Onésimo Teotónio Almeida

Professor of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, Brown University

December 2013 (based on conference presentation, 1978)




The content of any public schools curriculum is a veritable gold mine of cultural data providing ideas as to what the ideology of a society looks like. An examination of this curriculum reveals not only the operation of a mythology, but also the function of the public schools in perpetuating it by transmitting it to the young.

A brief comparative analysis of the Social Studies and Language Arts textbooks of the fifties, sixties and seventies would show us how amazingly they reflect the dominant ideologies of those particular times.

One can easily detect in the majority of the pages of those textbooks the surreptitious intentions (at a conscious or an unconscious level) of shaping the student's mental structure and preparing him to accept the values and the ideologies of one particular group or class. This is actually what indoctrination is all about. Before we proceed, however, it may be important to bear in mind what is meant by "indoctrination," distinguishing it (if that is possible) from the concept of "instruction." According to Plamenatz, instruction is:

imparting skills that are useful generally (for example, reading and writing), or in particular occupations or activities, imparting factual information which is useful in similar ways, expounding theories of historical explanations recognized to be provisional (to be accepted only so long as they stand up to criticism, especially by experts), teaching people to observe rules that are generally observed. Indoctrination is the teaching of beliefs (which the teacher may or may not share) to ensure, not that people carry on competently their social roles and occupations, or activities of their own choosing, or avail themselves of the opportunities society has to offer, or that they behave tolerably well by standards generally accepted in the community or in the circles they move in, but that they think and behave in ways that the teacher thinks desirable or that suit some purpose of his own1.

The distinction is a rough one and the separation of both fields is not as easy as it may sound. Plamenatz is aware of this and notes that sometimes it is virtually impossible to decide whether a teacher (or persuader or informant) is instructing or indoctrinating. And he adds that "some people would say that there is unavoidably an element of indoctrination in some forms of instruction" 2.

This is why an American Language Arts book show situations in which (or will clearly point that) a youngster, to participate fully in what American society has to offer, must acquire the characteristics possessed by the happy middle class family in the little white house in the suburbs. It informs ("instructs") him that, if he hopes to succeed, he must abandon whatever may be the different identity that characterizes his own home and his family.

The prevailing ideology of the mid-seventies, however, no longer quite fits this description, one may object and rightly so. After the sixties, the monolithic view of America could not stand still, at least in the public image. The ideology now spread by the opinion makers through the media is one of a pluralist society as the ideal type of societal organization, the only one that allows for peaceful conviviality and human understanding.

Today no up-to-date person would like to make a public statement advocating the excellence of the American melting-pot system, nor would he/she like to say that he/she does not appreciate foreign food. Rather on the contrary, it is fashionable to wear an "ethnic shirt" (whatever that is supposed to mean and you may want to consult Vogue Magazine, the coiners of that expression), just as it is cute to spice one's speech with an "adiós" or an "obrigado", since to say "merci" is not that much "nouvelle vague", because it was always "chic parler un peu de français".

But the problem with today's textbooks is again identical with the problems of textbooks in previous decades. They have not been updated: nor are they up-to-date. Most of them still do not include enough illustrations of blacks; they still picture women in the kitchen and taking care of babies; and, in spite of the fact that religion cannot be legally taught in the public schools, there is still, the generalized Protestant religion of a particular America underlying the contents of those textbooks.

The cry then comes: we need new textbooks. Let us replace the ones we have. To our new textbooks let us add new themes and problems.

Although such cries are a good sign of openness towards innovation, there are important questions that should be raised:

—How much of that openness is sincere and honest?

— How much of it is a result of a solid analysis of the problem as opposed to a mere reaction to fashion that will vanish away as fast as it appeared?  

It may be charged that these two questions carry a moral tone and that that tone is irrelevant here, since all that matters is the actual change and the new approach to the problems, regardless of the origin of the changes or the intentions of their promoters.

I would agree to that if it were not for the relevance which an answer to the above questions will have to the next one:

— Who will be responsible for what is going to be included in the new curriculum?

An answer to that question will give us an idea as to what "new values", and to what degree, will be incorporated (and "enforced"). Moreover, which prototypes will be favored and promoted, and so forth.

At this point I feel that all this talk about indoctrination, ideology, and dominant values may sound like mere intellectual discourse of very limited practical applicability.

Among you in the audience there are many school teachers who have come from Portugal. Some of you came to the United States while still of school age. Others were already teachers before emigrating. All of you in both groups used the same reading book3 in your third grade (3a. classe), just as I did. It was the only reading book (Livro Único, aprovado oficialmente) used in the 3rd grade all over Portugal, the Islands and the then Portuguese overseas colonies. Generations used this book, which survived into the early seventies, long after Veiga Simão's educational reform started producing new books.

Under a political regime that viewed social change as dangerous, it is understandable that a reading book would have lasted unaltered for so long, especially when it performed so well the indoctrinating functions for which it was designed. I selected the book because almost all of us can somehow relate to it and in such a way that, as in some cases many of you may admit, we still know some lessons, or at least paragraphs, by heart.

My purpose is precisely to show you how an apparently inoffensive Language Arts book is impregnated with the worldview that the regime wanted to transmit to the children, with the ideology it wanted to indoctrinate, and how that is so efficiently done by such a seemingly inoffensive looking book.

In the opening pages there is a colorful drawing which here is reproduced in black and white on the next page. I do not have to describe to you what is there, but I do want to venture forth an interpretation.

At the center is the escudo português (Portuguese coat of arms) symbolizing the pátria (homeland). Then we have two distinct parts of the picture: the top half for national heroes, and the bottom half for common folks. On the top, as if they had reached heaven through the services rendered to the country, are King Afonso Henriques (founder of the nation), Prince Henry, the Navigator (the technical brain of the discoveries, who is utilized as the symbol of the overseas empire), Nuno Álvares Pereira (saint and warrior), Camões (epic poet who immortalized the Portuguese discoveries), Vasco da Gama (discoverer of the sea route to India) and Pedro Álvares Cabral (discoverer of Brazil). Except for King Afonso Henriques, everybody else belongs to the golden age of Portuguese history and as such they constitute all the mythical figures of the period. In the background one can see a church and a castle, a far from casual association, with was already epitomized in the Camões' verse "dilatando a fé e o império" (expanding the faith and the empire), a slogan used over and over again as the supreme synthesis of the grandiose enterprise of the discoveries.  

The insistence on the idea is more than obvious. Between the two halves, to the right of the escudo, there is a caravela (caravelle) and a padrão (standard), a combination that again associates the idea of land conquest and expansion of the christian faith and civilization. On the left, there are three soldiers from three major historical periods carrying a flag. The much repeated phrase "terra de heróis e de santos" (a land of heroes and saints) is here clearly portrayed.

The bottom half has a force of its own. Our attention is retained by a central figure: a mother and her baby with the father standing by and looking at them, but simultaneously saluting the flag. The scene has very strong resemblances to the popular versions of the birth of Christ, where the infant is in Mary's lap while Joseph stands by in a protective attitude. The father's respectful salute to the flag simultaneous with his look at the child conveys the idea that it is for the country that he has his children and that the soldiers on the left and the missionary on the right spring from children of this breed, who, in turn, are the "stuff" of which the heroes on the top are made.

The missionary has a holy and pious attitude (he is an old and ascetic-looking person), presenting the cross to two blacks who are in a servile position (one is kneeling). I am reluctant to comment further on these elements.

Describing the picture by merely mentioning what is included in it explicitly says more than enough, I suppose. What it signifies is obvious and occurs naturally to an attentive observer. But I will point to the elements that complete the bottom half of the picture; the mother is a housewife and lives in a village. She went to the field with a basket (on her left) to bring the jantar (lunch) to her husband, the paterfamilias. They are poor, but he is healthy and hardworking, a man who labors in the field. We can see a pair of oxen, wheat (with the windmill in the background) and grapes. (The sickle in his right hand is a symbol of his virtue as a hard worker and, of course, has no other political connotation.)

Also, very central to the bottom half is the tower of the village church with bells that spread a joyful and peaceful sound throughout a small conglomerate of poor houses in which live a religious, orderly, hardworking population fully obedient to the laws of God and Country.

This idea of peace is also conveyed by the two roses on the ground, which seem to have been brought by the black youth (his position is two-fold -- he knees both at the cross and before the baby), who as the wise men bringing gifts to Jesus, the Child, pays homage to the baby, the potential hero and/or saint. The two pigeons, a symbol of peace, close the picture openly marking it with the idea of the inherent peace that one breathes in such an environment.

This picture says in a few rapid strokes what the rest of the book preaches more explicitly through the contents of the lessons. It is, indeed, an extremely successful summary of the ideology of the whole book.

A thorough analysis of all the pages would show us how well the book as a whole comprises and links all segments of life, but it is impossible to quote here even all the significant texts. There are too many and they are too long. I will therefore select only a few at random.

The humble, hard-working, honest and poor village man as the prototype of the best filho da pátria (native son), who could be called the main figure throughout the lessons, is repeatedly and insistently idealized, praised and celebrated through poems such as this by an artistic ideologue of the Salazar regime, António Correia de Oliveira:

Minha terra, quem me dera

Ser humilde lavrador,
Ter o pão de cada dia,
Ter a graça do Senhor!
Cavar-te por minhas maos,
Com caridade e amor.4

Sometimes, as in the following lines, by the same author, the celebration is indirect and focuses on the beauty of pobreza honrada (honorable poverty):

Humilde candeia acesa
em casa do cavador;
luz da pobreza -- bendita!
luz infinita do amor!

Vem p'la noite negra adiante
um homem que se perdeu


E ele chega àquela porta
nela bateu...
Abre-se a porta, e ei-la acesa
-- parece o Sol! --
em casa do cavador;
luz da pobreza -- bendita!

luz infinita do Amor!5

This insistence on the excellence of the "good" life of the poor in the village as opposed to the bad "progress" of those in the city is sometimes done in a more subtle manner. I will transcribe here the whole "lesson" on A vida no campo (The life in the fields):


O Manuel Antonio desde pequenino começu a gostar da vida no campo. Ainda no berço muitas vezes adormeceu à sombra das árvores, arrulado pelo canto dos passarinhos enquanto a mãe lidava no amanho da terra.

Mais tarde, quando já andava na escola, aproveitava as horas livres para ir fazer companhia ao pai e ajudá-lo nas fainas da lavoura. De caminho, levava para o pasto um cordeiro que o padrinho lhe dera de presente no dia dos seus anos.

Às vezes, na hora da labuta, ouvia a voz do pai a cantar atrás dos bois enquanto o arado ia rasgando a terra. As arvéloas acudiam a cantar à bicharia nos regos da lavrada. As margaças e o terrunho ainda fresco lançavam no ar tépido aromas sadios; e nessas ocasiões o Manuel António, extasiado e pondo os olhos no pai, sentia crescer lá dentro de si uma grande vontade de ser lavrador.

Quando chegou à idade, foi para soldado. Voltou à sua terra cheio de saudades do pai, dos bois e das lavradas. Casou. Tem hoje um rancho de filhos. Trabalha e é feliz. Na aldeia todos o respeitam.6

Notice the approval of Manuel Antonio's early liking for life in the fields and the bucolic scene of his having to sleep outdoors, the reasons for which cannot surface in such idyllic prose.

The next paragraph insists on his not losing contact with the fields, even during his school years. His generous godfather gave him a sheep for his birthday (how many Manuel Antónios had one that generous or, at least, one who could afford it?)

The third paragraph stresses the joy that comes from working in the field. Manuel António's father, while he tills the soil, sings in harmony with the singing of the birds. The mystification reaches the point where Manny looks in ecstasy at his father and the text explicitly reveals to us his deepest desires: he wants to be a farmer! The text ends with the indication to the reader that Manny, as a good citizen, had to leave the village to be a soldier (the military rank was spelled out soldado -- the lowest!) but because, and the text states it literally, he was nostalgic for his parents, his oxen and his work, he returned to the village. He got married, had lots of children, works steadily, and is happy. For

Manny the circle is completed but his sons will reenact it anew. The idea that change is either possible or desirable is exorcised.

Still on the merits of village life, here is another precious text:


O Inverno nao permite os trabalhos no campo. A chuva alaga as terras, e o frio cresta as plantas. As noites são longas e a família reúne-se então na lareira em volta do lume. Comida a ceia, avós, pais e filhos dão graças a Deus por todos os benefícios que receberam, e pedem o eterno descanso para as almas de todos os seus parentes, amigos e benfeitores. Depois, enquanto a mãe fia o linho ou conserta as roupas, se a avó não está disposta a contar mais contos, o pai ou algum dos filhos mais velhos lê o jornal da região, ou algumas páginas dos livros que ensinam a cultivar melhor as terras e a aumentar o rendimento doméstico pelo exercício de indústrias caseiras.

Por fim, o lume vai amortecendo, e as brasas vão-se reduzindo a cinza. O sono convida ao descanso e cada um recolhe-se ao seu quarto, encomenda-se a Deus e mete-se na cama. A casa fica em silêncio. Toda a família dorme na paz do Senhor. 7

The first sentences do not let one think of how a large family can survive during the winter when nobody can work. The text describes approvingly the duties and roles performed by each and everyone in the family. Notice that the clothes are mended (they are not new) and the sentence that tells us that is cast in an "if-then" form to allow for surreptitiously assigning all the possible delimited roles: if the grandmother does not feel like telling tales, the father, or one of the older sons (not daughters!) reads the local newspaper (not the national or city ones) and books on a)how better to cultivate the land, and b) how to increase the family budget through small home industries.8

The last paragraph stresses vigorously the peace of God that pervades such a home, and the text leaves us no opening for a thought on illnesses, family problems, lack of proper food, deficient accommodations, or insufficient heat.

The last text I will quote here is a strong anti-Malthus manifesto. It is subliminal in the strictest sense of the word:


A Maria da Várzea chegava da horta. Trazia à cabeça uma cesta com feijão verde, cenouras, pimentos, couves e nabos e, ao colo, um filhinho ainda de leite. Na sua frente corria já em direção a casa, o Manuel, de cinco anos.

Ao vê-la chegar cheia de cansaço e logo rodeada pelos outros quatro filhos, que tinham ficado em casa sob a direcção da mais velha, a senhora D. Arminda, de Lisboa, que estava a passar as férias na aldeia, não pode conter-se que não dissesse:

-- Que pena me faz, senhora Maria da Várzea! Ainda tão nova e já com tantos filhos e tantas fadigas! Eu tenho urm, e já me dá que fazer.

Resposta pronta:

--Pois eu, com tanto trabalho e tantos filhos sinto-me muito feliz, minha senhora. É a vida das mulheres casadas cá da nossa aldeia. Os filhos e as canseiras que eles nos dão e que são a nossa riqueza. É por eles que nós somos felizes.

Whenever I read this text to anybody and ask how many children does Maria da Várzea have, the answers I get vary between four and five. Those I question are invariably surprised when I correct them by pointing out that according to the text, she actually has seven: one that she carries and five year old Manuel (first paragraph). Then four others waiting for her at home, plus one more, the oldest daughter who was taking care of all of them. (The prudish text does not say whether or not there is an eighth on the way. Cleverly, the picture also does not let us deduce it.)

The bad person of the piece is the lady from the city, who, influenced by city fashions, feels that one child is plenty. The closing paragraph stresses that the purpose and meaning of a woman's life is simply to bear children.

And we could proceed with our analysis of these efficient indoctrinating devices, which one can find in abundance, as a Portuguese educator put it,

o familialismo untuoso, o bucolismo decrépito, a terna colaboração de classes, o irracionalismo patrioteiro, o culto da ordem e asseio, a vocação da assépcia que evita a catástrofe sempre iminente, o academismo pedante, a sufocação pedagógica.9

The ideology permeating such an educational system, exemplified in these texts from a representative book, is clearly reactionary. One can easily associate it with what Jean Baechler says about fascist ideology:

(...) le fascisme n'est pas une idéologie mère, mais l'archétype des idéologies de reaction. Il est fondamentalement, visceralement, l'antimodernité, l'antipluralisme. Il vomite le régime parlamentaire, les libertés, le capitalisme, la technique, la démocratie, la pacification, l'agitation, la contestation, les factions, le laxisme, le changement, l'individualisme, la science, la raison, la bureaucratisation, la rationalization.10

By criticizing this example of extreme and flagrant indoctrination through a Language Arts textbook (I could have as readily chosen a Social Studies example), I do not mean to defend the point that school books should be free from ideology. From what I understand ideology to be, I fully realize that it can never be done. Nor, of course, is it implied here that school textbooks should be divested of their underlying values. That also is impossible. By definition, schools transmit values. If nothing else, they transmit the value of transmitting knowledge. There is no question that they always promote some values. Why some values rather than others, this is the problem.

I recall having once read an article11 in which the author, assuming that teachers were not doing their jobs teaching values, defended the notion that "values can be taught in school". The article missed one important point, though. Values are taught in school, no matter what. Even a defender of anarchy is teaching the value of absolute individual freedom as opposed and prior to any other value.

As I said at the beginning of this paper, an analysis of school textbooks of different decades (not to mention generations) affords irrefutable proof that textbooks always teach values. Values change and school books reflect those changes. The important point that I would stress here is that there is great danger in political powers to implement values at whim, just as it would be to permit any special interest group, be it ethnic, religious, social or educational, to decide on those values, as may be the case with the development of curriculum for our local bilingual programs.

Given our present need to create textbooks for our bilingual students, we should tackle this problem openly. Only through widespread and thorough discussion can it be resolved properly in the best interest of the child. Values often do not have rational foundations, but we invariably rationalize our own views, frequently feeding the argumentation with scientific looking data and biased empirical verifications. Many times, however, we simply accept uncritically the ideological superstructure under which we function and according to which we assign a meaning to our lives.

In any case, one way or another, we bring our values to the schools and incorporate them in textbooks. But we had better identify and criticize those values before delivering them, so we can at least be aware of how we indoctrinate our students.

Salazar, a man who saw the school as a powerful instrument for indoctrination, stated once in his mellifluous and pious style that "the school is a sacred factory of souls".12

Let us at least produce those souls as free as we can from our unacknowledged surreptitious biases. 



1 John Plamenatz, Ideology (London: MacMillan, 1971), p. 134.

2 Ibidem.

3 Ministério da Educação Nacional, O Livro da Terceira Classe, 4th ed. (Lisboa: Livraria Sá da Costa, 1958).

4 Ibid., p. 31.

5 Ibid., p. 118.

6 Ibid.., p. 12.

7 Ibid., p. 114.

8 There existed as well a widely read collection of books for adult education recommended for the family series in the long winter evenings. One of the best known books was about the cultivation of bees, a cherished theme for stories and lessons, giving the example of toil of the masses (the bees) under the sole authority of one. (This was a beloved theme in many of Salazar's speeches and writings).

9 Maria de Fátima Bivar, Ensino Primário e Ideologia, (Lisboa: Seara Nova, 1975), p. 25.

10 Jean Baechler, Qu'est-ce que l'idéologie? (Paris: Gallimard, 1976), p. 254.

11 Rosalie Franks, "Values can be taught in school", Rhode Islander (Providence Sunday. Journal).

12 Salazar Says (Lisboa: SPN Books), p. 42.