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CIVICS AND CIVILITY – The Brazilian Basic National Common Curriculum (BNCC) And The Brazilian Constitution

Paul Vadas – Master Degree in Political Science, California State University, Northridge; Twenty years of experience in executive functions at Brazilian Higher Education Institutions, including: 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. Lives in California.


May 15, 2017

“There is nothing more dangerous for a democracy than the ignorance of its people”

On my first article of the series “Civics and Civility”, I stated that:
“On April 04, 2017… MEC, the Brazilian Ministry of Education, issued its third publication of the new Basic National Common Curriculum (Base Nacional Comum Curricular) – the Brazilian version of Common Core. Since it only encompasses elementary and middle school curricula, this is not the final publication. Before the end of the year, the government should make public the complete publication, including high school standards.

In my next articles, I will address the theme of civics and civility and how the Brazilian educational system, as expressed by the Basic National Common Curriculum, is approaching this most important of issues…”

So, how is the Basic National Common Curriculum (BNCC) approaching the theme of civics and civility in terms of Brazilian common core curricula and the constitutional mandates?
Before answering this question, let us see how the BNCC is approaching the implementation of a common core curriculum in light of the Brazilian Constitution and its determination of the duties and objectives of education in Brazil.

ART. 205 of the Brazilian Constitution, promulgated in 1988, determines that “Education, everybody’s right and a duty of the State and the family, will be promoted and incentivized with the collaboration of society, aiming at the full development of the individual, his/her preparation for the exercise of citizenship, and his/her qualification for work.”
We can surmise by Art 205 that education is a human right, not just a privilege of the few, a responsibility of the State to ensure that everyone in society can get basic education, and that there are three basic objectives for education:
1. The full development of the individual;
2. The individual’s preparation for the exercise of citizenship; and
3. The individual’s qualification for work.

The Constitution also determines that each educational institution is free to determine its own pedagogical conceptions (Art. 206, II) and that the principles of freedom to learn, teach, research, and expression of thought cannot be abridged (Art. 206, III), guaranteeing, therefore, that schools directly participate in the determination of their curricula and their pedagogy and be able to carry on the three basic objectives mandated by the Constitution as they see fit.

It would seem that Articles 205 and 206 of the Constitution would be the guiding line for the development of a BNCC that would allow ample latitude for schools to determine their curricula, so long as they were focused on the three basic, interrelated objectives: development of the individual; preparation for his/her exercise of citizenship; and his/her qualification for work.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. After, initially, presenting the basic objectives expressed in the Constitution, the BNCC goes on a tangent and determines that the objectives of curricula should be focused on the development of competencies, a concept that has more to do with capacity to perform (with which I totally agree in terms of the application of knowledge – “how to”) and not with the contents of the knowledge students need to develop in order to properly apply their competencies.

In other words, instead of approaching the educational objectives stated by the Constitution, and focusing on curricular contents that would directly address and guide each student on 1. personal development, 2. prepare him/her for the exercise of citizenship, and 3. qualify him/her for the work place, the BNCC is more focused on a set of competencies that, although laudable (I am a firm believer of Competency Based Education), falls far short of the constitutional and legal mandates.

What’s worse, instead of offering general guidelines, and general suggestions, the BNCC goes into highly specific groupings and organization of subject matter contents for different age groups and grades, basically contradicting itself by saying that these groupings of thematic units are merely suggestions and should not be seen as models that schools must follow (p.31) while, on the same document (p.10) declaring that the BNCC is a document with normative characteristics that define the organic and sequential set of essential learnings that all students have to develop during their passage through Basic Education (Primary and secondary). In this vein, the document continues, the BNCC should help overcome the fragmentation of the different educational policies in the country, becoming a policy document that aims at, in its own words (as translated): “a national policy for Basic Education that will contribute to aligning all other policies and actions at the federal, state, and municipal levels in terms of teacher preparation, evaluation methods, educational contents, and the criteria for the adequate infrastructure for the development of education in Brazil”.

Clearly, if it is a normative and defining document, it cannot be, at the same time, a merely suggestive document, especially since, instead of presenting broad, general ideas, it is highly specific and systemic.

And so, it not only contradicts itself, it contradicts Art. 206 of the Constitution as well by imposing a one size fits all proposition that does not take into consideration local and regional differences that would allow for more creative approaches in the ways each school system could approach the mandates of Art 205.

The document, after justifying its approach to focus on competency development, instead of, explicitly, the three basic constitutional educational objectives, goes on to suggest which competencies each student should develop in specific knowledge areas, such as Languages (Portuguese, English, Spanish), Arts, Physical Education, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Human Sciences, Geography, and History. For each of these areas of study, the BNCC proceeds to determine specific subject matters that it sees as necessary as a way to develop the competencies it ascribes as basic, completely disregarding Art 206 II.
I find that the 396 page document is too deterministic, too contradictory, and not organized in such a way as to address directly, and unequivocally, the constitutional mandates as determined by Art. 205.

If the purposes of education are to develop the individual, prepare him/her for the exercise of citizenship, and qualify him/her for a profession, it would have been more valuable if the BNCC would, first, define the meaning of each constitutionally determined objective (which it does not do directly in any form), and, from there, suggest (emphasis on “suggest” and not on “determine”) which competencies (Knowledge, Skills, Values) could be related to each one of those interrelated objectives.
Such as, by example:


1. Personal Development
a. Definition: By personal development we mean
b. Competencies, such as: how to be and how to behave – character, moral values, personality, communicability, healthy habits, creativity, learning to learn, Communications skills (oral, written, technological), critical thinking, self-awareness, understanding issues basic math, basic moral principles, hygiene and health, (do’s and don’t’s), nutrition, hygiene, healthy habits, disease prevention.

Themes such as curiosity as a major force in learning, exploring, and researching, how to develop learning habits, how to develop individuality and personal talents/vocations, financial planning, visioning, etc.

2. Prepare for the exercise of citizenship
a. Definition: By the exercise of citizenship we mean
b. Competencies, such as: how to relate, co-exist, participate, lead, empathize, leadership and collaborative skills, etc. (at home, with friends, and in the work place).
Themes such as Civics and Civility; Family Planning; Family Relationships; Social Organizations and Institutions; Social and Professional Hierarchies; Cultural Traditions;  Philosophy and Value Systems; Political Systems and Decision Making Processes (local, national, international); Economics and Theories of Development (local, national, international); Diversity, Ethnicity, and Cultural Differences; Understanding the Context of Times in Historical Perspectives (Brazilian and World History); Contemporary Problems and Issues; Environmental Concerns; Economic Development; Higher Mathematics; Ethics; Morality; etc.

3. Qualification for Work
a. Definition: By qualification for work we mean
b. Competencies, such as: how to create, innovate, produce (understand how his/her chosen profession works, including the specific competencies it demands), etc.

Themes such as Econology (Economic systems and the exploration of the environment); Legal Issues in the Workplace; Specific Professional Technologies, Professional Organizations and the Future of the Workplace in a Changing Technological and Globalized Environment; Visioning The Future of The Job Market and Work Environments (public and private sector jobs); Technologies And Their Impacts On The Environment, On The Economy (productivity), And On Society; etc.

I concluded my last article with the following, which I think is worth repeating:
It’s in the middle schools that the young need to be prepared to transition from childhood into adulthood. As the student approach his/her eighteenth birthday and becomes, legally, an adult, it’s in that age range that the learnings of how to be (values, personality, character), how to relate (marriage, children, work relations, financial commitments – rights, duties and responsibilities, etc.), and how to fully participate in the political processes, with full awareness of how the systems work, that the young can be prepared not just for the act of voting but, for those so inclined, for daily participation in the political process as politicians and/or political advocates. Schools need to teach about healthy patriotism (civics with morality and civility), the structure and functions of the political system, the meaning of political symbols (such is the Constitution, the flag, the statues, the national anthem, etc.), the heroes of the country and of the world, the history and traditions of the nation, as well as the national and the international models that can influence and motivate visionary leadership. A country without history, without heroes, without symbols, without models, without visionary leaders, and without an illuminated citizenry is a country without a soul and without a path to follow.

And now, to answer the question I posed at the beginning, “how is the Basic National Common Curriculum (BNCC) approaching the theme of civics and civility in terms of Brazilian common core curricula and the constitutional mandates?”, the answer is: the BNCC does not approach this most important theme in any direct, focused manner, even though, as a fundamental part of preparing an individual for the exercise of citizenship, the topic of civics and civility should rank at the top of concerns.
So, for my last article, I will suggest ways by which the theme of “Civics and Civility” can be applied to the constitutional objective of education and be inserted in the BNCC as a means of preparing individuals for the exercise of citizenship.