Boys and Girls who fight for a new educational system
“If education alone cannot transform society, neither can society change without it.” – Paulo Freire *
Written by: Professor Carlos Eduardo Siqueira Pinheiro **
November of 2015 will always be remembered for the bravery of boys and girls who fought to defend their schools against the neoliberal project from the government of the state of São Paulo. Those were young people teaching their teachers, their society and most important their government, which suffered the biggest defeat from the past 26 years.
Over the past 26 years the state of São Paulo is been controlled by PSDB party and the state with the biggest educational net of the country – more than 5 thousand schools, 13 million students and 250 thousand teachers – is facing huge problems regarding its educational system, such as poor working conditions, packed classrooms, abandoned buildings with structural issues, new constructions stuck, lack of democracy, political harassment and corruption. That is why the whole system claims for help. It has been under a policy that favors the private sector over the public one, which has got to be free and of quality.
2015 can be easily defined as the year of fighting for a better education. By the beginning of the year, teachers from the state school system went on the biggest strike in history, paralyzing their activities for 92 days, led by the APEOESP (Syndicate of Official Teaching of the state of São Paulo). It took thousands of people to the streets claiming for better work conditions, salary increases, the end of underemployment categories, more hiring, and also for an education of quality. Even though the mobilization was intense, the state government did not consent to the requests and the strike could not stand the pressure of the Media linked to government.
Putting aside the educational crisis, the biggest State of Brazil – counting on 44 million inhabitants, which means 22% of the Brazilian population – is currently suffering a water crisis and 30% of the population does not have water in their houses. There has also been an increase in heinous crimes and we were now caught by evidences of a huge corruption system in the public transportation field, with the privatization of public assets. Nevertheless, PSDB government went further and decided to close 94 schools as part of a new project called “reorganization”, which intended, as made on 1995, close schools and relocate students. This measure would mess up with the life of over 300 thousand students.
As a matter of fact, such project aimed at a cost-cutting, firing teachers and forcing students to migrate to private schools, which according to research conducted by the government, is now an increasing reality in São Paulo. Finally, the “reorganization” project would end up moving the poorest communities in favor of real estate projects of high standard.
What government could not foresee was the reaction of thousands of students along with their representative syndicates such as UPES – Union of secondary Students of São Paulo – and UBES – Union of secondary students of Brazil –, who went on the streets protesting against the measures and took over 200 schools for more than 15 days. These students sought to defend their schools and mobilize their communities and public opinion in order to enforce their fighting against the “reorganization”. In many cases the repercussion was as positive as it could be: there was food donation do support the students occupying the schools and many artists got involved, paying visits, making pocket shows and endorsing the occupation. Teachers organized master classes and workshops regarding a variety of subjects and skills. They also offered lunches to parents, as an example of how enriching it can be when a school is opened to the society.
The occupations were also important to bring to light an old and neglected issue: the poor structural conditions of the buildings. Gutters, leaks, damaged chairs and tables, lack of workforce, abandoned gardens, closed labs for over 10 years. To sum up, the main postcard of PSDB government fell to the ground as a result of lack of care.
The state governor Geraldo Alckmin, after seeing his popularity falls from 48% to 28%, came into public stating that the “reorganization” ´project was officially cancelled due to the fact that it has not been debated along with the school communities. Still, there was a strong police repression against the students who fought to defend their schools. Fortunately, they managed to win the war against the neoliberal government.
Every day the whole world testifies the importance and the role of education in social transformation. Brazil is under a very intense political reality: the conservative sectors are trying to inflict us a coup. Therefore, all fighting to save the schools in São Paulo are an example of how education is the best option in order to make a society aware of its role opening new paths for those who dream and those who fight.
*Paulo Freire was a brasilian educator and philosopher born September 19, 1921 in Recife. Focused on providing education to the lowest classes, Freire was and still is an inspiration to all teachers, specially in South America and Africa. During the military coup (1964-1985), he was harassed and imprisoned for 70 days as a traitor and was forced to leave the country in exile afterwards. Freire died of heart failure on May 2, 1997 in São Paolo
**The author is a teacher of the state school system in São Paolo and also the nacional director of OJS/Brasil (Union of the Socialist Youth).