On the day of the presidential run-off, when the opposition was still reeling from the results, a recently elected congresswoman put up a post asking students in her home state of Santa Catarina to film their teachers talking about politics, “indoctrinating youth” as some call it, and send it to her so she could take the legal action she sees fit. Never mind that the state of Santa Catarina prohibits students from taking smartphones to class, so that she was actually encouraging students to break the law (LEI Nº 14.363, de 25 de janeiro de 2008 – not a law I’d support, but nevertheless, a law). Never mind that “Escola Sem Partido” is not yet law, so we should follow the ones we already have, which grant teachers (principled) freedom in the classroom, not to mention the right to their own image. No, she wanted to expose teachers and she wanted it now.

Case in point: the future congresswoman herself. She is a History teacher, so right after her post, a student uploaded a picture of him next to her, by a classroom desk, with her wearing a T-shirt with the name and face of her candidate for presidency. According to the student, she went to work like that. If that’s true (it’s hard to say what is and what isn’t true), was she trying to influence her students? Would that be indoctrination, or is it only political indoctrination when she doesn’t happen to agree with the point being made or the politician being supported?

Personally, I would never wear a t-shirt with my candidate for presidency to class. With adult learners, I might say who I vote for if they ask and the context seems to allow it, but with young learners and teens I would probably not. I would, however, as I have, after a listening exercise, ask students whether the nationalities or genders in the audio were stereotyped. I never imposed my opinion or even made it clear, but I asked questions to get them talking and considering different points of view. In a conversation class, I’ve brought topics for discussion such as “Can men and women be friends?” and “Are women better at multitasking?”, which often led to a discussion on sexism. New Headway Advanced had a unit on immigration that portrayed America largely as a welcoming country, so I brought the group of 16 and 17-year-olds texts (a comedy video and a few cartoons) that showed the other side of the coin. I had students compare and contrast the views from the text in the book with the ones I brought them, since they are expected to argue and counter-argue in vestibular, in CAE, and in life. With very young learners, some common topics to work with are family and play. Their families, however, come in all shapes and sizes, not just a father + a mother + a son + a daughter, and when they play, some boys like dolls, some girls love team sports, and some like both.

Honestly, if anyone can safely navigate an English language classroom with those topics never coming up, with a student never mocking the other for liking pink or being curious about the teacher’s significant other (and what if the teacher is LGBTQIA+?), with the teens in their rebellious age not bringing up politics, with students that don’t conform to typical gender roles, etc., they must be interacting with human beings that are quite different from the ones I’ve come across. Yet the bill being voted by the Senate specifically outlaws talking about gender (what they call “ideology of gender”, with no academic or legal definition of what that could be) and sexual orientation in schools, not to mention “party politics”. With the recent addendum to the bill, those topics wouldn’t be able to be mentioned by the teacher, the materials or the curriculum, and it’s not clear by the law how that would be done or what kind of mentions would or would not be accepted.

Mind, on the surface the project looks almost all right, especially if you look at the info graph their supporters put together rather than the bill and justification itself. Wouldn’t it be great if teachers brought different points of view to class and didn’t impose theirs?

Yes, it would, but that’s what Brazilian law already tells us to do! According to the Lei de Diretrizes e Bases (LEI Nº 9.394, DE 20 DE DEZEMBRO DE 1996.), “Art. 3º O ensino será ministrado com base nos seguintes princípios: (…) II – liberdade de aprender, ensinar, pesquisar e divulgar a cultura, o pensamento, a arte e o saber; III – pluralismo de idéias e de concepções pedagógicas; IV – respeito à liberdade e apreço à tolerância.” (Teaching should abide by the following principles: II – freedom to learn, teach, research and publicize culture, thought, art and knowledge; III – pluralism of ideas and pedagogical views; IV – respect to freedom and appreciation of tolerance).

Are there teachers who do impose their views? I bet there are. Not as many as people like to say, but yes, I can believe there are teachers who don’t offer a balanced diet of views and who still regard themselves as the ultimate authority on everything on earth. There are, unfortunately, incompetent teachers, as there are incompetent professionals in all careers. However, when an English language teacher can’t make an accurate sentence in the language, we understand the context that led to that, one of lack of teachers and poor training. If the teacher only focuses on decontextualized grammar or doesn’t foster enough speaking opportunities in the classroom, it’s yet another training problem. Now when a teacher doesn’t know how to balance views in the classroom, it’s no longer a training problem, but a moral and legal one?

Speaking of legal issues, this brings me to the last point: let’s think of Brazilian teachers vis-à-vis American physicians. It’s becoming increasingly expensive to be a medical doctor in the U.S. because of insurance premiums against potential lawsuits. Still, doctors there make very good money and are respected by society, so it’s an attractive profession. In Brazil we don’t usually sue medical staff, even though they deal with much more pressing (actual life and death) issues and we would like to start doing that to teachers… Really? In this political climate? We want to start suing or firing teachers willy-nilly, teachers who notoriously have little money and time to deal with the Justice? How’s that going to help us make the profession more attractive so we get the better trained teachers we so sorely need?

In short, I’m against Escola Sem Partido because:

a) even though the name of the project is brilliant (credit where credit is due!), it’s not really about being against all parties in school, but against political views that are to the left of the political spectrum, as the case of the right-wing teacher turned congresswoman shows, or more progressive. In other words, it favors a representation of the world that is skewed in favor of certain conservatives (the people who currently use the term “ideologia de gênero”);

b) it’s not even been approved and it’s already started a witch-hunt climate (search McCarthyism to see where that got the U.S. — and mind, that was when there was a Cold War going on);

c)  it outlaws important discussions that the school needs to tackle, and many more discussions could be avoided because of fear of potential reprisal;

d) it could close up an important space for LGBTQIA+ students to feel welcome and supported in school;

e)  political indoctrination in the classroom is a teacher training problem, not a legal one;

f)  it could make the teaching profession less attractive with the potential lawsuits, paranoia, and lack of basic freedom.

In other words, to me, Escola Sem Partido toma partido (=takes a side) and it’s one that is in favor of certain ideologies and against teachers. I’ll be no party to that.

WhatsApp Image 2018-11-16 at 10.18.46

Natália Guerreiro has been a teacher since the year 2000 and currently works for the Brazilian Air Force. She holds a CELTA, a B.A. in English & Portuguese from UFRJ, and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Melbourne. She was a member of the  BrELT Team for 3 years and has been elected BRAZ-TESOL’s Second Vice President for the 2019-2020 term.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of her employers and association.

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