There is something else to the comparison. The lawyer who appeared in those front pages with the president last December, handing her the final findings of the commission, was also my undergraduate professor at the University of São Paulo. I remember this man as nice, affable; he often arrived in class with a springy air, his dark hair combed sideways, its texture faintly moist, in a way that evoked wealth. His exams were not always in-class tests, but often essays one could write at home, “consulting the relevant literature.” He hated confrontation and never chastised students. He was the kind of teacher who favored compromise — students went up to his desk to bargain for higher grades. Very few people failed his class, and end-of-semesters under his supervision were light, easy-going affairs that lifted the spirits. He was, in short, one of the worst teachers I ever had.
And yet I know what language to use when I speak of those days I didn’t live through; I learned it in school. I condemn people who say revolution instead of coup; I think reparation should have been kept in the original title of the commission; and whether a commission is or isn’t based on a longing to take revenge is to me beside the point — the term revanchismo should be rejected, rather than seriously engaged. At school I perfected this ability to speak of a past that wasn’t mine to such a point that, for quite a long time, I couldn’t dissociate Brazil’s military dictatorship from the sterility of high school classrooms. The subject had the same aura of boredom that permeated the topography of the Amazon, polynomials, the life cycle of Platyhelminthes—any subject that appeared in an exam. If Pinochet was an old man who interrupted the cartoon schedule, then to me the Brazilian dictatorship was a collection of GDP graphs, weird names of generals, and maps in dark green and lighter shades of green.
The class laughed. The teacher — who, now that I think about it, looked somewhat like a balding version of B (lanky, the same rimless glasses) — told him to leave the class at once. The teacher was so enraged he barely said a word; he didn’t feel the need to justify the expulsion. As B moved through the aisle toward the exit door, a ripple of diffuse laughter rose and then fell. B smiled, accepting the praise, and he might have even squinted to imply intoxication. But I could tell it was one of his serious phases, and that he had definitely meant the question.
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There is something ironic about the categorical names given to these commissions and their temporary nature. It’s as though the authorities, by the use of some definitive language, wish to force closure on an issue before even addressing it. The word truth is by far the most ubiquitous. It is everywhere: in statements, in the commission’s name, in speeches, in depositions. In 2008, when the NTC was still in its embryonic stages, then minister of defense Nelson Jobim criticized the use of the word justice in the commission’s title (initially, the group was to be called the National Truth and Justice Commission). Jobim argued that justice was too strong a word (one wonders how he’d react to an expletive); he implied that the word was offensive to the armed forces. Jobim suggested it be replaced with reconciliation. Other members of the government disagreed. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president at the time, withdrew the word justice, but neglected to replace it — a decision that left everyone dissatisfied. The word truth, however, remained; either because it meant too much, or, more likely, because it meant nothing.
Tony Blair became a fierce advocate for the Iraq war. Nothing so dramatic happened to Lula or his advisers (though a few of them went to jail for corruption), but the compromises the left had to make in power were many. Lula’s post-2002 leftism seemed derived from a kind of high-low conviviality, the idea that everyone could get along—a stereotype often associated, not always accurately, with the country itself. Lula liked to say that everyone made money while he was in office. The direct, boastful mention of cash, something of a taboo in contemporary politics, was not a slip of the tongue. Much of Lula’s government was based on bringing the lower classes into the fold of consumption. Still, every four years, the PT had to face the PSDB in elections, and then, like a tribe that honors its bygone ancestors with some bits of dancing and shouting, it spoke an old language: the rich versus the poor, social justice versus neoliberalism, empathy versus callousness.
Five Ways Teachers Can Use Technology to Help Students Brookings Educators like Delpit who see the additional tests as barriers to diversifying the profession might be heartened that so far no solid data has emerged