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It’s Time Brazil Leave Its Pothole-Filling Policy and Strive for Greatness

Street kids in Brazil

Recently I visited the Cariri region, in the interior of Ceará State, to take
part in marches for the “Educação Já” Campaign. While visiting the region, I
listened to and conversed with the people and participated in demonstrations
calling for a revolution in Brazilian education. At one event, State Deputy
Ferreira Aragão, a great speaker, said, “We do not merely want to grow; we want
to be great.”

In honor of the “Semana da Pátria,” we should reflect upon the difference between growth and greatness and try to understand how Brazil settled for wanting to grow and stopped wanting to be a great country.


To grow, for example, is to increase the national revenue; to become great is to distribute it. To grow is to increase the number of jails; to become great is to have no need of them.


To grow is to see the population increase, to have more children born each year; to become great is to have them in school, not in the streets, and to have all the schools – whether for the rich or for the poor, in large or in small cities – of the same quality.


To grow is to have more automobiles in the streets; to become great is to have transit that flows comfortably and without traffic jams. To grow is to uproot trees to use the wood; to become great is to produce while protecting nature.


Paradoxically, Brazil is growing while remaining small.


Our cities have grown, but, due to the growth in violence, pollution, and family breakdown, they have not become great. Our political parties are also growing but they are not becoming great since they lack a cause to mobilize their militants, a banner of struggle to carry forward.


And that banner of struggle should be to make Brazil a great country and not a country that is growing. To grow is to increase the number of families who receive the Bolsa-Família; to become great is to reduce the number of families who need the Bolsa-Família until there are none.


What is worse, we do not perceive the difference between growth and becoming great. We want growth but we are not seeking greatness.


There is no greatness when a good school is not guaranteed to 82% of our children. There is no greatness in commemorating the school enrollment of 97% of the children as long as we do not concern ourselves with the remainder, who, at the very beginning of their life, are not attending school.


There is no better demonstration of poverty than the fact that only a third of our young people finish secondary school, only half of these with an education of reasonable quality. We may have even had some growth but there was no greatness.


Although no one can be blamed, it is necessary to assume the responsibility. And all of us must act to combat the mediocrity of our project for growth. I have called upon the Federal Senate to reassume our historical obligation: that we be the house of Congress where the greatness of Brazil is constructed.


That we leave aside the everyday mediocrity, the agenda of growth and of filling potholes, and that we begin to reflect upon our culture, our history, our future, our greatness.


The National Congress needs to stimulate this discussion because our greatness is a federal question. We need to leave aside the plans and measures to make us grow; we should discuss structural reforms so that we will become a great country by revolutionizing education, by eliminating the waiting lines in the hospitals, by building sustainable development, by designing a project for a great nation.


Growth is not a synonym of greatness. The time has come for us, the leaders of this country, to go beyond that mediocre vision of growth, to stop believing that growth is a synonym of being great, when, in fact, it is not. The Seventh of September, Brazilian Independence Day, is a good moment to reflect upon this.


Cristovam Buarque has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PDT senator for the Federal District and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04). He is the current president of the Senate Education Commission. Last year he was a presidential candidate. You can visit his homepage – www.cristovam.com.br – and write to him at mensagem-cristovam@senado.gov.br


Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.

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