Dr. Ruth Meyre M. Rodrigues is a Portuguese-language Teacher in the Educational Public System of the Federal District of Brazil. In 2016, she became a public official, serving as Director of Rural Education, Human Rights, and Diversity issues at the Secretariat of Education of the Federal District. Dr. Meyre M. Rodrigues holds a PhD in Education from the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), where she was part of a research line called “social and school exclusion and inclusion processes: racism and social practices.”
She is a member of the Audre Lorde Group of Studies and Research in Education, Race, Gender and Sexualities of the Federal Rural University of Pernambuco and the University of Brasilia, promoting the studies on the intersections between gender, race, and sexualities and their projections in educational and public policies. Meyre contributes to preventing genocide and other mass atrocities by promoting human rights as an academic, teacher, and public official promoting human rights and inclusion of minorities and historically excluded groups in education, such as women, low-income, and Black people in Brazil.
She worked as Director of Rural Education, Human Rights and Diversity of the Federal District’s Education Secretariat. She was an advisor of the District Council for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights and she is currently an advisor of the Council for the Rights of Children and Adolescents of Federal District. As Director of Rural Education, Human Rights and Diversity at the Secretariat of Education, she has contributed since 2018 to AIPG’s work by supporting the implementation of WEPP’s project Citizenship and Democracy in School at schools in Brasilia. She has also been working in partnership with AIPG to disseminate and consolidate the initiative across teachers and students. Moreover, she has been part of the WEPP teacher trainings as a speaker, teaching about intersections studies between minority groups.
How do you begin your work in the area of education and human rights? Who and/or what inspires you to continue this work?
The first contacts with discussions in the field of Human Rights were born in my process of union action. The debate about socioeconomic inequalities — which initially focused on understanding how the capitalist mode of production promotes an unfair social organization and divisions into antagonistic social classes — gradually expanded to readings and interpretations of reality that consider different mechanisms of subordination and exclusion based on ethnic-racial belonging, gender identity, sexual orientation, and age, among others, which reverberate in various forms of vulnerabilities and social hierarchies.
Within this process, I can point to three main inspirations: One is in the action and struggle of social movements. The second arises from dialogue with children, teenagers, and young people who are eager for opportunities and voices. The third inspiration is the desire to leave a better world for future generations.
How and why did your concern for inclusion and racial equality in education begin? Please tell us a little bit about your projects as Director of Rural Education, Human Rights, and Diversity.
By considering the way that racism defines social roles and that the school is a venue of the production and reproduction of prejudice and ethnic-racial discriminatory processes, I came to understand the role of educational professionals in fighting against racism, which was historically built and continues to be reinforced and adapted to different social contexts.
When considering the social structures promoting inequality and segregationist practices, it is clear to see why it remains advantageous for certain groups to maintain racism as a strategy that upholds the status of non-privileged groups at the bottom of the social pyramid that supports the privileged status of a minority group. In this sense, an unfair economic and social order constantly relegates these individuals to the base of the pyramid, where they inherit an insecure work situation. It is important to remember that the base of this pyramid is primarily composed of Black women, as a result of the overlapping categories of subordination: race, class, and gender. Aware of this, the Director of Rural Education, Human Rights, and Diversity develops a broad range of projects and actions capable of minimizing the effects of social inequalities, such as:
- continuing education;
- partnerships with institutions;
- NGOs and civil society;
- the elaboration of guiding materials and intervention projects at schools;
- writing, updating, and implementing legislation associated with the field of Human Rights
- This includes legislation that has, as its target audience, all people who are in vulnerable situations. Among them, it is important to highlight the plight of girls and women; Black, Indigenous, rural, impoverished, homeless, LGBTQIA+, and Traveler populations, as well as refugees, and children and adolescents in situations of institutional care and socio-educational programming.
We act to confront violence based on the perspective of education for peace in a way that is inclusive, diverse, and free from all forms of oppression and discrimination.
Thinking more broadly, how do you see your work and the field of education contributing to the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities?
The management of public policies isn’t a field separated from reality, in this way, it’s characterized by disputes, agreements, and negotiations, which aren’t always in accordance with human rights guidelines. The discontinuity of actions and the constant change in the strategy and profile of those responsible for public policies negatively impact the implementation of actions and projects. In this context, it’s necessary to seek alternatives to guarantee basic social rights to marginalized social groups in a continuous and palpable way, even if these alternatives don’t completely work out the problems, but gradually find solutions. In this process, we work for political and emancipatory awareness through education as a way of confronting the logic of extermination, which is sometimes adopted by the State itself. The challenge is huge, especially considering the current context, but we continue to believe in education as a path to social transformation. As the great master Paulo Freire has taught us, we must hope!
In your opinion, what projects or actions have been particularly successful in meeting the challenges faced by the students from rural areas in Brazil?
The “Countryside Education” modality was born as a counterpoint to the old “Rural Education” approach. It is an attempt to separate the notion of schooling in rural areas from purely geographical criteria. It seeks to build and strengthen a notion of “education in and from the countryside” that takes into account the specificities, culture, and diversity present in rural areas.
We work to not reproduce the “country x city” dichotomy, in which the city is understood as superior, more developed, and advanced than the countryside. In reality, we have distinct social contexts that have specific demands due to the peculiarities of urban and rural populations. We fight to guarantee the same conditions and opportunities for rural students as those in urban locales. In addition, we always consider the peculiarities of the rural population and, above all, give value to their way of life and culture.
The main strategy for this recognition and for the strengthening of the modality is the elaboration, through action research, of the Historical and Cultural Social Inventory of the Countryside Schools, aligned with the Political and Pedagogical Project. This is an important step towards the establishment of bonds, generating a reciprocal feeling of belonging. The proposal should be thought based on the role of the student and the participation of other segments of the school community, respecting the countryside as a place of production of life, with particular forms of socioeconomic organization and valuing the cultural identity of the locality. It is founded on the principle that it is necessary to know and understand reality critically, in order to interpret and transform it.
What actions or public policies could best support initiatives to prevent racism and other types of discrimination in the Brazilian school system?
The fight against racism depends on deep discussions and reflections on the social function of the school and the role of schooling in the process of social inclusion. For this, it’s necessary to identify, as a background, a social structure that is not only racist and based in eugenics, but also patriarchal, sexist, and misogynist. One which makes Black women extremely vulnerable and targets of different forms of violence. This scenario was born in times of colonial Brazil, extended during the Empire, spread throughout the Republic and is still alive as a project that only gives attention to the interests of the powerful and prestigious.
The result of this is an extremely unfair and unequal society. As a consequence of this, the State must guarantee policies capable of compensating for this history of exclusion to traditionally marginalized, dehumanized, and subordinated groups through so-called “positive discrimination” measures, as a way of trying to safeguard the conditions and opportunities for all through affirmative action policies. These actions seek to promote the potential for social inclusion, thus mitigating the consequences of the discriminatory processes that are a part of Brazilian society. With this in mind, the school is a powerful locus for the changes we hope to see in society.
What AIPG initiatives have you participated in? How do you believe that the Citizenship and Democracy in School project has contributed to promoting human rights and fighting against discrimination in the schools you have worked in and worked with?
The Auschwitz Institute is an important partnership for us in the development of actions related to the debate about Human Rights, social justice, and citizenship. The discussions at the training actions conducted by the Warren Educational Policies Program of the Auschwitz Institute alongside the materialization of pedagogical practices in classrooms directly complement the theoretical principles of our curriculum. The main learning experience is the realization that it is possible to discuss complex topics concerning Human Rights through teaching strategies that are dynamic and interesting. These strategies help teachers to hold students’ attention while promoting reflection and political-social engagement.
How do you believe that the Citizenship and Democracy in School project has contributed to promoting human rights and fighting against discrimination in the schools you have worked in and with?
The Citizenship and Democracy in School project made it possible to create spaces for dialogue among students and educational professionals. Based on a participatory approach, the proposal inspires the development of critical points of view and evokes reflections capable of deconstructing hate speech that are present in a context of extreme political polarization. Themes such as racism, fascism, LGBTQIA+ discrimination, sexism, religious diversity, among others, are dealt with in an intersectional way across the project.
Overall, the course was highly rated by the participating teachers and schools. Initiatives like this one are crucial for the strengthening of a culture of peace in schools as a strategy to confront all forms of violence and the reproduction of prejudices and stereotypes.