Ricardo Vélez-Rodriguez, Brazil's future Education Minister

Piece by piece, President-elect Jair Bolsonaro is putting together the jigsaw of his new cabinet, announcing each new pick on his personal Twitter account. The most recent addition came on Thursday, while Mr. Bolsonaro was attending the wedding of his future Chief of Staff, Onyx Lorenzoni. During the reception, the president-elect tweeted that he had made his pick for Education Minister: Ricardo Vélez-Rodriguez, a Colombian-born philosopher who is a professor emeritus at an elite military school.

Mr. Bolsonaro very nearly picked a widely-renowned name for the job, Mozart Ramos, the former dean of the Federal University of Pernambuco. Mr. Ramos is respected by academia and private players in the education business. However, as in many cases involving Mr. Bolsonaro, it was too good to be true. Mr. Ramos was vetoed by the Evangelical Caucus in Congress and for a simple reason: he is a moderate.

Mr. Ramos is against the “Schools without Political Parties” initiative, which preaches imposing several limitations on teachers in the classroom against the perceived “leftist indoctrination” in Brazilian education. The project is a pillar of the right-wing agenda and promotes forbidding teachers from mentioning “gender ideology,” and stating that they can’t go against the moral and religious convictions of students’ parents. Critics say it would bring censorship and intimidation to schools.

To avoid annoying the evangelicals, Mr. Bolsonaro chose Mr. Vélez-Rodriguez instead. While not directly endorsed by evangelical leaders in Brazil’s mainstream politics, the Colombian professor will not spark the same reactions Mr. Ramos did. A self-declared “anti-Marxist,” Mr. Vélez-Rodriguez preaches the “re-foundation” of the ministry he will head, to end a structure which “dismantles traditional values of our society […] of family, religion, and patriotism.” He was endorsed by far-right guru Olavo de Carvalho and is professor emeritus at an elite military school.

In a November 7 blog post, he wrote that Brazilians have become “hostages of an education system that indoctrinates students into scientism and Marxism.” On another post, he said Brazil “should resist politically correct globalism, which has adopted the crazy notion of ‘gender education.'” He continues: “This nonsense must end.” The solution to which, also according to Mr. Vélez-Rodriguez’s writings, is passing the Schools without Political Parties initiative.

Understanding Schools without Political Parties

Lawyer Miguel Nagib was outraged in September 2003 after his daughter told him her history teacher in school compared Che Guevara to Saint Francis as examples of people who abandoned everything in the name of their beliefs. The former, in the name of his politics. The latter, in the name of his religious beliefs. “People want to turn kids into believing that Che Guevara was a saint,” said Mr. Nagib. It was the spark that created the Schools without Political Parties initiative.

He wrote an open letter to the teacher, printed out 300 copies and distributed them at the gates of the school (coincidentally, the school was Centro Educational Sigma, the upper-middle-class high school in central Brasília where I studied for four years). “The school’s principal called me and said I had gotten it all wrong. People held parades in support of the teacher, but no parent called me,” Mr. Nagib recently remembered. Due to the lack of support for his cause, he decided to create the Schools without Political Parties association the following year.

The core of the initiative is the belief that kids are being politically indoctrinated by leftist teachers, and that “parents are being usurped of their right to teach moral and religious values to their children.” One such example already mentioned by Mr. Nagib is a teacher who told students that “watching porn and masturbating were part of sexuality.”

The movement was co-opted by Brazil’s most conservative sectors and evolved into mainstream right-wing politics. Since 2014, there is a bill in Congress establishing the rules of Schools without Political Parties as guidelines for educational policies. The bill establishes rules of conduct for teachers (which should be posted in all classrooms), prohibiting them from speaking about gender and sexuality. It also creates hotlines for students and parents to denounce teachers who “manipulate teens and kids into adhering a political cause.”

The Supreme Court has scheduled a trial on the constitutionality of the Schools without Political Parties initiative for November 28. Court precedents suggest it is likely to be vetoed. Justice Luís Roberto Barroso, for instance, believes that under the cloak of “neutrality” hides an intolerance for different points of view.

In a 2016 op-ed, political scientist Daniel Cara was more blunt, saying that instead of Schools without Political Parties, the program would create “schools without education.”

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PowerNov 23, 2018

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BY Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist with experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. His work has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets.