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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  January 2005

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE January 2005

Subject:

Regrets and an explicative apology

From:

maurice bazin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 19 Jan 2005 18:31:42 -0200

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (224 lines)

Dear friends and colleagues,
this is a letter to people who inspired me since I entered the world of
Science Education Museums as I visited the Exploratorium in San
Francisco in 1982. They accompanied me as I created Espaço Ciência Viva
  (A Space for Living Science) in Rio de Janeiro. It was at their side
that I lived Science Education for the People at the Exploratorium
Teacher Institute during the 90's. As I helped others create new
museums and Science Centers around the world I always turned to these
teacher-colleagues and teaching artists to illuminate my
recommendations.

Dear Sally, dear all,
It was wonderful to hear your voices over the phone lines last May. You
may remember how enthusiastic I was about a huge museum project in one
of São Paulo's suburb city, Santo André. Santo André is the "A" of the
"ABC" industrial workers' belt of municipalities that became famous in
the 70's as rank and file trade unions got organized during the
strong-armed military government; that is when Lula rose as a union
leader. He is from the "B" city, São Bernardo, next to Santo André.
That was in May of last year, and that year was an electoral year in
Brazil too...
I had been asked to consult for the project. The Secretary of Education
of Santo André  and her vice had come to recruit me at home. In spite
of my tearing apart the idea of building a Foucault pendulum exactly
under the tropic... of calling the plan for buying an IMax movie
theatre "pedagogical prostitution"  (their argument was that the
financial survival of a Science Education Museum depended on having
such a tourist attraction that could charge high prices, that Science
Museums do not support themselves from what they "sell". They had
touristed through the biggest museums in Europe and their approach
seemed budget oriented)... they hired me.    Nothing written down, fees
agreed upon, air tickets guaranteed, a few days in Santo André every
three weeks: a typical brazilian arrangement. And then, there was the
promise that there was half a million dollars ready for spending on
exhibits, and I knew where to get the exhibits from:     you all!
After all we had done some work together before. I had been responsible
for selecting Exploratorium exhibits for the Lisbon Living Science
Museum. Contracts had been signed and executed then and today it is the
most admired part of the permanent collection there.

But this time around, I am sorry - not that I called you up and had
wonderful dream conversations in which the real stuff that each of you
builds and sells could be integrated into an Exploratorium Teacher
Institute pedagogy adapted to the urban brazilian situation. I thought
that I could guarantee the appropriation of your realizations by
teachers first (the Secretariat of Education IS responsible for the
project). I am sorry for having asked so strongly and so urgently for
your cooperation (remember, it all had to be ready before september...
to be inaugurated before the october elections, hopefully for the
re-election of the mayor of Santo André, a Lula's party, PT man, as did
happen). All of you responded with that mix of friendship and
professionalism, of affection and realism, that characterized the
original Exploratorium. I am sorry that I led you to trust me for a
cause that turned out to be untrustworthy. I have been naive beyond
reason, my usual poetic self.

But, allow me to put this adventure into context. During this 2004
electoral year, millions of Brazilians turned out to be just as naive
as I have been. They could not imagine that the Workers Party's
promises to work for the common people's well-being would be
substituted by policies that enrich bankers and managers of the global
commercial economy. To help win the election Lula needed money.  He had
learned that the amount of money available to a candidate  determines
wins in the USA. So the standard corruption schemes that usually favor
individuals in high places were put in place to amass money, create
parallel accounting, announce multi million projects (like the biggest
Science Museum in Latin America...) and use the money for political
propaganda of the party as a whole.     The half million dollars worth
of exhibits I had to invest in your pieces went for standard electoral
propaganda. They even made outdoors to announce the said big museum...
It was more direct and effective to build a media image than to put
together a true museum and show real exhibits.  So they used the money
their political way, not my educational way. But they also did not tell
me.  The huge building cost 7 million dollars, officially; it was not
ready at election time and is almost finished, and empty, as of today.
And there is still no money for exhibits.   And there is no money for
pedagogical content advising: I have not been called upon since the
re-election of Lula's candidate, the desired victory for the continuity
of political power in Santo André.

It all seems a little strange and incomprehensible, doesn't it? So let
me go into a little background that I slowly unearthed and that I did
not know about when I dragged you all into this adventure.  Two years
ago the then mayor of Santo André, Celso Daniel, was assassinated after
being abducted from his car at an electronic speed control point within
town. He was to be the leader of Lula's campaign for President. Money
was flowing in and out of the coffers of Santo André and of the Workers
Party...   Building contracts scandals involving the Secretariat of
Public Works were appearing in the media...
During his almost eight years as mayor, Celso Daniel had turned Santo
André into the greenest urban area possible in São Paulo's context. His
Park and Gardens director took off all walls that enclosed municipal
buildings, each separately from its neighbor. He substituted them with
wire fences where necessary, so that kids would not run from a
kindergarten yard into a basketball court, or a football roll away into
a municipal Health Clinic's window. He planted thousands of palm trees
and more of native plants; he redesigned sidewalks and squares with
simple benches and tables; he created a park open 24 hours, there where
the media talked about street kids violence. So Celso Daniel had a few
people around him who did work at the service of the population. But
the direction of Parks and Gardens was changed a year after his death.
Coming back from a trip to Europe where he visited interactive museums
Celso Daniel proposed building his Santo André Science Museum at a
cabinet meeting weeks before his assassination. Somehow the architect,
Paulo Mendes da Rocha, a celebrity in São Paulo, was contracted and
designed a rectangular $6 million building.  He and I only met once, on
the "announcement day" for the Museum in July 2004. That was a day of
propaganda for the city when the building designer sat on one side of
the mayor and the pedagogical designer (yours truly) sat on the other
side. My words went into thin air that day and therafter, and they
never found their way into written proposals, or, as I wrote one myself
(asking for money from the Federal Program for Science Popularization)
to prepare an initial group of core teachers, never left the fourth
floor of the municipal building...    The architect and I had the
following exchange as we visited together the building site and the
mayor laid a memorial stone. I asked:
"Could you make some opening at one end of the 600 feet long building,
there where the teachers classrooms will be, so that workshops can make
easy use of the park that surrounds the museum?"
- "It's good for teachers to walk through the museum to the central
entrance.  In any case I design buildings; that is what I do. I never
visited a Science Museum in Europe. I am offering this building and you
do what you can inside it."   But then he added: "If after you've lived
in it for several months you and your teachers want to open up the far
wall, then do it yourselves."
This, to me, is a typical example of the arbitrariness of Brazilian
arbitrariness...

I do not claim that I understand what went on.  But I think that you
should know about some of the realities of neoliberal Brazil and its
individual technocrats, all affiliated (even if recently for quite a
few) to the governing Workers Party of Lula.  There is an international
congress of Science Museums coming up this May in Rio de Janeiro.  The
big guns will be showing off. They all spent millions of dollars on
buildings. Look for help for teachers...   not pictures or
declarations, the real thing, as we know it at the Teachers Institute.
   You'll find out that the museums charge for field trips and nothing
more goes on on any regular basis.  They all talk of being third or
fourth generation museums; it makes us all feel old, doesn't it?   And
it makes the plea of our colleague  Ward Fleming  to organize some form
of systematic testing of his new plastic pins pinscreen with groups of
students and teachers sound like baby talk or an artisan's concern from
a pre-capitalist era.

One museum is showing off a lot these days, the one in Porto Alegre,
situated at the Catholic University, owned by the catholic Marista
congregation, built with approximately $10 million from the Federal
Science and Tech Ministry's public funds and another $10 million from
the private VITAE foundation based in São Paulo. It is the largest in
South America, on three floors with a high cupola from which hangs a
Foucault pendulum (it appears to turn satisfactorily today although it
went the wrong way during many months after the inauguration...). It
charged everyone as soon as it opened, one and a half times the price
of a movie ticket. Today you pay an extra  fee to enter a small
inflated planetarium that occupies the space of a discontinued program
of exposition of school projects that were organized by a field trip
staff. The director proudly publishes the daily income generated by the
coins that people must throw into the "Gravitational Potential Well"
exhibit to see the effect... The "explainers" are students of the
University placed in the area of their "specialty" in the museum,
biology students in the biology area; they are paid $140 per month for
a 28 hour week; they have no training meetings.  In an obscured region
dedicated to optical phenomena I found myself confronted with an
optical bench of the freshman lab type and a title: "Equation of
conjugate points". A teacher who was attending the World Forum on
Education held in the University's Convention Center, constructed at
the same time as the Museum, was looking on at the white screen at one
end; she abandoned the place before I could find the lens left smack
against the light source. This "exhibit" is part of a group ordered by
the Director from a Physics professor who worked out the topics from a
textbook...
I do focus on this museum because of its privileged relationship with
the Vitae Foundation. Vitae will close this year and called upon
brazilian science museums, that it selected, to enter proposals for its
last distribution of funds, big funds. The Santo André museum project
is among them. One person from each of these museums just spent two
weeks at the Porto Alegre Museum of Science and Technology attending a
course given by the Director and his wife (the pedagogical director of
the museum whose six feet high translucid plastic volcanoe model
spitting out mist fumes among neon tubes lava flows leaves visiting
first graders in awe) on how to run a modern science museum...     Of
course there are some wonderful things at this place, like the films
about childbirth and dismountable plastic bodies and organs. But the
"Soap Wall" is against a white wall, without special illumination and
its graphics ask you to blow on it to test its elasticity...
So who does what? for whom? when? for what?        I am afraid that
money is the only answer to all these questions. Money is talking loud
in Brazil for those who are friends of those who have the power to
distribute some.
So I discovered that the floor plan that local architects and I
imagined to set up exhibits in the huge Santo André Museum building was
recently shown to Jorge Wagensberg as he was on a visit to São Paulo.
He is the director of the Barcelona museum who created a corner of
Amazonian forest in his place and knows what real money is: his museum
is sponsored by La Caja, the national savings bank of Spain. Wagensberg
loves Brazil and every Brazilian museum director sees him as guru.
Every meeting wants him as the star.  There is an interesting detail to
add in the present situation:  he is a consultant for the Vitae
foundation...

Retrospectively I am glad that all that you each had agreed to prepare
for this museum did not come through as no-one ever looked at a
contract proposal. It would have put your works within a corrupted
world. General de Gaulle said that "Brazil is not a serious country";
today it is worse, it is a seriously corrupted country, at the
government level and at the educational level.
You can confer the virtual reality of all this (what they say about
it...) at
http://www2.epac.santoandre.sp.gov.br/

As for me, I'll keep working with and for indigenous peoples as they
affirm and organize around their own cultures, their own languages and,
also, their own original mathematical thinking.
I hug you all from the summer time of Florianópolis. I'll be up in the
States during February and at the Exploratorium at the end of the month
for the ethnomathematics gathering with Northern California teachers.
Maurice

Maurice Bazin
Rua Pau de Canela 1001
Campeche/Florianópolis
88063-505 Brasil
Tel:  55 48 237 3140

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