Curriculum as Numeracy

Oppressive aspects of math education

Most students are not comfortable with mathematics so by default mathematics education is oppressive for most students.  I see it in the faces of students during my placement where one or two students clearly enjoy math and the rest are cringing on the inside.

I was one of the students who enjoyed math and the reason I enjoyed it is that I was good at it and the way it is taught fits the way I learn, my intelligence (from Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory).  For others who are not like me (most!), it is an ordeal to be taught and expect to learn the “traditional” way.  I remember the kids in my class who did not know the answer to the teacher’s question were considered “dumb” by the whole class even if the rest of the class didn’t know the answer anyway!  The oppressive nature of the math curriculum is changing, and for the better.  Teachers are encouraged to cater to multiple intelligences through guided math that involves different types of math instruction such as games or individual learning.  This goes a long way toward addressing the stress and oppression in mathematics education.

Inuit mathematics as a challenge to other mathematical cultures (including Eurocentric views)

The main ideas that the subject of mathematics deals with are counting, localization, measuring, design, games and explanation.  This is the purpose of mathematics in any culture and therefore a part of mathematics education for the young.  There are at least three ways that Inuit mathematics differ from other mathematical cultures:

  1.  The number system functions on a base of 20, making 20 the basic number just like multiples of 10 are a base in Eurocentric math.  This number system is based on the total number of fingers and toes a person has and is culturally significant in Inuit culture.  Teaching of counting is thus a challenge if one thinks in the Inuit way and is trying to learn a different number system.
  2. The sense of space is different in Inuit culture.  In Eurocentric views, objects are located somewhere on a map or grid and we can describe to others where a place is based on that.  In the Inuit culture, based on the environment where the culture developed i.e. in the ice-covered north with very few landmarks, the description of place may include references to seasons, animals, snow banks or wind direction.  In other words, a location is not just a location, and is put into detailed context by the Inuit.
  3. In measuring, whether it is length or time, the Inuit have a differing view.  For example, the months are not based on lunar or solar phases, but refer to happenings in nature such as “the coldest month” or “where the caribou’s antlers lose their velvet”.  The months are not a specified length of time, but last until the action is completed.

Inuit mathematical ideas differ greatly from the Eurocentric mathematical system they learn in school and also how they learn it.  For example, the traditional way Inuit knowledge is taught to the young is through an elder and many times through riddles.  This is in conflict with the “paper and pencil” approach of Eurocentric mathematics.  Ongoing research is important in bridging the gap and finding ways to effectively teach mathematics to Inuit students.


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