It would not be a stretch to call Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro’s actions and comments in line with those of a right-wing populist. He rushed to victory in the 2018 Presidential elections vowing to crack down on rampant violence and improving education in the country, both key issues that have long plagued the major city centers of the country. An incredibly divisive candidate Bolsonario remained unafraid to share his views and opinions on key issues and assumed an almost Trump-like form of populism that propelled him to the world stage.
According to Jan-Werner Muller professor of politics at Princeton University, populism “seeks to erode democratic values; it keeps the democratic institutions, but they are used to perpetuate the rule of the populist leader or party, the sole authentic representative of the people”. Now four months into his presidency, Bolsonario has already signed a decree easing gun laws in the country and is aiming to get pension reform underway as his major economic initiative. Yet one of the most striking changes that Bolsonario has made is the “militarization” of schools especially in areas with high poverty and crime.
Students in such schools begin their mornings with a talk from police officials and a performance of the national anthem while standing in front of the Nations flag. The aim of such activities is said to reinforce a sense of national pride that many feel has been lost in recent years around Brasil. Most of these militarised schools have popped up in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. Places that used to typically have drug dealers and other criminal elements around now have a uniformed police presence and the school pilot program works by sharing management between teachers and police. Currently, the country has about 120 schools involved in the program but President Bolsonario has vowed to increase their growth across the country. Such measures come after Bolsonario mentioned “that it would be good to have the military in the schools” because “in the streets, in the schools even, the bandidos [bandits] sell drugs and smoke marijuana openly”. The president has taken advantage of the dire situation facing many of the urban centers of the country and has used such schools as a weapon for his own means highlighting a far more nefarious purpose than simply to curb violence.
For Bolsonaro the schools provide an opportunity for him to help end what he calls “indoctrination” by left-wing teachers. After being inaugurated in January he tweeted about “tackling the Marxist garbage in our schools head on” further adding, “We shall succeed in forming citizens and not political militants.”. Such comments highlight Bolsonaro’s clear disapproval of leftist politics and their supposed inclusion in education. Many see this move as increasing conservatism in the school system and promoting nationalist ideas while limiting the breadth of discussion in schools on topics related to LGBTQ+ rights, feminism, and gender violence. Pushes to increase nationalist policies in schools show a worrying trend for the country in general as the populist wave has allowed Boslonaro to initiate wide sweeping reform that could have a major impact on the future. Such a move to make schools more conservative and limit the spread of more liberal ideals could put the rights of many Brazilians at risk and create a social atmosphere that may be demeaning and outright dangerous for some. As populism seeps into education reform Bolsonaro strengthens his grip over his country and its future leaving many Brazilians to wonder what could possibly come next from the nigh dictatorial figure. Will such education reform spread further across the country? Is the militarization of schools a ploy to increase nationalism or a move to limit the spread of crime and violence to youth? Does such a move fit into a category of stealth authoritarianism?
Image creds: Joedson Alves / EPA
This post brings the spotlight on an important issue concerning Bolsonaro and the danger poses to Brazil’s democracy. Indeed, “indoctrination” was a source of deep ire during his campaign. His conspiracy theory of indoctrination posits that schools are morally corrupting its students and training them to become homosexuals, sex-crazed, criminals. Obviously, this is a ridiculous claim, and the fact that as president he has decided to intervene to root out the faux indoctrination operation is terrifying. This is also not the only way Bolsonaro has impacted schools in Brazil. Since becoming president, he has supported and openly celebrated a proposed curricula reformation that would change the way textbooks wrote and teachers taught the history of the military dictatorship that controlled Brazil for twenty-one years. This reform would effectively sanitize the horrors committed by the oppressive regime; it would spread not only misinformation but blissful ignorance and indifference. The thought of propagating a romanticized version of a terrible period in Brazil’s history is terrifying and could have severe consequences. Consider the fact that a 2016 opinion poll found that only 32% of citizens held favorable views of democracy, and more startlingly, over 50% of Brazilians held favorable attitudes toward regime types other than democracy. If we forget the horrors of the past, and do not recognize the wrongs committed, we are destined to repeat the same mistakes, and in the most extreme cases, find ourselves in another military dictatorship. Bolsonaro’s interference with education is concerning and should not be ignored.