The Brazilian extreme right and the future of education

Andréa Martini Pineda, Mário Aquino Alves and Catarina Ianni Segatto interviewed by Sebastián Ansaldo

A spectre is haunting the Brazilian far-right — the spectre of Paulo Freire. All the powers of old conservatism and new right-wing groups have entered a “holy alliance” to exorcise this spectre: the ‘No Party School Movement’ (NPSM), right-wing politicians, and neoliberal ideology advocates. Since re-democratisation in the middle 1980s, gains in progressive and inclusive public education had been achieved through different policies and programs resulting from different coalitions of a myriad of social actors and politicians. In the last few years, most of those gains became under threat due to the escalation of right-wing populist activism, which involved tactics ranging from intimidating teachers in the classroom and lower courts to trying to pass laws that would restrict or prohibit content that “violated Christian family values” and those spread ideas such as “communism” and “gender ideology”.

In this interview with the researchers Catarina Ianni Segatto, Mário Aquino Alves, and Andréa Martini Pineda, we explore the effects of recent changes in Brazil’s education policy and Paulo Freire’s long history of promoting dialogue and critical thinking. 

What are the main threats of the Brazilian extreme right to education and educational policy?

During Lula’ and Dilma’s government (from Workers Party), Brazil had adopted different policies to recognize and valorize diversity, such as the ‘Quota Law’ for Black people in higher education, and to enhance equality. Some important policies related to inclusive education and Quilombola and indigenous education were under the responsibility of the Secretariat for Continuing Education Literacy, Diversity and Inclusion, created in 2004 to strengthen this agenda.

The Brazilian extreme right has an anti-pluralist view on gender, race, and inclusive education and has been fighting against these policies through a broad conservative alliance, formed by the politicians linked to the Evangelical Parliamentary Front, neoliberal movements, neoconservative media, and uncivil society movements (such as the No Party School Movement). With sincere sympathy to conservative religious and military groups, they support ideas and policies that include strengthening military discipline through the expansion of military schools, religious orientation, and homeschooling, for example.

What dimensions play a part in the construction of right-wing populist discourse in Brazil?

The far-right discourse as a whole is always based on hatred and denial of otherness and difference. The imaginary is composed of an idea of a homogeneous people formed by Christian families. It is a discourse built from the simplification of the world, which facilitates the construction of enemies through the othering mechanism. Thus, anything that threatens this simplification, such as critical thinking, is seen as a threat.

It is also important to emphasize that, although this discourse involves the construction of an ideal of the nation, it is far from articulating the idea of a collective project. Instead, social problems are seen as individual issues (poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, among others). Thus, it is not by chance that this discourse achieves a strong convergence with the neoliberal discourse.

Can you briefly explain the concept of “othering” in the Brazilian context?

Othering has been a discursive mechanism by right-wing populist movements and politicians in which they framed educators, women, LGBT, and Black people as enemies, dividing society between “we” and the “others,” and attacked their ideas, including Paulo Freire’s pedagogy, gender ideology, and ancestral African religions. This right-wing coalition seeks to protect values of the “traditional family” and erase ideas related to diversity and equality of Brazil’s education policy, denying more pluralistic and multiculturalist society views.

How Freire’s legacy is being impacted by the rise of the far-right movement?

Paulo Freire’s long path of advocating for the dialogue between educators and students. According to his ideas, teaching and learning processes should consider students’ context, background and experiences, including examples and cases based on student contexts, leading them to think critically. Furthermore, reading and learning are understood as necessary conditions for ensuring citizenship and changing reality. These ideas were considered a threat to far-right groups, and Paulo Freire was framed as an ideologue of “Marxist indoctrination” at schools, being targeted as an “enemy of the traditional family”, and his ideas have been “erased” from Brazil’s education policy.

How can Paulo Freire pedagogy be used against a populist discourse in education?

Paulo Freire’s pedagogy is heavily influenced by pragmatism. Consequently, discourse and dialogue are key dimensions of his ideas applied to the field of pedagogy. The most critical dimension refers to the mobilization of these ideas to maintain dialogue channels with the population as a whole, contributing to dismantling the arguments that reproduce exclusion and give rise to the activation of the othering mechanism.

What would you recommend for researchers and academics dealing with issues around populism, discourse or right-wing movements?

We published an article at British Educational Research Journal discussing the changes in Brazil’s education policy and the rise of right-wing populism. The full article can be found here. Two references were key: Ernesto Laclau, who discusses populism as discourse and rhetoric, and Joe O’Mahoney, who focuses on the debate about othering through a discourse lens.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash.

Catarina Ianni Segatto is a researcher at the Center for Metropolitan Studies, Professor of the Graduate Program in Public Policy at the Federal University of ABC, and information analyst at the Regional Center for Studies on the Developent of the Information Society. She was a postdoctoral researcher at Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Regina, and obtained her PhD in Public Administration and Government from the Getulio Vargas Foundation. 

Mário Aquino Alves holds a degree in Public Administration from Fundação Getulio Vargas – SP (1991), a degree in Law from the University of São Paulo (1996), a Masters in Business Administration from Fundação Getulio Vargas – SP (1996) and a Ph.D. in Business Administration by the Getulio Vargas Foundation – SP (2002). He is a Full Professor at the Department of Public Management at FGV EAESP. He was a visiting professor at HEC Montréal (2012-2013), ESSEC Business School Paris (2018) and Cardiff Business School (2019). He holds a scholarship in Productivity in 1D Research from CNPq. He is a member of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the International Society for Third Sector Research. 

Andréa Martini Pineda is a researcher at the Center for Studies in Public Administration and Government (CEAPG) at Fundação Getulio Vargas. She holds a master’s degree in Applied Linguistics from the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo and a degree in Social Communication from the same institution. She is currently a doctoral student in Public Administration and Government at Fundação Getulio Vargas in the Civil Society and Government research line?

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