On the day I write this column, April 7, 2021, ten years have passed since the so-called Realengo massacre, in which 12 teenagers, between 13 and 15 years old, were killed and 12 more wounded at the Tasso da Silveira School in Rio de Janeiro, by a former student who came in to offer to give a lecture. Wellington de Oliveira, then 23, accumulated, according to reports, frustrations and resentments for having been bullied by his contemporaries in that same school and would have wanted to take revenge on a new generation of students.
I followed the sad episode closely, as the city’s Education Secretary. Unfortunately, I was outside of Brazil, to give a lecture in Washington and to seek resources for the transformation of education in the municipality, when I received the news. I couldn’t believe it, but I ran to the airport to try to anticipate my flight back.
When I arrived in Brazil, the then Minister of Education, Fernando Haddad, was waiting for me at the airport, and together we went to the school. It seemed that not only the family of those who died, but all the education in the city and the country was in mourning.
How could anyone go to school and murder children? Educational institutions should be sacraments where students feel protected from violence, and not killed, that was what kept going on in my head. The contact with the school teachers and with the students’ families reinforced this feeling.
Something could be done to try to deal with the most external aspects of everyone’s suffering, including the reconstruction of the school, with the participation of the students themselves in the definition of desired characteristics in the environment, but the feeling of loss was certainly not mitigated. The secretariat’s group of psychologists and psychopedagogues was also mobilized to pay attention to the teachers, who were themselves emotionally very hurt by everything that happened. But nothing erases the suffering experienced and the loss of life at such a young age.
In addition to the effort to ensure greater security of access to the network’s schools and the opening of 12 daycare centers, each with the name of one of the children who died, a difficult question remained: how to prevent students affected by bullying from accumulating wounds that then translate into a desire for revenge? And here, too, the answer lies in education. After all, educational institutions are not spaces for teaching only Portuguese and mathematics. They can and must educate for a peaceful and respectful coexistence of the differences that, unfortunately, we adults have not yet learned to have.
Because, without a doubt, each child’s life and promise for the future count!
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