When I first looked at the prompt regarding numeracy, I questioned how Eurocentric ideas presented themselves in math. Isn’t math simply math? However, after reading the articles “Jagged worldviews colliding” by Leroy Little Bear and “Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community” by Louise Poirier it seems that math is not simply math as it does not take into account the idea that everyone has a “jagged worldview” that is not “…100 percent Indigenous or Eurocentric” (Bear, p. 85).

There were three ideas in Poirier’s article that forced me to examine my worldview on the purpose of mathematics and the way we learn it. They are:

  1. The idea that mathematics is a universal language. As I said before, in my mind, math was very “black and white”. There was a right answer and there was a wrong answer. However, this truth no longer holds as, “different cultures have developed different mathematical tools according to their needs and their environment, and the Inuit community is no exception” (54). The fact that Inuit children originally learn math under a base-20 system and in their mother tongue means that when they enter Grade 4 and have to switch to a Eurocentric numeracy they are essentially beginning their learning again in a “foreign” language.
  2. Teaching methods used by the Inuit are another challenge to Eurocentric ideas about math. Students in southern communities tend to focus on the use of pen and paper when demonstrating math. Problems are worked through using a number of steps to arrive at a final answer. In fact, marks are often given for “showing your work” even if you do end up with a wrong answer, However, Inuit teaching methods focus on “observing an elder or listening to enigmas” and that they “do not ask a student a question for which they do not think that student does not have the answer” (55).
  3. The continued use of alternate units of measure for measuring length and distance. The Inuit have continued to use parts of their body such as their palm or their finger to determine length when constructing clothing. Additionally, distance is described as being in relation to some other object, primarily inuksuit. With this, come very specific language to describe the location of an inuksuk in relation to the person. Although we may say, north, south, east, or west there is less precision to the direction and distance.

I think the bias and lens I bring to the classroom stem from my position of privilege, the environment in which I was raised, and the schooling I received. I grew up in a small community, lived in a traditional two parent home, where access to education, extra-curricular activities and experiences were part of my norm. I never considered that others may not have the same advantages that I had as most of the people around me came from similar backgrounds. It wasn’t until I had to move to a significantly larger high school – 168 students in grades K-8 in my community to school versus approximately 1100 in my high school – that I began to notice differences in the students. There was diversity in culture, differing family dynamics and varying socioeconomic standards. I began to see things through an alternate lens, which made me more aware of my biases. I had expected people to act like I did (the ‘good’ student), think like I did and speak like I did. However, that was not the case and I needed to recognize that my thinking had to adjust. I had to hear and read more than the ‘single story’ – the European story – that I had listened to for so many years. This is not always easy as we tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people and are infrequently challenged to hear a different story.

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.