Militarization of education: particularities and unconstitutionalities

October 9, 2019

On September 5th, the Brazilian federal government launched the National Program of Civic-Military Schools (Programa Nacional de Escolas Cívico-Militares, PECIM), with the goal of implementing 216 schools in the model by 2023. The model proposes educational institutions that are not strictly military, but militarized, with a team of Armed Forces, the Military Police and the Fire Department personnel, both retired and in active duty, in the role of tutors and managers.

In all, 16 states and the Federal District joined the program – currently Minas Gerais and Goiás concentrate the largest number of schools in the model, implemented before the launch of the program. Between improvements in educational rates and questions regarding the charging of fees, the model is criticized by education experts and the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office. But how does this program fit into the Bolsonaro Government? What would be the problems with the model?

What are Civic-Military Schools?

The Bolsonaro government’s project is to transform 216 public schools in the country to the “civic-military” model, to the detriment of the traditional form adopted in most schools in Brazil. This model basically consists of delegating the administrative area to military personnel, who are also responsible for imposing rules of discipline, which implies the imposition of the idea of ​ hierarchy typical of the military area to the students.

In this context, the management and introduction of the militarized model of education in schools will be the responsibility of a partnership between the Secretariats of Education and the Public Security Secretariats, of the municipalities and states that adopt the system, and the Ministry of Education and of Defense, of the federal government. There is strong rhetoric that the Civic-Military Schools (ECIM) model will help to reduce violence rates of regular public schools, with preference being given to installing the program in highly socially vulnerable places, and even in order to curb violence more generally in the regions. In schools that already use the model, there are questions about the payment of non-compulsory contributions by parents and even about the price of the mandatory uniform that would already promote a selection among those can bear the aforementioned costs. The good results achieved in national examinations by the colleges, however, is a foothold in defending the model.

The discussion also reaches the military schools, taken as a model for the Ecim (article 3, VII, Decree No. 10,004). Contrary to the government propaganda, the better placement of military schools in national examinations cannot be strictly attributed to the fact that students are subjected to a repressive and militarized pedagogical system, and it is necessary to consider that spending per student in military schools, which, at R$19,000 per year, is almost three times higher than in general public education. In addition, military schools carry out student selection processes, with students of socioeconomic status considered “very high” by the Ministry of Education because of the results of the selections. School requirements, which imply student expenses with uniforms and a monthly contribution, also act as filters that exclude more socially vulnerable students.

The unconstitutionalities of the civic-military schools project

The Civic-Military School project is not the Bolsonaro government’s first attack on the pluralist foundations of the 1988 Constitution and Brazilian democracy. Censorship of LGBTIQ-themed artistic and cultural events, for example, already takes place at the federal level and is repeated in state and municipal levels. Decree No. 10,004, which established the National Program of Civic-Military Schools (PECIM), simply states that among the principles of PECIM is the “strengthening of human and civic values”. However, by analyzing the rules of some schools that have adopted the proposed model, it is possible to recognize potentially violating determinations of students’ freedom of expression and anti-pluralist character, as they determine a specific aesthetic standard to be followed by students.

At Ayrton Senna School in Goiania, an example of transgression provided for in the regulation is the restriction of the use of hairstyles and haircuts by students. While boys should only wear the so-called “half-hair”, which consists of using machine nº 02 on the sides and nº 04 on top of the head, girls with medium or long hair should wear braids, ponytails or bun and “[a]t all times, the hair should always be kept straight so that it is not rebellious, avoiding loose ends or loose strands, as well as exaggerated and indiscreet frames. If necessary they will use gel or another product to remedy the problem at hand. ”

Such prediction, however, is potentially discriminatory for students who have afro curly hair, taking as aesthetic standard characteristics of straight hair associated with whiteness. No wonder curly-haired women were discriminated against by similar regulations, treated as transgressors, forced to adhere to a standard of beauty by straightening and even threatened with punishment for wearing Afro hair.

At the Goiás State Military Police School, the regiment also provides for a series of “transgressions” related to the appearance and behavior of students, including outside the school premisses, such as:

As noted, open terms are recurrent, whose interpretation opens the way for the censorship of students and prevents the free expression of their individualities. This situation led the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Bahia to question the constitutionality of the proposal, as applied in the state, since it promotes “aesthetic and behavior based on military culture, without any relation or potential for improvement in teaching ”, in addition to the fact that “acts resulting from the exercise of freedom of expression are considered as disciplinary offenses ”. Finally, it is understood that “repression of dissent affects not only the individuals directly affected, but the whole school community and the surrounding society, which are deprived of pluralism of opinion and freedom of criticism, which identifies democratic societies and allows the control of state institutions and agents.”

In addition, there are allegations of unconstitutionality of the proposal to fill management positions by military personnel through a simplified selection process, since Article 37, of the 1988 Constitution provides that investiture in public office or employment depends on prior approval in a public exam, configuring deviation of function to assign to police, firemen and military of the Armed Forces attributions legally destined to Education professionals. It is also noteworthy that article 206, V, also of the Constitution, provides that education professionals will enter the career exclusively by public examination of tests and titles, being Decree No. 10,004 incompatible with this provision.

Therefore, considering that the Federative Republic of Brazil is based on citizenship, the dignity of the human person, and political pluralism (Article 1, II, III, and V of Federal Constitution) and that the principle of human dignity guarantees to each individual the right to exercise their autonomy, according to their life projects and worldviews, the project of militarization of schools proves to be an unconstitutional action. It does not respect basic precepts such as free public education, as well as for underestimating the characteristics and diversity of the different cultures embraced by the Brazilian educational network in its plurality, in order to standardize society through authoritarian teaching based on a single worldview.

Bolsonaro’s proposal for education

During the 2018 presidential campaign, then candidate Jair Bolsonaro proposed the model of militarization of schools as the only way to solve the structural problems faced by the Brazilian educational system. Education, and an alleged ideological manipulation that should be fought inside it, was one of the central themes of Bolsonaro’s campaign. Through threats to teachers by supporters of the “School Without Party” (escola sem partido), defamation campaigns by the patron of education in Brazil, Paulo Freire, the reinforcement of conspiracy theories of indoctrination in schools, such as the invented “gay kit”, the presidential brought to the center of the debate an attack on pluralism in education.

Thus, as with other basic areas such as health, public safety and the economy, Brazilian education has been treated with cosmetic solutions, not based in evidence, to address violence and precariousness in Brazilian public schools. These solutions are a reflection of the current anti-intellectualist policy that ignores the value of science to the detriment of conservative and authoritarian morality, and one must ask whether the militarization of basic public education can be seen as another chapter of the demobilization of critical thinking in Brazilian education.

On the other hand, it is noteworthy that militarized schools, even if it is costly to the public coffers, is a valuable investment for the current government, since it is simultaneously a constitutive project for the dissemination of socially conservative as well as authoritarian ideals. In this line, the dismantling of a public education, with, for example, the budget cuts suffered by school of federal institutes – which have better educational outcomes without the military hierarchy – must be read within the context of strengthening militarized models, paving the way for that this model to seem superior to the others, garnering popular acceptance for the quality of education presented in national evaluations and consequent implementation based on the legitimacy of the citizens’ will.

This militarized model of schools and their authoritarian practices brings to democratic Brazil memories of the Military Dictatorship that prevailed from 1964 to 1985. As an example, it was during this period that schools began to have glass in the doors of classrooms, in order to bring an idea of ​​constant vigilance and fear of the punishments caused by “indiscipline”. As in this moment, the plan of militarization of schools adopts the same strategy: that of discipline for fear and coercion.

It should be remembered that the hallmark of authoritarianism is the rejection of plurality and diversity, treated as threats, in favor of order, to be maintained even by the use of force. An education project that privileges obedience and punishes autonomy must therefore be read with due criticism. Thus, it is possible to note that the authoritarianism that installs itself in these institutions, dressed as discipline, presents itself as the basis for the construction of a reality based on fear, the dissolution of rights and the demonization of democracy in public education.

By Mariana Rezende [1], Bruno Braga [2] e Thaís Garcia [3]

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[1] Master’s candidate at UFMG’s Law School. CAPES Scholarship holder.Researcher at Centro de Estudos sobre Justiça de Transição (CJT/UFMG).

[2] Law student at Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais (PUC). Member of Centro de Estudos sobre Justiça de Transição (CJT/UFMG).

[3] Law student at UFMG. Member of Centro de Estudos sobre Justiça de Transição (CJT/UFMG).