BRASILIA, Brazil, February 11, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced plans last week to revise textbooks in public schools and eliminate references to homosexuality, same-sex “marriage,” and violence against women.
There are also proposals to give the military control of some public schools. Once Bolsonaro took office, the Ministry of Education issued new guidelines for textbook publishers that erased references to gender ideology and sexism. The ministry also eliminated its diversity department.
On the eve of his Jan. 1 inauguration, Bolsonaro tweeted his intentions. “One of the goals to get Brazil out of the worst positions in international education rankings is to combat the Marxist rubbish that has spread in educational institutions.” Education Minister Ricardo Velez Rodriguez vowed in his inaugural speech to end the “aggressive promotion of the gender ideology.”
In a poll published Jan. 8 by Datafolha, 59 percent of evangelical Christians said they did not approve of sex education being discussed at school. The poll, conducted Dec. 18-19, was based on 2,077 interviews. Conservative Catholics and evangelical Christians are a key supporters of the Bolsonaro government.
Bolsonaro is already feeling some pushback from Brazil’s teachers unions, who resent the president’s opposition to the legacy of leftist Paulo Freire, whose books and philosophy about education have been influential around the world. Freire, who died in 1997, was a founder of critical pedagogy. His work has been criticized for challenging traditional institutions, such as church and family, that intermediate between the state and individuals. Critical pedagogy asserts that teaching is inherently political and that the goal of education is political action and social critique.
During Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign last year, he said he wanted to go into “the Ministry of Education with a flamethrower to remove Paulo Freire.” As inspiration for reforming education, Bolsonaro appears to be relying on a U.S.-based Brazilian Olavo de Carvalho, who is known for opposing socialism.
In contrast to Freire, who was imprisoned briefly during a dictatorship in the 1970s, de Carvalho sees an educational benefit from religious and private schools. In a video on de Carvalho’s YouTube channel, he said, “The government does not have to educate anyone; it is the society that has to educate itself.” He added that he will fight to the death any proposals that the federal government is “the great educator.”
Education Minister Velez Rodriguez has said that not only schools but family and church are threatened by what he called a “crazy globalist wave.” Last week, he denounced his countrymen’s misbehavior while traveling outside of the country, telling Veja magazine, “Our kids and teenagers must receive citizenship education, which teaches how to act according to the law and morality.”
Velez told the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo that the Education Ministry is encouraging local officials to allow the police or military to operate their schools. Currently, the country has 13 schools run by the military that are intended for the children of soldiers. Military-run schools accepted some non-military children on the basis of merit, and have a reputation of being better than other public schools.
Bolsonaro got a boost from powerful businessman Sergio Borriello, who told newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, “I think maybe Brazil needs a little less ideology and more pragmatism going forward. Employment is more important, the livelihood of various social classes is more important than the president's position on homosexuals.”
Brazil ranked 63rd of the 72 countries and regions in the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment, conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
According to the group, Brazil has one of the largest shares of adults without secondary education. Schools are overcrowded, teacher salaries are low, and school buildings are often crumbling.
More than 5,800 schools had no water supply in 2017, nearly 5,000 had no electricity and 8,400 had no sewage, according to government figures.
Many Brazilians don’t appear convinced by Bolsonaro’s plans.
Caua dos Santos Borges, a 15-year-old public school student in Rio de Janeiro, said that in her experience teachers rarely spoke about politics in the classroom and gender had never felt like a core area of the curriculum.
“Once, a student asked the teacher if he supported Bolsonaro, but the teacher didn’t respond and changed the subject,” dos Santos Borges said.