The high school students’ struggle

Brasil Observer - Jul 14 2016
Rio de Janeiro - Estudantes secundaristas que ocupam o C.E. Amaro Cavalcanti, manifestam contra cortes na educação e melhoria na qualidade de ensino (Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil)
High school students protest in Rio de Janeiro (Photo: Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil)

(Leia em Português)


From the north to south of Brazil, students mobilize to defend the public school, and add other social demands


By Wagner de Alcântara Aragão

Violeta Parra and Mercedes Sosa, who eternalized the song “Me gustan los estudiantes” in homage and reverence to the revolutionary impetus of the youth, should be proud of Brazilian high school students. Since the end of last year, when students from São Paulo occupied several public schools to prevent their closure, similar demonstrations have occurred in several regions of Brazil. The defence of public education is the main flag, but it adds up to battle for the rights of historically oppressed groups – blacks, indigenous, women and LGBT community, for example.

Adolescents and young people have been engaging colleagues, family, social movements, artists and intellectuals, among other supporters. In the occupations, they provide repairs and cleaning, redistribute underutilized teaching materials, conduct discussions about their claims and promote cultural events. In a school in Rio de Janeiro, for example, the students were surprised last May with the visit and a free concert of Marisa Monte and Leoni. In São Paulo, a cultural event in an occupied school last year had the participation of the singers Pitty and Paulo Miklos.

The students care with the school spaces caught the attention of Marisa Monte. “They are young students fighting for education and taking care with love of what is public. In an organized way, each one doing their part and setting an example for this country,” she wrote on her Facebook page. Pitty was delighted with the girls’ role in the demonstrations. “I was very happy to see the girls on the front line, side by side with the boys, facing the brutality of the state. This generation is different,” she said.



For the teacher and master in Sociology Douglas Oliveira, “the rise of the students is among the most interesting phenomenon of the current Brazilian political scene,” he wrote in an article published on the website Outras Palavras. “In addition to raising a cause of strong social appeal – a passionate defence of public school – and innovative tactics, it stands out for having an organizational character marked by horizontality and lack of individual leaders.” For the teacher, the movement broke free of partisan polarization that has dominated the Brazilian political scene.

The strength demonstrated by the high school students, however, begins to generate heavy reactions from more conservative political groups – with reactions that try to bring the movement to the partisan polarization. Government authorities from the states where the occupations have taken place often give statements that seek to label the students as puppets of the unions, social movements and leftist political parties. Not to mention the police repression – in São Paulo, the truculence of the Military Police, with the consent of state authorities, was scaring.

Repression, however, is not just from the police. There are groups that come to infiltrate the demonstrations in order to promote actions that demoralize the movement. The authorities often present to the press images of graffiti and vandalism in schools occupied by students, with the goal of making them seem as “troublemakers”.



Professor Douglas Oliveira notes some changes within the movement since its beginning. “The mobilizations now appear to be more mature and represent much more an offensive by adolescents: not only deny this school, they also discuss the future. The concern is not limited to just occupy and resist, but fundamentally to strengthen the basic work and root struggles in school every day,” wrote the professor.

The Brazilian Union of Secondary Students (UBEs) calls the mobilization spreading through the country as “Secondary Spring”. According to the entity, occupations and other protests that have intensified since 2015 have similarities with the movement of Chilean students ten years ago. In 2006, Chile experienced the largest wave of protests since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, perpetrated by local high school students.

Says UBEs in a statement: “protest methods [from Chile] – such as the occupation of schools by the students themselves organized in cleaning, education, safety and food committees, for example – were played in Brazil, in its own way from 2015 (…) In Brazil, the movement claims characteristics of greater horizontality, without indicating spokespersons and representatives, avoiding the connection with political parties”.



A show that high school students have increasingly become important actors in the national political scene occurred in mid-June, when a group of students who participated in occupations of schools in Ceará, Espírito Santo, Goiás, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo were in Brasilia, at the invitation of the National Campaign for the Right to Education, to take their claims to Congress.

One of those young students, Luiz Felipe Costa, 19 years old, sums up the dissatisfaction of students with current school model – and, more than that, the willingness to change this reality. “On average, we find that 90% of public schools are big prison models with two, three gates to get to the classroom. This environment does not support us. The school today, unfortunately, does not include students. The occupations make it clear that what we want a school that discusses gender, a more plural school. And where the care of the school environment is important.”



There are mobilizations records in all five Brazilian regions (North, Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and South). Check out the data collected by Brasil Observer:



From late May to mid-June, at least two state schools – one in Marapanim and another in Maraba – were occupied by high school students to protest about the lack of teachers, meals, transportation and infrastructure.



At the end of April this year, high school students began occupying state schools in support of teachers on strike (who claim wage increase promised for last January) and seeking reforms of teaching units. As at the time of writing, the movement continued at least 59 schools.



Between December and February, state schools were occupied against the closure of classes, shifts and even teaching units, a process that has been underway since 2015. Last February, by decision of the Court of Justice, the State Government had to reopen classes.



In January, students occupied the State School Ricardo Souza Cruz, in Belo Horizonte, against the militarization of the teaching unit. The State Department of Education overturned the decision.



From December to February, 28 state schools were occupied against the project of the state government that transfers schools administration to private institutions. The outsourcing project has been delayed, but is maintained – and new occupations may recur.



Since May 23, high school students occupy at least 20 schools against the government project to implement a public-private partnership in the management of teaching units. Until the time of writing, the occupations were underway.



After the occupations at the end of 2015, the school year of 2016 began with mobilizations of students of technical schools. The poor quality and in many cases, lack of meals, as well as the claims to investigate allegations of corruption in the procurement of food for schools, motivated the action of high school students. In May, the building of the Legislative Assembly of São Paulo was occupied by students.



A state school in the city of Maringa was occupied for two weeks in late May against the poor quality of meals and claiming investigation of allegations of corruption in public education in the state. On the page of the secondary school on Facebook, students say the move is being reorganized and may be resumed.



The occupation began in May and advanced in June by 180 state schools. In addition to requiring transfer funds to schools that were delayed, the high school students occupied the Legislative Assembly of the State against law project that would restrict discussions as gender issues, sexuality and politics in schools.