Invisibility in school curriculum leads to fragmentation and rejection of black children’s identity

Taken from original text entitled: “A educação infantil e as crianças negras (Early childhood education and black children)”

by Adomair O. Ogunbiyi

The verification of the degree of the ethnic-racial rejection of black children, in a capital city like São Luís, from a state like Maranhão, where the IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística or Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) data show that the black population makes up 77% of the overall population, prompted the making of this article aiming to introduce some nuances in approaching ethnic-racial relations in the school system from an observation experience in a community school.

The Brazilian Constitution in its Chapter VII, Article 227, provides that:

It is the duty of the family, society and the State to ensure children and adolescents, with absolute priority, the right to life, health, food, education, leisure, professional training, culture, dignity, respect, freedom, family and community familiarity, besides protecting them from all the forms of negligence, discrimination, exploitation, violence, cruelty and oppression.

According tothe Brazilian Constitution, Law 9.394/96 (Law of Directives and Bases of National Education of 20.12.1996), guarantees: “obligatory and free basic education, even for those who have not had access to it at the proper age”; “free care in kindergartens and preschools for children aged zero to six years old” and, only recently, after secular battles of various segments of the Movimento Negro (Black Movement) was Law 10.639, of January 9, 2003 established, amending Law 9.394/96, mandating the theme “Afro-Brazilian Culture and History” in the official curriculum of the School Teaching Network.

Nevertheless, we understand that black people psychologically reject their race, experiencing a conflict of identity imposed by the system that insists on to calling them “moreno (brown)”, “pardo (brown or mixed race)”, “crioulo (creole)” (1) “escurinho (dark)”, “de cor (of color)”, etc (2). and has no knowledge of the history of struggle of their ancestors because almost nothing is recorded by official historiography.

Specialists on the ethnic-racial identity of black children, among them Inaldete Andrade Pinheiro that utilizing the “concept of memory as the organ that stores the positive and negative experiences”, points out that the experience with school “[…] with oral expressions – jokes, songs, anecdotes, boos (or negative remarks), etc.” remains in evidence an explicit reference to the past where people have been enslaved. He emphasizes that “the introjection of this past negatively fragments the identity of the black child when he/she wants to recognize him/herself in the past and imagine him/herself in the future,” he concludes, using the expression of Muszkat Malvina (1986). (Andrade, 2000, p. 114. Cited in Munanga, 2000). Reinforcing this more, he asks: “What pride does the black child have when searching for the memory of his people?” and argues:

The absence of positive reference in the life of the child and family, the textbook and other space […] we tear fragments of black children’s identity, which often reaches adulthood with a total rejection of ethnic-racial origin, bringing damages to his/her daily life (Andrade, 2000, p. 115).


Also, preoccupied with the damages to the ethnic-racial identity of black children caused in the school environment, University of São Paulo professor of Anthropology, Kabengele Munanga, reminds us that:

…some of us did not receive the education and training from citizens, teachers and educators the necessary preparation for dealing with the challenge of coping with the problem of diversity and the manifestations of the resulting discrimination placed in the day-to-day of our professional lives(Munanga, 2000, p.7).

Following this same line of criticism about the conception of school, in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society like that of Brazil, Heloisa Lima Pires, focuses on “the complaints of black children that feel embarrassed in front of the mirror from historical degradation warns us that the same mechanism teaches to the non-black a superiority.” (Lima, 2000, p. 95-98).

In São Luís, the situation of inequality of the black population reproduces itself in various fields of human activity, as documented by the glaring data presented by Human Development Index which places Maranhão among the Brazilian states with the lowest rates. The Relatório da Situação da Infância e Adolescência Brasileiras (Status Report for Brazilian Children and Adolescents) denounces the deplorable inequity that persists in keeping black children, mostly in pockets of poverty in the peripheries and urban centers.

In education, despite the existence of Municipal Law No. 3505 of May 7, 1996, in São Luís, which provides for the inclusion in the curriculum of elementary municipal school network 1st degree, major and minor, programmatic content on “The study of the black race in Brazilian socio-cultural and political formation”, only solitary and sporadic initiatives, even though exemplary, are implemented. The propositions of the Movimento Negro are ignored and/or lost offices of the Departments of Education or the Culture Foundation. Afro-Brazilian cultural and religious manifestations are folklorized and are underappreciated. Numerous studies have shown that in teacher and student relations, black children are socialized as if they were invisible, as a human being with a different/specific history, culture and religiosity.

It has been affirmed that this is not “a world in which all have their place,” in the words of Comandante Marcos – Chiapas – (Candau, 2000, p. 47).

This spectrum permeates the state and public schools as well as existent community schools in the municipality of São Luís. Recently visiting the Escola Comunitária Mundo das Crianças (Children’s World Community School), in existence since 1986, in the Bairro Diamante (Diamante neighborhood), two kilometers from the Ministry of Education and about a three from the Municipal Secretary of Education, we observed how 28 black children (of various skin tones) were treated, in a run-down school building, with no electricity, no water, no snacks/meals, bad ventilation, moldy, unhealthy and filled with dust and cobwebs – from a lack of cleaning and maintenance. The community school had a subsidy from the state or the municipality.

The four teachers in this school were laypersons, ie, not trained in pedagogy. Only one is attending teaching training courses and the rest didn’t even finish high school. Three of them are voluntary – receive nothing for the work they perform daily. The only one who receives a salary, the daughter of the school principal, is a state employee, just like the school guard.

The school attends to the 28 children that are distributed between the 1st, 2nd and 3rd periods, and 1st and 3rd grade; children whose mothers were unable to enroll them in the municipal network of schools.

Interviewing some teachers about the teaching material they showed us books – the few that existed – bare, publication date unknown, which denoted the lagging and/or outdated didactics.

Asked if there was any kind of supervision or pedagogical coordination they responded that there was none. As for the ethnic-racial outline,they responded that they didn’t deal with the issue because they were not prepared. And they sometimes had to deal with some situations in which a student cursed another that was more “moreno (darker skinned)”. They claimed they weren’t familiar with Law 10.639/03.

In contact with a seven-year old student, we asked her about what she knew about Africa and she replied that she knew nothing. We asked if she had a black idol, hero or heroine and she replied that she was Christian, therefore her religion didn’t allow that she understand this type of symbolism. Insisting, we ask what color she was and she responded that she was white. The child was black.

The Brazilian educational system being:

[…] the expression that we have the broadest sense, the greatest degree of comprehensiveness because it intermingles with society itself. Ultimately, it is society that educates through all social agents: personal, family, informal groups, schools, churches, clubs, businesses, associations, etc. (Piletti, 1999, p.10)

On the one hand, Brazilian society being elitist, sexist and racist, and having a curriculum that does not address the true history of blacks, from their African origins to the fact that it was the second worker in Brazil, the first were the people of the forest (Indians), and that it should be a motive of pride becomes a source of shame because the historiography proceeds to educate that, in general, blacks were submitted to slavery, and almost nothing is revealed about the great black resistance and the numerous revolts against slavery. On the other hand, it does not portray the history of black heroines and heroes who fought to the death for the freedom of their people.

A municipal government program, with respect to black people, must respond to the great necessities of this segment in terms of public policies that contribute to the elimination of inequalities that affects them. Given the context of inequality found in education with respect to blacks, the Government of the City should be preoccupied with formulating an educational policy according to the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Convention on Action against Discrimination in Education, of which Brazil is a signatory and with the Parecer (Opinion) No. 003/2004, of the National Council of Education, in relation to the National Curriculum Guidelines for the Education of Racial-Ethnic Relations and the Teaching of Afro-Brazilian and African History, formulated by Law No. 10.639, through the Department of Education, aiming to eradicate prejudice and racial discrimination against blacks in the official and private school network of teaching.

1)      In 19th century Brazil, the term crioulo referred to slaves that had been born in Brazil, distinguishing them from those born in Africa. In the 20thcentury, crioulo referred to dark-skinned descendants of Africans, black or mulato and could be considered an offensive term

2) For a discussion on Brazilian color and racial classification/terminology, see this article

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BRASIL. Ministério da Educação. Diretrizes Curriculares Nacionais para a Educação das relações Étnico-Raciais e para o Ensino de História e Cultura Afro-Brasileira e Africana. Brasília, DF, 2004.

CANDAU, Vera Maria (org.). Reinventar a escola.  Petrópolis: Vozes, 2000, p. 47.

CARVALHO, Urivani Rodrigues. Negritude do Maranhão. Revista Eparrei, Santos, nº 6, p.16-18, 1º Semestre, dez.2004.

CAVALLEIRO, Eliane. (Org). Racismo e anti-racismo na educação. São Paulo: Summus, 2001.

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______. O pensamento do MNU – Movimento Negro Unificado. In. SILVA, Petronilha Beatriz Gonçalves e. (org.). O pensamento Negro em Educação no Brasil: Expressões do Movimento Negro.  São Carlos: UFSCar, 1997. p.41-59.

MACLAREN, Peter. Multiculturalismo Crítico. São Paulo: Cortez, 1997.

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______. Programa de Ação – Estatuto. Salvador: MNU,1990

MUNANGA, Kabengele.  O anti-racismo no Brasil. In.______. (Org.)  Estratégias e Políticas de Combate à Discriminação Racial . São Paulo: EDUSP, 1996. p.79-94.

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