ECS 210: Math, The Universal Language? Think Again

Math. A subject that either sparks a groan or excitement from students and teachers alike. I know my personal experience with math has been less than ideal and I know how much I struggled with it. There was no part of me growing up that enjoyed math. It made me cry more often than not and I know the feeling of being overwhelmed by numbers. However, I also know it did not oppress me. Math is usually taught in a very Eurocentric manner and it shows with the lack of creativity or different learning styles. Math is usually something that you either get, or you struggle with because you’re more “right-brained.” There is more importance placed on math than drama because math is seen as a subject that “get you somewhere,” and no one thinks drama could be a vessel to achieve your dreams. Math is taught in a very product-based way, and while some students succeed in this type of environment, others will fail immediately. Inclusivity does not really stretch to math because math is not something that usually holds a lot of room for debate or conversation. Since there is a Eurocentric view when teaching math, it does not consider all the uses math has for Indigenous ways of knowing and how they would use math.

An example of this is how Inuit people use mathematics. They have a very different approach to math then the Western version and it is more beneficial to them. The article,  Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community by Poirier talks about how Inuit people use math. Some examples of this are that they use snowbanks to determine where they are in relation to direction. Something our Eurocentric view of math would never consider. As well they use their hands for measurements while making parkas. The tools they need to make measurements were gifted to them at birth and they use them to the fullest. As well, they have a different calendar system than Europeans. They have months, but the timing is very different because it depends on how long that action happens. One of the months is “when baby seals are born but are dead” (Poirier 61) and this month ends when the action ends.

I never considered math to be an oppressive subject. Math to me has always been the universal language, however, upon closer examination I realize that is incorrect. Different cultures have different uses for math that would benefit them in ways I would never have considered. Learning Inuit ways may not benefit me but for the Inuit people learning European ways would not benefit them. However, I can see the importance of teaching these ways and understanding that math is not a universal language everyone should understand. Culture has a huge impact on Education and not taking that into consideration is doing an injustice to any students I have.

Works Cited

Bear, L. L. (2000). Jagged worldviews colliding. In M. Batiste (Ed.), Reclaiming Indigenous voice and vision (pp. 77-85). UBC Press.

 Poirier, L. (2007). Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community, Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 7(1), p. 53-67.

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