Passion for education begins in Mexico

04 March 2015
Professor Todd V. Fletcher
Professor Todd V. Fletcher

A Distinguished Outreach Professor who specialises in bilingual/multicultural special education gave a public talk at the Faculty of Education this month.

Professor Todd V. Fletcher is a Professor in the Department of Disability and Psychoeducational Studies in the College of Education at the University of Arizona where he coordinates the graduate programme in bilingual/multicultural special education. He is currently on sabbatical and lives in Mexico where his passion for bilingual and multicultural special education began.

In his presentation Dr Fletcher talked about his research on inclusive education, special education policy and culturally responsive educational practices for diverse learners, particularly in Mexico.

He is being hosted Associate Professor Lorri J. Santamaría, the Head of School for the School of Learning, Development and Professional Practice. Dr Fletcher co-supervised Dr Santamaria’s masters research on special education in the 1980s.

Dr Santamaria says she is proud and honoured to have Dr Fletcher share his knowledge, expertise and, most importantly, genuine passion for education with New Zealand academics.

Dr Fletcher says he found that passion during a soul-searching trip to Mexico in the 1960s.

“I took a bus from Belize back to the USA, but on the way I contracted hepatitis, and so I had to get off the bus in Puebla. There was a Baha’i community there who took me in and took care of me. That was the beginning of everything.”

He went back to the United States of America where he taught in a bilingual education school in Chicago, with students who primarily spoke Spanish, before migrating to Nicaragua during the civil war. Sadly, during this time he lost a close colleague, who was also his team teacher.

“I dedicated my further education to him and committed to doing a better job of education for him,” he said.

When Dr Fletcher returned home he became deeply interested in special education. He eventually combined his two passions and set up one of the first bilingual/multicultural special education programmes in the United States.

“There is a lot of misdiagnoses that goes on and often language and culture enter into the equation. They become factors that need to be teased out to make sure they are not the primary cause of what appears to be the disability.”

He says the thrust of the programme is to ensure teachers are aware of the impact that language and culture has on learning and teaching.

In 2009, Dr Fletcher established a non-governmental organisation in a rural area in Guanajuato, Mexico (Resplandor International) whose mission is to improve the quality of life of individuals, families and communities by providing educational programmes, services and professional development that contribute to the human, social and economic development in the diverse communities served.

He is also the director of the Verano en México summer study immersion programme designed to provide student teachers with opportunities to work with children from diverse backgrounds in a cross-cultural context.