Challenging Eurocentric Ideas and Oppressive Practices in Mathematics

There are many examples where our past schooling experiences could be considered oppressive and/or discriminatory towards ourselves or our peers. Some classes are more likely to have this occur than others. Subjects like English or Social Studies, which can discuss and explore topics around oppression, are thought to be more likely to have these issues. So, when we consider mathematics in this way, it is hard to think it would be possible in a classroom like that. However, after considering this question, I realized that oppressive and discriminatory practices can literally happen anywhere, even in the least likely places. When thinking back to my own schooling experiences, there were some aspects of math class that were maybe oppressive towards people in my class. The first example could be the language used in certain problems and word questions. These types of questions are difficult and worded funny for the majority of people, but it’s crazy to think how much harder they must be for those who do not read at that level, think in that way, or maybe don’t even read in English at all. As we discussed in lecture last week, reading and writing skills, or what many people consider ‘literacy,’ is the basis for all disciplines. You literally need those skills to excel in any given area. So, if someone came into our classrooms and didn’t have those skills, at least in English standards, it must have been extremely difficult for them to succeed in those problems. The second example could be situations where either classmates or even teachers perceive someone’s math ability or understanding based on their race or culture. I can clearly remember some of my classmates thinking some peers were better at certain types of math compared to others and often that divide had a clear representation beyond just learning styles and interests. It often subtly included race into it as well.

As stated in Poirier’s article, “Teaching mathematics and the Inuit Community,” three ways Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas about the purposes of math and the way we learn it includes examples that are unique to their culture and ways of knowing and are more ‘natural’ compared to European ways. Firstly, Inuit children not only learn their own language first, but they also learn mathematics in their own language until at least grade 3. Secondly, their numbering and measuring systems are different than European ways because they use a base 20 numeral system and when measuring things like lengths or time, they use natural units like body parts or annual recurring events respectively. Lastly, even though they are ‘taught’ mathematics using pencils and paper in school, that is not their regular or traditional way of learning the subject. Traditionally, Inuit children learn mathematics by observing and listening to others and gaining that knowledge orally. The Inuit don’t even have an actually written representation of their numbers and don’t perceive it to help them in everyday problems because that’s not their traditional ways and is instead a more European or ‘southern’ way of thinking.

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