Brazil, End Illiteracy or Change Your Flag!

     Brazil, 
End Illiteracy or Change Your Flag!

    Some
    say that it is inefficient to spend money on literacy
    programs for adults who would have little to offer the
    national economy. First, the 20 million people learning
    to read and write would become a considerable workforce.
    Second, it may even be inefficient, but it is decent.
    by: Cristovam
    Buarque

     

    When
    our flag was created in 1889, at least 70 percent of Brazilian adults
    were illiterate. Even so, the leaders of the new republic chose a flag
    that would only be understood by 30 percent of the population, those
    who knew how to read Auguste Comte’s words "Order and Progress"
    on it. The remaining 70 percent did not matter to the leaders. By law,
    the flag of 30 percent of the population became the flag of all Brazilians,
    including those who did not know how to recognize it completely.

    One
    hundred years later, the percentage has diminished but there has been
    an increase in the absolute number of Brazilians impeded from completely
    recognizing their flag. In the Brazil of today, 20 million Brazilians
    do not know their flag because they are unable to read the slogan written
    upon it.

    One
    year before the creation of the new flag and the new Republic, Brazil
    was still experiencing the shame of being a slave-ocratic country. One
    hundred thirteen years later, the process of abolition has still not
    been completed, and neither has the republic.

    The
    social inequality, especially in education and health, is shameful,
    incompatible with a republic. As is, for example, the fact that Brazil
    spends, as a lifetime average, R$ 240 thousand (US$ 81 thousand) on
    the education of a person of the middle or upper class, while spending
    only R$ 3,200 (US$ 1081) on a poor person since a rich person spends
    an average of 20 years in school while the average poor Brazilian stays
    only four.

    In
    none of the modern monarchies is there such a large differentiation
    between the poor and the aristocracy. Brazil has the most aristocratic
    republic of the modern world, and its flag is an example of this. Even
    today, the Republic has a flag that is not recognized by 15 to 20 percent
    of its adult population.

    To
    correct that absurdity, we could change the flag, removing the letters
    so that the illiterate could recognize merely the stars. After all,
    instead of changing the reality, the Brazilian elite customarily only
    pretend to solve the problems of the poor.

    Thus
    it was with the prohibition, for appearance sake, of the trafficking
    in slaves with the Lei do Ventre Livre (Law of the Free Womb)
    and the Lei do Sexagenário (Law of the Sixty-Year-Old),
    which emancipated babies born of slaves and slaves over the age of sixty-five,
    respectively. Thus it was with the false aristocratic republic, with
    the economic growth without income distribution, with the dictatorship
    in the name of liberty, and with the new democracy without any sort
    of social reform, the latter continuing to the present, 18 years later.

    Instead
    of changing the flag to pretend that it is everyone’s, we must adopt
    the banner of literacy for all Brazilians. And put an end to the mere
    continuation of programs that emancipate only some from the slavery
    of illiteracy, programs that would take decades to solve the problem.
    Rather, we should take concrete actions to make all Brazil literate
    in four years.

    As
    is usual when services to poor people are radicalized, many are raising
    doubts about the feasibility of this objective. Some say that it is
    inefficient to spend money on literacy programs for adults who would
    have little to offer the national economy. In the first place, the 20
    million people learning to read and write would become a considerable
    workforce. Therefore, economy. In the second place, perhaps it may even
    be inefficient, but it is decent. And decency should take precedence
    over efficiency.

    Others
    say that it is technically impossible, without perceiving the absurdity
    of thinking one hundred million literate Brazilians could not succeed
    in teaching the other twenty million to read. If each of the three million
    university students would dedicate the time of an additional class for
    the length of the course, six hours per week for a semester, 20 million
    adults could be taught to read and write in a single year.

    As
    a country that produces R$ 1.321 trillion (US$ 446 billion) per year,
    exports R$ 208 billion (US$ 69.6 billion) and spends R$ 13.7 billion
    (US$ 4.62 billion) upon advertising so that Brazilians will be familiar
    with the goods and services produced by their economy, couldn’t Brazil
    reserve, at the maximum, R$ 250 thousand (US$ 84,459) annually so that
    its compatriots could recognize the flag of Brazil? This would be the
    amount it would take, not counting any volunteers in the literacy campaign.

    But
    it is not enough to teach adults to read and write. It is necessary
    to turn off the faucet producing new illiterate Brazilians each year.
    This is the case of the children without schools who do not learn to
    read and who, consequently, will not continue their studies.

    Brazil
    has the resources. It has a President of the Republic who has made a
    commitment to the education of the Brazilian people at a time in which
    all perceive the necessity of overcoming the 115 years of an incomplete
    abolition and of an aristocratic republic that never invested in the
    education of its poor people.

    It
    is possible. And the time is now.

    As
    this is being written, the Biennial of the Book is underway in Rio de
    Janeiro. This is one of the major cultural events of the planet; yet
    millions of Brazilians are excluded from the beauty and richness offered
    by this cultural fair. Excluded even from the right of recognizing the
    National Flag flying. Besides displaying and selling books, the Biennial
    could have a goal as its banner: within four years, no Brazilian will
    be excluded from the right to enjoy the Biennial of 2007. The slogan
    would be: "Let all Brazilians be capable of knowing the Brazilian
    flag."

    Our
    banner is to make our flag belong to everyone.

     

    Cristovam
    Buarque (cristovambuarque@uol.com)
    is the Brazilian Minister of Education.

    Translated
    by Linda Jerome (LinJerome@cs.com)

     

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