A Lesson Beyond Mathematics

  1. At the beginning of the reading, Leroy Little Bear (2000) states that colonialism “tries to maintain a singular social order by means of force and law, suppressing the diversity of human worldviews. … Typically, this proposition creates oppression and discrimination” (p. 77). 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?
  2. After reading Poirier’s article: Teaching mathematics and the Inuit Community, identify at least three ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas about the purposes mathematics and the way we learn it.

While reading the article by Leroy Little Bear, I thought back to my experiences in high school in which I was in the AP strand of mathematics. As these are classes that very much teach for the building upon of topics in the next course so as to teach for the AP exam, they lacked any knowledge that was not considered “good mathematics,” which basically means that it does not include content beyond the great, white, European mathematicians. Thus, my mathematics education lacked “the diversity of human worldviews” (Little Bear, 77) as it failed to acknowledge that other societies had their own mathematics systems that were equally brilliant.

Another way in which my mathematics education discriminated was from the different distinction of each course beyond grade nine. There was the AP strand, which included pre-Calculus and later Calculus, for the smartest math students, then there was pre-Calculus for the students who were okay or average at math, and lastly there was Workplace and Apprenticeship. This last course was always labeled as being for students who were really “dumb”. I even remember our grade nine math teacher describing each of the course strands to us before we chose our grade ten classes. He stated that if you were between a certain, high percentage in his course (probably, around 80-100%), you should take AP, then a slightly lower but respectable percentage (around 60-80%), you should take pre-Calculus, but if you were anywhere below 60% though, you should take Workplace and Apprenticeship because otherwise you will struggle in math for the years to come.

While at the time this seemed like a nice little guideline for where we would all succeed, looking back I realize that it failed to recognize the discriminatory nature of such a statement. Just because a student did not do well in your class does not mean they will not excel with another teacher or maybe that student was going through a lot during that semester and so they received a less then satisfactory grade in your class but are actually brilliant when it comes to math. It ignores the potential students have within themselves and rather labels them as “smart” or “dumb” as it became apparent where each student fit within this scale the next semester when classes restarted and certain “smart” people were not in your course.

This labelling of students also does not acknowledge the different types of knowledges. Just because a student is not good at math, it does not make them “dumb” as maybe they excel at ELA or music or visual arts. One course should not define a student’s brilliance, nor should education as a whole as the way in which our educational systems teach does not advantage all students and their learning styles.

While reading Poirier’s article, I was amazing by the complexity of the Inuktitut numerical system. At first, I was pretty confused about how it worked but slowly caught on to their based 20 system. I think this system is a way in which their mathematics challenge Eurocentric ways of mathematical knowing as the Inuit created their number system off of what was mathematically useful to them and thus their mathematical language is unique to them. It challenges how we can view numbers, especially since this way is deeply different then the European way. Another way they challenge European ways is by using their bodies to measure. It is a brilliant way to do so as I do not always carry around a ruler but I always have my arm wherever I go! Finally, their sense of space relative to where they are is amazing! Traditionally, they do not require the need for use of measurements like kilometres or meters because they know where they are by the land formations.

While I do not intend to teach mathematics within my career, and I really hope I do not have to, I think these lessons are invaluable to educators because the lessons go beyond the bounds of mathematics. It is a reminder that all curriculums have an oppressive and discriminatory nature, in which educators must be conscious of. Whereas the Poirier article reminds educators that other cultures, where Indigenous or otherwise, have their own ways of knowing and how these ways of knowing should be equally valued within the classroom. While this material may not be included within the curriculum, there is no reasons why educators should not allow students to share their different ways of knowing so as to not only educate fellow students on different cultures, but educate the teacher as well. Teachers must create open environments that welcome all their students, while being respectful of students cultural knowledge prior to entering each and every classroom.

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