In search of the autonomous and critical individual: A philosophical and pedagogical analysis of the physical education curriculum of São Paulo (Brazil)

Year: 2012

Author: Betti, Mauro, Knijnik, Jorge, Venancio, Luciana, Neto, Luiz Sanches

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The process of democratization in Brazil, which began in the 1980s, favored the creation of proposals for the renewal of Physical Education (PE). These proposals, based on the humanities, established a theoretical and pedagogical counterpoint to traditional practices which had, up until then, been based on biology and sports training. Therefore, numerous curriculum proposals have emerged since the launch of the Brazilian Educational Law (1996) and the National Curriculum Parameters (Brazil, 1997, 1998). These proposals have been informed by a conceptual 'tangle' of theoretical sources, and this paper examines the philosophical and pedagogical directions which underpin the new Physical Education (PE) curriculum in the State of São Paulo (SP) - the richest and most populous State in Brazil, with over 41 million inhabitants, 5.5 million students in public Elementary and High Schools and over 14,000 PE teachers. The SP/PE curriculum reflects the principles of Movement Culture (MC) through its claim to develop autonomous citizens on the field of PE curriculum. This claim is a significant innovation for a field traditionally based on the teaching of games, sports, gymnastics, martial arts, dance, and the development of physical skills by individuals. Given the ambitions of the new PE curriculum we ask what philosophical and pedagogical principles make it possible to conceive of PE as capable of producing critical and autonomous individuals.  We ask what concepts of culture, body, and movement the SP/PE curriculum is based on; how the education of the autonomous individual is conceptualised; and how it enhances the teaching with students' body practices. It also considers the ways in which autonomy is lived in an environment historically marked by social inequality. In reflecting on these questions we adopt the notion of one's own body as a 'unit of meaning' (Merleau-Ponty, 1978). We also draw on Freire's (2002) concept of education as the development of a critique of reality as the basis for transforming it. We discuss Movement Culture, a central idea in São Paulo's PE curriculum derived from these practices of critique and transformation, as well as the concept of Sich-Bewegen (Kunz 1994), which emphasizes movement as a proper expression of the individual in order to show that the traditional notion of being 'physically educated' as proposed by Corbin (1987) has been superseded in the new curriculum.