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Cadernos de Pesquisa

Print version ISSN 0100-1574

Cad. Pesqui. vol.44 no.153 São Paulo July/Sept. 2014 



Early childhood education and race relations: tension between equality and diversity



Fúlvia Rosemberg

Researcher and consultant at Fundação Carlos Chagas. Professor at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo – PUC-SP – and coordinator of Gender, Race and Age Centre (the so-called Negri)




This paperaims to challenge epistemological and political implications for concepts of equality/inequality and diversity. For this it focuses on implications of both in the field of Brazilian early childhood education. Drawing upon Nancy Fraser's and Antônio Flávio Pierucci's theoretical approaches, the paper sketches a model for understanding race inequalities in the Brazilian education. These theoretical perspectives help us to analyze rules and patterns for offering early childhood education through race relations point of view.

Equality, diversity, early childhood education, race relations



[...] todos os tempos são incertos, pois sociedade e cultura são móveis, porém, alguns tempos são mais incertos do que outros – tempos em que os acordos sociais estabelecidos e os modos estabelecidos de ver questões sociais e educacionais começam a desgastar-se, e não são capazes de prover respostas ou de fazer frente às forças da crise e do desmantelamento social [...]. Em tempos de incerteza, visões rivais de mudança disputam umas com as outras para ver qual estabelecerá uma nova "certeza" baseada em um novo discurso do senso comum em progresso. (CARLSON; APPLE, 2000, p. 11)

PERHAPS ONE OF THE FEW CERTAINTIES we can tell today is that we are living in... uncertain times. We live in a time of often systematic questions about certainties, truths, interpretation – metanarratives – about the past and future of the universe, the earth, human societies and beings, and those concerning linear prediction of the future.

Some say we are living in a new era – postmodernity (LYOTARD, 1993); for others modernity is not over yet and its progress does not imply rupture (HABERMAS, 1990); or that postmodernity is only 'a state of spirit, rather than a crystallized reality' (ROUANET, 1987); and others emphasized that we live in a time of transition (GATTI, 2005, p. 3).

On the plan of knowledge production, meta-theoretical approaches and theories are reviewed: Portuguese prefixes neo and pós designate contemporary strands of thought clashing to provide the dominant interpretation in our time (poststructuralism, post-feminism, postcolonialism, Neo-Marxism, Neo-Gramscianism, among many others). Sometimes, the rupture is indicated by the adjective critical: Critical pedagogy and critical multiculturalism are some of the various ways of distinguishing the traditional from the contemporary, the past from the future in this labyrinth of theoretical productions and current political proposals. The previous knowledge is kept as traditional, and we propose the rupture of disciplinary barriers and the organization, to start using the chaos theory.

This theoretical production, which tries to catch and reflect about the complexity of our times, seems to me and others (CARLSON; APPLE, 2000), not only plentiful, but also complex and intensively abstract to be captured, aiming its application because of the use of new terms and concepts, its use with multiple meanings – for example the term identity, so current in debates about diversity. Each new text begins with an introduction to the meanings of current terms – difference, diversity, culture, hybridism, among others – and in the end we conclude that they are polysemic and polyphonic, or new neologisms are created.

For us, educators and researchers who hang out at the school yard, including graduate courses, the fact that we have to unravel these new tendencies (some call them trends) in human and social sciences, including education, it indicates a great amount of time and energy invested, not only because these debates have been less mindful of its implementation in daily and political practices, but also because they are mostly produced and written in western languages in hegemonic countries and many times refer to its peculiar situations. Therefore Barbosa Moreira (2001) highlights the space between the theoretical complexity and its impact on school practice: 'because of its complex and abstract character and scarce propositions for educational practitioners, discourse [about curriculums and multiculturalism] found in Brazil in the nineties did not manage to guide new practices and reforms' (p. 118 in the Brazilian edition).

In addition, this ferment does not belong exclusively to knowledge and discourse, but it is stirred and encourages other social, political and cultural practices: new ways of communicating and informing, new family arrangements, social movements, religions, ways of artistic expression, educational proposals, etc. Parodying Marx, "all that seemed to be solid and 'traditional' melts into air".

And we educators and researchers are amidst this intoxicating buzz. More than that: we are called upon to build the 'new world', or better saying, the 'new future for humanity', as we are one of the 'experts' out of modernity to teach new generations. The foreground position of education in crisis times is common-sense, even in uncertainty times. How can we account for this once the past 'melts' into air? Would there be anything honored, worthy, 'true' in the knowledge gathered by preceding humanity and lives with these complex times and could be passed down as legacy for future generations we are teaching? Or our uncertainties are so intense that make it difficult to or prevent from gathering honored and worthy legacy for young generations? Or will we give up this role of school education, that of systematizing and transmitting knowledge collected by the previous and contemporary humanity? Selecting, systematizing, organizing and proposing a centre of knowledge and educational practices for new generations would be like committing the sin of 'universalism'? How can we share the epistemological relativism to establish the curriculum for the education 'without emptying the content education'? (SACRISTÀN, 1996, p. 50).

I agree with the position of those who, albeit critiques we can address to modernity, assume that we also collect cultural, ethic, political and social legacy we should convey to young generations who build critiques and overcoming. From this legacy I emphasize our human community to be respected, and everyone's right to democratic quality schooling, including babies. I will return to it later.



It is in the core of the contemporary strands of critique of modernity, of the act of the so-called new social movements claiming policies of acknowledging their identity and cultural particularities, and awareness to globalization monocultural bias (CANDAU, 2002, p. 10-45), that the debate about diversity in the social world and in schooling has occurred. Imbernón (2000, p. 84) notes that the very term diversity is 'new and postmodern'.

As the promise of 'equality for all' has not been met in the use of material and symbolic goods produced in and by humanity, and as social segments have not seen their recognition in humanity, social segments mark their particular identities as a strategy to gain visibility and get rights that have been kept away from them. Moreover, new social movements, such as the ethnic and racial ones, feminists and so on also claim the recognition of their singularity, their difference as a right in itself.

North and south of the equator since the seventies in different rhythms we have seen a change from equality to difference discourse:

[...] we were in a completely new cultural and ideological atmosphere, in which the conscience that we, humans, are different in fact and in right seems to become more and more widespread in a fast-paced and disturbing way. It is the so-called 'right to cultural difference (diversity)', the right to be, already being, different. (PIERUCCI, 1999, p. 7)

However, in the debate about awareness to diversity in the contemporary society, we have found alerts concerning its polysemy (the term 'mass grave', in which anything may fit) and concerning difficulties to master and operate it as a guide for practice,1 because of its long path.

In fact, diversity is not a new issue in humanity or education. Distinguishing human groups or people by ranking features that enable separating 'I' from 'the other' and 'we' from 'they' is part of human cultures, allowing the construction of cultural identities. Western history could be told from the perspective of the distinction of peoples, social and religious groups, and persons. As identity and difference are not nature's data, but creations of social and cultural worlds, we often use markers to distinguish social groups – gender, age, skin color, language, body shape, among others – which are also social and historic constructions. In the contemporary Brazil, Soares (2008), for instance, identified a rise in the number of self-acclaimed Black people which can be explained through cultural rather than demographic phenomena.

Therefore, as it is no nature's data or new word, the term carries polysemy allowing various political meanings, values, uses, and proposals. That is, polysemy is not neutral: positions both prizing and dismissing the emphasis of human, national, racial, gender, cultural, age, and body difference, associate to meanings. Thus, the difference we attribute to the other may be a reason to treat him/her2 as a non-citizen or non-human, and may underpin bloodshed, enslavement, barbarism, segregation.

In contemporary times, peculiarity would be a progressive humanist tendency to ascribe positive value to diversity, especially the cultural one, simultaneously as to combat 'racism, xenophobia and related kinds of intolerance'. However, while the contemporary perspective seeks to ascribe a positive meaning to the term difference-diversity, we have this polysemy in our minds and hearts, including the persistence of marking the difference associated to their inferiority and our superiority. We have found an example in Silva's work: 'a father came to enroll his son in school [...] when he was asked the kid's skin color or race, he answered he couldn't say it because for him everybody is equally handsome and God's child' (2011, p. 136), which we read as an attack against difference, which may cause discrimination, the prejudice against his son in the Brazilian school context.

In effect, Pierucci (1999) noted that the thought that racism and chauvinism are in essence the rejection of difference is naive. For him, racism is not the negation of difference, but its 'obsession with difference'. Thus he warns western progressive sectors against the contemporary use of the term 'right to difference'. For the writer, it has a trap in its meaning: its heredity, 'the fact that the love of difference was [...] nourishment for the (ultra) conservative field during two hundred years [...]' (PIERUCCI, 1999).

It is in this sense that many of us are mindful of the debate about diversity in education to be contextualized in the politics plan. When we ignore the social and political context for the right to diversity, we may fall into the trap that its use is an alibi or substitute for inequality. So the new 1980s French identity right's articulation occurred concerning the focus on irreducibility of immigrant cultural differences, shaping what is called 'the new racism', which dismisses the race biological concept and "essentialises" cultural differences: 'we are different and unequal', states the new racism, reversing the meaning progressive humanist strands ascribed to difference (VANDENBROECK, 2007).

Mindfulness of the tension between diversity and inequality makes sense in the country, in spite of the decrease in the extreme poverty, we still are a country with many strong inequalities. Furthermore, social segments receiving lower income are also those who enjoy fewer benefits from public policies and less political participation. In other words, the goal of building a less unequal society, more fair in the economic plan, is still demanded in the contemporary Brazilian context. It would be redundant to insist, but one can observe this inequality scenery in education that, albeit progress, still exhibits a low average of years of study: 7.4 years for an over 10-year population (IBGE, 2012).

It is this socio-political context that makes many Brazilians reflect upon diversity in education when challenging its tension with inequality, once we share the political goal of taking part in the construction of more fair and egalitarian society and education system3 (CURY, 2002; PINTO, 2002).

The claim for the 'right of difference or diversity' in its various versions in contemporary Brazil radically displaced the debate about democracy 'from the economic to the cultural'. This turn has had its importance as it allowed us to introduce key subjects kept in a very discreet background so far; 'however, when societies characterized for their high social inequality are foregrounded, multiculturalist theses forces are seriously downplayed' (PINTO, 2002, p. 85). In other words, we have repeated among us the same tone as Carlson & Apple (2000, p. 52) when they refer to the need to combine a 'a redistribution with a recognition policy', drawing on Nancy Fraser's theory.

In effect, feminist theorist Nancy Fraser (2002) provides an important way to think simultaneously about resource redistribution (search for economic equality) and recognition of the cultural diversity in contemporary democracies. In sum, Fraser proposes a two-dimensional conception of justice centered on the concept of 'participatory parity', i.e., society enabling everyone to interact as pairs. For this, two conditions are necessary: first, the distribution of material resources must be such as to ensure participants' independence and 'voice'; the second condition 'requires that institutionalized patterns of cultural value express equal respect for all participants and ensure equal opportunity for achieving social esteem' (FRASER 2002, p. 67, my italics). For participatory parity, and therefore for justice in democratic societies to be possible, she claims, both conditions must be satisfied.

Fraser's perspective has the advantage of carefully separating the search of 'remedies' for economical redistribution and recognition of cultural diversity. This separation allows us, educators and activists, to think about concrete actions to develop today with students in other fields of our professional and political action (the administration, public authority, political party, labor union, media, etc.).

This occurs because much of contemporary reflections about schooling in hard times give schooling the mission to save the world, 'construct' a new critical citizen, shape a non-racist, non-sexist, non-xenophobe, non-classist, non-homophobe.4

I do not mean our action as educators and researchers is apolitical or we should not create conditions for ethic critical position, respecting the other. If, for instance, the antiracist action included only the task of creating or helping to create for our students critical stance towards interpersonal racism, it will not automatically open up the possibility for access and permanence in the education system for our students coming from oppressed social segments.

Therefore, that some identity and redistributive policies could be in school sphere, is praise-worthy, but other redistributive policies should go beyond school and they call upon political action in other spheres and with other strategies (for example, the political debate about the domestic budget).

The same could be said about recognition policies: attention to racial prejudice explicitness in school calls upon 'corrective' actions to be different from media display, for instance. A limitation of Fraser's (2002) contribution is that it excludes younger generations inasmuch as its reflection is centered on social movements political action.

With less theoretical sophistication, I have developed a reflection to understand education inequalities in Brazil, in particular gender, race, and age ones, simultaneously taking into account structural and symbolic dimension in the construction of educational inequalities.



First I reassert the vision that inequalities between Blacks and Whites in accessing social goods are due to the racist structure in Brazilian society occurring simultaneously in material and symbolic plans.

In the symbolic plan, we live in a society adopting the ideology of natural White superiority over all others, including Black people. Racial prejudice is expressed in an open, latent or veiled way that regards Blacks as inferior to Whites. This kind of racism is withering, but it alone cannot explain the whole Brazilian racial inequality. In the material plan, Blacks do not have access to the same public recourses as Whites do, even those designed for public policies. Therefore, to understand the core of racial inequality production in the material plan, one cannot escape the connection between being Black and poor, that is, that a high rate of Blacks are poor, and a high rate of poor are Blacks in Brazil (HENRIQUES, 2001). It is so obvious that sometimes it seems to be forgotten today.

We fall into the same error when we consider that Brazilian racism is caused exclusively by interpersonal racial prejudice. Racist actions resulting in discrimination against Black people can be caused with no concrete biased expression against them. They can live the impact of institutional racism without facing, or without being aware of the standoff of interpersonal racial discrimination (FERREIRA, 2010).

When the funds for public basic school are reduced, even if it is not a specific action against Blacks, an impact in keeping material and structural inequalities against them is triggered. Much of the current debate and actions to combat racism overvalue the other side: it sees racism as a set of interpersonal actions coming from racial bias. Educational strategies to combat racism (in its various forms) may be effective in this case. However, the so-called public policies 'for everyone' also keep the material racism, once they treat poor and non-poor in an unequal way.

So, it is necessary to pay attention to those racial inequalities that are reproduced and created by policies which apparently do not have racial bias. In Brazil, due to the combination poorness-blackness, policies keeping or heightening social, economic and educational inequalities are also racist as they keep and create inequalities in the access of public goods, chiefly affecting Black people.

I have also observed, in current discussions and claims, an emphasis on "differentialist" policies as those that are affirmative. The way in which the past and current so-called universalist policies help to keep the Brazilian structural racism, is kept in the background, or even is not discussed as it seems to deserve. So, if the introduction of disciplines African Brazilian and indigenous history and culture into the school curriculum should be valued (Law n. 11.645), it is not enough to combat the structural racism in Brazilian society. However less biased students, teachers, education providers, however they have welcoming attitudes towards all in classroom, that does not remove the negative impact in the production of inequality in a public school that, for example, is ill equipped in the poor neighborhoods and spaces, where part of the inhabitants is Black, such as underprivileged suburban areas and remaining areas of Quilombos.5

As I focused these dimensions, the structural and symbolic ones, in the shaping of racism, while I have to admit its interconnection, I define fields and strategies for action: combating symbolic racism has the best space in schooling practices (but not only there). So, for instance, multiple strategies of curricular revision and renovation, including graduation programs, may help to nullify discriminations in the symbolic plan. Cancelling out invisibility, disdain or hostility towards the other – as the Black, indigenous, woman, kid – are initiatives we can and should have in our educational practice. Not being silent when we face situations of racial hostility among students, teachers and other education providers is also a strategy to combat racism in the role of the teacher. However, while they are necessary, they are insufficient, because just combating the symbolic and interpersonal racism does not eliminate out structural inequalities in access to material goods. Therefore, if racial groups are relatively segregated in the urban space, if they live in disadvantaged neighborhoods and areas with less access to public equipment with ill-equipped schools, strategies to combat racism must go further than specific schooling action. Challenging racism is to prioritize and use political strategies performed by different political agents.

Situating the fight to racism, even only in relation to education, exclusively in the school plan, its workers, students and their families, may be regarded as a suicide mission and, paradoxically, a racism booster, as this mission was doomed to failure.



Does challenging racial inequalities in the access, permanence and success in the education system necessarily entail affirmative racial policies? Are policies combating racial inequality in education always affirmative policies? My answer at this point is no, if we consider the affirmative strategy as a real way to democratize education.

The affirmative action has been regarded as a favored strategy, if not the only one, in discourses and proposals of intervention by various social actors as, for instance, one of the reasons for INEP (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas em Educação Anísio Teixeira) to include skin color in the 2005 School Census in basic education: 'Data will help public policies, such as the applying of racial quotas' (BRASIL, 2011). Racial quota system in basic education? Well, even being openly in favor of affirmative strategies for particular sectors and stages in education, I think we must be careful of generalizations. In education, not all affirmative policies will not correct all inequalities, as the Article n. 4 of the Single Paragraph, Estatuto da Igualdade Racial (BRASIL, 2010), announced.

The basic analytical instrument and usual strategy to evaluate racial inequalities, particularly those to be corrected by affirmative policies, have been calculating the gap (in the jargon, the differential or racial hiatus) between social indicators, in this case the educational ones, for White and Black people. For me this strategy seems to be unable to guide and monitor every evaluation of education policies, particularly in early childhood education. Moreover, this differential provides inequality indicators, but the indicator ipso facto provides no strategy to recuperate from inequality.

Brazilian early childhood education provides a precious example. Racial hiatus in access to nursery school and preschool is insignificant, as data (Graph 1 below) show.

Indeed, Black and White early childhood education is practically interchangeable in the graph of frequency rates. However, we have observed a deep internal inequality in each skin color/race group (Table 1). So, we have observed strong inequalities in access to education for Black and White children up to 3 years old living in rural areas in the North, where there are lower per capita incomes and mothers work outside the home. In other words, due to a historical process of expansion of early childhood education in Brazil as a strategy of combating poorness, distribution of frequency rates associating per capita home income with skin color/race not always provides a cumulative configuration, not always indicating lower rates for poor non-White people: Black inhabitants in lower-income homes may have slightly upper frequency rates of education than White children (Table 1). As a consequence, the policy of early childhood education expansion towards considered 'politically dangerous' regions (pockets of poverty in the northeast) in the final years of military dictatorship (1978-1985) has led to a particular pattern and has kept frequency rates: north-eastern region provides the higher rates. Well, higher frequency rates of early childhood education may be associated to lower indicators of quality. For instance, while the northeast region has higher coverage, it also provides worst indicators of quality and less school time.



As I mentioned before, the racial hiatus in early childhood education access is reduced, sometimes inexistent, and in some cases Black children's frequency rate is even higher than White ones'. Do Brazilian policies of early childhood education cause and support racial inequality? They surely do. Does it happen through discrimination of Black children? I do not think so: I guess it is through regional, economic, gender, and above all, age, inequalities. In other words, the so-called universalist policies penalize Black young children and babies. Is this Brazilian model of early childhood education really universalist? Absolutely not! It discriminates young children, especially poor Black or White babies. It surely helps to keep poorness and low educational indicators for Black children.



As for diversity/equality tension in access to quality early childhood education, I draw upon the example from schools named by the INEP School Census as in 'differentiated location'. According to instructions in 2010 School Census questionnaire, the 'differentiated location' includes schools in indigenous lands, agrarian reform settlements and remaining areas of Quilombos.

The universe of these schools is small and mainly situated in rural area. Focusing our attention on differentiated schools in Quilombo remaining areas, 2010 School Census identified 1,912 schools responsible for 210,485 enrolments in basic education, mostly in the northeast: 64.3 percent of institutions and 68.0 percent of enrolments. Sinopse do Censo Escolar 2010 registered 10,753 teachers with the following information about skin color/race: 12.8 percent of self-acclaimed White in these institutions; 8.1 percent of Blacks; 31.9 percent of Browns (so 40.0 percent of Blacks and Browns); 0.6 percent of Asians; 0.1 percent of indigenous; and the expressive rate of 46.5 percent of people with no skin color or race declared. In spite of the expressive lack of information being worthy of attention, here it will be registered only to introduce the analysis of the early childhood education quality in these areas.

In the total of enrolments in basic education in remaining Quilombo areas, only 18,026 (8.6 percent) would be occupied by children up to 5 years old, the minimum rate (3,392 or 1.6 percent) being for children up to 3 years. Upon analyzing National Curriculum Guides for Quilombola school education (Parecer n. 16/2012 ratified on 20th November 2012), we face two worrisome statements. The former states: 'early childhood education, first stage of Basic Education, in which practices of caring and educating are emphasized, is Quilombola children's right, and a task to the public authority to provide for 4- and 5-year old children' (BRASIL, 2012b, p. 28, my emphasis). This statement is discordant with the 1988 Constitution, rereading the 59/9 Constitutional Amendment establishing the mandatory frequency/enrolment, rather than providing for 4- and 5-year old children. This statement can have extra emphasis if is complemented by the second one, which may lead to dubious conclusions:

[...] frequency of children up to 3 years old is an option each family in Quilombola communities have to examine their roles and objectives, drawing on their cultural references and needs to decide whether to enroll or not their children in daycare centers or institutions for early childhood education, or integrated childcare program, or early childhood education programs provided by the public authorities or associated with the latter. (BRASIL, 2012b, my emphasis)

I ask, what is the use of the 'integrated childcare program' and so many alternatives for daycare center?



Nevertheless, this is not the key focus for the discussion either, as it highlights the quality of the providing drawing data published in the recent report Análise dos dados quantitativos das condições educacionais de crianças de 0 a 6 anos residentes em área rural6 making up the project Pesquisa Nacional: caracterização das práticas educativas com crianças de 0 a 6 anos de idade residentes em área rural7, which compared quality indicators in rural establishments in the whole to those in rural 'differentiated location' (BRASIL; UNIVERSIDADE FEDERAL DO RIO GRANDE DO SUL, 2012).

Comparing indicators for schools in Quilombo remaining areas with the whole of rural schools, with rare exceptions, we have observed worse conditions of providing. Furthermore, the School Census includes an item about availability of specific teaching materials for schools in differentiated location, rather than general teaching materials, which would make more sense through the lenses of opportunity equality regarding the penury of rural schools and the low number of schools in differentiated locations when compared with schools in general. There is a focus on diversity rather than equality, in my opinion. This statement is even more significant, when we analyze Quilombo meaning according to the 2010 School Census report distributed throughout Brazilian basic education: 'Quilombos: they use materials adequate for students who are descendants of slaves' (Formulário do Censo Escolar 20108; sic; my emphasis). It is a simplification with a stigmatizing potential, and it can cause alienation from what it was designed for: the identity recognition.



Different texts have alerted race relations researchers and activists to the need for more attention to the right to education for children up to three years old, and to the position the Brazilian educational system assigned to the daycare center.

As we know, in April 2013, president Dilma Rousseff approved the new version of the Lei de Diretrizes e Bases da Educação Nacional (LDB),9 which, among other measures, regulated the mandatory frequency and enrolment of 4- and 5-year-old children in childhood education schools (regulating the 59 Constitutional Amendment of 2009), and its universalization according to rushed and erroneous interpretations.

A research from 2009 pointed and supported Brazilian activists and researchers' fear that an even more serious division than the current one between daycare centers and preschool will occur (ROSEMBERG, 2011). These observations lead to the conclusion of this article: that activists and researchers should monitor race relations in education as for the implementation of this provision. As I have argued, institutional racism has been kept by the so-called universalist policies, which are in no way democratic in Brazil. Which will be the impact of implementing mandatory frequency and enrolment in preschool for black and white families and children, especially for 3-year olds?



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Approved for publication in JUNE 2014



1 This subject will be illustrated later with an example of concrete situations in early childhood education.
2 From this point forward, the text will leave the formula him/her to use only the general masculine form, in order not to overload it.
3 It would be naive, and even incorrect, to suppose that Brazilian contemporary theoretic production was unmindful of the tension diversity-equality. For example, Boaventura de Souza Santos's maxim is repeated time and time again when challenging this tension: 'we have the right to be equal whenever difference puts us down; we have the right to be different whenever equality deprives us of our characteristics' (2006, p. 462). However, we have not advanced in rendering this maxim as a guide for daily political practice.
4 This is a polemical term as it incorporates 'pathology' in itself, therefore its italics.
5 Quilombo is a Brazilian hinterland settlement founded by people of African most of which were escaped slaves, while, in some cases, these escaped African slaves would help provide shelter and homes to other minorities.
6 Analysis of quantitative data for 0-6 year old children's educational conditions in rural area.
7 National Research: characterising educational practices with 0-6 year old children's educational conditions in rural area.
8 2010 School Census Report.
9 Law of Guides and Bases for National Education.

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