After attending Gale’s lecture, I must say topics are certainly more interesting when someone who is passionate about them is the one introducing the topic. I had never put so much thought into the connection between language and numeracy, probably because they are so segregated in our Western culture. To me, although it was not my strong suit, I could appreciate math because it was the “universal language” that transcended different mother tongues. Reflecting back on math classes, I do remember it being the sort of subject that you either got or not. But with everything, I’ve learned about differentiating instruction etc., that seems crazy that this subject gets treated like this. The fact that alternative approaches are not usually offered is discriminatory now that I think of it.
I think examining the challenges of teaching European ideas of mathematics in Inuit communities may help to identify ways in which our traditional way of teaching math can be differentiated. There are a few ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge European ideas of math. Firstly, the Inuit culture is an oral culture. Thus how and why they use and communicate math will be different from European views right from the get go. Secondly, a base 20 system of counting is used (with a sub base of 5 – think digital counting) as opposed to the European base 10 system. This minor tweak is pretty influential when we consider the mental math skills that we assume people should have. I think the biggest challenge to the Eurocentric idea of math is the Inuit language. “The Inuit tradition being essentially an oral one, the Inuktitut speaker is always mindful of being understood by others (we will come back to this in discussing the Inuit sense of space). Such precision in language brought the Inuit to develop several forms for
each number to mark the context in which it is used” (Poirier, 2007, pp. 57). In addition to that, their holistic and spiritual/relationship world view presents itself through the language presents adding more complexity. “For example, using the word Atausik for one, meaning ‘indivisible,’ may hinder their understanding of fractions” (Poirier, 2007, pp. 57). I think teaching Eurocentric ideas of math to Inuit students is seen as a bigger problem because it has never been experienced in this capacity. I’m sure there were many contextual challenges for Indigenous students taken into residential schools but the lack of regard for the students meant that it was their problem. As well, assimilating them and taking away their language and culture is certainly, unfortunately, one way to tackle the problem. This leads me to end with a quote I liked from the first reading:
“They no longer had an Aboriginal worldview, nor did they adopt a Eurocentric worldview. Their consciousness became a random puzzle, a jigsaw puzzle that each person has to attempt to understand” (Little Bear, 2000, p. 84-85).