Math class was my worst enemy in school, walking into the classroom gave me severe anxiety and I probably couldn’t count the number of times I cried because I struggled in class. However, that doesn’t mean it oppressed me. The way math is taught in schools is from a very western perspective, teachers, especially in secondary schools, often use a transmission approach to teaching math. This can be dangerous because it often means some teachers only know one way to teach math, and this way doesn’t work for all students. There is a lot of discourse surrounding treaties in the classroom and learning through other lenses; however, many people (teachers and pre-service teachers) tend to find this easier to do in English, Social Studies, and History. So the question remains, are we doing enough the bring other lenses into subjects such as Science and Math? I’m a Social Studies major and English minor so perhaps I’m not the best person to answer that question, but looking back at my own schooling I definitely see the elements of eurocentrism in my math classes. The teacher would explain the lesson, students would follow along in the text book or on an example sheet the teacher had handed out, and then students would answer questions either from the textbook or from a hand out. All of this was expected to prepare you for the quizzes and tests that were inevitable in math class as they seemed to be the only way to test student knowledge and comprehension.
In Poirier’s article “Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community,” there are three key points I believe to be integral to challenging the Eurocentric view of teaching math. The first is that Inuktitut, the Inuit language, does not have a written number system, rather they rely on oral numbers, for example Inuk is one, Inuuk, is two, and Inuit would mean many (three or more). This system was generally used for counting people but this is important as Poirier notes that Inuit children learn math in Inuktitut for the first three years of their schooling before switching to French or English. So I wonder why the younger kids learn in the own language and challenge the Eurocentric view of math whereas, the older grades don’t do so?
Another way Inuit math differs from the Eurocentric math we are used to is when it comes to taking measurements. Obviously the men, women, and children who live in the vast snow covered landscape need clothes and before the convenience of a shopping mall people had to make their own clothes. According to Poirier, Inuit women developed a system of taking measurements in order to make clothing, such using the palm of your hand to get the perfect measurement when making a parka or using a phalanx to get smaller measurements for making boots. Of course some women still measure in this traditional way when making traditional garments. This is a stark contrast to Eurocentric forms of measurement, typically in classrooms you’ll see kids using rulers or meter sticks.
Lastly, the traditional calendar for Inuit people is much different from the Eurocentric calendar we are used to. Firstly, we are always sure of our calendar we knew how many days are in each month, and we know which holidays fall in that month and what days they fall on. This isn’t so for the Inuit calendar, the months change based on the events of nature such as, when birds lay their eggs, therefore the month lasts as long as it takes for all the birds to lay their eggs and when the birds are done so is the month.