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The Defenders of public schooling

In the series of reports concerning the seventy years of the University of S

Fabrício Marques

The trajectory of the Education College of the University of São Paulo (USP) can well be told d in three stages, and all of them are marked by the commitment to build a public schooling system, secular and accessible to all. The seedling took root at the start of the 1930s, at the Normal Secondary School of the Republic Square, in the center of the city of São Paulo, where today the Secretary of Education of the State of São Paulo has its headquarters (the building, by indication, is a symbol of secular schooling: it was built during the first years of the Republic with the cash and the land that the ended Empire had reserved for the construction of a cathedral).

At a time in which almost half of the primary school population were outside of school and the majority of the primary school teachers had only four years of primary school instruction, a group of teachers from the Normal Secondary School of the Republic Square began to set up the foundation of a pioneering institution for pedagogical secondary school teaching. The idea of the educators Antônio Sampaio Dória, Manuel Lourenço Filho and Fernando de Azevedo also had a nationalistic stamp, since the difference between the educational level of the Brazilian natives and that of the European immigrants was huge.

From this effort emerged, in 1933, the Education Institute, the center of the secondary level linked to the Normal Secondary School. It had a short-lived life as an independent institution. In 1934 it incorporated itself into the emerging University of São Paulo and, in 1938, transformed itself into the Pedagogy Section of the College of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters (FFCL), mainly with the mission of giving a pedagogical formation to secondary teachers of various disciplines graduating from USP.A second important moment for the history of the School goes back to the year 1956, when the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) and USP teamed up to set up in the USP campus, the Regional Center for Educational Research (CRPE) of São Paulo.

It was an arm of one of the MEC organs, the National Institute of Pedagogic Studies (Inep), directed towards research and teacher training. Its idealist was the education philosopher Anísio Teixeira, whose ideas underpinned a notable pedagogic renovation in the middle of the twentieth century and were the basis of the start of the greater access to schooling of the poorest Brazilians. The CRPE had shared professors with the Pedagogic Section of the FFCL, but the institutions followed independent courses. Each one of them had its School of Application: that of the CRPE, only lower primary; that of USP, the Fidelino de Figueiredo School, primary and lower high school.

The 1st of January 1970 marked the third stage of this trajectory, with the founding of the Education College, in the molds of how it is presently running. The unit was established along the same lines of the university reform of 1968, with the emancipation of the Section of Pedagogy of the Philosophy, Sciences and Letters Faculty, and its fusion with the CRPE, which ceded its installations and ended up extinct. From the FFCL, the Education College inherited professors trained under the influence of foreign missions who had set up USP and were inspired by the Campaign for the Defense of Public Schooling, led by the sociologist Florestan Fernandes at the start of the 60s. From the CRPE, it received its current headquarters (partially demolished and rebuilt because of problems of soil movement), educators who had instructed generations of researchers, such as Roque Spencer Maciel and Laerte Ramos de Carvalho, as well as the School of Application (that which had belonged to the Philosophy School, the laboratoryof innovative experiences, which was summarily closed by the military dictatorship).

“The concerns of the founders of the Education Institute and the CRPE helped to explain our tradition of research, historically directed towards the expansion and improvement of public schooling”, explains Celso de Rui Beisiegel, a professor of the sociology of education, who began his career as a researcher at the CRPE and helped to found the unit during the 70s. With close to 800 pedagogy students, 600 of them post graduates, 8,000 registered in the teachers? course and 107 teachers, the institution progressed as a reference in educational research. Some examples of projects supported by FAPESP illustrate the thematic diversity and the spectrum of concerns that have guided the school?s researchers. One of these lines of investigation is the formation of professors and the analysis of the learning of the sciences. “We have a robust group, who also produce and evaluate didactic material”, says professor Myriam Krasilchik, a researcher in the field of biology teaching, who was the director of the EducationSchool and the vice-rector of USP. Over the last few years, professor Myriam has gotten involved in an environmental educational project in two towns in the interior of the state of São Paulo.

Professor Anna Maria Pessoa de Carvalho works with two teams of public school teachers, in search of innovative experiments in the teaching of physics for primary schools and lower high schools. One of the group?s objectives is to put together the types of experiments that would make it possible for the pupil to learn. Fifteen (15) videos have been produced with the images of classrooms, capable of dealing with some didactic experiments that would help the pupil learn. Another practical result was the teachers? guideThermodynamics ? An experiment by investigation , with practical methodology developed by a group of lower high school professors. The major conclusion is that the learning of physics depends on the classroom activities capable of provoking arguments and allowing the pupils to make up and to test hypotheses.

For example, in an experiment concerning expansion, the teachers place an air bladder over the mouth of a glass recipient and warm up its base. The bladder inflates ? which serves as the starting point for a discussion on the phenomenon. “The pupils debated and some of them ended up suggesting that the bladder increased in size because the hot air, in the end, went up.

Then the recipient was turned up side down and the bladder continued inflating. The teacher conducted the discussions towards the real explanation, that it is the expansion of the air, and the pupils built on their knowledge, formulating hypotheses and putting them to the test”, says professor Anna. Another initiative, with good effects, is the discussion on the original texts of scientists, in which the students realize the importance of team work, of curiosity and of perseverance in discoveries. “The majority of people cannot remember anything that they learned during their physics lessons”, says Anna. “Some say that they liked the laboratory activities, but as well they can?t remember exactly what they liked. This is a sign that the traditional teaching of physics is dead.” The effort to develop a new methodology clashes with above all the timetable allocation of the discipline in public schooling. “With one lesson per week, one can only do very little”, she says.

The Education School has a strong tradition in the study of the history of education. If the dominant current, up until the 70s, leaned towards the history of pedagogical ideas and the profile of the theorists, from the 80s onwards the focus fell upon new protagonists: teachers and students. “In a general manner, the 80s marked a change in the faculty?s research, now more directed towards the classroom and to the pluralism of theorists guidance”, explains professor Marília Spósito, the President of the Research Commission.

An example of this watershed is the effort to give credit to the trajectory of the educational book in Brazil. Under the leadership of professor Circe Bittencourt, The Education Memory Center, linked to the school, has been building up a didactic archive, school material and oral testimony of both teachers and pupils. A thesis on the theme, defended by professor Circe in 1993, namely “The didactic book: historical knowledge”, will be published in book form over the next few months by Editora Unesp. Didactic works are obtained from diverse sources, such as second hand bookstores and libraries, with the objective of helping to understand the dynamics of education in the past. If the book has been used, with completed exercises, then the richer is the understanding. In an old work the researchers even found fragments of paper for cheating in a test, important fuel for the study of the fashions and customs of schools.

In the archive there are rarities published in the nineteenth century, some of them obtained in France where a large number of the books used in schools during Imperial Brazil were printed. “My life is to visit second hand bookshops”, says Circe. “When the stores still don?t know that we are interested, they come cheap”, she explains. A limitation for research is that the educational books distributed by the government, today, have to be reused, inhibiting the interaction of the pupils. “We attempted to fill in this gap by collecting exercise books”, the professor says.

It is possible to cite other contributions by the Education School, such as the theoretical work of professor Marília Spósito about young people, especially about public policies for the young in Brazil over the last few years. Or the research of professor Tizuko Morchida Kishimoto in the Laboratory of Toys and Pedagogic Material. On evaluating the potential of toys in pedagogic activities, the laboratory seeks to harvest subsidies for the formation of professors of infant education. Professor Selma Garrido Pimenta, the school?s current director, is developing a piece of work that has become a reference for the formation of professors throughout the country.

One of the fruits of this line of research was a project that she coordinated, directed towards the investigation of the process of production of knowledge of teachers, and developed between 1996 and 2000 in two public schools on the periphery of Sao Paulo. The fuel for the research was the reflection of the teachers themselves about their pedagogical practices, an innovative qualitative methodology.Outstanding as well is the research of professor Celso Beisiegel concerning public policies and the consequences of the expansion of schooling. His most recent contribution was the piece of research namedConstruction about a data bank on professors experiences at public universities in public education administration over the last few decades .

Guided by professors Beisiegel and Romualdo Portela de Oliveira, also from the faculty, seven (7) students traveled to various states in Brazil collecting and registering information about the activities of professors in public universities in the elaboration and execution of educational policies. They put together documents, interviewed educators and promoted seminars with the participation of these professors with the intention of understanding the work that they developed and to debate its importance.

The institution is known as a producer of professionals. As the Secretary of Education for the State of São Paulo for almost eight (8) years, the pedagogue Rose Neubauer came from the school. Another professor, Lisete Arelaro, was the Secretary of Education for the Municipality of Diadema. In the recent past, the school provided a Vice-Rector for USP, Myriam Krasilchik, and two graduation Pro-Rectors, Celso Beisiegel and Sonia Penin, still exercising her position. “The School justifies its presence in the University of São Paulo”, professor Beisiegel states proudly.