Math Talk

Math for me has always been a challenge. I’ve been told by many teachers that “math just isn’t your thing.” Until now, I was in total agreement. I believed I was just more ELA and social studies orientated, subjects which I perceived to have more elements of subjectivity involved. This subjectivity allowed me to lean in a way that wasn’t so linear. I could make connections and come away with conclusions to aspects from either subjects that others didn’t and still be right. The fear in math of not getting the one right answer was paralyzing to me. To get this one right answer, oftentimes, only one linear method was given to solve it. If you couldn’t understand this method often you were considered a failure, or at least considered yourself a failure. This is not to say I didn’t have some excellent math teachers that worked hard to tutor me to success, but I still felt I simply didn’t catch on as naturally as other students. This caused me to have a very negative introspection of myself that I  believe caused further roadblocks for me in math. For this reason I gave up on ever considering myself to be good at math.

 It was Eddie Woo who changed my perception of math in his Ted Talk Mathematics is the Sense You Never Knew You Had. In this lecture Eddie compares math sense to the sense of sight. He emphasizes that just because your vision may be impaired doesn’t mean you should give up on sight, similar to how one should not give up on math as, “all human beings are wired to see patterns” and “make patterns,” which is essentially what math is. This helped me realize I am a mathematical being just as much as the star students in my Math Foundations 30 class were and that I’m more successful at math than I previously thought. Gale Russel further enhanced this epiphany for me in her lecture What is Mathematics anyway. She asked the audience to relate math to other subjects and see if mathematics didn’t have a relationship to any of these subjects, the answer was a resounding no. This further deepened my understanding of myself as a mathematical being and that perhaps I just needed to approach math differently to better understand it within a classroom setting.

In the article Jagged WorldViews Colliding by Leroy Little Bear, he notes that colonialism “tries to maintain a singular social order by means of force and law, suppressing the diversity of human worldviews. … Typically, this proposition creates oppression and discrimination” (p. 77). In my own math education experience I can not recall any experiences where I personally felt oppressed, but I can easily see how one could feel that way, specifically Inuit students. The article “Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community” highlights several  ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas about the purpose of mathematics and the way we learn it. Some examples are listed below:

  • Math is not learned in their native language of Inuktitut after grade 3, but English or French.
    • Inuit mathematics has a base unit of 20 and there is little connection of western mathematics to their daily lives in Inuit culture. 
  • Inuit students are particularly good at spatial relations (geometry), due to their connection with the land and the importance of having an understanding of where you are spatially in the barren environment of the Canadian North.
    • Unfortunately, Western education does not put importance on this kind of math.
  • The teaching methods of the students Inuit elders and teaching methods of Inuit students Western style teacher’s are vastly different. 
    • The Inuit children are brought up to learn with paper and pen they learn through listening and observing their elders  (Poirier 54-55).

It is obvious, from the examples above, that math is not a universal language. More and more educators are beginning to see this, but our education system still has a lot of work to do to change the often oppressive and discriminatory tone of math education.


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