Monthly Archives: August 2006

Re-opening the discussion (Part 1 of 5)

Hi, folks,

After a minisseries, a newsreport and a western, today’s show is “A Retrospective”

Since the News Report of August 3rd is still generating interesting discussion in the Brazilian version of this site, I decided to bring it over here too, so that we could open up the discussion a bit (I’ll do it in 5 installments, to make it easier for everyone).

Soon we’ll return with our customary program. In the meantime, enjoy this section of Letters from/to/with/against/alongside with readers and citizens.


naty said…
this is very good news. philosophy is essential for students in any field. how wonderful it is that Brazil took this step. the only problem I see is the way classes are taught and the lack of interest on the part of the students. Many of my high school classmates thought that philosophy classes were “nap time”. that is, it is not enough to make it mandatory, people must become aware of its importance. to sum up, this was the first step…

Alterego said…
True, Naty, philosophy classes in high school, like it’s often the case with Arts, physical education and foreign language classes, is just “make believe”. But I’m not sure that the lack of interest is only on the part of the students. In my case, for instance, I was super interested, but we never got beyond “verb to be” every term.

But what I like about this policy is that it creates a space for this kind of discussion. And the mere passing of this law is a step towards making people aware of the importance of philosophy. As you point out, it’s just a first step, but an important one at that.

Mari said…
I thik that the important thing is to take Philosophy seriously within the pedagogical project. What we must not do is to teach students to think that Philosophy, Sociology and English are less important, secondary. I think they could even go into the university admission exams. Of course there will be some people who are interested, and some who aren’t. This is what happens also with mathematics and history. But if philosophy is respected, the “gang” will stop considering it “nap class”.

End of part 1


Caring about Caring

When I was 16 a Native Brazilian was burned to death in Brasilia, my hometown and capital of Brazil.

The victim, Galdino Jesus dos Santos, was in town for the celebrations of the 19th of April, the Day of the Native. Having arrived at the hostel after doors were closed, he was sleeping in a bus shelter in one of the busiest avenues in the city.

The perpetrators were 5 teenagers, upper middle class, well-educated. On being asked why they killed the Native, one of them replied: “We didn´t know he was Native, we thought he was just a beggar.” As if that made it ok.

I remember thinking at the time “what a horrible idea!” But my feeling wasn´t really indignation – I was too stoic at the time to get indignant about anything. It was more like intellectual disdain for the murderers (“what a stupid idea”), mixed with a resigned “such things happen”, and with a prayer for the soul of the victim, and for the murderers to get a bit more sense into their heads.

And that was all. No point worrying about what´s passed. Disdain, resignation, tranquility, that was what I felt. A Stoic thing really.

“Such things happen.” Oh, God, where, when, how do things like this just “happen”? My lack of sensitivity at the time now shocks me almost as much as that of the assassins. When you grow up seeing your hometown in the evening news only for political corruption and upper-middle-class teenage crime, you may become a bit anesthesised.

These were people my age, same town, same social class. The “Indian Busstop” was on my way to school. It got decorated, full of posthumous honours. I used to go by there twice a day. And twice a day shake my head in disapproval, Harvey Siegel style, as if the problem had only been an intellectual mistake, something wrong with their education.

Of course there was something wrong with their education. But, my goodness, the guys were rich, went to the best schools, they had everything they wanted. Which goes to show: 1) that quality of education is not determined solely by which school one attends and 2) that even at school education shouldn’t be solely “intellectual”.

The goal of education inside and outside the classroom should be to make humans more fully human. It’s not a matter of simply learning how to think. We should learn how to think with our hearts and feel with our minds.

But the tendency in academia generally, starting with schools, is to detach thinking from acting, theory from practice, causes from consequences, the subjective side of the object, and the objective side of the subject. Problems are formulated and solved “considering ideal the conditions” and “ignoring any friction”.

My stoic reaction is a consequence of this, as is the murderous attitude of the young men. One ends up thinking of people as if they were objects in the equation. One forgets that they are also subjects: subject agents and agent subjects, who create and are created by the “objective reality” of everyday.

Last week I started reading “Pedagogy of Indignation”, a collection of Paulo Freire’s last writings. The last thing he wrote about was the story of this Native Brazilian, and of our youngsters:

“What a strange thing, to kill Natives, to kill people, just for fun. I’m here thinking, sunk in an abyss of profound perplexity, amazed at the unbearable perversity of these young people, de-humanising themselves, in a place where they grew down instead of growing up.” (Pedagogy of Indignation, p. 66)

Paulo Freire died some ten days after the Native was killed. I’m not sure he understood that Galdino was killed but not because he was a Native: the boys had thought he was “just a beggar”. It was a cruel act of violence, of elitism, but it wasn’t racism.

At same time, of course Galdino was killed for being a Native: for being in an unknown urban jungle, for not having a chauffeur, for being put up at a hostel with no stars, that had no 24-hour receptionist waiting for the dear guest, or a thoughtful chaperone worried about the welfare of visitor from far away. And this is the 5-star treatment that he got as the envoy sent to the capital to receive the honours of the Day of the Native.

It wasn’t only the boys then that committed violence against Galdino. It was Brazilian society as a whole. Of course it was racism, as well as elitism, on the part of an entire society. This does not all of a sudden makes the five young men less guilty: it only makes the rest of us more, all of us innocent people who do not see that we play a part in this injustice.

A friend of mine is always saying that the opposite of love isn’t hatred, but indifference. And as Brazilian musician Renato Russo would say, “where does this indifference, tempered with iron and fire, come from?” Galdino’s story seems come from Renato Russo’s songs, a mixture of Metrópole with Faroeste Caboclo, Índios and Baader-Meinhof Blues. “Violence is so fascinating, and our lives are so ordinary…”

One of the most important trends in Paulo Freire’s legacy is a commitment to shaking off the indifference that seizes the “ordinary citizen”. An attempt to make people less passive, less patient, so that they can also be impatient agents. And this starts at school, and much before school starts.

But, as Renato Russo would say in “Índios”, how I wish I could, at least once, explain what nobody can understand…

Philosophy Poll

For each of the 6 questions below, check all the answers that apply.
Thank you for participating in our poll.
Your opinion is very important for us.

1. Where did you get in touch with Philosophy?
In the university
In high school
In primary school
On my own
Was never introduced to this lady
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2. Socrates was (check all that apply):
The best player in the Brazilian soccer team in the 80´s
A Greek guy that said some interesting things
A madman
The greatest hero in Western thought
None of the above
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3. “Emília” is the name of (check all that apply):
A book on the education of women
The ideal wife in Rosseau´s Emile
Emile´s daughter
A ficticious character in Brazilian children´s stories
None of the above
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4. Philosophy for you:
Is just for those who have nothing else to do
Is important for active citizenship
Can bore one to death
Is cool, but not really of any importance
None of the above
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5. What do you think of Philosophy classes in high school?
They should be mandatory for all
They should be an elective
They should be abolished
They are a waste of time, but harmless
None of the above
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6. What about philosophy in primary school?
It should be mandatory
It should be an elective
It should be abolished
It is a complete waste of time, but harmless
None of the above
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Questions, answers, comments? Visit the comment section below.

To see the results of this poll in Brazil, visit:

Thank you for participating!

Esterical News

And now for tonight´s Alterego News

Good Evening!

For today´s celebration of the first month of the Alterego blog network (founded by this humble writer), the Brazilian Ministry of Education passed a law that makes philosophy mandatory in the high school curriculum across the whole country.

For more details about this initiative aiming at promoting philosophy and sociology as “necessary for fully exercising one´s citizenship”, go straight to the source:

Our competitor´s afternoon news today even mentioned extending philosophy to primary schools, but to this moment this information has not been officially confirmed by our team.

Should you come across any information regarding this issue, we kindly ask you to contact our news staff.

For those who do not know, trustworthy sources have mentioned the following possibility. In exchange for her year´s research assistantship, this writer/reporter/philosopher-in-residence would work with high schools and high school graduates in order to put together a well-supported argument defending the importance of making pre-college philosophy more widespread.

And you who read our minisseries “About a Little Black Country Girl” thought that in educational matters Brazil was the backwardest country in the world, huh? But here and there Brazil has a lot to be proud of in this field of education (cf. Paulo Freire, Nísia Floresta and Monteiro Lobato, to name a few). It just doesn´t get the right kind of advertising too often. That´s what we´re here for.

For tonight this is all, folks. Good evening, and thank you for your support throughout all these 31 days!

About a Little Black Country Girl – Part 5 of 5

And now, the fifth and final episode of “About a Little Black Country Girl”

Back from the start – Some could say that the situation I described is only possible in this poor third world country where I was born, or in this specific poor rural area my family is from, so very different from the capital.

But during the school year I live in the most affluent city in one of the most affluent countries in the world, and there too people cook my meals and do my dishes (for years even cleaned my room and changed my bed) so that I may have the leisure to read and write.

It may be a coincidence that these people there happen to be predominantly Mexican, just as it may be just a coincidence that Cielza happens to be black. But maybe not.

In “Theory as Liberatory Practice”, bell hooks says:

When our lived experience of theorizing is fundamentally linked to processes of self-recovery, of collective liberation, no gap exists between theory and practice. Indeed, what such experience makes more evident is the bond between the two – that ultimately reciprocal process wherein one enables the other.Theory is not inherently healing, liberatory, or revolutionary. It fulfills this function only when we ask that it do so and direct our theorizing towards this end. (Teaching to Transgress, p.61)

And this is why I write this, for the sake of those who, some times not even knowing how to read or write, make my reading and writing possible.

It is to them that I dedicate this, to Cielza and Paulo Freire, Socrates and bell hooks, parents and grandparents, great-great-grandparents and the whole family, college and church community (fellows and staff), God and fellow humans, writers and readers, everyone else without whom my work would not be possible. To you my profound gratitude.

***THE END***

About a Little Black Country Girl – Part 4 of 5

You´re reading the fourth episode of “About A Little Black Country Girl”, a minisseries in five acts

It could be worse – So that it does not seem that my family or Cielza´s family are horrible monsters, I would like to emphasise that these people live relatively well (relative to the other peasant folks in this area). They are all honest, hard-working people, who participate in the community, and unlike the others who take their children from school to work, they see to it that their kids go to school and do well. Cielza is only working now because she is on vacation.

Cielza´s family prays together every night. Mine too. When we’re there, we’re two families praying together every night, and all of us, adults and children, take turns leading the prayer.

Drama – Still, she was the one doing the dishes, while I was reading. She was working and I was working, only I’m paid for what I do, and she is only 13. I couldn’t stop thinking that my studying was possible because of the 13-year-old doing the dishes for me. I beheld that privilege with terror, with trembling, feeling the full weight of the injustice, of my powerlessness to even refuse a privilege that was bestowed on me that I did not desire or deserve. All this anguish, when I don’t even mind doing dishes.

One hand washes the other – I looked at the black girl in the eye and wanted to take the dishes from her hand. I wanted to tell her, invite her, command her, to go play. I couldn’t. All I could do was look at her with profound gratitude and reverence for the work of her poor black girlish hands. And smile. It was her work that allowed mine to advance, my learning to take place, my life to improve, doors to be open to me.

I couldn’t do the dishes for her, and even if I could, it wouldn´t really make a difference in her life. But I could use the work of my hands to serve her, as hers served me: to improve her life, to open doors to her, to advance her learning.

Hiding – I was there for a week, and on the first day I hid inside, ashamed lest they should see that I did nothing but study all day, while they worked.

But hiding inside was excluding myself from the situation, the old trick of running away from the forest so that the falling trees would be silent. So in the afternoon I picked up my books and my courage and went to our big veranda.

The Stranger – At first they just stared at me, this stranger that comes every year or so, talks funny, does even funnier things. Then they remembered that they too had books and things to write. So they brought their homework, and sat on the ground, with their books on their laps, shyly refusing all my invitations to come to the table.

The Fox – It was like the Little Prince and the wild fox: every day we got closer, and closer. The next day, they moved to the ping-pong table, while I worked on the dining table. I moved to the ping-pong table too, which was very large, so that we could all spread our things sitting at different corners without feeling threatened. The next day they actually joined me at the small table when invited them. And for the rest of my stay, they would come and sit beside me with no invitation. After all, it was their home too.

Exchange – Worth pointing out that all this time these three children were on vacation from school. That is, they had no assignment for those days.

They were just doing what they saw me doing. And they smiled, and read their stories aloud with relish, without my even asking.

But if I had preached to them on the importance of studying, insisted that they do their homework so that they could do well in life, then hid inside the house so I could focus on my own studying, they would never have sat down and done their lessons so easily, let alone so cheerfully. Nor would I.

But now they were my study, and I was theirs. And I find it hard to determine who learned more from whom.

Come back tomorrow for the final chapter of this true story!