new type of mechanism ruling the relationship between the State and the rest of society, allowing citizens to take an active part in the existent institutions.

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