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How to bring the debate on politics and democracy into schools

These tips on videos and learning materials can help to discuss themes such as democracy, impeachment and human rights with students.

by Maria Victória Oliveira and Marina Lopes 03/24/2016

In recent weeks, the Brazilian political crisis has monopolized headlines and dominated conversations – and even fights – between friends and relatives, as well as taking over social media. Surrounded by opinion and uncertainty, the debate has now entered schools, even when teachers have not planned to tackle the issue. But is politics a subject for the classroom? The experts consulted by Porvir believe it is, and argue the importance, in the current climate, of tackling questions related to the roles of political institutions, principles of democracy and citizenship.

Pedro Markun, one of the authors of Quem Manda Aqui? (Who’s In Charge Here?), which approaches political mechanisms in a colorful and accessible way, that is ideal for youngsters, is in favor of discussing the subject from an early age. “I believe that when we talk to kids about something, they equip themselves to better understand the subject,” says Markun, who is part of Laboratório Hacker.

He recalls how, when his first child was born, he wondered how he was going to talk to her about politics. Now, however, he has learnt that “it’s foolish to think that children can’t talk about complicated issues. We already talk to our children about politics, without even noticing”. The idea behind Quem Manda Aqui? is that the book can be a tool to help families initiate the debate with their children. “Creating mechanisms that facilitate the first point of contact with politics is very healthy”.

Furthermore, Markun stresses how important it is to show youngsters that, despite being a complicated subject, where many different opinions come together, a political education is the best way to mold politically conscious adults. “It’s so important that we start to educate children about politics from an early age, or else we’ll end up with an adult political class like we have today, people who are unprepared to talk about politics, who are full of anger and don’t know how to talk about the subject in a friendly manner with their friends and colleagues”.

So how can we encourage children and teenagers to get involved in the debate? Bruno Bissoli, cofounder and educator at Pé na Escola (Get In School), a social project aimed at educating children about rights and democracy, believes that students show a natural interest in themes such as human rights and politics. However, schools need to create space to allow them to express themselves. “It’s essential if we are to exercise our rights of citizenship, and yet we end up learning like autodidacts. Schools are distant from the issue, which is essential if we are to act as fully-rounded citizens,” he says.

Before beginning a dialogue about the theme, fellow cofounder Vanessa Pinheiro says that educators should forget the idea that they are the “guardians of the truth”, and listen to what students have to say. “The teacher also has to learn how to manage his or her own prejudices and dialogue,” she says. One interesting strategy, she believes, is to encourage students to create their own internal rules so that the debate can make room for everyone.

When giving a voice to their students, educators should adopt the position of mediator. According to Mariana Vilella, cofounder and educator at Pé na Escola, they need to analyze whether the conversation is flowing in a democratic manner and make sure that everyone is able to express their opinions. “The educator has a very important role in mediating the dialogue, something that is often lacking in both politics and education,” she explains.

In this climate of heated discussions, Mariana says that it is important to reflect the complex nature of the debate, avoiding polarized divisions between good and evil, to try to understand that other interpretations of reality exist. “We have to put the students in a position outside their comfort zones and force them to put themselves in the place of others,” she says. She also recommends that schools do not limit themselves solely to political dialogue, but also plan projects and studies that reflect the idea of democratic participation. “Instead of fleeting concepts, our main concern is to send a message about what thinking and acting politically really means.”

For educators who wish to address issues related to politics and democracy, Porvir has identified a list of materials that can contribute to the discussion:

Infographic telling the story of the electoral ballot
From the paper ballot to the biometric sensor, this interactive infographic shows the evolution of voting throughout history. The timeline starts in 1889, in the period of the First Republic, and passes through different moments, such as the creation of the official ballot envelope (1930) and the computerization of the system (1985).

Games showing Brazilian political movements
Through a series of five games, Brazilian political movements and elements of democracy are described in a fun way. Using comic strips, the Agentes do Destino (Makers of Destiny) game analyzes the causes and consequences of historic periods from the Revolution of 1930 until the present day.

Site brings a grown-up subject to youngsters
Developed by the Ministério Público Federal (the Federal Public Prosecutor), the “MPF Gang” site features content that explains topics such as elections and the laws and rights of children. The site also has a number of games and activities, plus a section that explains the meaning of terms such as public administration and corruption.

Site explains the Chamber of Deputies to kids
The Plenarinho (“Little Plenary”) portal is a channel of the Chamber of Deputies aimed at kids. The site features news, games, reading suggestions and cartoons that explain about how the Lower House works, what is a bill and other topics.

Series of YouTube videos about the Brazilian political system
The series “E eu c/ isso?” (“What’s It Got to Do with Me?) explains, simply and quickly, how the Brazilian political system works. In all, there are four short videos (the longest lasts three minutes), which with the help of cartoons, explain the spheres of power (executive, legislative, judicial), what they consist of, and what their roles are. The main character is João who, during the series, comes to understand his place in the world of politics.

YouTube video channel explains political terms in a didactic manner
For fans of videos, the Politics Without Mysteries channel also explains the subject in a highly didactic manner. Most of the 25 videos feature color illustrations, complete with politician dolls who help to explain both the simplest and the most complicated issues. What is politics, the difference between the Houses, Senate and Congress, what is a bill of rights, the anti-terrorism law and the difference between referendum and plebiscite are all included.

Site explains the a-to-z of political terms and themes
Featuring topics under discussion in the national political agenda, Politize includes explanations of terms and goings-on in Brasilia. In order to encourage political education, the site provides its content in accessible language and removes the jargon from issues such as corruption, foreign policy and the functioning of the three powers.

Video shows how an impeachment process works
This video produced by the Brazilian Public Agency describes an impeachment process, an issue that has frequently appeared in the news and ordinary debates and arguments, in a step by step manner. Through animations, it also shows the possible governmental line of succession in case of impeachment.

Site helps to create elections with computerized urns
If you want to hold a vote that is more like an election, you should try Apertaquem, an electronic ballot box for Windows that can be used in polls or even student union elections. The site includes a free and a premium version (available to public schools for R$ 24.00).

Quem Manda Aqui? book discusses politics with children
Created from six children’s workshops in São Paulo and Ouro Preto, in the state of Minas Gerais, Quem Manda Aqui? (“Who’s in Charge Here?”) is the first in a series of books about politics aimed especially at kids. Available free of charge online and in bookshops, the book, an initiative from the Laboratório Hacker, was initially financed by a crowdfunding campaign.

Declaration of Human Rights
Despite being created in 1948, many people don’t know all the 30 rights and freedoms listed in the Declaration of Human Rights. It is therefore important that children study this document and get to know their rights, responsibilities and what is meant by a politically conscious citizen.

Translated by James Young

TAGS

elementary and middle school, games, high school, open educational resources, video-classes