For Marta Civil, Frank A. Daniels Distinguished Professor of Mathematics Education and one of the three new Latina professors at UNC’s School of Education, building learning communities that focus on the connection between teaching and learning and the cultural, social and linguistic contexts of Latina/o students is key.
“North Carolina is home to one of the largest and fastest growing Latina/o populations in the country, and it is not only in our best interest to integrate Latina/o students into schools, but also to foster a learning environment that can weave various cultural and even linguistic differences into a richer and more vibrant academic atmosphere,” Civil says.
Though Civil focuses her research on teacher education and equity in mathematics education primarily for Latina/o populations, her broader goal is to work with teachers to shift from what she calls a deficit perspective in their instruction.
“It is important for educators to begin to look at what skills are present and build on them rather than focus on what is lacking,” Civil says. “Children of different cultures are exposed to common concepts but often in very different ways.”
For instance, American children might add and subtract by counting and eating Cheerios, while Latina/o children might experience measurement at an open market or swap meet. The basic premise is the same, but the learning mechanism is steeped in cultural mores and traditions.
She also says that a more integrative approach may help alleviate some of the added pressure on teachers for their students to do well on standardized testing, especially in math and science.
“Teaching and learning are among the most important things we will ever do in our lives,” she said. “Issues of language, culture, politics or opportunity should not interfere with those pursuits.”
For a longer article on Civil, visit Celebrating Carolina’s Diversity, a newsletter of the Alumni Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity.