Education and Identity Politics in the Landless Movement

Extract 1

T1: Bem, como eu falei com vocês: Quem aqui que já conhece o que é um

Well, as I have already told you: who is here who already knows what an

acampamento?

encampment is?

Students: Eu.- Eu.- Eu … Me.—Me.—Me …

T1:  Já viram as barraquinhas? #Marcia# cê conhece

 Have you already seen the ((tarpaulin)) tents? #Marcia# do you know an 

acampamento? ^Nã=ão.

encampment? ^No=o. 

St1:                                      [Eu não]

[I don’t]

T1:                                         [Ta=á]. Acampamento. <CR Quem já foi lá

                                          [O=OK]. Encampment. <CR Who has already been

 visitar as pessoas que estão lutando pela <luta da> terra? (…) pela conqui=ista da

 there, to visit the people who are fighting <for the struggle> for land? For 

terra (…) ainda tão morando debaixo da lona?

 fighting for land (…) and are still even living under tarpaulin tents?

^Aí ^ó CR>: são poucos os que <que> já viram um ~acampamento…

^See CR>: there are a few (pupils) who have already seen an ~encampment…

(Transcript from video-recording by the author at a Landless Workers’ School in Espírito Santo, transcribed and translated from Portuguese by the author, Achilles Delari Jr., & Maurício Canuto)

The scene presented above comes from a classroom activity that I observed during my ethnography at a Landless Rural Workers’ settlement in Espírito Santo, Brazil—my access enabled through professora Raquel, the main teacher (T1) leading the activity above. I have been introduced to professora Raquel through other university professors who have done research there and been very well accepted. The language spoken is Portuguese. I am not very advanced but can make myself understood to almost everyone and can also understand almost everything said.

We are at a small school. Primary schools at Landless Workers’ settlements usually have one or two mixed-age classes of children aged 5 to 13 (St), as is also the case in the school I refer to here. For the activity presented above, all of the children from the two classes (older and younger) came together. Professora Raquel (T1) begins with a rhetorical question that aims to provoke the curiosity of the children and involve them in the teaching that follows. She refers to a contemporary encampment that exists not very far from the settlement where the children live in order to speak then about the first encampments and the broader history of the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (“Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra” or “MST”):

Continuing Extract 1

T1: ^Então, nós vamos mostrar hoje pra vocês (.2) algumas fotos, <dos> d’ algumas

       ^OK, We are going to show you (2.) some photo

acampamentos, ^tá=á? \Acampamentos que nossas famílias passa=aram…

from some encampments, ^OK? \Encampments from which our families pa=assed…

For this particular activity, professora Raquel does not use any printed books or materials that had been centrally produced. Instead, she brings her own family photos and refers to the Landless Movement as a whole by referring to the part of it that is already relevant for the children: the story of the settlement they live in, the stories of their families as enacted through the photos and the teacher’s narrations. [5] Most photos depicted professora Raquel’s family or other people of the encampment (now settlement) in the different stages they went through before living at the place where we were then. A lot of photos, however, did not present persons but materialities—the tent in which they lived in the encampment; the first wall they constructed of what later became the house where they lived, the school, and so forth. Some other photos were from relatives or friends that participated in the central demonstrations of the Landless Movement.

 Continuing Extract 1

T2: O projeto que nós vamos começar a trabalhar com vocês,

The project that we begin working on with you

é o projeto “Nossa identidade”. ^Então quando vocês olham

is the project of our identity. ^OK. When you look at such an

um acampamento desse, por mais que vocês não tenham

encampment, although you never

passado por acampame=ento (…); os pais de vocês ^passaram, os ^avós de vocês

lived through an enca=ampment (…), your  parents ^did; your ^grandparents did

passaram (…) Então essa é que é nossa identidade. /E mesmo que vocês ou os pais

then, this is what makes our identity. /And even if you or your parents never had

de vocês não tenham passado por um acampamento, e vocês tão aqui hoje (.2),

lived through an encampment, but you are here today (.2),

num assentamento, que faz ^parte do Movimento Sem Terra, então <a par…>

in a settlement that is a ^part of the Landless Movement, then,

automaticamente vocês já são <já faz> a identidade de vocês ^já é do

automatically <you are> already your identity, ^already is that of the

Movimento Sem Terra. Landless Movement.

 (Transcript from video-recording by the author at a Landless Workers’ School in Espírito Santo, transcribed and translated from Portuguese by the author, Achilles Delari Jr., & Maurício Canuto)

Taking the speech from her colleague, the other school teacher (T2), professora Clarisse explains to the children why this particular activity is important: “This is our identity project,” she says. Doing memory goes here together with doing identity—which implies a feeling of belonging and a sense of responsibility, not for oneself but for the whole community, to which the children belong. As the teacher tells, even if the children did not directly experience their parents or broader community members’ struggles, this past also belongs to them and shapes their identity. Almost automatically, they are children of the Landless Workers, that is, Landless Children—or Sem Terrinha, as children are officially called inside the Landless Workers’ Movement, which literally means small landless. The teacher enacts a collective past, which the children share—not in the sense of personal experience but in the sense of collective memory. The teacher’s discourse of martyrdom, solidarity and success is a discourse of collective responsibility and collective identity. This specific pedagogics is called Pedagogia da TerraPedagogics of the Land (cf. Foerste & Schütz-Foerste, 2011). Education here is regarded not only as essential for the Landless Workers so that they could use ecological techniques for planting, fair strategies for trade or have their own doctors in the settlements; but also the idea is to educate children in such a way that they collectively participate in changing the world in which they live (cf. Stetsenko, 2008). A new type of school has thus emerged that aims to generate a collective subject that transforms society and fights for the further development of the Landless Movement, as well as for broader political-economical transformation. But this future could be imagined only through remembering the local history of exploitation and struggle. It is not educação (general education) but formação (political education), as the Landless Workers would say, for it meant developing consciousness about their past exploitation, thus, developing another economy—not of exploitation but of solidarity.

The formerly illiterate and marginalized urban or rural populations who made up the Landless Workers’ Movement in the very beginning did not only occupy lands to cultivate in an ecological and direct-democratic way. They also occupied nearby universities and founded schools inside the settlements as well as training programs for people from the movement to become teachers in these schools (da Silva, 2008; de Andrade, 2008; Farias, 2008; Jornal dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, 2009; Kane, 2000). A series of such programs and institutions allowing landless workers to become teachers at the landless schools have been established – often in cooperation with local universities (Diniz-Pereira, 2005; Foerste, 2004, 2009).

As a result, thousands of people learned to read and write and large-scale programs of adult education took place (Caldart, Paludo, & Doll, 2006; Freitas, dos Santos, Musial-da Silva, de Franca, de Oliveira, & Trevisan, 2008; Kane, 2000). The broader aspirations of the Landless Workers – which were very different from those of the Quilombolas’ or indigenous movements – were not only access to food and respectable working conditions but also access to all services a modern Brazilian citizen should have: access to entertainment, medical treatment and, foremost, education.

Education in the context of the Landless Movement was not only regarded as essential for the Landless Workers so that they could use ecological techniques for planting, fair strategies for trade, or have their own doctors in the settlements. Not educação, but formação, as the Landless Workers would say: “formation” meant developing consciousness about (their) exploitation, thus developing another economy – not of exploitation, but of solidarity. Today, the idea is that landless children will occupy further lands (which implies a certain kind of nomadism), and thus the Landless Movement will always grow (and there will always be enough land and it will not be divided between family members).

In this context, the landless children are educated – “formed” – in order to trans-form themselves and their world. Landless people have taken the public state-funded school and made something radically new out of it – “their’” schools with “their” teachers (Thapliyal, 2006). The idea here has been to educate children in such a way that they collectively participate in changing the world in which they live (cf. Stetsenko, 2008). A new type of school has thus emerged that aims to generate a collective subject that transforms society and fights for the further development of the Landless Movement, as well as for broader political-economical transformation.[4]

 

The Landless Movement is conscious that doing memory goes together with doing identity – and thus future (Caldart, 2002, p. 37; cf. Kontopodis & Matera, 2010)


[4] This, again, is very different from the resistance or resilience strategies of the Guarani Indians who live nearby. These indigenous people deny public state schooling (more or less directly) and also have “their” school – which is their self-built church – and “their’ teacher” –the oldest person of the community. They do not, however, have an upcoming generation that creates and uses ecological agricultural knowledge or socialized programs of medical treatment, a generation of young people who sometimes become so educated that they are offered comfortable jobs in the cities and do not come back to the settlements. This is often the case with the young generation of Landless Workers…

[5] The reference to the everyday lives of the landless children – “sem terrinha,” as the children of the landless workers are called, literally “landless-small”– and what they already know in order to teach them something abstracter – even if it is chemistry or physics – is a common teaching strategy in the context of the Landless Movement schools, which goes back to theoretical work by Makarenko, Freire, and liberation theology (cf. de Freitas & Knopf, 2008, p. 80; Freitas, dos Santos, Musial-da Silva, de Franca, de Oliveira, & Trevisan, 2008).

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