Faculty Spotlight: Marta Civil
By Hope Baptiste
UNC’s School of Education is committed to preparing leaders at all levels of education; to generating new knowledge to improve education locally and nationally; and to building learning communities where knowledge belongs to all children and the adults who teach and care for them.
For Marta Civil, the new Frank A. Daniels Distinguished Professor of Mathematics Education and one of the three new Latina professors at the school, building learning communities focused on the connection between teaching and learning mathematics and the cultural, social and linguistic contexts of Latina/o students is a key step in advancing education as a whole.
“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 said. “Preparing teachers to be successful in increasingly diverse settings will define the future of teacher education here and elsewhere.”
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 said. “Children of different cultures are exposed to common concepts but often in very different ways.
“With regard to mathematics, 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. Both experiences have an intrinsic value to education; enabling teachers to capitalize on them will both improve education and its outcomes.”
“Teaching and learning are among the most important things we will ever do in our lives.”
» Marta Civil
She also said 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.”
Civil joins her colleagues, assistant professors Juan Carillo and Claudia Cervantes-Soon, in a consolidated effort to advance educational opportunities and training that bring Latina/o issues to the forefront of the pedagogy. Combined, they lead initiatives aimed at engaging children ages 8-13 in mathematics and science, gender equity projects focused on encouraging more girls to pursue math and science disciplines, researching educational trajectories among Latina/o males as well as bilingual education and language education policy.
Civil is already involved in numerous activities on campus, including the Latina/o Collaborative and Latina/o Studies programs. She is excited about the many collaborative opportunities she already has in the works and the opportunity to partner with her education colleagues to train better teachers who will enable students to learn better and be more successful.
Civil came to UNC from the University of Arizona where she directed the Center for the Mathematics Education of Latinos/as (CEMELA). She earned masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and received undergraduate training at Universidad de Barcelona.