Listening to Brazil’s new Education Minister: I have always dreamed
of becoming the Minister
of Education . We have to follow
the example set by Fidel Castro and his companions in the
Maestra, by seeking a Brazilian way . The thing to do
now is step on the accelerator and turn to
Inauguration speech of the new Minister
of Education, Cristovam Buarque
Those who know me are aware that I don’t like to begin a speech by referring to the illustrious people present in the
audience. But as a Cabinet minister, I must follow protocol. However, I don’t want to lose my capacity to be a rebel. Therefore,
instead of making a common speech, without referring to the authorities, I am merely going to make reference to the authorities
present and to some who are absent.
My first reference is to thank, on behalf of myself and of President Lula, my predecessor Minister Paulo Renato
Souza for having dedicated eight years of his life to working for education. During the eight years that each of us often spent
involved in other activities, he chose, in collaboration with President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, to dedicate himself to education.
I am assuming a ministry that has not been idle. There have been undeniable advances in Brazilian education in
these eight years. I thank the Minister for his work and his dedication. I am taking over a ministry that is already on the move.
The thing to do now is step on the accelerator and turn to the left
(laughter and applause).
In second place, I would like to thank President Fidel Castro for being here today. When I was young and following
the news of his marches with Che and Camilo through the Sierra Maestra, I never imagined that one day he would be here in
homage to the post I am assuming. I thank President Fidel very much, and I want to say that the symbolism of his presence here
is less that of a man who constructed socialism than that of a man teaching us that volition can set history in motion
And this is our task in the Ministry of Education: To set Education in motion, no matter what its financial limitations,
its legal difficulties, and its impediments of all types. We have to follow the example set by those
companheiros in the Sierra Maestra, not in their method, not in their social objectives, but by seeking a Brazilian way. But we must confidently
follow the belief that history is made through the volition of men and those who lead them.
I want to make reference, of course, to those who helped me in my education. I have not yet seen two people whom I
learned would be here: symbolizing a previous generation, my uncle Queiroz, who came down from Recife; and one of my
teachers from elementary school, Brother Afonso
(applause). To see us now, you would think we were the same age, but he was
my grade-school teacher. I thank Brother Afonso very much. He lives in Taguatinga and now is here with me.
Other people who formed part of my education are my wife Gladys, our daughters Júlia and Paula, and our son-in-law
Marcelo. All the friends, the closest family members, my brother Sérgio, my sisters Wanda and Ângela, who are also here and
who also contributed to my education.
I want to make reference to a special group of friends: those who are there outside because they were not able to
enter this auditorium. I apologize to you
(applause), but at the same time I thank you for feeding my ego: nothing is better
than not having your friends all fit in the hall.
Illiteracy No More
But with all due respect to those people I’ve mentioned before, I now want to make reference to the most important
Brazilians, those to whom I am going to dedicate a great part of my time from now on: the illiterate Brazilians. I want to make
reference to those 20 million Brazilians and say that four years from now we will no longer have illiteracy in this country. This is
the challenge that I take on here (applause). I have many reasons to be here, happy, content, and thanking President Lula.
But the most important reason is the fight against illiteracy.
I have always dreamed of becoming the Minister of Education. Once in a conversation with my predecessor, Paulo
Renato, I told him, "You have the position that I’d like to have. If I don’t succeed in having someone choose me as minister, I’m
going to struggle to arrive in the post that chooses the minister, only so that I can be that minister." Now I no longer need to
endeavor to become the person who nominates the minister. I have arrived where I wanted to be in my life. This is why today, I
have absolutely no thought of an electoral campaign in my future. My campaign now is with history. And that campaign with
history is to fulfill the promise that we have in this country, to abolish illiteracy
How is it possible that a country with a common language, with airplane factories, with hydroelectric projects, with
so much wealth, cannot succeed in insuring that all adults can read the language spoken by almost everyone, with the
exception of some indigenous groups? How is it possible? It is a shame we have no right to live with, much less leave for
generations to come. We inherited a Brazil with illiteracy. But, please, let us not pass on to our children and grandchildren, to future
generations, a Brazil with the wound of illiteracy.
This is the challenge for which I want to convoke everyone. No one can remain outside. I want to say to each of
those who are involved in literacy education, like my friend Esther Grossi who advocates for a three-month adult literacy
program, that I intend to begin the program by discovering if there is an illiterate person working in the Ministry of Education.
Should there be, I want to be that person’s literacy teacher
I now want to make a reference to another group to which I am going to dedicate myself: the children of Brazil
(applause). When, some years ago, the Ministry of Education dropped "and Culture" from its name, the "C" was conserved in the
acronym MEC. At that time I asked, how can we talk about Education if we’re writing the acronym of the Ministry of Education
incorrectly? Today, I want to say that the acronym is not erroneous: the "C" in MEC now stands for "Child." Beginning
today, this is the Ministry of Education and of the Children of Brazil
A child’s Education begins before birth. Every pregnant woman should count upon MEC to collaborate with the
future student that she is carrying. And after that baby is born, MEC’s task is to ensure that the child, upon entering school,
has not already fallen behind. As we came down in the elevator together, President Fidel told me that today socialism
means educational equality. If we attain equality in Education, socialism has been constructed, even if differences in salary
are maintained. Even if differences in consumption are maintained, won through the competent use of a capacity that was
That equality begins in early childhood but not
only in early childhood. Soon after, we are going to have to fulfill the
program that my party has elaborated, under the coordination of Professor Newton Lima
The Workers Party program makes the commitment that, on a child’s fourth birthday, his or her mother and father
can take the child by the hand, leading him or her to school, because there will be a seat waiting in some school in this Brazil
Every Child in School
We are not going to promise this will happen tomorrow or the day after that. But during the years of President
Lula’s government, Newton, we are going to fulfill your dream.
It is not by chance that we have the portrait of literacy educator Paulo Freire here symbolizing illiteracy. Nor is it by
chance that we have the portrait of educator Anísio Teixeira. The latter symbolizes every child in school and quality for every
school. Yes, we are going to make an ideal school in this country. We are not going to promise that this ideal school will be
established simultaneously and immediately in all the Brazilian states, but we are going to be arriving in every state or city where the
governor or the mayor agrees to participate, to prioritize education, to assume the responsibility that we all have to construct an
ideal education in Brazil. I don’t know how many governors are present here; I see my friend and
companheiro Jorge Viana of Acre.
In the state in which the governor wants it and contributes part of the resources, we will construct the school that
Brazil has owed its children for 500 years. That is the pledge of this government; it is the pledge that we’re going to fulfill. We
will begin in the states and the cities where the governors and the mayors desire it. And in a short time we are going to see
that this spreads to all the cities and to every Brazilian.
If, within 15 to 20 years, every Brazilian youth has a quality high-school education by international standards, Brazil
will have constructed the just society that it desires. Because, if those in power have not made Brazil good, they will be
removed by the country’s educated young people after the students have concluded their studies,
I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to speak to another group: young Brazilian students. There is no
revolution without young people. A revolution will not proceed logically from the teachers, the Cabinet ministers, the President, if
we do not have an intransigent mobilization of the two million university students that Brazil has today, who often remain
quiet, silent about so many blunders in our country. They mobilized to bring down President Fernando Collar and even now
are mobilizing against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). They have
to mobilize against hunger, poverty, the lack of Education, not only within the university, but also in all of Brazil. I want to
call upon, to challenge, the Brazilian universities to be the vanguard of the revolution that is commencing. Do not rest.
Mobilize, demand, call for action so that this country succeeds in heading in the direction that we all hope it is going to take in
these next years (applause).
Don’t Call Me Minister
I also want to salute the teachers of Brazil, each one of my colleagues who all carry on an activity that is so difficult
but at the same time so enjoyable. I want to tell them that they do not have to call me "Minister." Just as President Lula said
that he is "Public Servant Number One," today I am Teacher Number One in Brazil. I am a colleague of the teachers. I am a
colleague who is going to fight so that the teaching profession is the most respected profession in this country.
When I was a little boy, it was not even necessary to be a teacher. Simply being the wife or husband of a teacher
brought respect. And today people do not have this respect because teaching salaries have been degraded, and, even more than
this, because the idea has spread that economic growth is a country’s reason to exist. We began to give advantages and
possibilities to our economists, like Paulo Renato and me, to treat them as heroes. And to do the same with the engineers, the
geologists, all the professions that, as is said hereabouts, increase the GDP. Yet we scorn the professions that, instead of increasing
the GDP, increase intelligence, knowledge, dignity, confidence, respect, which is what this country needs
I also salute the administrative staff, those employees without whom there is no education. Because the teacher
alone is not capable of opening the school early in the morning, of keeping it clean, of taking charge of the snacks for the
students. Only with the support of the school staff is it possible for Education to function. I also consider myself a colleague of
these staff members. You can count on me as the Staff Member Number One of Education, the same way that the President is
the Staff Member Number One of all of us.
I now want to salute the many university rectors that I see here, my rector colleagues. I want to say that they are
going to have an ally in me. It was not by chance that I hung Anísio’s photo here to symbolize good education. To represent
basic teaching, I hung the photo of our great Paulo Freire, symbolizing the struggle to abolish illiteracy, and that of
anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro, symbolizing the new university needed by Brazil. Yes, I do want to be President Lula’s assistant in
ensuring that a metal worker leaves his mark on the Brazilian university
Let that man from the working class, whose only diploma is that of President, let this workingman make the diploma
of all university graduates from now on be one with more value than it has today.
University Has to Change
To do this, we must confront the emergencies suffered by the university. We cannot ignore this. Let us confront the
challenge of inventing a new university. Because it is not only Brazil, the entire world is anxious for a new university. The
universities invented one thousand years ago made their last reforms thirty years ago and have not yet been synchronized with, on
one hand, the advances in technology and knowledge that globalization has provoked at a truly hallucinatory speed, leaving
the universities behind; on the other hand, they are not synchronized with the struggle against social exclusion, which we in
Brazil are going to eliminate, carrying our solutions to the entire world
The university has to undergo modifications. It has to discover a faster way to advance knowledge. And it has to
invent ways of offering its curricula with complete liberty but also with ethics. And ethics means never forgetting the poor
people who are outside the university. This is a challenge that I want to share with the rectors. This is a challenge that I want to
share with the students and staff of the university. And I believe that we have everything we need to lead the entire world in
I want to salute several diplomats, representatives here from international organizations, like my friend the
representative of the World Bank, and say that it is not, as everyone thinks, only financial resources I need from you. No, I need you,
above all, as assessors of what we are doing, as associates in what we are doing.
I want to thank a person who is present here, someone who is going to play an important role in my life and in my
time here in MEC: my replacement in the Senate, Euripides Camargo
(applause). A companheiro in my party for whom I
voted in the past in the election for district deputy. I feel honored to have him as my substitute in the Senate for as long as
President Lula desires. This morning I said that I hoped he would stay a long time in the Senate because I want to remain here for
the time necessary to meet our goals. Probably I am not going to stay as long as Paulo Renato did: now there’s a case of
More Power to Women
So as not to tire you too much, I want to speak now to a special group: the Brazilian women
(applause). Without educated women, there can be no education. Having an educated father does not necessarily mean that a child will be educated.
But there does not exist an educated mother whose child does not study. This is why educating Brazil especially means
attracting women to be the engine of education in our country’s future.
If this country’s politicians would govern with feminine logic, we would already have all children in school. If in this
country the men had to carry cans of water on their heads, we would already have running water and sewer connections in all
the homes in Brazil (applause). But those who carry cans of water on their heads are women or children, and the men remain
in school even a little longer. I want to make an appeal so that all of us together in this country can make our education,
literacy work, and high-school instruction give women top priority because their male children will then soon be educated also.
And more efficiently. The struggle against poverty begins with giving power to women.
The representative of the World Bank is from a state in India called Kerala, which has a per capita income similar to
that of all India, which is to say, a low per capita income. But its social indexes are almost equal to those of Europe, thanks to
thirty years of constant politics geared towards social welfare because women there have a fundamental role in the
administration of public businesses beginning at the community level. We have to have a special education program directed towards
women. By the way, we have to have focused education programs. Yesterday I had a conversation with the new Minister of
Social Welfare and I issued him a challenge: Let’s begin the eradication of illiteracy by focusing on the Brazilian pensioners.
They have more time to study and receive a salary enabling them to do this.
A great national problem of eradicating illiteracy has to begin with the women and with the young people who, when
they enroll in government programs, do not say whether or not they are illiterate. And, as Frei Betto says, if they are, they are
not encouraged to learn to read. All these are creative solutions that we can carry forward. But for this we need to make a
national mania of education.
School Big as Brazil
I am happy to see here people who show that we are on the road to making this happen. I am happy and feel honored
for having been embraced a short while ago by Deputy Paulo Maluf, symbolizing that this project of education crosses
party lines. I thank him for being here. Senator Antônio Carlos Magalhães is also here; I thank him for his presence since he
was the person who carried forward the Fund for the Eradication of Poverty project, without which we would not have had
the Bolsa-Escola spread throughout Brazil. The struggle against social exclusion, for a second abolition, rises above any
party lines whatsoever.
I see here another person who is in the same party as Paulo Maluf. A person for whom I learned to have respect
through his comportment in the 2002 elections in Brasília: Deputy Benedito Domingos
Well, then, I am speaking of you all because as we create a mania for education that goes beyond party lines, we are
going to construct a school the size of Brazil. This is our great challenge. And a school the size of Brazil requires more than the
women, the children, the illiterate. It requires that all Brazilians be put in school, including the Minister, including all of you. I was
very happy to see that President Lula had already determined the date upon which he was going to take his Cabinet ministers
to get to know the semi-arid Northeast of the country.
What he is doing is putting the Cabinet ministers in school. Because the ministers do not know that reality
(applause). Because the ministers do not know poverty. I want President Lula, after visiting the semi-arid region, to invent another
course for the Cabinet ministers. Let him put us to workthinking and reflecting, and not merely administering. Because he
always says that more than administering Brazil, we need to take care of the country. And to take care of something, it is
necessary to know it; it is necessary to love it. And education is also a way of learning to love.
We have to carry education beyond the school. Education is mutual respect in transportation. Many think the
pedestrian crosswalk that we installed here in Brasília is a transportation solution because it was created by Luís MiúraI don’t
know if he is here todaywho headed the Federal District Department of Transportation, but the pedestrian crosswalk was
the boldest gesture of education that I made in my administration as governor. Since people succeeded in learning to
respect the pedestrian crosswalk, we can also learn not to throw garbage in the street, not to honk car horns excessively. We
can learn to respect one another, to discover that the school is an instrument of happiness and not of suffering. Yes, we can
educate education itself.
We can reinvent education, in the sense of making Brazilians live together with respect, with justice, and with
efficiency. To construct a sovereign country in the world of globalization. An efficient country in the world of technology, but,
above all, a beautiful country in a world where aesthetics will be forever. And a just world where ethics is forever. And we can
pledge to the aesthetics of beauty, to the ethics of justice, to liberty and, above all, to the children who incarnate the future of
Brazil. Today I thank you all for having elected President Lula, who nominated me minister to take care of the education of our people.
He placed in my hands such a great challenge that I hope some time from now you will all fill this room again and
continue applauding for me (applause). I am going to struggle for this. I am going to dedicate my hours and my energy to this.
And I count upon all of you to support me and hold me responsible so that this will happen. A big embrace.
This is the inauguration speech made by the Brazilian Minister of Education, during his inauguration ceremony on
January 2, 2002, in the Ministry of Education in Brasília.
Cristovam Buarque –
firstname.lastname@example.org, the new Brazilian Minister of Education, is the former Rector of
the University of Brasília and the former governor of the Federal District.
Translated by Linda Jerome –
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