Inuit vs. Eurocentric mathematics

When remembering my experience with learning math, there is no concrete examples that I can provide in terms of explicitly oppressive and/or discriminating content to myself or other students. However, while reading the work entitled Jagged Worldviews Colliding by author Leroy Little Bear, I can recognize that the math I learnt did not take into consideration nor did it sacredly value the unity and interconnectedness amongst all things on Earth and the energy and agency that all of these things hold. I can also recognize that the teaching of math, in my experience has never involved storytelling, whereas in Indigenous culture “[s]torytelling is a very important part of the educational process” (p.81) Little Bear says. I can identify more so with the type of learning that is “singular, static and objective” that Little Bear refers to as Eurocentric, in my experience with learning math (p. 82). So, I guess you could say that in my opinion, the oppression and discrimination present in my math learnings was more subtle over all rather than outright blatancy.

According to the Louise Poirier article Teaching Mathematics and the Inuit Community, three ways that Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas include:

  • Oral numeration always has to do with context. Figure 2 shows some of the different contexts an individual could refer to a number such as: three inside, three objects, group of three (p. 59). This idea differs from Eurocentric mathematics because in European math styles, there is no context involved… only numbers.
  • Measuring length is done by using body parts such as the finger or feet. This method is used in very practical and crucial processes such as making warm parkas or boots. This is very different from the Eurocentric ways of measuring as we would never say a pair of pants needs to be five hand lengths long or anything like that, but instead we would just take a measuring tape and get exact numbers.
  • Sense of space was really interesting to read about. Sense of space for the Inuit people has to do with the building and spatial relation to inuksuit. For thousands of years these people have relied on inuksuit to help them recognize where they are in space. Figure 3, which explains the many ways that someone could expresses their relative position of an inukshuk was really mind boggling to me. Eurocentric math would never use this type of language of relative description- but rather use directions of North, East, South or West and left and right and even go as far as giving exact coordinates of longitude and latitude.

 

The Poirier article really brings more support to the fact that mathematics in a majority of schools today in Canada shift more towards the “singular, static, and objective” side of the pendulum in comparison to Inuktitut math which I would say is more holistic and dependant on the interconnectedness to the world around people. I can see Leroy Little Bears’ definition of colonialism come to life in the dichotomy of these two mathematical systems as Eurocentric math is the standard in schools across Canada and deemed necessary for students to learn and the suppression of the Inuit worldview is ever present especially to students after grade three in the Inuit community. When it comes to truth and reconciliation I think that this way of life that has existed for so long and sustained a group of people in harsh weather conditions, should be celebrated and held as sacred and also necessary for students to learn and connect with.

My Single Story

My “single story” blossomed from the separation of my parents when I was five. My mom moved us out of my biological fathers’ house and we then lived full-time with her, only seeing our father a few times a year. My mom worked two jobs to make ends meet and sometimes once all the bills were paid, groceries were bought, hockey and dance were paid for among other monthly expenses… my mom would have no more than 9 or 10 dollars in the bank account. We lived in low-income housing for a very long time until my mom saved up enough money to buy her own house when I was going into grade 9. I watched my mom hustle HARD my whole entire life and I knew that the world was extra hard for my small family. When I was in elementary school, I brought the bias that told me that my family and I are the only ones struggling. Lots of kids in my class had both moms and dads under one roof and were wealthy compared to me. Despite the struggles that my family faced, school always gave me hope. I was a good student who always got good marks and felt like school was my second home- I still feel this way in university. My mother raised us to believe that we could do whatever we wanted in life, no matter what. We could be doctors, lawyers, famous celebrities if we so desired and all we had to do was “dream big” as she would say. This saying drove me to further pursue school and getting good marks as I knew if I could succeed in school, then I could maybe succeed in other things too and hopefully not have to struggle in the same way my mom did. Now, as an adult and a future teacher I know that everyone struggles in one form or another. I hope as a teacher that I can create a space for students to feel adequate and like they are enough, no matter their socio-economic class. I also hope that being honest with my students and sharing my personal experiences will give hope to some of them.

It was powerful to watch the TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie when she brings up the idea of ‘nkali’. Nkali, she says is the idea of being better than someone else and I think the influence that teachers have on young students’ minds and thoughts can in some ways be corrupted by the power that comes from our political, economic and societal climate. The world we live in right now is guided by mass-media, big corporations and in many cases corrupt leaders who get to call the shots as to what is popular and what is not. The power that these people and organizations hold allow them to continue to be in a place of power and delegate which stories are cared about and told to the world. In my case, I grew up in Prince Albert which is in Treaty 6 Territory and has a high population of Indigenous people- and I won’t lie, a good part of their peoples’ population is poor, drug addicts involved in gang activity. That being said, I think back to Adichie’s part of her TED talk where she says something like: tell people who they are, over and over again and that is who they become. I think this is especially true in Prince Albert… Indigenous people have been held at a place of inferiority for so long now and heard the same negative story about their people one too many times, that they perhaps have given up and fell into the mold that has been pre-destined for them due to the shots being called by White, Western people in power. Now being an adult, I can look back to my upbringing and recognize that it was in fact these same people whose truth mattered most, despite it not being accurate truths at all.

Curriculum: Its’ Creation and Implementation

While reading the work titled Curriculum Policy and The Politics of What Should Be Learned in Schools by author Ben Levin, we learn that curricula is developed and implemented during a long, drawn out process that involves many people and often depends on governance systems that are in place at the time. Curriculum creation happens when a group of people come together to develop and/or renew certain curricula. The group in session usually consists of heads of post-secondary institutions, expert teachers, principals and/or senior admin personal, and some government officials such as people from the ministry of education. These people will look at the curriculum that already exists, collect some data and discuss what should be done in terms of a new curriculum. In some cases, there are piloted trials done for new curricula which will come back into the hands of the creators for suggestions or revision and in other cases the new courses are simply released freely for teachers to begin teaching.

I found it very surprising that this process can sometimes take several years to be complete. It seems interesting that it takes such a lengthy amount of time as some of the issues that are brought up in the first place, may be totally different than the issues facing teachers or the curriculum by the time it is all over and done with. In this context, I think of the History 30: Canadian Studies curriculum which is twenty-two years old and my professor of ESST 300, Heather Findlay, says that she has heard of a renewal of this curriculum for about five years now and it still hasn’t happened. The world is constantly changing, and so is the way that teachers teach… so why shouldn’t what teachers are teaching change and develop with the rest of the world too? I’m not suggesting that curriculum be looked at every year or two, I know that is an unattainable goal. However, I think that there should be attention given to making sure that curriculum is relevant to the students of today and maybe that means curriculum creators meet every five or seven years to check on curriculum and its’ implementation.

I also found the reading engaged me when the author brought up fact that teachers who are experts in some subjects are part of designing curriculum and yet it is only those few teachers may be the only ones in the province who can successfully teach it. I think that there should be some data and research done on what kind of supports teachers need to implement curriculum in their classrooms and that information should be taken into direct account when creating or renewing curriculum. If majority of teachers- excluding the experts on that subject- cannot properly teach the content simply because they don’t have the expert knowledge that is needed, then the education is doing a disservice to both teachers AND students. There has to be some sort of way to include necessary content and an effective way to teach it that is relatable to the majority of teachers so that the curriculum can be instructed properly.

When looking at the Saskatchewan Treaty Education Document I can see all of the key players that were involved in the developing process. Those individuals include Indigenous elders, post-secondary representatives, members of FSIN, federal government officials and Ministry of Education personal. I can imagine that since this was a brand-new concept and only introduced in 2007, that there may have been some tensions among the people of the public asking why this is important for their children to learn. I would even go as far as to say there was possibly even some backlash from teachers who were questioning how or why they had to teach this when there is already so much on their plates.

There is no doubt that curriculum development and implementation is a hefty process that is complex in many different ways!

Teaching Treaty Ed: It’s More Than Just ‘Building Tipis’

While working a summer job in 2018, I had one of my co-workers (who is white) tell me that they were thinking of transferring their children from one school to another. When I asked why, they said: “Well, because all they do at this school is build tipis”. At the time, I knew that this comment was wrong on so many levels- however I did not feel as if I were in a position to respond. This person was a superior of mine in the workplace and who was I, a summer student, to come in and start a conversation that would surely rock the boat?

After consuming all of the information for this blog- Claire’s work, Dwayne’s’ lecture and the reading I think there is significant importance in teaching Treaty Ed in terms of creating a space for First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples voices to hold power and be heard, even if there is an absence of those bodies in the classroom. I liked when Claire pointed out that this is not an issue for Indigenous people, this is an issue for white people and somehow white people still project onto people of colour. The purpose for teaching Treaty Ed is to educate the young people of today so that they can make beneficial change for ALL Canadians in the future. Being honest and sharing the facts, just like Claire does will never hinder a student’s learning but rather help it to grow and develop into deeper understandings of other perspectives. Personally, I would tell this intern that despite how the kids react or what your coop teacher says, continue to teach about Treaty Ed in an honest and respectful way because it is our duty as teachers… and like Mike said if we aren’t doing this, then we’re not actually doing our job. The curriculum documents will back you up and serves as evidence as to why you are teaching this. Acknowledging that “we are all treaty people” means that we in fact are all in this together and it involves people of different races coming together to unite in hopes of creating a better world. It is safe to say that teaching Treaty Ed means more than just “building tipis” but honouring the relationship between Indigenous and European settler people for what it was in the past and for what it has the potential to be in the future.  Everyone has to recognize this relationship like Dwayne said, and honour it through constant work and effort- that’s where our jobs as teachers comes into play. I don’t doubt that it is challenging, maybe sometimes uncomfortable and tedious work… but it has to be done. I honestly found it a bit relieving to see a teacher like Claire doing this work with such truth and love in her practice, and I hope that someday I can do that too.

Learning from place: Honouring ways of knowing and ‘cultural landscapes’

In the article titled Learning from Place: A Return to Traditional Mushkegowuk Ways of Knowing written by Jean-Paul Restoule, Shelia Gruner and Edmund Metatawabin I can see the process of reinhabitation and decolonization as soon as the researchers start to develop relationships and communicate with the Mushkegowuk Cree community about what they would like the framework of the project to look like. The researchers were starting by interacting with this Cree community and acknowledging things that they had to say.

I then thought there were other examples of this when the authors explained that both elders and youth would be put on this project together; what better way to preserve knowledge than to have elders teach it to the next generation. The activity too (creating radio documentaries) which I related with the traditional practice of oral story telling was, in my opinion, was a good way to honour this knowledge.

Another key part to the reinhabitation and decolonization efforts made by this project was the river excursion. This allowed for elders and youth to physically be on and connect with the land; a type of hands on learning that does more than just develop a student academically- focusing more on connecting to spirituality and the land. Accompanying this river excursion were lessons taught by the elders to the youth about how to live off the land and allowed students to investigate “…history, language, issues of governance, and land management…” (p. 75). Throughout this excursion and the project, elders also placed significant emphasis on traditional Cree language and the improper use of words used mostly by the younger generation. It was pointed out that colonization and residential schools played a crucial role in this language-loss and that young people using the ‘correct’ traditional language can support strengthening their abilities to form linguistic connections to traditional lands.

This project allowed people of both older and younger generations to come together to learn about, practice and celebrate their culture by sharing and learning knowledge from one another within their cultural circle. The ways of knowing that are essential parts of their being, were held at the forefront of this project, and a safe space to ask questions, seek answers and interact with the environment as well as each other was provided. This safe space enabled participants of both generations to further develop their ways of knowing. “The river trip helped members of the community share linguistic, cultural, historical, and geographical knowledge” (p.81), was said in the text and it can be observed that there was more than just one area of growth.

While reading this article I thought of an Indigenous studies 236 class I took last year (I think it was 236… not one hundred percent certain though. The professor was Andrew Miller and I 10/10 highly recommend this class). The class was about Indigenous environments, ecology and economies and we had discussed throughout the course this idea of ‘cultural landscapes’ meaning that First Nations people have a way of looking at the landscape and seeing, feeling and connecting to it in a way that Western society has never been able to. They are able to look at a river, for example, and see more than just a body of water. They see a force that has agency and is able to both give and take away life. It can be a mode of transport and communication with other communities (p.81). The river is also appreciated for being a home for many animals who sacrifice their lives to feed the humans such as waterfowl, fish, or beaver. They recognize and connect to the river and its’ landscape on a deeper level than people of European ancestry have ever been able to comprehend, and it is important to remember that just because we cannot see something, does not mean that it isn’t there. We, as future educators, need to remember to honour the ways of knowing that Indigenous peoples possess and to incorporate it into our lessons as often as we can- this is just one small step int he gigantic act of attempting to reinhabiting/decolonizing society.

Teaching in Racial Terms to ‘The Good Student’

Race, in the textbook A History of Education by F.V.N. Painter, can almost be seen as something that only benefits white, western people and anyone else who is not of that descent is simply ‘other’ and therefore ‘less-than’. Take the section where Painter speaks about the Chinese for example- he really seems to believe and is trying to persuade his readers to believe that this group of people have not evolved as a civilization whatsoever. “They are very much the same to-day that they were more than two thousand years ago… They are practically unchangeable” (p.10) he says. Quite a big accusation in my opinion coming from a person whose society wants to remain white and Western at the centre and pushes all ‘others’ to the margins… and that attitude has not changed for a very long time. At this time in history being taught to teach in racial terms was the norm, but we have to be aware that this part ‘norm’ has really had an impact on the shaping of society and as future teachers we have to be more diligent on making sure we do NOT teach in racial terms and that we actually work to reverse that.

The idea of a good student only works to serve one type of student who is for the most part: likely a female who is quiet, pays attention and is on time and organized. This young lady is certain to give the teacher the answers that the teacher wants to hear and does her work. This idea of a good student also comes from a place embedded in educational history where the teacher is the knowledge holder who knows everything, and students are simply pupils that know nothing and will be taught through transmission from the teacher. The idea of a good student fails to acknowledge the various types of students who learn, process, and work differently. The concept of one type of ‘good student’ makes all other good students invisible and lacks to acknowledge where students might be able to experience success because of their different talents and gifts.

The Idea of ‘Dis-embodiment’ in My Critical Summary Research

For my critical summary assignment, I have chosen to look into the topic of disability and curriculum. I have chosen this topic because of my inclusive education minor as well as my experience working/volunteering/becoming friends with people who have disabilities.

I first started my research by stumbling across an article titled Towards a Complicated Conversation Among Disability Studies, Complexity Thinking, and Education written by Steven Khan from the University of British Columbia. Khan draws upon a concept by another author which is the fact of embodiment- the universal shareable knowledge that we are all bodies. In addition to that, it is worth noting that we all experience this embodiment in “absolutely singular, unique, unrepeatable, and, significantly, unshareable ways” (pp.8). Khan then goes on to describe a concept he calls dis-embodiment which is basically his way of talking about disability or persons with disabilities who are apart from the norm or experience this notion of embodiment in very different ways than most of the population does. Khan poses questions such as: how might ‘disability’ trouble and problematize some of the underlying assumptions, or complexify complexity thinking in (and out of) education (pp. 10) and what is it that dis-embodiments might teach (pp.12)?

As an attempt to unpack these questions the author touches on some of the models developed about disability like the individual, moral and medical models and says “…These models locate the phenomenon and experience of disability as a function of an inability to perform ‘the same as everyone else’ in environments and systems in which the difference of dis-embodied designs were never considered or could not be accommodated (pp.17)”. This quote really reinstated the deep roots that oppression and non-inclusive practices have in both education and society. It will be quite a big task for future educators such as myself, political and social reform leaders, and human beings all around the world to reverse these pre-conceived notions of what ‘disability’ is or what it should be.

I am quite confident in using Khans’ article as my primary source for my critical summary assignment and my next step will be to look at a piece titled Emancipatory Pedagogy in Practice: Aims, Principles and Curriculum Orientation written by Ali Nouri and Seyed Mahdi Sajjadi. Their writing touches on the works of Paulo Freire, Ira Shore, Henry Giroux (whose name was on the list of possible scholars to look at), and Peter McLaren and how emancipatory pedagogy (‘freedom pedagogy’ as I like to think about it) can and should be applied to both educational policy and practice. I am going to attempt to try to link the idea of Khans’ dis-emodiment concept that is deeply rooted in the creation of societies to emancipatory pedagogy and have these two articles support one another.