The Trials and Tribulations of Math

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?

When I went to school there was only one way of solving math problems. I had to learn everything by route and memorization. Math was “linear, static, and objective” (Bear, 2000, p. 84). I didn’t understand the relationships of numbers and found math to be a huge wall that was too big to climb. I hated learning my times tables. My teacher would make us stand while we individually recited our tables, and those who were correct got to sit down, the humiliation and shame I felt being one of the last students to sit stays with me today.

The worst teacher I ever had was my Grade 7 math teacher. I didn’t learn a thing the whole year as I was in his class. I lived in a state of constant fear during this year at school. The teacher’s punishments for incorrect answers were: wearing a large egg box on your head tied with pink ribbons or placing our hands on “Fred” the cactus, as he pushed our hands into the spikes. I just remember praying throughout the class, ‘please don’t pick me’.

These are only two examples of how math was used to  manipulate, control, and oppression me. I’m sure everyone has a story or two to tell about their personal math horrors. Our math teachers have used their subject to keep us silent and scared. This needs to stop!

Math is a beautiful subject, with intricate connections and relationships. We need to teach the dynamics of math, and the relevance it plays in our everyday lives to appreciate and marvel at it. Math is a subject to be embraced not feared.

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.

The way the Inuit approach mathematics is completely different from Eurocentric mathematical ideas. “Different cultures have developed different mathematical tools according to their needs and their environment, and the Inuit community is no exception” (Poirier, 2007, p. 54). The Inuit have developed a mathematical system that aides their survival; they live in an environment that is completely different to ours, their mathematical system is different too. The Inuit people are closely attuned to nature, and use nature as their guide, they don’t rely on Eurocentric abstract ideas and logic for survival.

The Inuit use a base 20 numerical system compared to our base 10 system. Children from kindergarten to Grade 3 are taught in their native language, Inuktitut, before learning about math in French or English. I admire how the Inuit insist on keeping their language in tact during their children’s formative years but realize Grade 3 would be a difficult year for the students as they have to learn a second language and strange math.

“Inuit children develop spatial representations that are different from those of children who live in a city like Montreal” (Poirier, 2007, p. 55). It’s a shame that Inuit children have to learn both types of thinking and are judged by our Eurocentric rules. Their spatial representations, ensure survival and life in a harsh environment, and shouldn’t be compared to others who live in completely different environments.

References

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

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

 

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