Class

So Saturday I had my first full day of post-grad classes – in Portuguese nonetheless. I thought I’d give a little recap for those of you who seem so curious…

Of course, things were greatly helped by the fact of my steadily impending death – all week my cough and chest congestion had been getting worse, so that by Friday evening it felt as if I were half-drowning in all the junk that were clogging up my lungs. No drowning occured – and the rest of the day was quite pleasant.

It was interesting – the degree is technically called “Social Responsibility and the Strategic Management of Social Projects,” which I assumed was a technical way of saying how to deal with social projects and NGOs. But, it appears we’re getting the full treatment.

Saturday morning was filled with introductions (name, what we studied, why we’re taking the class, etc.) and then we moved on to our first lecture/discussion – the history of the State, from the completist/monarchist model through the French Revolution and the birth of the liberal state, touching all the while on the development of capitalism (with a bit of marxist analysis thrown in that seemed pretty spot-on, actually), the welfare state as seen in Europe and to a lesser extent the US, and on to the development of the neo-liberal model as seen in Thatcher’s England and Reagan’s America…

And while most of it is actually interesting, I must confess it’s a bit difficult concentrating on the discussion going on as I wheeze and hack my way through breathing. And, it’s not helped by my understanding of Brazilian classrooms (at least post-grad seminar style discussion focused classes). There is an awful lot of talking – and an awful lot of an awful lot of people talking at once. For one example, there is the older gentleman from PetroBras (Brazilian oil company) with his gravelly un-enciated accent rumbling on about the social projects he’s sponsored in the Amazon, while the upper-class blonde Carioca in his mid-50s goes on about the NGO that she’s starting and the recently graduated social work major from the north side of Rio talks about the orphanage she runs and the young rich girl from the best school in town takes notes and asks how this will help her get her teaching job, the school principal, the grandmother going back to school… all in all, a fascinating group, encompassing high-minded idealists yet others with years of deeply practical experience about the realities of living and working with and among the poor in Rio de Janeiro…

Needless to say, I don’t say much unless it’s an actual discussion (i.e., when it comes time for us to break up into small groups to discuss and write about the differences between American and British neo-liberalism, and one of the women looks at me, smiles, and says “Perfect! We have the American for this question! No way we’ll do poorly!” assuming that in my vast experiences of American life, I have someone come to grips with the neo-liberal model of government as seen in the US…) So I smile, and repeat what the teacher has told us, plus a few insights, and realize that I’m not the stupidest one in the room. I’m not even the least articulate person in the room, as I was secretly fearing. I think it’s all going to be OK…

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