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Academic Freedom Under Attack in Brazil

All in the name of objectivity in the classroom.

|||Gloda/Dreamstime.comGloda/Dreamstime.comOn the night Jair Messias Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil, the incoming state deputy of Santa Catarina, Ana Caroline Campagnolo, urged students to use an anonymous phone line to report "indoctrinating" professors—i.e., those expressing discontent with Bolsonaro's victory. Her push sparked memories of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, which policed education by approving school curriculums and by encouraging students to snitch on peers and professors.

But Campagnolo's inspiration was more recent: She was building on the Escola Sem Partido ("School Without Political Party") movement, which says it aims to promote objectivity in the classroom. While trying to teach objectively is certainly a sound principle, Campagnolo's effort shows how such a crusade, especially when codified into law, can impede free speech and academic freedom.

The School Without Political Party initiative was founded in 2004 and gained momentum in 2014, when corruption scandals and poor economic performance turned public opinion against the ruling Workers Party. Bolsonaro's right-wing Social Liberal Party started embracing the initiative as its own. By January 2018, 150 bills inspired by the movement had been proposed to Brazil's National Congress and state legislative houses.

Now the Chamber of Deputies' Special Commission is planning to vote on six more bills that were jointly proposed in February of 2014. (It's not clear when that vote will actually happen; it has been postponed six times this month alone.) The legislation targets both public and private schools, from preschool through the university level. It has two main goals. First, it aims to enforce the American Convention on Human Rights' Article 12, IV, which states that "parents or guardians, as the case may be, have the right to provide for the religious and moral education of their children or wards that is in accord with their own convictions." Second, it states that "gender ideology" and "sexual orientation" should not be included in the school curriculum. Professors are also prohibited from using "subliminal techniques to indoctrinate students."

And how should professors should present information on topics related to religion, sexuality, and politics? The bills are vague on that count, and that vagueness will chill a wide range of speech.

One bill proposes the insertion of a poster in every classroom from preschool through high school with a list of six duties of teachers and professors. The list includes mandates such as "the teacher shall not take advantage of their student audience to promote their own interests, opinions, or ideological religious, moral or political or partisan preferences or conceptions"; the point of the poster is to inform students about their rights. In practice, even that inoffensive-sounding rule could become a tool for repression. Ideological bias in the classroom is subject to interpretation, and the party in power is more likely to identify and crack down on bias on the part of its opponents. (Campagnolo, the very person who encouraged snitches to report professors for speaking against Bolsonaro, found herself called out for wearing Bolsonaro's campaign t-shirt during one of her classes prior to the election.)

Policy makers should respect freedom of speech, whether the topic is sexuality or issues of public policy; and the School Without Political Party movement should advance its ideas from the bottom up, without legislative action. That way, change would depend on public opinion rather than political coercion, and Brazil would avoid laws that codify censorship and only further the politicization of academia.

Photo Credit: Gloda/Dreamstime.com

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  • Longtobefree||

    Brazil?
    At last Reason has found a place I care less about than California.
    Put them all up against the wall.

  • Bubba Jones||

    No. We should let them all immigrate.

  • Eddy||

    "it aims to enforce the American Convention on Human Rights' Article 12, IV, which states that "parents or guardians, as the case may be, have the right to provide for the religious and moral education of their children or wards that is in accord with their own convictions.""

    That's a very good idea, but of course the devil is in the details. Like U. S. bills with attractive titles but not-so-attractive details.

  • Eddy||

    I would be interested to know what kind of hijinks academic leftists have been up to in Brazil to provoke such a reaction.

  • Jerryskids||

    Academic freedom under attack in Brazil? Does Brazil have academic freedom, do they even aspire to academic freedom? Free speech is under attack in China, freedom of the press is under attack in Russia, the freedom to peacefully assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances is under attack in North Korea, am I supposed to be surprised or outraged that other countries and other cultures don't necessarily subscribe to the American ideals of basic human rights? Most of Latin America had their ideas about government and society forced on them by Spain and I don't know that the Portuguese were much different than the Spaniards but they're nothing like the English. There's no Magna Carta, no Common Law tradition, no sovereignty of the individual, but there's plenty of vestiges of absolute monarchy. The peasants are accustomed to knowing their place.

  • John||

    Taxpayers are not required to fund anyone's point of view. And taxpayers should be free to fund whatever point of view they prefer at the expense of all others.

    Maybe as a practical matter this reduces the quality of Brazilian universities and is a bad idea. But as long as these professors are free to go to work for private colleges who will have them, this is not an attack on anyone's freedom.

  • Ben of Houston||

    I don't know if I completely agree. No restrictions at all are definitely an attack on the freedom of the students. We've all seen professors with a worldview that was "agree with my political opinions or fail". It's one thing on the college level. However, those same actions can be downright harmful at the elementary school.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    How can I judge any of this before I know who the good guys and bad guys are?

  • Pastor Arthur M. Kirkland||

    Bolsonaro is the Mussolini to Drumpf's Hitler. Naturally, he's the only person south of the border whom the white power structure in America likes.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    I know what you mean. After immigrants with White skin from Brazil first settled in New Amsterdam, they couldn't justify keeping the QUAKERS out. Those guys won't uncover their head to show respect for the dean of a university.

    In related news, about 2 decades after choosing Senator Joe Lieberman to run for vice president, the Democrats want to remove the regulation against wearing head coverings on Capital Hill.

  • Uncle Adolf's Gas and Grill||

    Ain't it great? See you in the camps!

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Her push sparked memories of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, which policed education by approving school curriculums and by encouraging students to snitch on peers and professors.

    Yes, this is worrisome. I wonder what would happen today if an American professor said he was upset that Lincoln had won the 1860 election.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    First, it aims to enforce the American Convention on Human Rights' Article 12, IV, which states that "parents or guardians, as the case may be, have the right to provide for the religious and moral education of their children or wards that is in accord with their own convictions." Second, it states that "gender ideology" and "sexual orientation" should not be included in the school curriculum. Professors are also prohibited from using "subliminal techniques to indoctrinate students."

    Wait! Arvin Vohra was referring to a clause in an international Convention on Human Rights when he pointed out that American schools teach the permissibly of homosexuality? Was he pandering to immigrant voters?

  • Mr. JD||

    Government schools can't solve these problems well. There is an inherent contradiction.

  • Vulgar Madman||

    "Orange man bad! South American division.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    Policy makers should respect freedom of speech, whether the topic is sexuality or issues of public policy

    It is utterly absurd for Reason writers to confuse the professional duties of teachers with their freedom of speech. Teachers have no free speech rights whatsoever to use their paid working hours to promote their private political views. None. Zero.

    And how should professors should present information on topics related to religion, sexuality, and politics?

    In exactly the way that the curriculum and their employer tells them to. It's questionable whether any of those topics are suitable for teaching at public schools and universities to begin with.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    In the context of history, it's pretry damn difficult to avoid religion and not introduce a great deal of confusion.

    Would you teach that the Crusades featured medieval knights travelling to the Middle East to fight for unknown reasons, possibly oil?

    Would you explain that all those Renaissance paintings of a woman with a baby were just representing motherhood? And when paintings were actually titled "Madonna and Child," it might have simply foreshadowed an 80s pop star?

    It's possible to cover topics such as religion without endorsing a particular one, or even espousing religion at all. To say it's not might as well be arguing that talking about how the invention of the long bow changed warfare means promoting archery as an activity.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Academic Freedom is a buzzword that all too often means the freedom of an Academic to teach whatever claptrap they like, and to hell with what they were hired to teach.

    The issue is, and always will be, who decides what is to be taught? The State? The Faculty, either severally or collectively? The school administration? The customers (students, parents, whoever is paying)?

    A big problem with this whole debate is that, at least as long as I can remember, the attitude taught in America has been that in the Dayton Monkey Trial, the defendant, Scopes, was in the right.

    Bullshit.

    He had been hired to teach a specific curriculum. He taught something else. He had no more 'right' to do that than a house painter has to ignore your orders and pain your house whatever color he damn pleases.

    H. L. Mencken, writing at the time and after, made it perfectly clear that nobody on Scopes' defense team thought for one fat instant that they could get any verdict other than 'Guilty'. Scopes was as guilty as a cat in an aquarium. He was correctly found guilty, and his appeals failed. The point of the exercise was to hold Tennessee up to ridicule . Tennessee had an absolute right to determine what was taught in public schools and the world has an absolute right to make fun of them for it.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Cntd.

    I would take the idea of academic freedom far more seriously if academics did not have a long history of falling hook, line, sinker, rod, reel, and waders for the most appalling tripe. Academics and teachers in America teach, for the most part, a stew of Progressive Left piffle, while rigorously enforcing the exact opposite of Freedom on anyone who dares disagree with them.

    If the teachers in Brazil have been doing the same, it s beyond time that somebody told them, in no uncertain terms, to knock it off. Progressivism is a deranged fantasy that, all too often, leads to mass graves.

  • Microaggressor||

    Gender Theory was specifically mentioned. This is a religious creed, not evidence-based knowledge essential to a child's education. This is the particular creed that got a feminist banned from Twitter for saying "Men aren't women". By neglecting to examine this, Reason ends up taking the side of science deniers who wish to use their position of educational authority to spread their beliefs to the malleable youth. Funny or sad?

  • Microaggressor||

    Tim Pool on the subject. Very interesting.

  • anosognosic||

    While I'm also leery of the wording of this bill, and think it won't be particularly effective, the problem of left-wing indoctrination in Brazilian schools is not only real, it's extreme. I posted about this recently, with some examples, including what happened to Campagnolo to motivate her campaign, here: https://tinyurl.com/y85otq5q

  • anosognosic||

    From the post linked above, the story of Ana Caroline Campagnolo's clashes with a professor in her graduate program:

    the professor sent her multiple emails regarding private posts on her facebook (forwarded by fellow students) with antifeminist content, telling her that her views were not compatible with the program and urging her to "reconsider" her position; ana, concerned about her standing in the program, eventually deleted the posts
    the professor went on a rant directed at ana during class (of which there is audio, and an abridged version in the linked video), saying that "we in this program" believe in feminism and communism, suggesting that ana find another university more ideologically compatible with her views; the other students joined in, one saying ana's conservative logic is "oppressive", a statement endorsed by the professor

  • anosognosic||

    (continued)

    ana (who is a christian) was assigned a report on a book about how the christian church has been misogynistic from its roots (an assignment which did not allow for a critical approach to the book's claims)
    the professor was ana's thesis adviser because ana was interested in the history of feminism; the professor, supposing the conclusion would be anti-feminist, insisted she commit to a feminist conclusion before approving the topic; the professor eventually dropped ana as an advisee, effectively closing this avenue of research for ana, specifically citing as the reason, in an official document to the university, videos ana posted on social media.
    ana eventually sued the professor, who, in her defense documents, called ana "racist, homophobic, sexist and prejudiced." the students and relevant union stood by the professor.

  • anosognosic||

    (public university, btw)

  • JosephbubuBush||

    The spirit of academism lives in every student. You have definitely heard about this phenomenon when a student finds what he has been looking for. I recently stumbled upon a site papersbattle.com that helps write essays. It's a pity. I finished school a long time ago and I work in the field of education.

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