Brazil Won’t Tolerate Mediocrity or Second Place… in Soccer

Brazilian soccer Because Brazil is one of the world powers in soccer, we are dissatisfied with second place. This is now even true with women’s soccer. One need only observe the visible suffering of our women players at the Beijing Olympics. Despite winning an honorable second place, a silver medal won in competition with the entire world, the women displayed the sort of sadness usually associated with placing last.

One could perceive a very similar reaction in the 1998 men’s soccer World Cup when we placed ahead of all the countries except France. In soccer, we do not accept mediocrity, not even second place.

We lack this same behavior and emotion in other sectors of national life. Year after year, we place near last but the matter does not awaken indignation and goes unnoticed. For decades, we placed last in inflation; we are the worst in forest destruction and in income concentration, in the number of illiterate adults, in malaria and dengue fever cases.

The international evaluations all place Brazil among the worst in reading capacity and mathematics ability. We are also the world’s worst in juvenile crime. These shameful classifications do not, however, cause us to suffer as much as placing second in soccer. This is why we are good in soccer and very bad in other practices: we accept mediocrity in everything else while demanding excellence in soccer.

Four years from now our women’s soccer team will again be able to compete in the Olympics and, at that time, may win. Until then, the rules will be the same; the ball will continue to be round. But the educational loss does not permit such easy recuperation. Four years from now, the entire world will have evolved in knowledge, in equipment, in teacher preparation. In soccer, we will have lost or won; but in education, if we continue to lose, we will continue to remain behind.

Losing a World Cup in soccer leaves us sadder. Losing the Education Cup, however, leaves us poorer, more unequal, more backward, more uneducated. Because faulty education generates a vicious cycle: when it is poor, it remains poor.

Why, then, are we crying over a soccer defeat while ignoring our failure in education? First, because our culture is geared more towards consuming, towards soccer, towards the immediate, towards happiness, than it is geared towards effort, towards the future and towards the sacrifice that education implies.

Our poor population, nonetheless, has to survive day after day. They cannot wait for their children’s education (the great creativity of the Bolsa Escola was uniting the need for immediate survival with education for the future). It is sad to acknowledge this, but the Brazilian elite has transmitted the idea – accepted by the poor people – that quality education is something reserved for the rich. As if it were natural that the children of the poor would not have the right to a school equal to that of the children of the rich.

Research presented by Veja magazine proves this. It shows that almost all parents find their children’s public school to be good, while their children are not, in fact, in an adequate school. The parents consider the school to be that place with the right to a snack where they drop off their children. If there is no class, no homework, this does not matter.

To 89% of the parents with children in private schools, their money is well spent and has a good return, even when the indicators show that their children’s performance is very poor in comparison with other countries. Ninety percent of the teachers consider themselves well prepared for the task of teaching, even if their students may place last in the world championship of education.

Unions strike over salaries; street dwellers invade buildings and lots, peasants invade farmland. We do not, however, see invasions of good schools to place the children of the poor in them. University professors strike for salaries; university students protest so that a rector will leave office; but they do not utter a single word in protest when we lose the elementary and secondary education championship.

Brazil has the resources to win some more medals in the 2012 London Olympics. And, in the next few years, to celebrate many medals won in the Olympics to follow, especially if we succeed in bringing the 2016 games to Rio de Janeiro.

If we make a revolution in education, however, we will also make the cradle for our future athletes. We have the resources but the acceptance of mediocrity in education condemns us to be the losers of the educational Olympics.

Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website  –  www.cristovam.org.br  –  and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br.

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

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