Until a few months ago, Isadora Faber was like any other Brazilian middle-schooler. She liked listening to Guns N’ Roses and hanging out at the beach, and the day wasn’t complete without walking her white poodle, Ziggy, which she named after Bob Marley’s son. But along came the blogosphere and an adolescent itch to call things as she saw them, and life for this intensely shy 13-year-old hasn’t been the same since.
It started in June, when—inspired by a Scottish grade-schooler—she launched Classroom Diary, an online community to vent about problems in her school in Florianópolis, capital of the southern state of Santa Catarina. It was a Facebook page, not an attempt to start the Brazilian Spring, but almost overnight Isadora became a regular guest on talk shows, the bane of school administrators, and a champion for kids fed up with the sorry state of public education.
Isadora’s digital intifada started modestly enough. After seven years at her elementary school, she grew tired of promises of improvements that never materialized, so she started keeping record. With a cellphone camera in hand, she wandered the hallways registering what she saw. It wasn’t pretty: classrooms cluttered with broken desks, bathrooms without doors or toilet seats. “One room had a ceiling fan with bare wires that gave you a shock when you switched it on,” she said. One of her most popular posts was about a painter who had been paid two years prior to spruce up the gym, but never completed his work. (The bathroom has since been painted.) It was all fairly anodyne stuff, until it went viral. Seven months after Isadora began Classroom Diary, the site has registered more than half a million “likes.” Many similar Web pages have sprung up since, each dedicated to exposing the failings of public schools from the pampas to the Amazon.
Not everyone is a fan. When her Portuguese language teacher warned the class that blogging about school affairs was “immoral” and “unethical,” Isadora posted the comment and was summoned for questioning at the police station and threatened with a libel suit. To this day she occasionally gets menacing messages from schoolmates who side with the administration, and her grandmother was injured when a gang of kids stoned her house. “My parents escort me to school,” she says.
None of this has deterred Isadora from posting inconvenient truths, though a friend who helped found Classroom Diary has since quit for fear of reprisals. “I know I am doing the right thing,” she says. Isadora also knows that the problems go way beyond shabby classrooms. Indeed, if this emerging Latin American powerhouse is to claim its place in the sun, Brazil will have to overhaul its dysfunctional school system. Of the 40 countries surveyed in the Pearson Institute’s Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment, Brazil ranked next to last, just ahead of Indonesia. That puts Brazil at the back of the class among its peers. Isadora has no illusions about the challenge at hand. But thanks to this rebel blogger, it’s getting harder to look the other way.