I entered the classroom to a cacophony of noise coming from every direction. Nearly all of the 40 kids in the class were talking at the same time, some with each other, some with the teacher, all in Portuguese. “Class must not have started yet,” I thought to myself as I took a seat in the middle of the class where I could observe and pretend that I knew what was going on, but to my surprise class was well underway. Coming from a background in the American education system, my idea of a classroom setting involved silence, stillness, and a certain degree of fear—a hesitancy to ask questions so as not to look “stupid” in front of one’s peers. In the Brazilian classrooms that I observed during my time shadowing at the Colégio (which actually means “high school” in Portuguese) there is no fear. Students openly asked the teacher questions at all times during class and talked with each other in a way that increased their engagement in the class as they discussed Cicero in Portuguese.
The students at the Colégio Metodista São Bernardo do Campo display an insatiable curiosity that refuses to be stifled. Unlike in American classrooms where students hide their confusion for the sake of appearing intelligent and saving face, the Brazilian students I observed openly admitted when they did not understand. In a classroom of nine and ten-year-olds studying English, students shouted en masse “Não entendo (I don’t understand)” whenever they were not certain what the teacher had instructed them to do in English. For comparison, in the Portuguese class I am taking with other students in the Global Honors program, we failed to do the in-class assignments properly several times because we didn’t want to look “stupid” and say that we didn’t understand what the professor had instructed us to do when she spoke in Portuguese.
The classrooms at the Colégio are open, energetic, and loud, with students routinely getting up and down from their desks in a way that would be considered distracting in the U.S. However, this energy creates a classroom environment that educates not just the minds of students, but also their hearts. One of my favorite quotes about education—attributed to Aristotle—says, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” In the United States, we often look to test scores and behavior in school to determine intelligence in a way that often neglects the importance of teaching kids how to socialize with people of different backgrounds and enjoy themselves.
Andrea, one of the teachers at the Colégio, told us that unlike in the U.S. where we sometimes have separate special education classrooms and programs, developmentally disabled students are included in mainstream classrooms here. Andrea emphasized that developmentally disabled students are often unable to achieve the same learning goals as the other students, but that isn’t the point. What is important is that Brazilian students learn how to socialize with students who have disabilities in order to be better members of society and that students with developmental disabilities are able to make friends and live a happy life.
Roberts Wesleyan College and the Global Honors program aims to educate differently. Our school’s motto, “Education for character” emphasizes that when students graduate from Roberts they won’t just walk across the stage with a new degree but with a new heart as well. Observing the Brazilian education system, I am reminded just how important it is not just to educate the mind, but also to educate the heart. My heart has always belonged to academia, but now I think that part of my heart also belongs to the students at the Colégio Metodista São Bernardo do Campo who showed me that there is more to learn with your heart than your mind can ever comprehend.