ECS 210

Curriculum as Numeracy

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?

I was a pretty good math student until about grade 11. I was good at math when I could understand it in a practical way. For example, if I am adding two apples to five apples, I will know that I have seven apples. When I got to grade 11 and we started to learn things that I could not relate to my life, I had a very hard time understanding the concepts and learning it. I was, however, always pretty good at memorizing formulas and plugging information into the formula. But, if you were to ask me why it was done that way, I would have absolutely no idea. Now that I think back to these classes, I can see how it was somewhat oppressive that we only learned how to do things in one way, and that we were not really taught the why, or the real-world application.

Something that I find extremely oppressive and discriminating about high school math is how workplace math is seen as the “dumb student math,” and how precalculus is seen as the “smart student math.”  If you were a “good student,” you were always encouraged to take precalculus, as you needed it for university. If there was a student who was perhaps not a great student, they were pressured to take the workplace math as it related more to the trades. Because of this, I took the precalculus route as I wanted to go to university, and I did not want to seem less smart than my peers. I think this is a very discriminative and oppressive way to look at the two routes of math. I believe that what is taught in workplace math is applicable to everyone and is important to know in any profession.  The workplace math can easily be related to everyday math that you would need to know to function in adulthood, whereas precalculus is hard to apply to general every day life. I remember being so lost in precalculus as I had no clue how it related to any real-life situation. I strongly believe that the thinking about this needs to change in the future, and maybe a better approach can be made.

Using Gale’s lecture and Poirier’s article, identify at least three ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas about the purpose of mathematics and the way we learn it.

The first thing that really stood out to me from Gales lecture and Poirier’s article about the difference in Mathematics in Inuit culture was that their numeral system uses base-20. It is so confusing for me to try and wrap my head around their system as it is so different from the Eurocentric numeral system. Additionally, the fact that they have numerous words to describe different contexts for a number is also very interesting and confusing! I think it would definitely be hard for an outsider to understand this unique system. Also, to add onto this, because their culture relies heavily on oral language, Poirier (2007) describes that “the Inuit have developed a system for expressing numbers orally. They do not have other means of representing numbers; they have borrowed their number symbols from the Europeans”

The second idea that stood out to me was the teaching methods. As described by Poirier (2007), teaching methods rely more on the “natural ways” for Inuit children. This includes listening to and observing elders and other leaders. It is included “Inuit teachers tell me that, traditionally, they do not ask a student a question for which they think that the student does not have the answer.” This definitely challenges how we do education here, as that is often the case where teachers are asking their students challenging questions that they may not have the answer.

The third aspect that stood out to me was the importance of nature in their ways of knowing. I found it very interesting how their calendar is based on “natural, independently recurring yearly events” (Poirier, 2007). These natural events are things such as “coldest of all months, when baby seals are born but are dead, when baby seals are born, when birds lay their eggs,” etc. This again is so different from our Eurocentric ideas of time, and challenges the linear and static way we look at time.

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