Friday, June 7, 2013

The end of Europe?

Cabo Da Roca, the end of Europe
That's the ominous name given to the wild, rocky coast on the westernmost end of Portugal. On another level, lots of folks here are talking about the end of Europe. While I don't believe that the end  is in sight, the standard of living here is in free-fall and millions of people are truly suffering under imposed austerity and are ready for change. Educators are a big part of the protest movement and lots of debate is taking place over the role of schooling in Portuguese society.

I know,  I'm supposed to be on vacation.  And believe me, we've been taking that seriously, enjoying great seafood, taking in the music and art, visiting Moorish castles and hitting the beaches and all that good stuff. Not to mention, getting up at 2 a.m. to watch the Spurs beat the Heat in game 1.

CGTP's Fernando Mauricio
But I'm also drawn to the complex political life of Portugal, both for its role as a brutal colonizer in Africa and for its 1974-75 "Carnation Revolution," which toppled the fascist Salazar dictatorship. The revolution helped the emerging liberation movements in Portugal's former colonies win their independence in 1975. Every country has its two sides and I like to see them both.

During a break in sightseeing, we were able to visit with Fernando Mauricio, one of the leaders of the CGTP, Portugal's largest union, which along with the smaller and not-so-militant rival UGT, is organizing for the upcoming general strike.  Fernando, who was a public school teacher before becoming a union organizer, gave us an update on the current struggle and some background on the history of the union movement here. As a young political activist in the 1960a and 70s, he spent time in prison and underground and in exile during the years of the dictatorship.

Students at Bento de Jesus Caraça High School
We also got to visit and meet with the leaders of Bento de Jesus Caraça Vocational High School, one of half a dozen public schools run by the union -- this one housed in  the union's downtown Lisbon headquarters. It's named after the revolutionary Portuguese educator who was a notable figure both in the field of popular education and in the resistance movement against Salazar dictatorship.

The classrooms are airy and inviting. The view from the classroom windows out over the Tagus River is so beautiful,  if I were a student here I'd have a tough time focusing on my lessons.

The school's curriculum, while called voc-ed, is really about educating the whole child and providing a step up towards either  university or  career. It includes a mix of technical skill-building and general core courses--science, languages, arts, social studies, etc... Assessments are mainly performance-based, although all Portuguese students must pass exit exams to graduate. Caraça represents, at least to me, a kind of mixture of John Dewey and Paulo Freire.

Caraça talked about "a school that is life" and the school's philosophy is laid out in a book presented to us, called A School For Life, which includes this statement of purpose:
"Looking at the students as a whole -- taking into consideration their personalities, backgrounds, and aspirations, and not just as recipients of knowledge or as future professionals... Our school has small clusters, which allows a human approach to all situations."
Not bad.


  1. Great report, Mike. Keep 'em coming.

  2. Professor Klonsky,
    Seems like you're out of the country but if you get a chance, read this month's TIME magazine article.


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