Thinking back to my math classes in school, math was a subject that I never really struggled with and actually enjoyed. I understand numbers well and was able to work my way around questions and problems to get the right answers. However, there were a few times when during tests, quizzes, or finals I couldn’t remember the exact formula to find the answer, but I could use different formulas and techniques and still come up with the correct answer. I found this to be frustrating because even though I had a good understanding and got the right answer, I would lose marks for not doing the question the “right way.” I can understand why math may be oppressive to some groups of people. For starters, I know many kids in my class hated math, and simply gave up with very little effort because they believed that they weren’t good at it. My math classes were taught in a very traditional format; teachers worked through the outcomes and followed the textbook in order to get through everything we needed to know as efficiently as they could. However, this way of learning does not work for everyone – everyone learns in different ways and at different paces, and the one way the teachers know how to explain a concept might now work for everyone. It also leaves little room for students to form questions or learn to think for themselves. Additionally, different cultures have different ways of teaching math and having this expectation for all students to do things the same way, or ‘the right way’ limits a student’s ability to learn. For example, I have a friend who grew up in Bangladesh who learned to count using his knuckles instead of his fingers (so each finger was 4, which allowed you to count 20 on one hand instead of just 5). Upon moving here, he was very confused and was often told that the way he had learned was “wrong” and he should do it the same way as everyone else. The way he was taught probably makes more sense and is easier than what we learned growing up. Furthermore, those who don’t use English as a first language may struggle because so much of math is made up of word problems which could be hard to understand. The math curriculum needs to allow for a more inclusive way of learning.
Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas around the purpose of math and the ways we learn it in a couple of ways. In Dr. Gale Russel lecture, she talks about how math is used so much more then just in class and that there is “quantity beyond our number system” and patterns in our everyday life. In “teaching mathematics and the Inuit Community” by Louise Poirier, the author challenges that math is not a universal language, because different cultures teach math and learn to solve math problems differently. Dr. Gale backs this up when she discusses how Inuit people have a very different number system from our base-10 system and that they use base-20 instead. Additionally, Poirier talks about how the Eurocentric way of teaching math is through examples and writing everything down. Inuit mathematics focuses on a more hands-on approach and they learn through story telling and oral learning rather than writing it down. Inuit people are taught in school to use body parts to measure, rather then being confined to rulers and tape measures like we were taught. Furthermore, Inuit math is focused more on the environment, relationships, traditions, and culture. Inuit math is very different from Eurocentric math teaching and learnings and allows students to build connections in their lives to what they are learning.
Prior to the reading and watching Chimamanda Adichie’s talk, I’ve never really thought about how what I was taught influences how I “read the world.” Growing up in Weyburn, which is a small city, we were taught what was right and wrong, who was “good” or “bad” and what we should be avoiding. However, because we were in a small and safe community I feel as though we were rather sheltered from a lot of things. Some of the biases learned from my education include that boys will be loud and troublesome, but also better at sports or more hands on work, and that students who are actively involved in the school will do better not only in school, but in life.
In English class, prior to high school, almost everything we read was about the typical white family and took place in an environment that was similar to my own. However, once I started high school, we read novels such as The Kite Runner, and Book Thief. Novels such as these help to expand my lens and learn about other parts of the world.
Many of the biases that I was taught also tie into single stories that were present in my upbringing. In addition to what I listed above, the typical white, nuclear family who could live comfortably and happily was the norm. Chimamanda Adichie said that growing up she believed that stories needed to have things that she could not identify with. This is interesting because we some more comfortable with stories that have aspects that we are able to relate to. Allowing for different perspectives and learning about stories that are different from our own will help to eliminate these biases and gives us a better understanding of other cultures and the world around us.
From what I can remember, there was very little attention paid to citizenship education at my school. The only discussion ever really related was when we talked about self identity in terms of race-orientated topics, and we talked about what it meant to be a citizen in regards to having the right to vote and the importance of exercising that right and understanding politics. Other then that, there was some emphasis on the importance of volunteering, helping the elderly, and overall getting involved in the community, but it was never explained why – it felt more like we were being pressured to do it as an assignment or because they really needed extra help at the basketball tournament that weekend. Joel Westheimer said that, “school is more about job training and not shaping who we are as people,” which sums up my experiences quite accurately. The importance of shaping children to be the best versions of themselves and successful members of society seemed to be lost.
In my schooling, the focus seemed to be on the personally responsible citizen. We were always taught the importance of recycling, obeying the law, and making sure we were responsible with our money. As a mentioned above, my teachers always emphasized how important it was to volunteer. As I got older, the focus moved a little to the participatory citizen and how important it was to be involved in events in the community. However, this still seemed to fall under the personally responsible citizen as our teachers encouraged us to organize these events as ways of volunteering and building responsibility and skills to work hard.
The problem with primarily being taught from a personally responsible citizen viewpoint is that students are taught how to be good people, but they are not taught how to think critically and analyze situations more thoroughly. I think that being taught about all three citizen viewpoints would be ideal as there are very important elements in each and it is important that students learn not only to be valued members of society, but also to grow to be, and to do, the best that they can.
First, I want to give you credit for taking action around this topic and for willingly diving into it to better educate our youth. It’s sad that the teachers you’re working with feel as though they don’t need to teach Treaty Education due to there being no First Nations students. Although it can be a challenging topic to talk about, it’s imperative that we acknowledge its importance.
I believe that such a big reason for Treaty Education not being taught is ignorance. There’s a good chance your coop teacher was never taught about it or its importance, so they choose to overlook it. A good place to start might be by talking to your coop teacher, or other teachers in the school and explaining your feeling, thoughts, and passions around the subject. It is important to recognize that we are all treaty people and we all share the same land. However, simply stating that is not enough; we need to learn what it means to be a treaty person and build connections and identities. We need to remember what everyone gained and lost when treaties were signed and that it is very important to our history. Learning about the mistakes that were made in the past will prevent history from repeating itself and we can work towards reconciliation. Furthermore, beginning to teach treaty education to children at a young age will help them to better understand treaties, what happened in residential schools, and inter-generational trauma.
A very important step is building an understanding in children. It seems to me that the students are choosing to brush off the topic or making jokes around it because they have no relationships with Indigenous people, or they feel that the topic is not relevant to them. I would start by taking the time to talk with the students about what they’ve heard about treaties, residential schools, and even Indigenous People and correct any wrong information. Additionally, helping the children to build connections will allow them to better understand; this can be even more important in a school with few Indigenous students, as the children wouldn’t have had the chance to form these relationships. These can be done through ways such as attending a powwow or bringing in an elder to talk to them.
I hope this helps get you started and you and your coop teacher can begin to work together to educate the students and other teachers in the school. Good luck with everything and thanks for reaching out!