Literacy as Numeracy

For this week’s blog post, we were asked to read an article by Leroy Little Bear describing differences between First Nations world views and Eurocentric world views.
1. 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?

Oh, absolutely there were. In my own experience, people who were not naturally strong with mathematics and perhaps gifted in other ways (and this isn’t taking massive aspects of peoples lives like culture/worldviews/ect into consideration!) had an extremely difficult time succeeding in math classes. As a visual learner, I found mathematics incredibly difficult to internalize. Sure, there were graphs and pie charts and all manner of neat graphics, but none of that held any form of connection to quadratics or polynomials. For me, there was nothing more abstract nor confusing than the string of numbers and letters written on the board day after day. I was expected to accept things as they were; the one teacher who WOULD offer explanations about how these concepts came to be left me more irritated and confused than when I had first walked into this class. These experiences have left me along with most of my friends and family with an embodied distrust for mathematics. So I suppose, at its core, the mathematics classes I was involved with were discriminatory towards different kinds of learners.

Until I’d sat in and listened to Gale Russell’s lecture, I had never really realized that current-day Mathematics oppress groups of people through its absolute rigidity. I was thoroughly raised with primarily eurocentric values, and I still struggled immensely. I cannot even imagine how students whose cultural and worldviews clashed with the concrete rules of mathematics may have felt sitting through these classes if they were not one hundred percent compatible as a learner and individual.

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 mathematics and the way we learn it.

-“Traditional Inuit teaching is based on observing an elder or listening to enigmas. These enigmas can be clues for problem solving in mathematics. Furthermore, Inuit teachers tell me that, traditionally, they do not ask a student a question for which they think that student does not have the answer.”

-“Traditionaly, it was for three and up that they needed words to express quantities. Their tradition being essentially an oral one, the Inuit have developed a system for expressing numbers orally. They do not have other means of representing numbers, they have borrowed their number systems from the Europeans.”

-“The numbers 20 and 400 are pivotal
numbers, as other numbers are built from these two numbers. The Inuit
have a base-20 numeral system.”

I think a good way to conclude this week’s session is to reflect upon a story told by Mrs. Gale Russell in our lecture. She told the story of how a research group was sent to a place like Kumashiro’s Nepal (though I can’t remember where specifically it was) and were tasked with investigating the local peoples’ stance on numeracy. Ultimately, they were confronted with a sheep farmer and asked how much the farmer would like in exchange for one of his sheep. When the farmer responded with “two tobacco”, they left and returned with four tobacco and offered to buy two of his sheep. However, once the farmer declined, they deduced that the people of this land were inadequate when it comes to math. They did not realize that the farmer did not accept their offer because of reasons they did not know of; they only assumed that he was unable to do simple math and left.


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