Curriculum as Numeracy

Bear, L. L. (2000). Jagged worldviews colliding. In M. Batise (Ed), Reclaiming Indigenous voice and vision (pp. 77-85). UBC Press.

Think back on your experiences of the teaching and learning of mathematics. Were there aspects of it that were oppressive and/or discriminating for you or other students?

“In Aboriginal philosophy, existence consists of energy” (Bear 77). This existence of spirit was never something that existed in my experience learning math. The importance of interrelationships was not addressed or included. The Inuit belief system “emphasizes process as opposed to product” (78) which is in total contrast to the product system that I experienced. My experience focused on predetermined outcomes rather than finding value in the journey to learn something. It was a product system where the answers were either right or wrong.

This right or wrong mentality was discriminating against other ways of thinking. “In Aboriginal societies, diversity is the norm, so deviation from acceptable behaviour is minimized” (83). In my experience, learning mathematics meant that everyone was expected to work in the same way and use the same process in order to produce the same result. This is oppressive to diversity.

Inuit practices focus on the “constant flux rather than on individual patterns” (79). This is in contrast to the priorities of learning mathematics in my experience where individual predetermined patterns were what were focused on. My experience involved practicing one particular technique in order to ingrain it into memory rather than developing skills that could be used in organic, variable experiences. School for me wasn’t about internalizing information to carry as a code with me into the real world. It was about learning the exact calculations in order to get the one right answer to solve that one specific artificial question.

While storytelling is an important part of the educational process in Aboriginal societies, my personal experience with math did not contain meaningful storytelling. While we had word problems that presented a scenario, the scenarios were not stories through which “customs and values were taught and shared” (81). My experience prioritized students to become some sort of specialist in society (i.e., doctor, lawyer, mechanic). These specialties were ranked in a hierarchy of social class.

Poirier, L. (2007). Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 7 (1), p. 53-67.

Identify ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas about the purpose of mathematics and the way we learn it.

The idea that math is a universal language is being challenged because the reality is that “different cultures have developed different mathematical tools according to their needs and the environment” (Poirier 54). The Inuit community does not “perceive mathematics as something that can help them solve everyday problems” (55). An example of this is that Inuit children develop spatial relations in a different way than children raised in a traditional Eurocentric community. Teaching sense of space in mathematics in the Inuit community refers to a very practical way of nature-based observances that will allow for the execution of a task such as hunting.

“Mathematical knowledge is a social construction where the social processes of dialogue and critique are necessary” (56). This means that a person’s community will influence their learning. This also relates to culture.

Recognizing the importance of language and culture mean recognizing the reality of how Eurocentrically mathematics is taught. Some languages may have very different meanings as well as multiple meanings to content. Despite differences, the way I was taught math was not inclusive to any culture other than the majority.

There are seemingly common Eurocentric mathematical concepts such as the annual calendar that are so uniquely different for the Inuit community. The calendar in Inuit communities “is based on natural, independently recurring yearly events” (61). The calendar is a commonly used tool that the majority would consider as “common sense“, and yet relevant differences in beliefs among other cultures provides insight into the forceful Eurocentric belief system that is ingrained in our schooling.

It is important to incorporate both traditional ways of teaching and learning as well as elements of other cultures in order to allow for a deeper understanding and be more inclusive.

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