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Paulo VadasPaulo Ivan Vadas
Director of the Executive Education Program at Universidade Anhembi Morumbi, São Paulo; Pro-Rector of Professional Education at Universidade Potiguar, Natal; President of UNEB College, Brasilia; Chief Executive Consultant at Vadas Educational Consulting
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Call it luck, destiny or just a coincidence, but, in 1962, in my last year of middle school in Brazil, a course entitled “Brazilian Social and Political Organization” (in Portuguese: OSPB – Organização Social e Política do Brasil) was instituted in the curriculum. This course was to have a major influence on my life and in my different activities throughout my professional life.

In December of 1961, the first law on national education (The Basic National Educational Directives – Lei de Diretrizes e Bases da Educação Nacional) was promulgated. In it, “Article 1o,Title I, The Objectives of Education” decreed that the “… national education, inspired in the principles of freedom and in the ideals of human solidarity, has as its goals:

  • a) the understanding of the rights and duties of the human person, of the citizen, of the State, of the family and of the other groups that compose the community;
  • b) the respect of the dignity and fundamental freedoms of men;
  • c) the strengthening of national unity and international solidarity;
  • d) the comprehensive development of the human personality and his/her participation in the work for the common good;
  • e) the preparation of the individual and of society for the control of the scientific and technological resources that will enable to use them in such a way as to defeat the obstacles imposed by the environment;
  • f) the preservation and expansion of culture;
  • g) the condemnation to any and all forms of discrimination be it for philosophical, political, or religious reasons, as well as class or race discrimination.”

These were very noble and challenging goals and, as a young 15-year-old student, they inspired me as a person, as a Brazilian, and as a human being during what was to be my last year as a student in a Brazilian school.

Inspired on the French “Civic Instruction” and the U.S. “American Government” models, OSPB’s content aimed at presenting to the young students of Brazil, in their formative ages, the composition of the Brazilian social and political institutions structure as well as the democratic principles which, based on the Brazilian Constitution, guided the rights and duties of the citizens.

After it started in 1962, and having been replaced in 1969 by a course entitled Moral and Civic Education, OSPB, with its new nomenclature, was to last until 1993 when it was abolished from the curriculum as a mandatory course. But, way before 1993, or even 1969 when it changed names, in 1964, just two years after it was first implemented, the contents, which were what we political scientists call structural/functional, were radically changed to reflect the doctrines imposed by the military dictatorship which ruled Brazil from 1964 until 1985.

I was lucky though. When I studied OSPB the contents were not ideologically permeated or driven by any type of doctrine. It was simply a course that did exactly what it proposed to do: introduce the middle schoolers to how Brazilian society was organized and how the political system operated. It emphasized the rights and not just the duties of the citizen and it presented us with how the Brazilian government was structured and how it functioned.

After a most effective administration by President Juscelino Kubitcheck (1955-1960), in a turbulent moment of Brazilian history, when President Janio Quadros, elected democratically in a very peaceful transition of power, abruptly resigned in July of 1961, after just seven month in office, the OSPB course focused on the discussion of the various forms/systems of government that could/should be implemented in order to guarantee that democracy in Brazil would be maintained.

The turmoil of Quadro’s resignation created debates as to whether the presidential system should not be replaced by a parliamentary system, as it was in the U.K., in Canada, and in several other European countries. On the table were also discussions on whether the French system of Presidential Parliamentarism would not be more adequate to Brazilian realities, given that Brazil was a multi-party system, just like France and unlike Canada or Great Britain.

Anyway, that class, and that moment in Brazilian history, were to create in me a great curiosity on the workings of diverse forms of governments. One year later, as I finished middle school, I moved to the United States just in time to start high school and take one of the courses that served as a model to the Brazilian OSPB: “American Government.”

But, as I said before, it was that first encounter with OSPB that inspired me to pursue my studies in civics (the rights and duties of the citizens), and civility (solidarity, non-discrimination, respect for other people’s philosophical, political, and/or religious beliefs). It was that first encounter that was to influence me later on to choose Political Science as my major in college.

As I delved later on in my political science courses, I was to learn that civics, morality, and civility cannot be defined in universal terms. These are concepts that can only be defined in terms of its time, place, and cultural backgrounds. The way that OSPB was changed by the ways the concepts of “civics”, “morality”, and “civility” were understood by the military dictatorship in Brazil, explains why, in 1993 it was abolished from the Brazilian schools.

How differently the concepts of “civics”, “morality”, and “civility” are interpreted in one way in a democracy and in another in a dictatorship will be the theme of my next article.

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