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Brazilian scholar finds research inspiration at UTSA

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Dr. Eliane Peres is a former school teacher, a professor, a teacher educator, and a researcher. For the last two months, she’s also been a visiting scholar at The University of Texas at San Antonio’s College of Education and Human Development through the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program. 

This past August, Peres traveled over 5,000 miles from her home in Brazil to San Antonio to study elementary school textbooks. 

“My goal is to analyze the diversity in the textbooks in terms of gender, race, generation, and nationality,” said Peres. “It’s been great here at UTSA because I have had the opportunity to research in the special collections here at the library, and have found all the sources that I need for my research.”

Her research, she said, focuses on identifying and analyzing the similarities and differences between textbooks used in Texas schools and textbooks used in schools in the State of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. Peres has examined dozens of first through fifth grade social studies textbooks to understand how nations, and the people who live in these nations, are represented in the textbooks.

Most recently, she’s been analyzing the representation of women in these textbooks. She presented some of these findings at a special presentation on Nov. 5 at the UTSA Downtown Campus. The presentation was based on her paper “Diversity and Elementary School Textbooks: Lessons from Brazil and Texas.”

“What I’ve found so far is that the representation of men is higher than the representation of women in textbooks in Brazil and in Texas,” said Peres. “A difference I could see is that here in the United States, the representation of women in textbooks is higher than the representation of women in textbooks in Brazil. But of course, it is not enough to just say this because it is a complex issue.”

Part of her time also includes observing elementary and college classrooms here in San Antonio. Last month, she had the opportunity to visit classrooms at Sarah King Elementary School in the San Antonio Independent School District through the college’s Center for the Inquiry of Transformative Literacies. Dr. Misty Sailors, director of the center, has also helped Peres with current literacy resources here in the United States.

“It was exciting to see the elementary school classrooms at Sarah King and the libraries in the school,” said Peres. “It is not common for the classrooms in Brazil to have libraries, so there are usually no libraries or good libraries in the schools.”

She’s also been able to visit with undergraduate and graduate classes taught by Dr. Bekisizwe Ndimande, associate professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching.

“I have learned a lot from the students here,” said Peres. “They are very insightful and participate in discussions about critical education and issues around the world, which I think is very important.”

Peres’ interest in textbooks began during her time as a teacher in Brazil in the 1980s. The textbooks she used, she said, played an important role in her classroom.

“In Brazil, textbooks are the main resource for teaching and learning,” said Peres. “The classroom has a blackboard, some notebooks, and the textbooks. They don’t have a lot of the supplementary materials that classrooms have here in the United States. Textbooks are the most important tools for the teachers and the students, and they deserve good textbooks.”

For the last 27 years, Peres has taught pre-service teachers at the Universidade Federal de Pelotas in Brazil, often discussing the importance of textbooks and what makes a textbook “good.” 

“Textbooks are more than just books,” said Peres. “They represent a nation’s ideologies and values, and reproduce cultural and economic meanings. The question is who decides what and how topics and content appear in the textbooks. If it’s not the teachers, the parents, or the students, then who is it?”

These discussions and her years of research on elementary school textbooks inspired her to apply to the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program.

“When I decided to apply for the Fulbright Scholarship, I said that UTSA was the best university for me,” said Peres. “Both universities are young, and it is important that the two universities work together to strengthen the relationship between them.”

She also chose UTSA because of her previous collaborations with Ndimande, who is also Peres’ host professor.

“I enjoy working with Professor Ndimande,” said Peres. “I love watching how he conducts his classes. I have learned a lot from him.”

At the end of the year, Peres will return to Brazil with the hope that her research and observations spark important discussions about the need for better textbooks and classroom libraries in Rio Grande do Sul. 

“I love the libraries in the United States,” said Peres. “They are so different from the libraries in Brazil. In Brazil, there are not enough books, and students and teachers do not have access to a variety of instructional materials like they do here.”

“The textbooks here in the United States also have a lot of supplementary materials, like the teacher edition, workbooks, cd’s, and flashcards,” added Peres. “I imagine that we can adopt something like this in Brazil.”

She will also return home, she said, with an experience at UTSA that she will always remember.

“I am very grateful for UTSA. It is a very friendly university in a very friendly city, and it is an honor for me to be here,” said Peres. “I am very thankful and excited that I am able to say for the rest of my life that I was a scholar here at UTSA.”

Learn more about the Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching.

Learn more about the Fulbright Scholar program.

Learn more about the Universidade Federal de Pelotas.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Eliane Peres

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UTSA College of Education and Human Development

Phone: 210-458-4370