Oppression in Mathematics

Did you know that mathematics can be oppressive and/or discriminating? Neither did I! I always knew there were many different ways of doing math, however, I did not think about what it could mean for us to learn or teach only one way. The Leroy Little Bear article talks about how in Aboriginal philosophy, “The education a child receives and carries forward into adulthood transcends the boundary between the physical and the spiritual… All of the knowledge is primarily transmitted from the older to the younger generation through language; consequently, language is of paramount importance”. This shows, for example, that using English numbers could be considered oppressive.

Moving on to the next article, “Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community” by Louise Poirier, it exemplifies that there are many ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge the Eurocentric views about math. One of the ways Inuit math challenges the Eurocentric ideas is that the Inuit use a base-20 numeral system. The example in the article for this concept is, “using the work Atausik for one, meaning ‘indivisible’, may hinder their understanding of fractions”. Another way they challenge Eurocentric ideas is by how they measure length. The article talks about how Inuit women use parts of their bodies to measure when making clothes. The body was one of the first measuring tools. The Eurocentric view of measuring is using a ruler and measurements such as inches and centimeters. Not only do they challenge the ideas on measuring length, but also on measuring time. According to the article, they measure time using events that happen naturally around them. Due to this, none of the months have a set amount of days. Each month has a name that comes from activities of animals or nature during that time. Some examples are, “-coldest of all months – when baby seals are born but are dead – when baby seals are born – when bearded baby seals are born – when baby caribou are born …”

Based on these two articles, it is clear that the Eurocentric ideas of mathematics and the way we learn or teach them is oppressive. As teachers, we should be aware of this and practice teaching other ways of knowing and learning in all subjects.

Single Story

I grew up in a small town 2 hours north of Regina. Growing up in a small town had a huge impact on how I ‘read the world’. Throughout the first bit of my schooling experience, almost every other student in the school was like me, white-skinned and catholic. In grade 3, there was a girl who moved from China and joined our class. Thinking back, at that age, I was just excited to have a new friend. My teacher made sure to help us understand where this girl came from, by teaching a bit about the culture and having the girl talk to us about her experience. Having the experiences that I had, until I moved to Regina, I never realized how bad racism is in Saskatchewan. Everyone has a different story and you can not judge someone based on only one side. Part of the reason I wanted to become a teacher is that I felt that I could help change the ideas that people have towards other cultures and races, however, I now realize that it is much harder than I thought. It takes much more than one teacher to help break these ideas that have been instilled in people for so long. It is a slow process that will never be fully complete, but making people aware of their biases will allow the world to grow.

After watching the TED talk given by Chimamanda Adichie about single stories, I thought a lot about the single stories I was taught in school. One that came to mind was the history of First Nations people in Canada. I learned very little about what truly happened in Residential schools until Grade 8, when the teacher got us to do a Project of Heart. Even then, we never really looked into detail about the horrors that took place. I feel like it is important that students learn all the sides of the story to fully understand history.

Politics and Policies of Curriculum

The development of curricula requires many inputs and lots of careful consideration. Policies are a huge factor in the development of the curriculum. According to Ben Levin in “Curriculum Policy and the Politics of What Should Be Learned in Schools”, policies are a huge factor because, “Policies govern just about every aspect of education – what schooling is provided, how, to whom, in what form, by whom, with what resources, and so on”. This connects to the curriculum because the curriculum is what needs to be taught. When curriculum is being developed, it involves input from the main education stakeholder groups. These groups are teachers, principals, senior administrators, and elected local authorities. Before their input is used, subject experts from schools and universities work on the formation of the curriculum. From the article, I gained a deeper understanding of the process of how the curriculum is created. The amount of time that goes into the creation of a curriculum explains why the curriculum is not updated as often as it maybe should be. One thing that really stood out to me while I was reading is that “people wanted more of every subject in the school curriculum, but did not want a longer school day or year”. This stood out because of how true it is. When the curriculum is being made, public opinion is taken into consideration, which dictates which subjects are ‘more important’ and which ones can be thrown to the side.

Treaty Education

Treaty education is an important part of reconciliation in Canada. When teachers bring Treaty Ed into schools it allows students to understand the history in Canada and to work to never repeat it. It is important for all students, no matter the culture, to learn about the traditions of Aboriginal Peoples. Treaty Education needs to be implemented in schools to help spread the culture and help with reconciliation.

“We are all treaty people” is an understanding that the treaties affect everyone in Canada. All the land in Canada was part of the Treaty signings; therefore, the conditions in the treaty have an impact on everyone that lives on the land. Teaching this to youth inn schools will provide them with an understanding of the treaties. They will also be able to learn how the treaties impact them and develop their identity as a “treaty person”.

Learning Through Place

The article “Learning from Place: A Return to Traditional Mushkegowuk Ways of Knowing” by Jean-Paul Restoule, Sheila Gruner and Edmund Metatawabin discuss a project conducted in Fort Albany First Nations about concepts of land, environment, and life. Youth and elders got involved in learning through place. The youth interviewed peers, adults, and elders on key issues related to land, water, and social issues, as well as economic well-being. The students also did a radio interview with a local radio station to share the traditional knowledge and teachings they discovered.

It is important to use place in education. Studying the land allows students to create a connection to it. This is useful, especially when teaching about Indigenous Ways of Knowing, students will appreciate what they learn a little more. I feel that when students have the opportunity to interact with the world around them, they are more interested in what they are learning. Place-based education is valuable in schools if it is implemented properly. This means the teacher is guiding the students towards an end goal, but not taking them straight there. The students put in the effort to learn about their environment instead of the teaching telling them about it.

Commonsense Views

According to Kumashiro in “Preparing Teachers for Crisis: A Sample Lesson”, the commonsense idea of being a ‘good’ student means to sit quietly and listen to the teacher. The article talks about two students who the teacher had a hard time with, but it also shows what the teacher noticed about the students learning. The point is brought up that this teacher had a hard time with these students because they were not the commonsense idea of a ‘good’ student. These students excelled in learning when they were given the choice and when they controlled some aspect of their learning. Based on the commonsense idea of a ‘good’ student, it privileges the learner who can sit, listen, learn, and recite. It does not include students who are kinetic, visual, or other types of learners.

It is very hard to see other teaching strategies when the commonsense idea is so engraved in our brains. Having the commonsense ideas may make it hard for some new teachers to understand that there are so many different types of learners and not everyone will learn in the same ways. It will take time to develop teaching strategies to accommodate the many learning types and different abilities.

Looking at the Hidden Curriculum

Hidden curriculum is what children learn in schools that is not in the written curriculum. It consists of information, beliefs, and ways of behaving in society. Hidden curriculum does not exactly explain how schools affect students and why schools do not change, but instead, it just labels it. The article “Beyond Hidden Curriculum” by Catherine Cornbleth goes into depth about what hidden curriculum is and what hides within it. The concepts of hidden curriculum are implied and often taken for granted instead of being studied as to why they exist.

Much of what happens in schools, that is part of the hidden curriculum, students learn through context. One example of this would be in one classroom, students may be free to think for themselves, while in the other they need to agree with the textbooks or the teacher. Having different authority figures teaching in different ways may not allow students to develop a strong relationship with their teachers. They may also learn that everyone is different and therefore uses what best suits them. The article talks about how it is ironic that schools celebrate the individual, yet students do not have a say in their education. Students should have input when it comes to their education, the way it is right now, students get the idea that they can not do anything to change their situation, which could lead to a hard time learning how to change anything.

For my assignment, I want to discuss the ideas of how hidden curriculum comes from the people teaching, therefore their values, beliefs, and views of the world are the ones subtly being passed on to the younger generation. I will look at other articles that talk about the hidden curriculum and find connections to the ideas I read in the article mentioned above.

*NOTE*

The article “Beyond Hidden Curriculum” by Catherine Cornbleth comes from the Journal of Curriculum Studies, Volume 16, numbers 1-4, 1984.

Models of Curriculum

According to the article Curriculum theory and Practice by Mark Smith, there are four ways of approaching curriculum. These four ways are viewing curriculum as knowledge to be transmitted, as an attempt to lead students to a specific result, as a process, and as a praxis.

If the curriculum is considered as a body of knowledge to be transmitted, then it is seen as a syllabus. This model of approaching curriculum is often connected with courses that lead to exams. Teachers transmit knowledge from textbooks connected to the curriculum in the most effective way they can. The downside of looking at curriculum this way is that not every student is able to learn in a way that prepares them for exams. Exams are a way to test a student’s ability to memorize information, not to test what they have learned. This view also is likely to limit their planning to a consideration of the content that they wish to transmit.

Viewing curriculum as an attempt to lead students to a specific result is also known as approaching curriculum as a product. Smith wrote, “Education is most often seen as a technical exercise. Objectives are set, a plan drawn up, then applied, and the outcomes (products) measured.” (Smith, M. K. (1996, 2000) ‘Curriculum theory and practice’ the encyclopaedia of informal education, www.infed.org/biblio/b-curric.htm, pg 3). This view provides outcomes so that the content can be organized to help strengthen the end result. From the outcomes, teachers plan lessons and units in order to teach their students and evaluate their understanding of topics at the end. According to Smith, there are many issues with this approach. The first issue is that the teachers’ plan is very important to students learning and reaching a specific educational goal. The learners are being told what they have to learn and how they have to learn it instead of having the opportunity to learn in the way that best suits them. For example, some students may be visual learners, but the teacher may not accommodate for that, which makes it hard on those students to learn the material. Another problem with this way of thinking is that having a specific goal may hinder the learning experience. Learning is much more than writing notes and studying, it is also exploring topics and ideas in ways that may not be considered standardized in education. Having a specified goal may cause teachers to go through a topic too quick for some students, and then the students will not be getting the learning experiences they need to succeed.

Instead of viewing the curriculum as a product, it can also be viewed as a process. This means that the curriculum is not a physical thing; it is the interactions that take place in a classroom. Teachers look at the curriculum and see it as steps that can be taken to achieve a certain goal. The focus of this model is on the interactions that take place between teacher, student, and knowledge. It also allows students to explore topics by engaging in-depth with topics. The negative side to this approach is that it cannot be directed to an exam without losing the quality of the model. If there is a wide variety of content, it would be hard to follow this model because teachers have to make sure that everything gets studied in the time that they have. Rushing the students learning may affect the information they retain. This model also relies on the quality of teachers. If teachers don’t put in the effort to make this model work, then this model turns into students having to demonstrate skills to show they have completed the process.

The fourth model of curriculum is viewing the curriculum as a praxis. This is a development on the curriculum as a process model. The praxis model does not explicitly state its interests, which means that it will not continually reference the goals of learning. This practice does not focus on individual students learning, but rather pays attention to collective understanding and structural questions. The problem that could arise when using this method is that students learn at different paces and in different ways, which may make it hard for the students that need more exploration on a topic.

Looking back at my school experiences, I have seen each of these models of curriculum, however the most prominent were curriculum as a body of knowledge and curriculum as a process. The model that was used depended on the subject and teacher for the class. For example, in most math classes, teachers use the curriculum as a body of knowledge to be transmitted. We learned from a textbook with the help of teachers, but we were guided towards knowing everything we needed for an exam. This model made it hard for students that need extra help in the subject area, as well as students that struggled with writing exams. In elementary school, many of the subject areas used the model of the curriculum as a process. This allowed for the exploration of topics guided by the teachers. It made it possible for students to explore aspects of topics that interested them. In my experience, this approach could negatively impact some of the students learning. Some students like structured environments where they are told what they need to know, this model stays away from strictly ‘textbook’ teaching. None of these models are perfect, but teachers try their best for the students that they have.

Common Sense

Kumashiro defines common sense as the knowledge that everyone in a specific place knows. This knowledge differs from place to place all over the world. Kumashiro spent time teaching in Nepal through the Peace Corps. He talks about how in Nepal, it is common sense to be beaten in school if you are bad, to only eat 2 meals a day, and that the village only had one faucet that served many purposes. Based on the way people live, the common sense in their lives will be different because of different experiences.

It is important to pay attention to common sense so that you can tell when it is harmful or oppressive towards a group of people. Common sense if not often questioned because it has been around for so long that we are comfortable with how things are and we do not want to change them. It is much easier to follow along with traditional practices. We need to look for these because it is important to acknowledge and challenge these ideas in schools. When teachers try to challenge common sense, their perspectives are automatically dismissed because they break the ideals of what school should be. Kumashiro wrote, “Common sense limits what is considered to be consistent with the purposes of schooling.” (Introduction; Kumashiro. (2009). Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice, pg. xxxiv-xxxv). This means that students and teachers are not being opened up to what education could be because we have this idea of school engrained in our brains. In reality, there are many different ways to have a successful education. However, there are common-sense ideas around schooling, such as the important classes are math, science, health, and English classes, when there is much more to learn outside of those subjects.