Curriculum as Literacy

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?

Personally, in my own experience with mathematics, the curriculum lined up well with my world view, ways of knowing and my language. However, for other students who didn’t come from the same culture as myself, or didn’t grow up having English as their first language, the math classes could be quite difficult. The language barrier caused difficulties for students who were trying to learn English but also learning math concepts at the same time. These students may not have struggled with math if it was taught in their first language but because math was taught in English, they would fall behind. For people with different cultural backgrounds, math speaks in a language that is very Eurocentric. It follows a base-10 number system and the currencies the curriculum uses in many examples are ones created by Europeans. Telling time is another example of how math is Eurocentric based. Also, the fact that in any word problems regarding days, months, hours, or years, it is all based on the assumption that the individual is familiar and follows the North American calendar.

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 first way Inuit mathematics challenged Eurocentric ideas about the way we learn math was when the article mentioned that Inuit people run off a base 20 system. This is something that had never occurred to me and I’m guessing, had never occurred to many others. Everything students learn in North America in math revolves around a base 10 system so it makes sense that there is such a lack of relevancy to Inuit students when it comes to the “standard” mathematics. The second way the Inuit math challenges European math is in the language it is taught. Because math is taught in Inuktitut until grade 3, these students gain a whole difference learning experience in their math classes that would seem abnormal to those who grew up learning in a “normal” European fashion. There is also challenges that arise when these students transition to learning math in English or French at grade 3 onwards. There is not only a language shift but also a cultural shift. The third way Inuit math challenges Eurocentric ideas is through the seasons and months. I found it astounding that each month each year can be different for Inuit people because of the structure around their months. I think it is really neat but also unfortunate that I’ve never learned about this before. Im sure others, like myself, unconsciously go about their days with an assumption that everyone follows the same months or season patterns that I do, and for those that do follow a different calendar, they are those who live far away on a different continent. This article really challenged my thinking in regards to even different approaches I can take to teach mathematics.

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