Math: The Sixth Sense

  1. 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?

As Leroy Little Bear states in the reading, “Singularity manifests itself in the thinking processes of Western Europeans in concepts such as one true god, one true answer, and one right way.” This was prevalent in my learning of mathematics throughout grade school. Math is a subject, I was taught, that has one correct answer and one correct way of getting that answer. The problem with this, as Little Bear mentions, is that “it is these assumptions that make it hard for a person to appreciate an alternative way of thinking and behaving.” Therefore, the Western approach to mathematics having one solution would have been oppressive and discriminating for my classmates who adopted and practiced other ways of knowing, especially Indigenous ways of learning and seeing the world. Further, in his TED talk, Eddie Woo makes the comparison of someone saying they are “just not a math person” to the ridiculous statement “I guess I’m just not a seeing kind of person.” When we compare the two statements, it is clear that the philosophy that some people are just not cut out to do math can be damaging to students who struggle with mathematics. This was relevant in my schooling, as some of my teachers adopted this philosophy which discouraged kids from pursuing higher education in mathematics.

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 of mathematics and the way we learn it.

After reading Poirier’s article, it is clear that Inuit ways of teaching and learning challenge Eurocentric ideas about the teaching methods of mathematics. For instance, Inuit teaching strategies do not include pen to pencil work and instead, focus on “observing an elder or listening to enigmas. These enigmas can be clues for problem solving in mathematics.” This concept of learning about problem-solving through experiential learning is especially intriguing because it illustrates mathematics through real-world applications. Further, Inuit ways of thinking about spatial relations challenge the Euro-centric understanding of measuring distance because, again, the Inuit perspective is developed from life experiences. For instance, “Space in the North is an ever-changing space, changing with the season, the time of day, the temperature, and so on.” Additionally, calendars (especially days in a month) are heavily included in Western mathematics. However, Inuit mathematics have a different understanding of the length of calendar months: “How long one month is depends on how long it takes for a natural event to take place.” Therefore, a concept that is correct in an Inuit understanding of mathematics would be incorrect on a mathematics test because of the Western or “Southern” understanding of the calendar. Thus, Inuit perspectives on mathematics propose a way of learning about math through real-life applications which makes math more meaningful to students. Further, this raises challenges for Inuit students who are forced to learn math from a “southern” perspective later in their lives.

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