Does Brazil support democracy?

Authoritarians have been embraced in a country where public opinion is in favour of democracy. Leonardo Sakamoto argues for politics to be revitalized, starting with history education.

The overwhelming majority of Brazilians (75 per cent) support democracy, according to a recent survey by Datafolha, our most reputable polling firm. Seven per cent prefer a dictatorship. Coincidentally, in another survey from the same pollster, that was the exact percentage of people who believed the Earth is flat.

I’m not saying all Brazilians who favour dictatorship are flat-Earthers, but both groups surely demonstrate the importance of good education in preventing opportunists from manipulating ignorance.

An education covering the basics of science reduces the number of people who believe the world is shaped like a pizza. Datafolha’s poll showed that while 10 per cent of those who had only completed elementary school believed the Earth is flat, the rate among those finishing high school was 6 per cent, and 3 for those with a university degree.

History classes have a similar effect: they can reduce – but not eliminate – the number of people who deify authoritarian governments without knowing their true nature and effects.

It seems we have spent so much time making sure young people memorize dates of battles and names of rivers that the teaching of critical thinking has fallen by the wayside

The big majority in support of democracy needs to be relativized. Here in Brazil there are some who embrace authoritarians, believing them to be democrats. Take, for example, an exposé published in August by the Metropolis news website that leaked conversations from a WhatsApp group of wealthy entrepreneurs praising the Jair Bolsonaro administration. Some even defended a coup d’état. Interestingly, they accused the opposition of authoritarianism, simply for opposing Bolsonaro’s undemocratic acts.

It seems we have spent so much time making sure young people memorize dates of battles and names of rivers that the teaching of critical thinking has fallen by the wayside. It is not a coincidence that the teaching of history has been systematically attacked by those who wish to rewrite Brazil’s past in their own likeness. They fight so that schools become a place of repetition, not debate and discussion.

We need to protect history teaching in schools against the stupid fury of people and movements who want us to merely know the date when slavery was abolished in Brazil, but not to debate why the Act of 13 May 1888 did not guarantee freedom and autonomy to Afro-American people in this country.

We need to protect it against the fury of those who say that children must learn that World War Two began when Germany invaded Poland, but complain if teachers criticize what the Nazis preached.

May the history of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985 be known and told in schools until it permeates the bones of our youth, so they never forget that the freedom they enjoy today did not fall from the sky. It cost the blood, the flesh and the longing of far too many people.

In May 1933, mountains of books appeared in town squares throughout Germany. The Nazi regime wanted to clean up all writing that deviated from the standards they would impose. So, hundreds of thousands of books burned to ashes. Einstein, Mann and Freud among others were persecuted for daring to think differently from the majority.

Today, bonfires and squares are often virtual. But they burn all the same.