Blog Post #6 – Language, Numbers, Lenses, and Stories

Gale’s lecture, Poirier’s article, and Bear’s work all identify various ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas about the purpose of mathematics and the way we learn it. Gale identifies many differences in a convenient chart during her presentation (Russell, 50:51). One of the major points she identifies is the emphasis the Traditional Western Worldview places on teaching mathematics from a linear, static, and singular perspective, whereas the Indigenous Worldview approaches learning mathematics from a very relationship oriented, fluid, and diverse approach (Russell, Curriculum as Numeracy Video). Poirier also identifies a similar observation and notes that mathematics is a type of language that is developed by the community one belongs to. “If mathematical knowledge is a social construction, then the learner’s culture and community will play an important role in learning” (Poirier, 2007, p. 56). Poirier also identifies that the teaching and learning of Inuit mathematics has great connection to their language and culture. One of the developments that researchers made in this study was to use an Inuit legend to teach about odd and even numbers (Poirier, p.64). This is much different than learning about odd and even numbers from a textbook or white board example that we would often see in our Traditional Western View schools. The teaching style of Inuit mathematics challenges this linear way of teaching and provides emphasis on a way of learning that fosters the sharing of culture as well.

Bear brings to light a very important concept to remember, “…anything you claim to know is your knowledge alone” (2000, p. 85). Our knowledge and perspectives are influenced by our individual and unique experiences. Bear also explains that “… in Aboriginal societies, diversity is the norm…” (2000, p.83). and that this difference in diversity between Western Society and Aboriginal Society is that the Aboriginal culture focuses on internalization whereas the Western Society is more focused on externalization. It is easy to see that this again fits in with Gale’s comparison of linear and static learning of mathematics (Wester Society) contrary to a relationship focused, fluid, and diverse way of sharing mathematics (Indigenous Worldview). Mathematics is a type of language, but as Poirier makes note of, it is not quite the universal language that it used to be viewed as (2007). It is clear that there is a difference between mathematical teaching approaches between the Eurocentric and Inuit worldviews.

Chimanda provides another perspective on perception and cautions using one story to paint a generalized picture. By using one story, we get an incomplete understanding that narrows our lens. Using causes an inaccurate development of our thoughts and what we adopt as knowledge. As Chimanda discusses, we need to expose ourselves to a balance of stories. In my schooling there were some “single stories” evident. I grew up in the Catholic school system in a middle-class neighbourhood that was very safe. My elementary school consisted of mostly white students and we did not have a lot of cultural diversity from what I can remember. I can remember having a poverty meal at school once a year where we were encouraged to fast all day, and then for lunch we would have a bun with a small bowl of rice. I didn’t think much of it as a young student, but I began to associate that meal with every poor person. I began to think that not having much to eat was the only indicator of poverty. This single story shaped my perspective on poverty until I collected more stories regarding poverty like Chimanda explains in her TED Talk. Another single story I can remember in school was the story that boys were strong and good at moving things and girls were not strong enough (based on who would be needed to help set up tables in the gym) or that boys were not very artistic and that girls should do the artistic tasks. These were all single stories that were accepted as normal until more stories reframing these misconceptions were gathered. These stories are also normative narratives. As future educators it is going to be integral that we provide our students with the best balance of stories that we can find. We need to be aware of our own personal biases as well as those of the community in order to broaden the scope of the lenses our students use to view and interact with the world around them.

Our learning of mathematics was very linear as Gale, Poirier, and Bear discuss in their work. We studied examples on the board, did exercises from the textbook, and used manipulatives to solve questions. Culture, history, and a fluid approach to concepts (Indigenous teaching approach) were not used. The single story that was told in my learning experiences was that this is how we learn math, there is order to learning math concepts, and we learn about these in a very process and product oriented way. The Eurocentric/Traditional Western View truth mattered. This was the Eurocentric cultural teachings that I was exposed to. This is the only type of learning approach I was aware of, and as such I have a bias that this is the best way to learn. As Kumashiro (2009) mentions, teachers are not only changing what material students use to learn but they are also changing how students learn. As such, it is important that teachers and students become aware of the different lens’ which they view/teach/learn/share information with and how these lenses shape perceptions and perspectives. I now must not necessarily unlearn, rather, I need to expand my understanding of what learning can look like. I can gain more knowledge on other cultural teaching practices and approaches and bring these into my future classroom. By doing this, I can actively work against my own biases and help broaden the scope of my lenses.

Russell, G. Curriculum as Numeracy. Video.

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.

Chapter 7 (Examples from English Literature) from Kumashiro’s Against Common Sense, 71-79.

Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger Of A Single Story. Video.

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