Worldviews an Mathematics

EuroMathamatics: World Views and Perspectives

  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? 
  1. 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. 

Response: 

1).During my personal experience with education and being a student in the Manitoba public school systems, I have never been an expert in mathematics, or more specifically Western mathematics. This is because mathematics is not a universal theory; many different cultures approach the study in unique ways that conform to their greater worldview. In the colonial Canada, the western view of math is that there is only one right answer and only one right way to achieve that answer. This ties into the Western worldview that uses the scientific method and believes in a natural hierarchy. This concept can be extremely focused on conformity, and thus creates a lack of diversity or personal experience.  

Students can be oppressed in mathematics in a number of different ways; they can be told they have to use the right steps even if it comes to the same conclusion, they are told to focus on Western ways of counting and organizing abstract theories above all others, and often they are used as empty vessels to recite information. Students who are not encouraged to see through different perspectives and accept different worldviews and being ultimately oppressed from reaching their full potential. 

2).  Inuit culture has long used concepts of mathematics that are integrating into their beliefs and are equally as valid as mathematics used by any other cultures. Mathematics have played an integral and imperative role in the survival and everyday life on this culture. Three ways that Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric views in the way we use and think of math is as follows;  

  • Spatial Relations: Inuit cultures live in a particularly harsh climate, the Arctic tundra. These cultures have not only survived on this land but thrive. It is critical to know where you are in this environment, and the Inuit peoples have learning how to read wind, snow, and other environmental factors in order to ground themselves. In turn a very precisive language developed around spatial relations.  
  • Counting: Inuit cultures count and organize numbers differently than the Eurocentric way; the base number is twenty as opposed to ten. This was said to come from counting both finger and toes, as opposed to just fingers. Inuit children raised on this system are able to accomplish complicated math problems in their heads, but only when they are allowed to use their own system. 
  • Oral Tradition: The Inuit peoples, much like most Indigenous peoples, have a largely oral based culture. In the arctic environment, when the Inuit peoples leave shelter they do not have access to methods of physical documentation, there is no need. The ability to do math in one’s head, provides them with an advantage in this harsh environment. This was changed when the Arabic numbers were adopted after contact, and this has still had an effect on Inuit culture.  

14th March 2019

Louise Poirier (2007) Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community,
Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 7:1, 53-67, DOI: 10.1080/14926150709556720

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