Can Math be Oppressive?

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.

How We Read the World

I attended a Catholic French immersion elementary school and a Catholic high school. This affected how I read literature because most, if not all, of my teachers were white, middle-class. and Catholic. The literature I read in school was almost always about a white protagonist and from what I can remember many of them were male such as in The Giver or Mon Ami Frederick. This didn’t really affect me as a kid because I didn’t know anything different, I went to a predominantly white school and didn’t think about how only reading books about white characters could effect students of other races. Even though I know how important it is to offer students a diverse selection of literature I still enter the classroom with my own biases. One of them is that I tend to be drawn to literature that is about women, while there’s nothing wrong with this as it is important to give women a voice in the classroom, it can be difficult for male students to relate to books about female characters. I also carry the experiences of a white, middle-class, cis-gendered, heterosexual female. This means I cannot always relate to literature the same way a students of another gender, race or sexuality can. I believe the most affective way to unlearn these biases is to be aware of them and why they exist.

The single story that existed in my education was that of white, mostly male characters. Usually they faced no struggle that had to do with their race or gender. If there was a struggle it was brought up through religion like in Mon Ami Frederick or Night, which are stories about the Holocaust. Many voices were silenced in my education, those of women, those of radicalized immigrants, and those of Indigenous people. The truth I was being taught was that of a white, male, middle-class, cis-gendered, and heterosexual perspective.

The Creation of Curriculum

Curricula is developed by governments and other sanctioned authorities.Policies govern every aspect of education including, what is taught, how it’s taught, to whom it is taught, and what resources are used. Every education policy decision can be seen as a political decision. Those involved in curriculum decisions often involve a combination of national, local, and school participation. Curriculum could be subject to a lot of political influences. These influences affect curriculum decisions, but they also affect political decisions which is another reason education is closely related to politics. The influences include ideology, personal beliefs, and media attention. Curriculum decisions often extend beyond education and become public debate.

Treaty education is something that, in my opinion, still needs a lot of work. While looking at the Treaty Education Outcomes and Indicators it is clear that the influences that effect other curricula affect this curriculum as well. Personal beliefs can influence the creation of curriculum, of course not everyone shares the same beliefs of what is important. This can be an issue when certain groups are speaking on behalf of all First Nations people. Not all nations share the same opinion of what is important for students to learn. Treaty education can also be seen as just good media attention. The media reports that this curriculum has been created and put in place and it is seen as a good thing even though many teachers haven’t implemented treaty education.

We Are All Treaty People

The western perspective is really ingrained in our understanding of the world as Canadians, simply because that’s the way it’s been for so long. But as educators we must understand the importance of having other perspectives and using other lenses in our classrooms, specifically the perspectives of FNMI peoples. Some people are of the opinion that if you’re non-Aboriginal then you shouldn’t have to learn Aboriginal content. That makes no sense, why should only Aboriginal students learn about their culture when settler Canadians brutally forced our culture on them for centuries? If we are going to grow as people and work towards reconciliation then we must all share an understanding of Aboriginal culture.

Another area we must understand are treaties, but it goes beyond just knowing the numbered treaties. Students, teachers, and really all Canadians should understand what treaties are, why they were made, the different types of treaties, and more importantly how treaties between Aboriginal nations and the government have been broken. The saying that we are all treaty people is very true, because by definition a treaty is an agreement made between multiple parties. This means both parties, to put it in colloquial terms, must uphold their end of the deal; and as far as I’m concerned the federal government has not done so. This problem has entrenched itself into our curriculum, yes treaty ed. is mentioned in the curriculum, but from my own experience and hearing the experience of others many educators simply don’t care to teach it or are to afraid to teach about another culture, especially when their own education is lacking.

Reinhabitation and Decolonization

This article discusses how reinhabiting cultural lands and learning about the importance of these lands is important to decolonization. Being on the lands and passing down information from your culture is traditional Indigenous education. One of the ways I saw reinhabitation and decolonization was through the audio documentary the participants made while on a river trip. They shared their knowledge with each other while on traditional lands, as I mentioned before, this is traditional Indigenous education as opposed to western education. Youth in the community also conducted interviews with elders, thus opening an inter-generational dialogue. Youth learned about living off the land and key areas of land along the river trip.

For me as a social studies major I can definitely see the value of the research the participants did in this article. I really enjoyed the concept of the audio documentary and  the youth setting out to interview adults and elders about subject matter they were interested in. It helped teach them about their own culture and also got children out of a western style school and into a more traditional learning environment. I could see the value of having my own students do interviews similar to this one, being able to go out into the community and seek out the information for themselves rather than sitting in class and having the teacher tell them the information. I feel like I could also adapt this for my own classroom by asking my students what topics they would like to learn about and then bringing in an elder who has knowledge in one of the chosen topics to discuss it with my class, or having class outside on the land rather than in the classroom.

Who is a Good Student?

The common sense idea of what is a good students likely changes based on your own intersectionality. Typically it is someone who shows up on time, has good attendance, participates in class, does all their work and gets good grades. However, this notion of a good student only favours those who had previous knowledge to build upon and those who enjoy school. In North America it also favours students who are from middle-class families and usually of European heritage. This of course leads to issues as students who do not fit this mold are being labelled as ‘bad’ students. Not all students learn at the same pace and not all students share the same experiences. If a student is struggling in a class it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a bad student but perhaps they have issues at home or the course material is brand new to them and they did not have the previous knowledge that other students did.  Our common sense ideas make it impossible to see the other characteristics of students whom we’ve already labelled as ‘bad’. A student may show no interest in the content the teacher is presenting, but when given the choice to select their own area of study they may be the student who works the hardest. Some students may feel too ‘boxed in’ in the typical western style of education. It is clearly fair to say this this style of education does not work for everyone. So accusing a child of being a bad student just because they act out or don’t do the work or even show up late or not at all does not mean they’re a bad student, but perhaps that the education system and our notion of common sense does not help this particular student.

Sexual Identity and Curriculum

When our class came up with definitions of curriculum heteronormative was not one of the words that was used to describe it. Therefore, I have decided to examine sexual identity and curriculum for my critical summary. In my experience many schools have made progress in their attempts to welcome LGBTQ+ students into the school and give them a sense of belonging. But this does not stop LGBTQ+ students from being left out in the material taught in the classroom. I never once remember a LGBTQ+ character in any of the novels from my English courses and sex education only included information pertaining to heterosexual students. While this are only a couple of examples it is clear to me that while LGBTQ+ students themselves may be welcome in our schools, they are severely underrepresented in our curriculum content.

For this assignment I have found three articles which examine this issue. The first article is The Case for a Gay and Lesbian Curriculum by Arthur Lipkin, this article focuses on the “Children of the Rainbow Curriculum” debate that happened in New York in the 1990’s. This article, while based in the United States, gives a look at the public concern with a LGBTQ+ curriculum. The second article is Interrupting Heteronormativity: Toward a Queer Curriculum Theory by Dennis Sumara and Brent Davis. This article gives suggestions on how heteronormative thinking can be interrupted and argues that it is our obligation to do so in order to promote social justice. The final article is Queering Institutions?: Sexual Identity in Public Education in a Canadian Context by Heather Shipley. This article not only gives a Canadian perspective but offers insight into a recent issue; the proposed sexual education curriculum changes in Ontario.

My next steps in my research will be to analyze these articles further in order to critically understand what each one is arguing. After this I will begin to outline their arguments and how their individual ideas demonstrate a connection between sexual identity and curriculum.