Human sciences targeted by Bolsonaro: “Censorship and persecution,” expert says

Coordinator of Campaign for the Right to Education says budget cut is “absurd” and “ideologically-motivated”

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
President Jair Bolsonaro appointed Abraham Weintraub as minister of Education in early April
President Jair Bolsonaro appointed Abraham Weintraub as minister of Education in early April - Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil

Even before he became president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro was outspokenly against human science subjects that promote critical thinking in schools and universities.

The president recently announced Abraham Weintraub as minister of Education, a man who claims he intends to “decentralize” investment in the country’s philosophy and sociology schools to “focus on areas that generate immediate return, like veterinary, engineering, and medicine.”

His statements prompted severe criticism among experts, academic associations, professors, and students. Online petitions repudiating the government’s position about the issue have been signed by thousands of people so far.

After a huge backlash, the Ministry of Education backed down from the decision of punishing specifically universities that allegedly “promote a mess” by slashing their funds. The budget cuts will now be extended to all federal universities starting next semester.

“Cutting universities’ budgets because of a matter deemed ideological, as ‘a mess,’ is absolutely unconstitutional and completely absurd,” Andressa Pellanda told Brasil de Fato Radio.

Pellanda, who is the executive coordinator of the National Campaign for the Right to Education, said that Weintraub’s statements, attacking philosophy and sociology courses, violate Brazil’s Constitution, which gives universities scientific, educational, administrative, and managerial autonomy. “It’s an authoritarian measure that hurts the autonomy of universities,” she points out.

Read the highlights of the interview below.

Brasil de Fato: Recently the minister of Education of the Bolsonaro administration, Abraham Weintraub, announced a 30-percent budget cut for universities and federal institutes. His main argument is what he calls “a mess.” What does this measure represent?

Andressa Pellanda: Cutting universities’ budgets because of a matter deemed ideological, as ‘a mess,’ is absolutely unconstitutional and completely absurd. He didn’t even conceptualized the term. That alone is unconstitutional, because it violates article 207 of the Constitution, which precisely states that universities have scientific, educational, administrative, and managerial autonomy. It’s an authoritarian measure that hurts the autonomy of universities.

They say they are against teaching ideology in schools, but ironically what they do is ideologically-motivated persecution against educational institutions that actually value pluralism, discussion, and critical thinking. And they do that based on a total falsehood that universities would be indoctrinating students or making a “mess” or anything ideological.

Universities in Brazil do not follow an ideological agenda, you can just walk into any institution and see it for yourself. That is absurd and it’s clearly a case of censorship.

Also, from a moral standpoint, so to speak, we have seen that the education spending has been dropping in recent years. The National Education Plan, the most important legislation we have today for education, establishes that the budget for education should increase gradually in Brazil, because not only there are not enough seats to universalize this service, but also the quality of the education institution is lacking, and to tackle that we need more investment in education.

A recent report by a committee in the Chamber of Deputies showed that there has been a 15-percent drop in spending on higher education. On basic education that cut was 19 percent. How can you value education, say that you value education, when you actually have done nothing but cut budgets since 2014?

Last week, president Jair Bolsonaro took to social media to say that the Ministry of Education is considering to remove investments from philosophy and sociology schools. What does that tell us?

The target to cut investments is precisely focused on human science schools. That is because of the ideologically-motivated persecution that is going on, as they believe that, to develop the country, we must invest only in exact and natural sciences, generating innovation and technology. But they forget that philosophy lays the ground for all of those other sciences.

You can’t develop technology, in a well-based stricto sensu process, if you don’t have the philosophy behind the math. There is always critical thinking behind all these matters. Scientists have to think when they formulate and develop research. And how do you develop thinking? By studying many subjects, including and especially those deriving from philosophy.

Of course it’s an authoritarian measure that promotes a pointless ideologically-motivated persecution. Without the basis of human sciences, we can’t have industrial, sustainable development in a country as big as Brazil.

*Lu Sudré collaborated.

Edited by: Vivian Fernandes