Challenging Eurocentric Ideas

I remember being told that math is an easy subject to understand because “it’s just numbers.” However, I do not think that is true because the way that I remember my math classes and assignments is that they were filled with a lot of word problems to complete. The wordiness of the problems made them difficult for English Language Learners to solve because it was hard for them to pick out the relevant information. But, the textbooks tried to embrace diversity by using different names from different cultures and would sometimes include different aspects of their culture. For example, I went back to my Foundations of Mathematics 12 textbook and found the following problem:

Darlene and Arnold belong to the Asham Stompers, a 10-member dance troupe based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, that performs traditional Metis dances. During the Red River Jig, they always arrange themselves in a line, with Darlene and Arnold next to teach other. How many different arrangements of the dancers are possible for the Red River Jig? (Nelson Foundations of Mathematics, 2012, p. 245)

Although these problems may appear very often throughout the text, it is still a small attempt in combining European and Indigenous worldviews as in the above problem a piece of the Metis culture (the Red River Jig) is fused with learning concepts that European cultures deem important to learn while using their methods (permutations and factorial notation). There is still a huge focus on Eurocentric ideas and Inuit mathematics still challenges those ideas about the purposes of mathematics and the way students learn the subject outlined by Poirier (2007) in the following ways:

1. Inuit peoples do not perceive math as something that can help them solve everyday problems.

The Eurocentric belief for teaching math is so that students will develop logical thinking through problem solving. However, different cultures demand different kinds of knowledge. In Indigenous cultures, like the Inuit, for example, a lot of importance is placed on oral numeration, sense of space, and measuring.

2. Inuit peoples believe that students should be taught through the experiential knowledge of the teachers and the cultural knowledge.

Europeans believe that knowledge is something that can be gained, whereas Inuit people believe that knowledge is something that is discovered. In other words, Inuit people believe that different situations/scenarios will teach a person different things.

3. Indigenous peoples believe the development of teaching activities must take into account teachers’ understanding of their teaching and their teaching context.

I think a big question that needs to be answered in terms of education is “who gets to decide what is important for students to learn?”. All the material that a student has to know is predetermined by the people who are part of the upper classes in our society leaving teachers and students to have little say in the matter. Teachers are supposed to cover whatever is in the curriculum. There is not a lot of room for a teacher to ask why they are teaching what they are teaching. If it’s in the curriculum, it has to be important. The Inuit peoples challenge that way of thinking by having teachers examine themselves and their surroundings.

From my schooling experience, it seems as though there has been an effort to change the curriculum to focus more on different culture’s worldviews, but more change is still needed to perfect the curriculum. Inuit mathematics point out just a few ways that the curriculum could be modified.

References:

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

Foundations of Mathematics. (2012). Nelson. Retrieved from http://www.nelson.com/wncpmath/foundations/documents/foundations12_demo/foundations_demo_gr12.html

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

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