Theses Doctoral

Reconstructing the Public School Child: Darcy Ribeiro, Paulo Freire, and Education Policy in Brazil

Winter, Marcella

This dissertation investigated the development of stereotypes surrounding public school children in Brazil, primarily focusing on poor students of Afro descent. It explored how these stereotypes have influenced education policymaking and examined the efforts of Darcy Ribeiro and Paulo Freire to challenge these prevailing notions. Employing archival research to trace the historical creation of stereotypes about Black Brazilians from impoverished backgrounds since the country's declaration of independence, the study delved into historical accounts and perspectives offered by various political actors—policymakers, educators, families, and society in general. The aim was to understand how ideas and images about poor and Black students have been constructed and impacted the education policy process in the country.

The findings revealed that historically, governing elites associated vulnerable populations with societal problems such as crime, diseases, and idleness. Consequently, different policies were designed and implemented, predominantly proposing work as a solution to restrain Black and poor populations. For children, schools emerged as spaces where they should be disciplined and tailored to meet the needs of the workforce. To understand the historical construction of these stereotypes, I conducted interviews with education stakeholders to assess the persistence of these ideas and the efforts schools make, or fail to make, to counteract the influence of negative social constructions on public school students.

The research also delved into Ribeiro’s and Freire’s perspectives on public education—how they attempted to translate their theories into practice, and the complexities encountered during the design and implementation of their policies in the state of Rio de Janeiro and the city of São Paulo, respectively. This occurred during a pivotal period: the redemocratization of Brazil. As influential figures in policymaking, they faced resistance from those adhering to traditional narratives reinforcing stereotypes. Archival research and interviews with individuals who worked with Ribeiro and Freire in the design and implementation of their policies were central to understanding the challenges they faced in attempting to transform public schools in Brazil.

The findings underscore the intricate connections among historical narratives, policy formulation, and the persistent endeavor to reshape the educational landscape for marginalized communities in Brazil. This research contributes to unraveling the dynamics of challenging stereotypes in education and delves into the transformative potential inherent in policy interventions. By focusing on Brazilians who are most reliant on public policies, the study not only informs the academic discourse but also provides insights for policies that can meaningfully impact the lives of those historically underserved.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Comparative and International Education
Thesis Advisors
Cortina, Regina
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 5, 2024