Note from BW of Brazil: For some time I have been of the opinion that the situation of black people on a global level cannot change until we collectively change our own perceptions of ourselves. And along with television and the mainstream media in general, the education system is one of the most oppressive mechanisms of how we develop images of ourselves. As such, black scholars have long argued that black people are vastly under-represented in school textbooks and when they are presented, they continue to be presented in a manner in which they are shown as inferior to persons of European descent. We saw an example of this last June when a mother he capital city of the state of Pernambuco denounced racist images she saw in her 3-year old son’s school textbook.
Images may seen to be something subtle, but what is the effect when these often subtle but sometimes blatant images are replayed again and again in the minds of young, impressionable black children? It is a topic that cannot be discussed too much. In past material, we’ve analyzed the works of author Monteiro Lobato, whose books have been deemed extremely racist in their depictions of black characters, and today and in upcoming material, we will consider other aspects of Brazil’s education system with the recent recognition of the 15th year anniversary of the passing of Law 10.639, which makes the teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian History and Culture mandatory in Brazilian schools.
How many of our children know about the 17 black Brazilian women who fought against the institution of slavery? Or the true story of the greatest quilombo (maroon society) established by fugitive slaves in history? Or the heroic role of black people in one of Brazil’s bloodiest wars? How black girls can dream of being scientists knowing that there are prominent black women making contributions in the world of the sciences? We must ask ourselves, what differences would be made in the mind of the black child knew of black geniuses of humanity in technology and innovation or that that one of the oldest civilizations studied by the Western world, the Egyptian, was, in fact, black? I believe it would make an enormous difference, which is the very reason these facts are not discussed in the textbooks. In order to maintain a people in a position of subservience, they must continue to see themselves presented in this manner. Which is one of the reasons why the struggle over the education system is so important in the first place.
The representation of the black in didactic material
By Mírian Garrido
Every year we spend some time thinking about what we learn. When I was younger, this period coincided with the end of the school year. I would come home from school with my T-shirt signed by friends and put away my textbooks. I made plans on how, the following year, I would dedicate myself even more, while continuing to do the extracurricular activities that I loved so much. The year began, and my father spent significant money on textbooks – the sacrifice of a metal worker who believed in education as a guarantee of a better future – in a cycle that lasted for 12 years, that is, elementary and middle school.
At the time, I didn’t bother evaluating the textbook itself, if it was used with excellence, that is, used as support, critiqued by the teachers and complemented by them. Nor did I reflect on its impact on me, if what I read and tried to absorb was able to influence my view of myself, my family and the society in which I lived. I thought of the “blue” notes and the holidays to be enjoyed to exhaustion.
The perspective changes when I see myself, already with a master’s degree, looking for textbooks to use as a source of research. I realized how much this object plays a central role in the school environment, echoes in the attention of the media, but it is ephemeral. I would be even more surprised when I went deeper into the research, and I would discover, then, that the textbook – the one that circulates hand in hand among young Brazilians – has a huge variable of elements that give it shape.
It was then that, as a researcher in the area of History, I tried to understand what the representations of black people in textbooks were. The undertaking seemed bound to reinforce the absence of black people in the didactic literature or, even worse, the confirmation that all kinds of stereotypes were taught to the readers of these works. Joel Rufino dos Santos, a historian and intellectual defender of black causes, had already – in the 1980s – condemned textbooks and summoned teachers to get rid of such objects.
Even so, the attempt had legitimacy, after all Brazil became the biggest buyer of textbooks in the world, and we Brazilians and financiers of this purchasing policy, need to know the products purchased. We must know this commodity, not only because of the economic character, but, ultimately, because it will also be the instruments that will teach children and adolescents “what a society is.”
How it would be impossible to account for “the whole story,” I made my first analysis: I chose to study how post-abolition is presented to readers of the textbooks. The justification was simple. It was known that the black element occupied significant space in the books as enslaved – in a painful perspective of merchandise that produces other merchandise. But knowing the history of those who fought for their survival, against the past of enslavement and a state that would keep their rights away from them, confers, in my opinion, a much greater positive feeling of belonging.
The demand for an education that values the culture and history of the different constituent elements of Brazilian society has emerged strongly in the guidelines of contemporary social movements. This action encouraged the approval of Law 10.639/2003, making it an instrument of appreciation of African and Afro-Brazilian History and Culture. If the idea “we are what we remember” is true, how can we expect Afro-descendant students to want to feel part of a given culture and history as inferior?
An element that would have been born of enslavement, and which would have – at most – contributed only with words in the popular vocabulary and typical foods?
Afro-Brazilians deserve to learn that they come from a continent whose wealth and diversity have built Empires; Nations; Confederations; places where autonomy was not taken completely or even peacefully. They must learn that they are descended from men and women kidnapped and brought to a new place, but who have been able to articulate, bond, resist and negotiate where possible. I always say: “stop using the word contribute, they did not contribute, they formed the country,” and I emphasize “everyone gains from these contents, black and non-black students learn the diversity that constitutes history.”
Returning to the course of research, the more I read the bibliography about textbooks – widely studied academically in Brazil – the more I noted that content is “the end of the process”. Analyzing the book only by text, image, activity (among many other elements) was to scratch the surface of an even larger object.
The Programa Nacional do Livro Didático (National Program of the Didactic Book), is a program that evaluates and buys the didactic books that will be distributed throughout the national territory. And as I entered this dimension, I began to think of the PNLD Edict of Convocation as the privileged space to observe how the State is able to incite the renewal of didactic content, since there are “the rules of the game”. Whatever element it deems to be of primary importance for evaluation, the edict must make it clear, if the contrary can be legally discredited by publishers.
And, after all, what are the representations of textbooks for post-abolition? Did the Edict of Convocation of the National Didactic Book Program assist in the introduction of non-traditional content? Should textbooks still be discarded, as intellectuals of the 1980s used to say? The questions are numerous, the answers will be wide open, mainly because my goal is to propose reflections and not answer them in detail. I assure you that the textbooks have changed a lot after the PNLD assessments started, and this is reflected, in particular, in elementary school because it has been the target of more evaluations. Undeniably, content not consecrated in the didactic literature, is progressively incorporated, although with limitations – let’s not fool ourselves, there is still much to be done. I also argue that it should not be discarded, criticized, but understood in the variety of forces that give it shape.
In this way, realize how complex much the object “textbook” is, more so, that in education there is no space for amateurs. I say this because it is a growing movement that insists on criminalizing didactic content and teaching practices, without caring to understand how complex the process that shapes textbooks is, as well as the multiplicity that influences the training of education professionals – a subject that I leave, to specialists. This movement is possibly not sensitive to the contents of Afro-Brazilian culture and history, for example, regarding the teaching of religious manifestations, which are very important for understanding the worldviews in different societies, but seen by them as “doctrinaire”.
We come to another end of the school year and the arrival of the 20th of November – Black Consciousness Day, also a demand of the movimento negro (black movement) that proposes the reflection on how our society deals with the racial issues. A moment, therefore, of reflection on our actions throughout the year, what we learn and what we teach.
I hope that in this effort the concern for the importance of education, a target of social desires, but also of public policies, whether directed to textbooks or the positive representations of Afro-Brazilian people – issues that are neither distant, nor disconnected.
A Ph.D in History from the Universidade Estadual Paulista, “Júlio de Mesquita Filho”, Assis campus, the author of the text has been dedicated to the themes of didactic books, affirmative policies, black movement (Brazil/United States), Afro-descendants, biographies and independence of Mozambique. Her researches received financial support from the Foundation for Research Support of the State of São Paulo (FAPESP), including internship abroad (University of Pittsburgh) and field work (Maputo/ Mozambique).