Seriously Striking at UFOPA

Just as I was about to post this…the power went out…throughout Santarém…

…it took three hours of waiting…but we’re back online!

Jungling Next Week:

Big five-day adventure coming up later this week!  On Thursday I’ll catch a boat and head out to a community located along the Amazon River to spend a few days getting my jungle-on.  I won’t lie…the plan at the moment is to walk along the riverfront and find a boat headed to whatever community Carol (Fishguy Dan’s fish researcher friend) tells me to go to…nothing quite like not having a concrete plan at all! I think the trip will be a good opportunity for me to put my newfound patience to the test and just go with da flow for a few days.  I’m definitely excited to meet some interesting people and get to know the rainforest a little better.  It’ll be fun to see what happens during the trip and as always I think I’ll just need to expect the unexpected…

…also…given the fact that I won’t be returning until next Tuesday…don’t expect a blog post until next Wednesday at the earliest!

Education on Ice:

Over the past week the strike situation at UFOPA has gotten significantly worse.  As such, I figured I’d update you all about the various goings on and offer a few thoughts and reflections on what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen over the past few weeks…

To begin with, it’s become clear that there is a significant discrepancy between what is going on nationally and what is happening here in Santarém.  As I intimated a couple of weeks ago, professors at 47 federal universities across Brazil went on strike in on May 17th and continue to be on strike as we speak.  The strike is the largest to ever hit the Brazilian higher education system and according to the Minister of Education, is “unlike anything Brazil has ever seen.” After doing a bit more due diligence by reading up on the strike in a few of Brazil’s national newspapers and speaking with some people in the know at UFOPA, it seems that on a national level there are two central issues: the restructuring of tenure track for professors in the federal university system (including salary increases) and the improvement of work conditions for professors (i.e infrastructure upgrades).

While the professors at UFOPA are certainly aware of the national issues, I’ve had more than a few people tell me that the federal strike is merely an auspicious opportunity for the professors to go on strike in protest of more localized concerns.  According to Maria Luiza, the professors are seeking serious curriculum reform, an official election for university president (the current president was not popularly elected), and the realization of infrastructure upgrades that were promised years ago (and already paid for by the federal government) but never completed.  Most of the issues are rather specific to UFOPA and it appears that the professors are hoping that the strike will finally force local officials to get their act together and initiate some much needed changes.

Anyways, you might be wondering, how has the strike gotten worse? Well, last week the students at UFOPA officially voted to stand in solidarity with the professors and are now on strike as well.  Long story short, the VAST majority of students have stopped showing up to class, irrespective of whether or not professors like Valdenildo still want to teach.  For all intents and purposes, the student strike has put an end to learning at UFOPA for the time being.  On a personal level, only three students (out of a class of 45) showed up to Valdenildo’s class this past week and my conversation class attendance has been steadily and precipitously declining since the strike began.  The situation is a bit frustrating and disheartening in so much as I can’t really do my job in any meaningful way and the strike won’t be ending any time in the near future (people say it might go until July vacation…but who knows). Yet, at the end of the day, as with so many other things here, what can I really do? (Answer: Shrug my shoulders and get on with my day)

Nonetheless, as you might have guessed I have a few opinions/reflections on the drama that is unfolding in front of me.  For starters, while I think the professors at UFOPA (I can’t speak to the national situation) are justified in striking (the constantly promised, but never delivered, infrastructure improvements are an absolute travesty), based on my conversations with various people, I’m not convinced that the professors exhausted all other (and less extreme) options before shirking their responsibilities as educators.  As one person described it, “striking is part of Brazilian culture…it’s all people know here…when we have a problem with something we just go on strike…trying to solve social problems without striking never happens here.”  Whether or not she was right (most other people I’ve talked to have supported this viewpoint), I’m forced to wonder if a prolonged strike that puts higher education on ice for months is actually a useful or productive way of solving some of these problems.  At the very least, there seem to be other, less extreme forms of activism (i.e discussion, picketing, ect.) that might improve the situation without sacrificing the school year.

However, while I have a few reservations regarding the professor strike, I must admit myself somewhat more cynical of the recent student strike.  As I’ve said, the students voted last week to support the professors.  On its face, their vote is rather legitimate.  Many of the reforms that the professors are fighting for would certainly improve student education at UFOPA.  Despite the fact that there are a few vocal students on campus who certainly appear to believe in the justness of their cause, I’ve found that the vast majority of students I talk to don’t share the same passion and appear to see the strike as an opportunity not to go to class, take a vacation, and have fun.  One student I spoke with conceded, “Even though I support the professors’ cause…I think that I’m in the extreme minority of students here…most kids just like the idea of not going to class and there is a social pressure to do so when everybody else is striking.”  Don’t get me wrong, I believe strongly in fighting for a cause you believe in and think is just.  Yet, sacrificing your school year just because you don’t feel like going to class or feel social pressure to do what “everybody else is doing” is…silly and immature.  In my opinion, missing class should be seen as a cost and not as a benefit of going on strike and it deeply troubles me that many of the students at UFOPA don’t view it that way.

In any event, while I am certainly viewing the strike situation through an American lens and my own value system regarding education (I religiously went to class in college), I can’t deny that I find certain aspects of the prolonged strike rather troubling.  I don’t want to come off as suggesting that there aren’t positive aspects of the strike…there are and I have no problem acknowledging that (as I’ve said…the goals are more than commendable).  Yet, there remain a few key aspects of the the strike that leave me a little frustrated and more than a little disappointed.  Hopefully the situation will resolve itself in the coming weeks…but given the fact that the school administrators are now talking about striking as well…I probably should just shrug my shoulders and get on with my day…

Other happenings:

  • I’m planning on going to see “The Avengers” at Santarem’s newfangled theater at some point in the next week…considering the fact it has a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes…I’m more than willing to dish out the 12 Reias for a bit of mindless, air-conditioned entertainment.
  • I think I’ve finally won a major victory (or truce?) against the ants…more on that in the near future.
  • European Soccer Championships start up this week…Brazil may not be in Europe…but they certainly like their futebol here.  Everyday I will be camped out at the Paraíso Shopping Center watching games between 12 and 5…book it. Andy’s Euro 2012 Prediction: Netherlands over Germany in the final.
  • CR (my local supermarket) needs to stop offering cafezinho (“little coffee” in Portuguese).  I go there every morning to buy apples (I love my apples…as many of you may know), yogurt, and other things after I hit the gym …and I’ve gotten pretty darn hooked on the free coffee.  Brazilians like sweet, relatively weak coffee…and I’ll admit…it’s rather addicting. I’m certinaly not at the point where I’ll shell out $$$ for coffee…but I think I’ve consumed 1 million times more coffee in the past few months than I consumed in the prior 23 years of my life.
  • Major Brazilian sertanejo/country singer Paula Fernandes is rolling into Santarem for a concert on June 16th at the soccer stadium.  I’m definitely going to hit that up…while country music is necessarily my thing…1. I’ve heard a ton of her music…and she ain’t bad…and 2. It’s definitely going to be a major “event” in Santarem that I don’t want to miss!

That’s all I have for now! Until next time…have a good week!




P.S Watching the Celtics-Heat series from deep in the Amazon has been both fun, bizarre, and frustrating. The only place I can get games closes at 11:00 P.M…meaning…I have to leave at half-time and don’t find out the final score until the morning after. Wampasaurus Rex. Having that said…my prediction before the series began still holds: C’s in six games.

P.S.S Sorry for no photos in this week’s post…but posting a photo of an empty class room would be rather…pointless.

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