The text I present here reflects a partial vision on the transversal project that the cultural movement “Identidades” promotes in the community Conceição das Crioulas, in Pernambuco’s sertão, Brasil.
The conquest of the right to education implies the construction of a Pedagogical Political Project. In the quest for the demarcation of the Conceição das Crioulas territory, the community aims to solidify and systematise the knowledge of the artistic expressions from the community to the schools.
The questions intended for reflection are: how do we work at our school and how does the school think and live in the community in which it is embedded? How does the school work towards the recognition of other communities in parallel? What is the contribution of art in education and to the awareness of identities?
“(…) 8. Aiming the quilombism at the foundation of a creative society, it will encourage all the capacities of human beings and their full realisation. (…) The arts in general will occupy a space in the basic education system and in the context of social activities.” (Nascimento, 2009: 213)
The quilombo community of Conceição das Crioulas struggles to retrieve and own the land, and fights for the right to education and health, seeking a better way of life, and organizing themselves in a participating democracy. The conquest of one of these purposes means the conquest of all the others, like a network which connects the various ties: to strengthen one of them is to strengthen all of them. The whole identity of Conceição das Crioulas is defined by the intersection and enforcing of this network. The restitution of the quilombola territory is carried out by family ties based on an intercultural space, including Indians, black descendents of African slaves, and the descendents of the European settlers. The school expresses equal concerns and embraces all the problems of the community. It is an important tool for the emancipation of the community.
In the context of the struggle, and regarding the field of education, the community is involved in the construction of a Pedagogical Political Project (PPP), which contemplates a specific, differentiated and intercultural quilombola education. This search establishes a strong presence of artistic expressions in the school curriculum, an option that intends to reinforce and strengthen the cultural identity of the community. Conceição das Crioulas becomes a pioneer and, therefore, an example to other communities because of the significance given to the path the inhabitants outline and design for the future.
In 2003, me and Iva Correia, both from Porto, together with Rogério Manjate, from Mozambique, had the opportunity to visit and get to know the community through the “intercultural movement IDENTIDADES”. We were invited by the Luís Freire Cultural Centre (Centro Cultural de Luís Freire – CCLF) and the Quilombola Association of Conceição das Crioulas (Associação Quilombola de Conceição das Crioulas – AQCC), in order to conduct a workshop of art addressed mainly to children and teenagers. The chosen date was the celebration of “Nossa Senhora da Conceição“, the patron saint of the community, in mid August. The festival lasted for two weeks, and during that time various workshops were organized: theatre, storytelling, African history, art, dance and percussion.
The first manifestation
To know the community under this condition requires a (dis)trust charged with an expectation that is fundamental to the beginning of any relationship. By the second day I was already in love – I knew it later -, and what I recognized at that moment was the presence of a contagious energy, of an identification or a disquieting contradiction, which revealed an eagerness to give and to receive whatever possible in the few days we knew we were going to stay, taking advantage of this meeting.
The development of the activities in the art workshop absorbed me while I was there. It was not mandatory to find time for the presentation of the final work, as I was used to doing as a Fine Arts student – the outcome of a workshop like this would normally serve the validation and evaluation of my competence, provoking the sense of purpose. But even here I was surprised. All the importance was given to the process and to the shared progress that lasted from morning until the end of the work day, made of committed experiences and discoveries, even if many of them were ephemeral. This happened every day. Inevitably, the next day demanded other things, different exchanges, and other actions which implied and were not separated from the desire to know the other, letting us delight ourselves and experience together. This took place during the two weeks the activity lasted. The ones participating acted this way, and those who did not attend the workshop acted alike. The community never felt the need to achieve a final object so as to show it in a special presentation on the last day. However, they were delighted with the experience, and assimilated all the discoveries as their own – all these “final objects” that children and young people transported daily from the workshop to the streets (which is the same as their home).
The last day of the workshop was dedicated to mask making. And it was marked for being exactly that, the last day. The omen of the “and now what will happen to us?” after such an intense time. In the evening the festivities ended with the novena. They were over with the farewell of “today it felt like so little, so today it felt so good”. The theatre, dance and percussion workshops presented the result of their work. It was magical to me when children spontaneously came up with their productions of that day’s workshop – the masks – causing a hubbub of joy from everyone who lived intensely the day-to-day results of that workshop. By then we were sure that a new meeting had to be scheduled.
And so it was. The meeting scheduled for the “time zero”, which happed a few months later. A conversation long enough to understand what common ground, according to Rancière, could exist between us. What space, what time, what distance, what proximity, which sensitivities are established between us and how we were ready to face this road together. In 2005 we returned to the “time one”, knowing that we wanted to build an ongoing relationship.
The workshop held in 2005 was attended by teachers and children, although they were all also students. When we returned we repeated the experiment but this time with a concrete goal – to build the model of the future public square. The aim was to perform a task that was linked to the place, something that established a way of interpreting the space which is experienced every day. To watch and see where we were and how we could represent it: the body as a measure; the sheet as a measure; drawing as a means of expression; from a two-dimensional representation to its transformation into three dimensions. We all learned from each other, experimenting and developing new methods and new apprenticeship perspectives by observing and learning from the surroundings. We wanted to understand the site in a shared way, by questioning it.
The workshops that followed in the two subsequent years resulted in two books: the first, a compilation of the results of the printing workshop (linocut, decal, woodcut, among other techniques); the second, “10 year history of AQCC “, is a book composed of texts and illustrations which was mostly done with the teachers who were also part of the communications committee of the association. In 2008 a shadow puppet show using an overhead projector was produced in a participatory way. “The six black” and “School José Mendes” were the stories created and performed using the shadows of the body and those of clipped visual elements. The workshops then started being limited to teachers, taking into account the need to develop critical and theoretical material from practice, and for them to transport and apply the exercises in the classroom.
In 2008 we wanted to take a more consistent step. There was already a lot in common between us and the community, and so we discussed the differentiated curriculum which the community was looking to apply in their schools, stating the importance of the arts in that curriculum. These conversations began establishing a partnership with the community and with the city hall of Salgueiro to organise a two year project from 2009 to 2011 – “artistic expressions in the community of Conceição das Crioulas”. This project included formative meetings in Porto, Portugal. The project focused on the search for an arts curriculum that would be included in the Pedagogical Political Project. The time had come to open our homes to Conceição das Crioulas, a community that learns from the world by conquering step by step their presence and voice in the global space.
Pedagogical Political Project – Differentiated Education
“… never in our educational system any subject was taught revealing some appreciation or respect for the cultures, arts, languages and religions of African origin.” (Nascimento, 2009: 198)
The construction of the identity of each school implies an understanding of the need and the existence of a differentiated curriculum. By differentiated curriculum we mean the assertion of the individuality of each institution, thus trying to remove any overriding factor in any curriculum in relation to others. Each school should seek to administer differently the same formal curriculum. The formal curriculum is an image of the culture worthy of being conveyed, with the codification and formalisation corresponding to this didactic intent (Perrenoud, 2001: número de página). The community of Conceição das Crioulas claims the right to a differentiated curriculum considered in comparison to the formal curriculum. This formal curriculum is seen as external and global, therefore nullifying the validation of alternative images of culture worthy of being transmitted, as well as forgetting what is internal and specific to their culture. However, every curriculum is designed to promote the education for citizenship, the democratic culture and the openness to the other. Every curriculum demands the right to its existence, individuality and sense of belonging to a global network and to the social network. It is necessary to remember the effort that should be done by everyone and within schools, the educational space par excellence, to understand the urgency of the need to develop the critical awareness of where we stand in the communication and in the identification with the collective. The differentiated curriculum seeks therefore to maintain the formal basis of the national curriculum, although establishing with it a way of interpreting and valuing “what is ours” and what is local as a central element of the curriculum, thus defining the opening of new chapters in history.
In the construction of the PPP (Pedagogical Political Project) the parameters of the differentiated education are developed. In this proposal it is pertinent to pay attention to the importance of having teachers who are from the community in the school, who know and are a part of the story of their struggle. On the one hand, the teacher from the community will work with the differentiated curriculum from within, understanding and mastering the cultural values and supporting the goals of the community. Only in this way does the school fulfil its duty and its role within the cause and the quilombola community, thus reinforcing the collective. Moreover, it is urgent to draw attention to the difficulty in getting to the community due to roads in very poor condition that jeopardise the transport to the nearest town, Salgueiro. It is often impossible for teachers who are not from the community to get to the school, causing an unstable situation in its daily rhythm.
Pedagogical Political Project – Intercultural Education
As previously mentioned, the community establishes a continuous relationship between the local Indians as well as descendants of black and European people. It is thus positioned in a complex and often controversial field. With a strong political awareness, the community defines itself as quilombola, but knows that the coexistence of its members is built side by side with various cultures. Even though the PPP is defined as quilombola, in the school the practice reveals other participations and opens other discussions. The reflection of this diversity is presented by respecting the other cultures that reveal their own ways of living in the rural Sertão, with livelihoods that are eventually different from clichés created about what is African or Indian culture. A key common factor in this analysis is the communitarian value and looking out for a better, more respected life. This is the main feature of the community’s identity that is present in every decision making. The decisions are based on what is best for the community, and everyone has a place, a role, an opinion and a voice when it comes to making decisions.
In this context, the teachers are mothers, aunts, grandmothers, so they are also part of the families. Following the reading of Jacques Rancière, the experience that is built here is based on a ground where everyone is an “Ignorant Schoolmaster” – the teachers are also students, they learn amongst themselves and with the community. However, the question of translation that exists in ”The Ignorant Schoolmaster” at a linguistic level follows the direction of translating resources, readings, production of images and products. The translation is a constant: from the outside to the inside, from the inside to the outside, from the inside to the inside. This requires constantly putting the way one sees things into perspective and understanding the context, the method, the power of sensitivity and of intelligence. Valuing and enhancing community identity.
Based on the complexity of the set of activities that the community is presents, we intend to isolate one of those actions that may be identified as belonging to the handmade learning group: a line of craft with which the community represents itself, regarding culture and identity, within national and international contexts – dolls, purses, placemats, among others, all produced with the cotton and the caruá fibre they gather from plants, and also bowls, dishes and pots they produce with the clay extracted from the earth. This isolation and practice help us understand and analyse the strength that exists, far from the artistic ways, but nevertheless important to reinforce the identity that is transposed to the school’s art curriculum, focusing on the premise of the differentiated curriculum. The community learns from the community and from those who arrive and have seen different things.
Focusing on their production – the “doll” -, which is representative of the people who fought for the quilombola cause, becomes a symbol of tribute, memory, identification, while the other objects of a utilitarian nature such as placemats, bags, bowls and pots, transmit the ways of those who use such tools in their daily life. The means of living and the ways of being are brought to light in this way. Such instruments are also starting to lose their utilitarian nature, following the rhythm and the evolution of everyday life. Clay objects are replaced by pans and dishes that, due to improved conditions of life, are now possible of being acquired in the nearest town, Salgueiro. On the one hand, with this change comes the fear of losing characteristics and the gained knowledge that was practiced for a long time. On the other hand, these objects are very appreciated by visitors, creating a potential income leading to the need for serial production and to pass on the perfected skills of the older generation.
Observing all the possibilities that the land offers, the community’s work aims to give recognition-to-the-knowledge that has already been acquired but not made aware by the development of the mastery that exists in the know-how of the master. They seek to learn by understanding what has already been mastered in order to add new understandings and new ways of doing, that will be handed down to the children and young people who are a part of this process and who now grow in a different time, with new stimuli. It is important to absorb and translate the reality and the property of their culture, transmitted with deciphered and dominated codes by those who produce and create them.
The school was thought of as a possible vehicle to develop the learning processes of passing on the knowledge that the eldest carry and keep to the youngest. This was planned not to train craftsmen, but rather to reinforce the cultural knowledge of the community, as well as to develop handmaking (small muscle control) and to preserve historical knowledge towards the foundation of community and cultures – taking into account that these works and their sale is what allowed for the purchase of the land they live in – in the sense of tradition and renewal. In this way, the older generation goes to school.
YAE – Youth and Adult Education (EJA – Educação de Jovens e Adultos)
“Quilombo does not mean runaway slave. Quilombo means free and fraternal meeting, solidarity, harmony, existential communion. “(Nascimento, 2009: 204)
One of the struggles with which the quilombolos have always been faced was access to education. Literacy was long associated with the right to vote. Only the people who were literate could vote. This type of social discrimination always determined, checked and maintained economic, social and cultural power far from the common people and close to the ruling elite class. Educator Paulo Freire was a defender of equal rights and of achieving goals through education for minority and poor social classes. The first step is to alphabetize these classes, “to literate is to create awareness” (Freire, 1972: número de página e minúsculas/maiúsculas).
The educational philosophy of Paulo Freire promotes an education movement tangible to everyone, strengthening and promoting the possibility of social change that could only be established by the oppressed and literate class. Note that it is not intended to close this class to the quilombolos, but to all sub-cultures of the proletarians and the marginal. This demand was never aimed merely at acquiring practical knowledge to decode the codes of reading and writing, but mainly to extend the understanding of knowledge to thinking and to the power wording, in the context of the political arena, trying to empower all classes. This does not mean that power switched location, but that it changed over time. The educational philosophy of Paulo Freire remains very current, as dominant classes still exist and the pedagogy of autonomy keeps on being a necessary good, even though it now occupies a different position. The oppressed class has a voice, even if only apparent, since it is aware of the world around it and knows how to position itself before it, politically speaking. For the same reason, the school of the Conceição das Crioulas quilombolo still offers the Youth and Adult Education, considering the amount of people who do not attend school as a child due to the need of supporting the work at home to ensure their family’s subsistence.
Pedagogical Political Project – Specific Education
The adults are also invited to assume the role of teachers in the school. While passing on their knowledge, strengthening the cultural values of the community, the adults are also apprentices, improving their individual knowledge to gain strength for the collective. Inevitably, we can create an analogy with the experience of Joseph Jacotot, in the book “The Ignorant Schoolmaster” of Jacques Rancière. In the search for solutions to apply in this context, and considering the excessive amount of formulas offered by the formal curriculum which are inappropriate to the interests of the community, it is implicit in the daily rhythm of school and in the relation community-teacher to set off to look for their own translations and findings. It should be emphasized that this exercise in the community means living intellectual adventure every day. The example of Joseph Jacotot, finding himself in a situation that could have a deadlock effect, of disappointment or even incompatibility between his task and the goals to achieve, he recreates a method that produces a unique practical experience between the problem and its resolution. In this way, the whole complexity of being an individual within the collective is presented. The whole community is a master, an apprentice and an author.
Project “artistic expressions in the community of Conceição das Crioulas”
The task is not easy. In the certainty of strengthening the arts in the differentiated curriculum exists the demand and the attempt of developing equality, of enhancing the identity and of recognising the individuality in the collective. On the one hand, various cultures exist in the same place; on the other hand, we find that there is a complexity ranging from the local learning of the collective to the global collective. But regarding what we experienced, we are now aware of the possibility of operating internal changes, which the community seeks in relation to the group work and starting from the artistic expressions.
I want to tell you a little story here perhaps to underline the recognition-of-the-knowledge that primarily exists in empirical knowledge. In one of our group analyses in the training of teachers, we did a survey of “dynamic and plays”, as a playful-pedagogical exercise of intervention and knowledge of the body we own, and that relates with the other bodies – focusing on the advantages and disadvantages of a particular game, the goals to achieve with it, and the development that could be observed at different ages with the activity… Marinalva is the principal of the School of Bevenuto São Simão in Sitio Paula, Conceição das Crioulas, a quiet very interventionist lady with a receptive smile. She explicitly revealed the difficulty of working with the children in her multi-graded school (which means working with various subjects, various ages, and multiple rhythms simultaneously in the same classroom). This difficulty stemmed simply from the fact that children did not know how to deal with affection, with tact and, in particular, with the body, so they knew only one way of communicating with each other: beating up. In the school time that followed a theme was applied – “Toys and Games” – that the whole school would develop. Since then, the basis of any learning experience is based on artistic expression. They follow a starting theme from which they approach all other areas, arousing and working every sense (smell, sight, touch, hearing, taste) to develop understanding and knowledge of all the subjects, applying the habits of the place where children live. This was done by motivating the kids to build toys and to take all their games with them to school, in order to carefully deconstruct the barriers of body communication. Having overcome this problem, the relationship between children was improved and the interaction among them was enhanced in the deconstruction of barriers that marked differences in the understanding of similarities. One thing is sure: we will inevitably learn!
“No one educates anyone, no one educates himself, men teach each other, mediated by the world” (Freire, 1972)
But do not believe in everything I say, because this is just one of the possible translations of my experience.
FREIRE, Paulo (1972). “Pedagogia do Oprimido”. Porto: Afrontamento.
NASCIMENTO, Abdias (2009). “Quilombismo: Um conceito emergente do processo histórico-cultural da população afro-brasileira” in Elisa Larkin Nascimento (Org.), AFROCENTRICIDADE uma abordagem epistemológica inovadora (pp.197-218). S. Paulo: Selo Negro.
RANCIÈRE, Jacques (2010). “O Mestre ignorante”. Porto: Edições Pedago.
RANCIÈRE, Jacques (2010). “Estética e Política A partilha do Sensível”. Porto: Edição Dafne.
 Author’s translation.
 Religious celebration that lasts nine days.
 Author’s translation from a Portuguese song: “hoje soube-me a pouco, portanto, hoje soube-me a tanto”.
 The original title is “As seis negras”.
 The original title is “Escola José Mendes”.
 Author’s translation.
 Author’s translation.
i, ii, iii Cognize, Confide, Accomplice are the three steps of the CCC theory proclaimed by IDENTIDADES. (In Portuguese it is Conhecer, Confiar, Cúmplice). We first get to know the community, then we earn their trust and they earn ours, and afterwards we end up being each other’s accomplices.